We have had quite a unique return from our 8 month adventure around the world. After moving to a new country every 2-6 weeks, we are now hunkered down in my parents’ house in Baltimore, riding out the unanticipated, uncertain storm of Coronavirus.
Just like after 9/11, the world order shifted this month, which doubles the disorientation we have felt re-entering the orbit of our old world.
We landed back on the east coast of the US two days before social distancing took place though, and I’m going to try and capture the rare, brief, fish-out-of-water feeling we experienced upon our return (before we realized the next phase of life would be thoroughly upended by COVID for everyone). In general, this return really did feel like touching down on earth after a tour in outer space.
The Gravity of People
It feels impossibly lucky now, but the day we arrived, we hosted about 10 friends for a welcome-back party. Until this, Victor and I had lived in a bubble of our own conversation and experiences for a full 8 months. Sure, we met up with our parents once and had a few meals with friends scattered across the countries we visited, but day in and day out, it was a world of two.
…Imagine two people snorkeling. Mostly they are looking at the same exciting sea life. Maybe they get a different angle because of their position in the water, maybe they spot a few different views if they split up for a bit, maybe they help one another with their masks, but in general, it is a team of two observers, pleased with each other’s company, relishing novel experiences, and going completely unnoticed by the buzz of marine life surrounding them…
When we came back, there were suddenly dozens of other swimmers! And some of them were looking at us, not at our surroundings! It was disorienting to weave back into the nexus of so many different life paths and answer the avalanche of questions we received about our trip…
- Where was your favorite place?
- Where do you want to live now?
- What are you planning to do for work?
We realized we didn’t have answers to many of the questions we had initially set off to answer in this time off of work. It was incredible to refill our world with the web of relationships that we had built and sustained before this adventure, but it was certainly more complicated than our two-on-world year. As an empath, I initially found it very hard to manage the flow of my energy in so many different directions.
The Gravity of Stuff
Getting to my parents’ garage was another shock. After 8 months with only our backpacks, we were sickened by the amount of stuff we had at home. Neither of us got sick of the clothes or minimalist items in our pack. We mostly loved traveling light and using items until they really had to be replaced. We embraced the constraint of being unable to shop for random trinkets, viewing them as “future trash” as my friend Jake calls them.
Here in Baltimore, though, we had a Sodastream and an ice cream maker, photo albums and winter boots, a dozen scarves and an overflowing toolbox…And that was only half our stuff! The rest of our old apartment was in a storage unit downtown!
For the first few days, I actually continued to wear the clothes from my pack because I was just too overwhelmed by the options in my real-life wardrobe. I hope we can keep our commitment to minimalism, and pass much of our hoarded trove on to others when we transition to our next home. However, the gravity and history of each item is already making stuff harder to part with than if we had just started with less in the first place…
The Gravity of the Familiar
Finally, we faced the double-edged sword of returning to (some of) our old haunts and routines. This has been especially true as we’ve taken up residence in my childhood home for our Corona quarantine. We are ordering pizza from my childhood spot, rejoining texting threads with our friends, and applying for new jobs. We’re back to gym workouts, regular grocery shopping, and home-cooked meals.
As we do all this, I am continually trying to stop and ask myself, do these rhythms and routines feel the same when so much in me has changed? I’m trying very hard to take wisdom I valued on the road, and weave it in amongst my familiar habits, so post gap year me acknowledges and sustains the changes this year brought. To prevent the all work, no play burnout that drove me to the gap year in the first place, I’m committing to balance between my work output and personal learning endeavors. I’m picking up the guitar and practicing Dutch. I’m applying what I learned in faraway cooking classes, and using fresh turmeric and fish sauce in my recipes. I’m making time to meditate, write, and take walks outside. This is all more manageable with the flexible schedule of unemployment and quarantine, but consciously maintaining balance and new habits I picked up around the world will be more challenging as I welcome more responsibility back into my life.
One thing I definitely miss from traveling (that is exacerbated by social distancing) is daily new experiences. When you’re abroad, every day is a new adventure. Even the most mundane activity–riding the subway in Japan, reading a map in Bulgaria, ordering food in Indonesia–feels pregnant with creative challenge and cultural discovery. My goal moving forward is to keep the curiosity fire alive, and treat home as terra incognita. Since our return, I’ve taken new running routes and wandered in the woods behind my parents’ house–an area I never explored before as a child. I am trying to approach each day with openness to learn and appreciate my surroundings.
Defying Gravity: Touch Down with Care
It was terrifying to blast off from the race of career progress last year. Shedding tethers and living on the move was liberating, and I know that things, people, and habits will carry heavy gravity as soon as they are welcomed back into my orbit. They will influence my worldview, actions, routines, and emotions. So, I am trying to live gently in this return–to live curiously and observantly, and to tread softly, too.
I don’t want to zoom back to my old earth too quickly. I need to make space in my chock-full life for the new perspectives I gained on the journey.