It works on your mind: knowing you’re not coming back for a long time.
There is the country that you’re in, and the countries you’ve already been to, and all the countries you’re still going to visit. And then there is the trip itself. The journey. The adventure.
It’s a cycle of showing up and being unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Not knowing. Then figuring it out. Getting the hang of things. Learning, seeing, meeting and doing. Getting comfortable. Then leaving, and starting it all over again.
Fifty-something times in a row.
You develop a relationship with your pack, the one tangible and consistent thing in your world. You know everything that’s in there and exactly where each thing is. You know what things are easy to just reach in and grab, and things for which you really have to do the full unzip and pull stuff out and move around to get to. And which things you don’t need often and maybe have never used, but you have it there just in case.
And you know the things you don’t have. Like golf clubs, or a tie, or a football. So you get little pleasures in coming across those things.
You might have been traveling already for three months, or even five or six. You’ve done a lot already, been to a lot of places and met loads of people. You’re experienced now and a little more comfortable; you know the ropes.
And then you think to yourself, “ok, five more months.”
Five more months?
Yes. Five more months. Roughly the time for an American professional football season to play out.
After doing this a few times you might make some adjustments to your approach on things. You can’t think too much about home, or about the future, or even the next few months. Because you know that life is going on at home without you. That everyone you know is back there, living their lives and it’s all happening. You’re missing out on some things that you can never catch up with. You miss weddings. People die while you’re gone. And dogs. And you never got a chance to see them again, or say goodbye. Or maybe you did, but you still thought they were going to be there when you got back.
It’s a sacrifice. You have to be willing to give some things up. You have to be ok with knowing you’re going to miss those things, and maybe never see those people again.
When you’re out there most people are just going on with their lives, and only think about you occasionally, when you post new pictures on Facebook or you send them a Skype text message. But that’s only for the moment.
Some people are really there with you. Your family, your closest friends, maybe even a significant other. They answer when you call from abroad, and listen to your stories and struggles.You might get a chance talk with your best friend on Skype, maybe even for an hour. You can tell them what it’s been like, what your experiences have been and a few of the great stories over the past weeks. You have a great chat and talk about when we’re going to hang out next and maybe even what it’s going to be like when you get back home. Then you wrap up your call and say you’ll talk again soon, even though it’s probably not true.
You hang up. Your friend goes back to their “normal” life in the US, to work or a round of golf or watching a big game on TV. And while their life continues and they move on to the next thing, you are still out there. With months in front of you.
So you keep humping it. You pack it up. You check out and hit the street.
There were times when it was tough. But then I would think about Captain James Cook, or ‘ole Horatio, or Shakleton, or the great explorers of the world. They would go out for two or three years at a time, without a map, or frequent flyer miles, or ExOfficio dry-fit underwear. They didn’t have the comfort. They didn’t know where they were going. It was a lot harder for them. Hell, it wasn’t just harder, it wasn’t even the same game. They struggled through hardships and hunger, life-threatening weather and uncharted waters. They were away from their spouses and children and their homelands, without a Skype connection or even email. They were really out there, isolated from the world.
When I was feeling lonely or isolated or like I was a million miles from home, I would always think about the hardships others have been through, and I knew that it really wasn’t that hard for me.
I could have gone to each of the 28 countries that I went to throughout the year, all separately on individual trips. I could have done the same things, met the same people and even had the same experiences. But doing it all together; the breadth, the longevity, the long haul: it created an element entirely its own, another animal. It made the adventure much greater than the sum of the places combined. It was like another country itself, the whole thing, expect bigger and more unknown and intimidating. It was the journey; a battle with the mind.