The Home Stretch

I started looking at flights home today. Even though I’ve grown to love the nomadic life and haven’t necessarily had that “okay, it’s time” moment yet, my budget is nearly depleted and I’m looking forward to a couple big moments at home this fall.

That said, it’s been just more than four months so far and will be closer to six by the time I return. It feels like a lot longer. For that, I’m grateful. There will be another blog in the future about my journey in full and the way home, but for now there’s a chance to discuss a couple of things: The final six weeks of this trip and what I’m most looking forward to when I get home.

Let’s start there: Home. Oh, home. Where is “home?” Of course, it will always be the little house with the big trees and back deck, nestled at the end of a street in Walnut Creek, CA. It will always be the glimmering San Francisco skyline peeking through the fog from Fish Ranch Road. It will always be that Bay Area circle, encompassing everything from Lake Tahoe to Santa Cruz to Sacramento (unofficial, but let’s be real here…).

But something I’ve come to realize on this trip — and I think this will serve me very well in the future — is that you can make a “home” anywhere in the world, even if it’s not your nostalgic, perfect, forever home.

So far, I’ve visited 16 countries on this trip and 25 in my lifetime (with anywhere from five to seven new ones on the way — more on that later). And even though some have been out of my comfort zone (Philippines, Malaysia) or not really my style (Singapore, Belgium), every single place I’ve visited has had “home” potential.

Of course, some stand out more than others. The minute I set foot in Melbourne, I had visions of myself holed up in a flat in the suburbs, hopping the metro to downtown and frequenting the hip cafe around the corner. London reminded me of a fascinating mix of San Francisco and New York City. And even a mere 36 hours in Granada convinced me that half a year could be spent residing among the historic landmarks and lively late-night pubs.

The point is, everywhere I’ve been on this trip, I’ve arrived as an outsider. In almost every case, I was on my own and had nothing but a hostel bed or couch to sleep on and a free map with a janky walking trail drawn out. But, you make it work.

I made it work in tiny Pullman, Washington when I was the only graduate from my high school to attend Washington State (eight years later, on this trip, I’ve met up with four friends from college in four different countries across two continents). I made it work on Semester at Sea, when I went in blind to my first and only study abroad experience. Now, those lovely, random encounters aside, I’m making it work out here.

You meet people via hostel common rooms or Couchsurfing events or random encounters. You walk, bike or bus the entire city and get a feel for the good, the bad and the ugly of each. You discover every city’s redeeming qualities and slowly start to form a picture of your everyday life there. You find your favorite watering holes, markets and landmarks, and become a repeat customer.

In short, you create a “home” for yourself, even if you make like a hermit crab and pop into a new shell shortly thereafter. So, home is anywhere if you are open-minded and optimistic. With the plethora of friendly, helpful, interesting people you’re sure to meet abroad, the prospect of discovering those homes becomes even easier.

As far as I have planned (though I’m not the best planner – beyond the next week or so, no trains or accommodations have been officially booked), there will be a few new, exciting, places to potentially call “home” in the coming weeks. I’m looking at going to Munich from Paris, followed by Slovenia, a triumphant return to Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Hungary and Poland.

It remains to be seen whether I make it to all those places, and whether they fall into the same category of the past pit stops. Either way, at some point, I’ll be leaving these temporary homes to return to the one I know and love best.

As sad as I will be to strap on my pack one last time and bid adieu to the other side of the world — especially when I feel like I am so inspired to continue for many more months — I’m secretly excited to get back to California. Can I really complain about being “forced” (financially) to return to an amazing place like the Bay Area? Come on.

There is a wedding celebration for two of my best friends to look forward to. New friends to visit from D.C. to Texas to Vancouver. Old friends to visit from Alabama to New York to San Diego. A little sister to visit in a brand new state (for those unaware, Lexie is moving to Denver in a few weeks!). There are campsites to camp, hikes to hike and beaches to…beach.

Friends made in London, moving to San Francisco, to spend time with. Real, live baseball games to be watched (yes, this has been one of the harder parts of my trip!). Parents to hug and cook dinner with and roll my eyes at. Pets to play with and organic gardens to finish building. Projects to start, continue and finish. Neighbors and friends to share beers and stories with. Freelancing portfolios to improve.

And one of the more exciting things: there are lessons learned in all these other “homes” to put into action in my forever home. There are endless writing, business and social ideas inspired by this trip, for me to pursue. New books to read, movies to see and languages to learn.

Lastly, there’s a newfound interest in just living that won’t go ignored. There will be an eagerness to try some things I dabbled in abroad and to rekindle passions for other hobbies that were rediscovered. There will be more attention paid to the people, places and things I love and less to the things I’m “supposed” to do.

Returning to some semblance of a normal, daily routine in such a familiar setting incites a strange mixture of nervousness, excitement and sadness in me, especially when the word on re-entry after trips like this is all about the post-backpacking blues. I guess we’ll just wait and see.

But, for now, I’m enjoying my multiple homes in these random countries and looking forward to squeezing every drop of experience I can out of the last couple months and every penny I can out of the last bills in my wallet.

Then, when the bank account is truly barren, I’ll come home to start the process all over again.

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