I can’t believe that I’ve already been back from that whirlwind of a summer trip over two months ago.
To those fellow travel junkies who commented that I’d wish the 80 day trip were longer — you were absolutely right. I could travel indefinitely if it were possible. I loved that everyday I saw a new site, met a new person, tasted a cool local dish, and learned novel facts about the city I was in. It was a total engagement of my senses for almost three months and now being deprived of that level of engagement, I am left feeling….kind of alone. Is that weird? In a physical sense, I’m actually not alone at all now because I’m surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues everyday. And ironically to travel the globe solo — well, some could argue I was way more alone then. But still. I’ve been home and yes, I do feel alone.
The first day I stepped foot on U.S. soil again, I was hit with culture shock in my own country. There were way too many advertisements begging me to buy snacks, beauty products, perfumes, electronics, and even professional services (fyi, I was at the airport so big corporations like to advertise there) that promised to make me thinner, sexier, and smarter. These ads are always in our airports, but I never noticed how many there were until then. In the countries I visited, there are few ads bombarding you and definitely none that hit you from every angle the way the marketing geniuses have set up it here. For the next few days I was completely disgusted with the consumerism rampant in the U.S. Ok, that’s a lie: two months later and I’m still disgusted with the consumerism here. Every message we get is telling us to buy something to fix something else! And for what? So that in the end, the corporations make money and the rest of us are left feeling like we’re never good enough and we’re never happy enough.
One of the things I love about traveling is the ability to see how others live and to learn that there are better ways of doing the same things we do at home. I loved that in Croatia, my hosts were the most welcoming hosts I could ever ask for. They constantly asked me to make time to enjoy drinks on their patio with them (never mind they grew up to the constant bombs falling during the Croatian War of Independence). In Tuscany, people are so much more relaxed. In Lisbon, they really embrace their Mediterranean lifestyle with their frequent espresso breaks, long lunches, and late dinners. In Bhutan, there’s a kindness that pervades every interaction you have with the locals – nope, the Bhutanese aren’t too rushed to have a conversation with you. My general sense is that in these countries — whether they have more or less than we do in the U.S. — the collective quality of life exceeds what we may ever have in the U.S. because the culture in those countries is centered around enjoying life in a way that we can’t in a capitalistic, consumer driven, GDP focused country like U.S. This realization is both maddening and saddening. I could go on about this but let’s just say that for the next few weeks I found myself questioning if this is the type of place I want to someday raise a family in. As many opportunities as there are in the U.S., I’m just not sure if it’s worth all the extra energy required to remind yourself daily to ignore the marketing messages or to relax and take it easy more.
Fast forward to today. I am back at work. As much as I vowed to incorporate as much of the lessons I learned abroad into my work, it is way harder said than done especially in the line of business I am in. There are deadlines. My coworkers work around the clock. Just the other day, someone asked me to meet at 8pm on a FRIDAY. Really?! On a Friday night? C’mon. It didn’t stop there either since I’ve got folks willing to meet on the weekends or at 2am in the morning if that’s what’s required to finish our deliverables. I’m sorry but as much of a workaholic as I can be, I just don’t have the energy or motivation to meet in off hours — off hours are my hours when I’m working on life (you know, to achieve that illusion we like to call work-life balance). I am also currently sick. The last time I was sick was a year ago when I was stressed out and overworked. Coincidence? I think not.
Since I’m on the topic of health, there was one unexpectedly good side effect from my trip. When I was abroad, I was reminded more often than not that a lot of the produce abroad is organic by default because the governments there aren’t as into “sanitizing” their agriculture the way our government does. I’m not implying everything I ate was organic but I do believe that a greater proportion of the food I had was organic and less processed than what we’re used to in the U.S. I actually ate tons of food everyday and of course, had the requisite order of gelato daily in my last 3 weeks in Italy. But despite all those extra calories, I walked more than I’ve ever walked (I’m ready for any stair climbing race at this point) and I can now fit in shorts that I wasn’t able to fit in when I left for my trip! Score! My point, however, is that I wanted to continue eating better and fitting in exercise whenever possible even though I am not traveling now. As a result, I’ve stayed away from ultra-processed foods/drinks and anything loaded in grease and fat since I’ve been back. Up until I got sick, I felt the best I’ve ever felt! This is one change I wholeheartedly welcome.
Finally, where does that leave me now? I still occasionally glance through the pictures I took from the trip because it offers a quick escape back to the best 2-3 months of my life. I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate “slowing down” in a job that is all about “speeding up”. In my off hours, I want to cook more, walk more, and eat better. Also, as much as I thought my 80 day trip was a once-in-a-lifetime, I just don’t think it should be! I hope to one day be able to do something similar (this time with Mr. T the whole time) and maybe even longer! I’m also convinced that short little 1-2 week holidays are just not long enough to immerse yourself in a different culture so I foresee more monthlong adventures ahead. That’s the thing about wanderlust — even if you give into it, it doesn’t go away.