And, it’s over.
I remember the drive to San Francisco’s airport on that morning, it was cold and dark for spring, everything covered in dew and the tops of the eucalyptus trees shrouded in a heavy layer of fog. I remember I could smell the ocean that morning. I remember I walked through my house, lightly running my fingers over every wall I walked past as I headed for the front door, as I always do before departing for a trip (I don’t know why I do it, actually, it started as something I was unaware of but I feel like it’s my way of saying see you eventually to the sturdy walls that are home, sturdy walls I will soon be without), but I remember thinking, this time is different. This time is different. I wasn’t just leaving for a short work trip and would be back in a couple weeks, or to visit my family in the east coast and would be back in a few days. I wasn’t even leaving for one of the longer, 6-8 week expeditions I’d found myself doing in the past few years, where I was always focusing on just one country or region and was always, always, traveling with somebody; whether a boyfriend, a friend, clients, colleagues. I felt, this is different. There was a plane at the airport with a seat waiting for me — the first leg of 42 flights — that would take me to 15 countries over the course of almost five months, on a nonstop expedition to five continents. The last time I did a round-the-world like that — back in 2013 — I came back to America feeling transformed, mesmerized by the euphoria of solo travel (I’d traveled solo countless times before, but never for 9 months, to 12 countries, nonstop), and mostly, just how different my life was. I was happier than I ever thought was possible. I met people that mattered more to me and felt more familiar than others I’d known my whole life. My career took off. I discovered a life full of joy, of adventure, and forward to me standing in the empty foyer of my house, it was about to happen again.
As I locked the front door for the last time for months, I wondered how different my life would be the next time I’d put my key in that lock. I wondered if I would be sicker, stronger, happier, tired from so much transit, or eager to leave again; who I’d meet, who I’d reconnect with, what would move me, what would challenge me, what would change me.
Before pulling up at the Departures terminal that morning, through the heavy San Francisco fog, the clouds cleared for a moment and I saw the sun break through the mist, casting long amber rays onto the tarmac, pulling my eyes up to the sky, as if the world was saying, Come closer.
You have no idea what you’re about to discover.
But now it’s over, and I’m amazed.
I knew that I would enjoy my adventure — even on past trips abroad that have lasted for months (not necessarily RTW’s, but longterm expeditions) where I was deeply challenged or frustrated or sick or exhausted, I always walked away with something, so it was never any doubt that I wouldn’t grow from this RTW, in one way or another.
But the scale in which I was shown the true, deep, bountiful beauty of the planet and so many of its creatures and people — kind, honest, beautiful, extraordinary souls — is something that kept leaving me speechless. Again and again and again. I remember, towards the end of my first two weeks in South America, I was swimming in a hot spring deep in the Andes mountains at 15,000 ft. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and just 2°F, and I floated with my neck craned up towards the heavens, watching meteors and shooting stars streak across the gloriously black sky, covered in a blanket of stars and a Milky Way so remarkably bright that looming glaciers of the surrounding Andean peaks were reflected the celestial light, making the mountains illuminate against the navy darkness, as if cradling me in a valley of sleeping, glowing giants. I remember thinking, This is happiness, and I don’t know how it can get any better than this.
Somehow, though, it always did. It always got better. As I scaled the continents, drew closer, discovered, I pushed myself beyond my limits, and I felt. I felt. The numbness of stagnancy was shaken off me that moment my plane first lifted off from San Francisco those months ago, and every moment since then has felt like God or the Universe or whomever or whatever was grabbing me by the arm, leading me to someone or something incredible and saying, This is here for you, this is how the world can be, it’s always here for you, you just have to choose it.
Then I arrived here. Collapsing in my final Departures terminal with deep, bone-aching exhaustion — but, the kind of good exhaustion, like the kind you have at the end of a long ten mile hike where your body is beautifully sore and you’re covered in dust and mud and are smiling wildly and sleepily and euphorically at passerby’s who probably think you’re crazy — exhaustion that sweeps over you and just as it makes you feel eccentrically happy and dizzy with love for everyone you’ve met and everything you’ve seen, you also notice a slight, sad twinge behind it all, and you notice an underlying sensation of melancholy and nostalgia creep into your chest, waiting to be acknowledged and carried and slowly grow heavier as you transition back home. When a few days pass and you begin to miss the simplicity of living out of a backpack, of only having to carry what’s necessary (and therefore realizing everything you own that’s not), of certain peoples’ voices and nights of ringing laughter (laughter that’s so deep and loud and makes your stomach cramp, laughter that makes you realize you haven’t laughed like that in, what, months? years?), of vistas that move you to tears and days so heartbreakingly beautiful that they bring you to your knees, and the moment when you unlock your front door again and step inside and think to yourself that everything is the same, except you, and you put down your backpack and find something, somehow, different.
I know I will remember this adventure as one of the most poignant, most remarkably special experiences of my life. It was a reminder of happiness. It was a reminder of everything I’d lost, come back to me. It was a reminder of who I am. It was happiness. From the lion calls of Botswana, from the outstretched arms under cascading waterfalls, from the rooftop sunsets and ramadan of Morocco, from the deep jungles of Sumatra, from the glaciers of Peru, from the ramba and rum of Cuba, from the midnight swims under fireworks and stars of Indonesia, it was everything. It was indigo. It was brightness.
Go bravely into the world. Let your life unfold. Let the world show you how big, how surprising, how magnificent it can be, and you will discover.
I know I have. Let's see where this goes next.