This trip was never intended to be a big “spirit quest”, though I often joked with my friends that I was winning the mid-life crisis contest since I left my great job and fantastic apartment to travel around the world with my European Boy Toy (ha ha).
Before we left on this journey, I had reached a point where there was no work/life balance. It was constant working, accompanied with a long commute and no energy left to see friends or enjoy the city. My main hobby was (online) retail therapy, and teaching one Zumba class per week took all of my remaining energy. This trip seemed like a good way to hit the reset button on a lot of habits.
So here are some of the big lessons I learned during our travels:
When it comes down to it, what I really need to be comfortable is: tasty food, decent wifi, warmth, and regular access to a washing machine. Places like Borneo, where there just wasn’t very good produce or decent food, got old quickly… I don’t need gourmet cuisine at every meal, but as a vegetarian, fresh ingredients are important. I love to enjoy a good meal and eating just for sustenance makes me sad.
We relied so heavily on connectivity, for staying in touch with people and entertainment, that I quickly learned that decent wifi could make up for a lot of other accommodation shortcomings… without it, every less-than-optimal aspect of our situation became amplified.
I was pleasantly surprised that I was just fine without a lot of clothing (as long as I had regular access to a washing machine). I only packed things that I loved, so I never got tired of them. And as The German pointed out, I was still allowed to buy things… they just had to be able to fit in my luggage. I did rotate things out along the way, especially once we were done with all the safari gear, but otherwise shopping became a rare treat as opposed to a stress-relieving habit. (I am sure Gilt is lamenting my disappearance.)
I was worried that I would feel lost without my job… what would I say to people when I introduced myself? How would I spend my time? Thankfully, I was relieved to discover that work doesn’t define me. The “what do you do?” question is only central to American conversations and came up much less frequently in other places. And while I certainly like to feel productive and always want to learn new things, there were many other ways to achieve this. I rarely felt bored and being in new places meant that just walking to the grocery store could be an adventure. It was nice to be able to leisurely spend time reading the news while drinking coffee, instead of rushing from one thing to another as I previously did.
Dancing always makes me happy. In Melbourne, I was going to multiple classes per day and I loved it. In Ubud, I had daily access to a studio where I could work on new choreography. Even a “bad” dance class was a good learning experience. When I return to work, I need to continue to make Zumba and other dance classes a priority, even if I am stressed and tired.
Friends are important, and it’s hard to make new ones when you’re not working and constantly on the move. It was always amazing to meet up with old friends in various places, and FaceTime dates with my friends in SF were always a treat. Zumba was a great outlet for me to meet people, but other than the odd tech meet-up, The German struggled to connect to like-minded people. Once we discovered the co-living places with built-in communities, we couldn’t go back to isolated AirBnBs. Wherever we settle, it needs to be a place where we already have a lot of friends or will easily be able to make some.
Roughing it can be good for you (though it doesn’t need to be to the extreme of climbing Kilimanjaro). The positive side of bad meals or crummy accommodation is that it helped reset our expectations for the next spot. Despite how it may have appeared in this blog (since posts about us making omelettes in a tiny kitchen would be pretty boring), fancy dinners became a rare treat that we really appreciated, and my first trip to the cheese counter at Whole Foods was particularly joyful after 4 months in SouthEast Asia.
Now the real test will be if I can hold onto this perspective now that I am back in SF for a few months…