Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au’. (I am the river. The river is me.)
– Saying of the Whanganui Tribes
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I’m now on my final days in New Zealand. To be honest, I have felt very mixed feelings since I have been in this country. I have felt very alone and stranded at times, but have also found places and people here that feel like home. There have been low lows, and high highs. Four and a half months of decisions, action, inaction, existential and career crises, among other things. I am looking forward to leaving and moving onto my next destination, Ireland. I’m feeling pretty scared about it. I am alone again, and will be alone again in another new country with a new currency and customs, surrounded by people but no one who really knows me. I have this sinking feeling that no matter where I go in the world, that it will be the case. But surely, it is not. I’m being dramatic! Ha! Even though I don’t have a permanent home right now, there are many places in the world that I can go and feel like I belong. I have been on a bit of an emotional and existential rollercoaster lately, and I’ll do my best at describing it and coming to a point.
I’ve been abroad for nine and a half months now, and I have seen some truly amazing things, many of which have reaffirmed my lifelong suspicion that this planet is a ridiculously, breath-takingly beautiful and complex place. A lot of people from every corner travel to see the world to see the sights, climb mountains, take photographs, interact with the wildlife, go to museums, see beautiful art, eat exotic and delicious food! There are times (most of the time) when I love doing this stuff, playing the tourist if you will. And a lot of my time over the last nine months has been spent doing just that. But, looking back at my journey so far, there are always parts of my travels that stand out more than the rest. Periods of a few days, a week, or a few hours that jump out at me and bring a flood of memories. And these moments are the times where I shared my travels with the amazing people I have met along the way.
For example: A day spent hiking with a bad-ass New Yorker activist woman in Portland. A few days of beaching and drinking with friends from Canada, Belgium, China and Ireland while in Cambodia. Seeing some of the biggest caves in the world and hiking a waterfall in Phong Nha with an American friend. Running into a solo traveling German gal at least four (4!) times between Laos and Thailand and having deep talks about life and womanhood while trying to translate into each others languages. Drinking some questionable whiskey and eating a city worth of streetfood with an Irishman in Pai. Staying with a family in Indonesia who I became close with and still talk to often. Hiking volcanoes in the pouring rain with a Dutch couple that made it all worth it. Couchsurfing with the most hospitable kiwis. Meeting an amazing family in New Zealand who treated me like their own adopted daughter/sister. And that was all in the first 8 months!
Now, I’m going on month 10. In the last month I have been mostly in the South Island of New Zealand. I have hiked hundreds of kilometers, climbed mountains, done roadtrips with strangers (now friends) and partied in a cave. I’ve met more Brits than I can count, and found myself at a winery in the middle of nowhere with a South African, a Scot, and an Italian/Australian. I’ve sat in a hostel lounge with ten Germans who were all speaking English, tried to speak French to a girl from Africa (and realized how rusty in actually is) and learned the difference between a Manchester, Leeds, Yorkshire and Newcastle accent. I talked to a six-year-old, who I nannied, on the phone for half an hour and loved it. I’ve met Americans from every corner including Boston, Texas, New Hampshire, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Orange County, Montana, Washington and Alaska (none of them Trump supporters… believe me, there’s always someone who asks). I’ve overheard a French Canadian accent in a hostel and felt a bit of a throwback to my childhood (and simultaneously annoyed at the existence of this accent). I’ve met a surprising number of Engineers from all over the world, one of whom I worked on the same project as while I was working in consulting in Canada (it truly is a small world). I stayed in Christchurch (of all places in New Zealand) for an entire week after following Chris there; an American earthquake engineer/PhD student who I have come to know well during my time in NZ.
I said goodbye to Chris this morning at the Christchurch Airport, which left me again with an empty feeling. How many times will I say goodbye to someone at an airport, with no real idea if I will ever see them again? How many times will I board a flight on my own, surely destined toward better things, not knowing at all if what I am doing is the right choice?
Another reality of long-term travel is also starting to sink in… meaning that I am running out of money. This is a feeling that I haven’t had on my travels yet, since my trusty bank account, as well as experiences of working and traveling, have supported me very well until now. I’m scared that I won’t be able to fund myself for as long as I want to while in Europe. I do find some comfort in the fact that in Europe I will be so close (only the Atlantic Ocean away!) from home. That I can go home whenever I want to… but then the question arises… Where is home, exactly? Home for me used to be a good job, a routine, a network of friends, a warm apartment with all my belongings in it, family members close by in a city that I knew. Now, I am missing some major variables in that equation. I don’t know where home is anymore. I don’t know what I will be doing back to when I get to Canada.
Travel never really stops, I guess. We are all travelers on this earth, improvising our next day, our next move. Complacency and routine can fool us into thinking that this is not true, but we truly have the ability to change our circumstances on a whim, which is both freeing and terrifying. Imagine, you, YOU, could quit your job right this second, get to the nearest international airport and armed with a passport go ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. TODAY. Obviously this is something that you won’t do, but my current situation has enabled that mindset which basically makes my knees shake and my heart pound and a state of anxiety descend upon me like I have never felt before. But I have made it this far, which convinces me that I will be able to continue my journey with some semblance of grace and minimal catastrophic failure.
While the feeling of that false reality starts to sink in with the weight of an elephant, I see a light at the end of the tunnel, I have exciting news! The very day I arrive in Dublin, my good friend from home, Kirin, will be joining me for a couple of days! I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this. I haven’t seen Kirin, or anyone from home (other than Ariel, lol hey Ariel), for over 9 months, and now we will be meeting in the pub capital of the world to drink, listen to music, and catch up like old friends do! The weight on my chest gets a bit lighter knowing that I will be seeing an old friend in a few short days. And then, I meet up with another friend, the aforementioned Irishman at an Irish music festival in West Clare! Ah! Friends!
Travel is unbelievably beautiful places on this earth. Travel is making new friends from faraway lands. Travel is trusting people to look after you, and to get you to your next destination. It is a lot of hello’s, a million goodbyes. A sinking feeling, an emptiness, and a longing for something, though you’re not quite sure what. It is anxiety cured through improvisation and talking to strangers. It can be lonely, and the opposite of lonely. It can make you question your existence while giving you a reason to keep going. It is an unbelievable excitement to get to a new place and get a taste of a new culture!! It is an appreciation for the comforts of home including friends, family, and your closet filled with what seems like endless outfit options (stop it Emily). It is connecting, and reconnecting, with people from all corners of the earth, friends old and new. It is finding yourself in a place that you never thought you would be, with people you just met but feel like you’ve known forever, and feeling like it is the best day of your life.
Travel is a lot of things that spans the entire emotional and existential spectrum. It is bringing a lot of important questions to surface for me right now, which explains why this post is so all over the place. Travel is a metaphor for life that makes you face your reality and every choice you make, every day. It’s been nine and a half months, but I still find myself approaching these choices with a different outlook, almost every time.
But don’t worry guys, I’m figuring it out day by day, I promise!