Two weeks from this moment, I will be flying somewhere over the continental USA en route home. It’s not my first time going home since my travels began, but it’s the first time that it matters.
When I went home in March and April, I was in the throes of a non-stop life that essentially began in the summer of 2013. August, 2013, was when I first really began to think I could overcome my decade of strife to launch into the life of my dreams.
I threw myself into work then, not knowing that I’d somehow find the wherewithal to spend the next two years working six days a week. I had no idea my work would go as well as it would and I’d get as far as I did.
Deep down inside, I doubted I could do it, but I promised myself I’d die trying.
I didn’t die, but I didn’t stop, either. Much naivety resided in the deluded belief that I’d find downtime once my travels began, but it was the opposite. Less rest, less mental shut-off, less peace, more challenge, more pacing problems.
Didn’t take long to realize that was the life I signed up for, and I had no right to bitch about it.
The Dark Side of Relentlessness
Today I stand on the far side of 338 days spent without having a home of my own. Going home, that remains true. No home. Just a place that once was home, but sometimes maybe that’s all we need.
A year ago today, I was scared of everything. Scared I’d have back problems. Terrified about what would happen if my largest client up and vanished. Worried about how I’d handle being alone, fraught with language challenges, negotiating foreign places.
I’d never travelled, so I had no idea how I’d handle that ride.
When I returned home in March and April, my biggest fears came true. I lost my biggest client and 60% of my income overnight. I also had a return of back pain for the first time since my travels began. And I certainly never stopped running. I’d arranged a ridiculous pace of travel in the weeks leading to my return home, so I was verging on an ulcer with all the stress I’d created in my life.
Soon I realized North America’s hot water was causing my back pain to return. Inflammation. As soon as I adopted the lukewarm and cold-water showers that filled my life in Europe and Mexico, my pain vanished in two days.
Going home, in a way, showed me that home was part of my earlier problems. But that was the only problem I solved then and there. I couldn’t have known it’d be five months later before I finally replaced my lost income. Nor could I have known that I would soon have the worst sleeps of recent years, for months on end.
The State of the Steff
I can report all of that is now over. Period.
Today I’m sleeping 9 to 11 hours a day and love it. I work constantly, with more reward, thanks to signing a contract two weeks ago to effectively replace my lost income. I’m even banging out projects that have frustrated me for months, like my first-ever travel video. (Loved making it! Please watch. 😀 )
All these changes are largely in part to two things. One, tenacity, pure and simple. I worked like a fiend and it’s paying off. Funny how that works. Two, accepting I was in a perimenopausal depression, I could then medicate appropriately with something that saved me a decade ago when I entered into a biochemical depression that ravaged my life for a year. (About 5-6 weeks later, medicating stands as one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.)
I’m in a city that is irrelevant to me, not because I don’t want to see this region, but because I’m stupid enough to be here at the hottest time of year. It doesn’t matter, though. All I want to do is bang out this work that has eluded me for so long. And I want to sleep. Sleep, sleep, and sleep. I know the future that looms for me and I want to enjoy my friends and family and the world around me when I’m back in Canada. Going home will feel better after all this.
Listening to Who We Are
I know now my work is the most important part of my life. My writing, my creative pursuits, the writer I want to be, the observations I want to record – this is what will define my life after I’ve left the world, and it’s everything to me right now. Maybe others don’t get that, and I don’t care if they do. I love to write. I love to edit. This is what I was put on the Earth to do, whether I ever become famous or rich for it or not. It’s not about the end rewards, it’s about just doing it.
This period of just hanging out, working, and not seeing the world around me, it’s just what I need right now, but it’s not the future I want. This is three years of break-neck relentlessness bringing me to a full stop so I heal and get ready for more.
The trick in future travels will be finding places that make me feel alive and extract me from my hidey-hole, but also encourage me to write and record where I am. Part of me suspects most of us first-time travellers need a year of travel before we’re willing to just stop, be still, and be in places.
Low, Quiet Moments & Our Inner-Workings
I’m alone in a courtyard café, as a fountain splashes water, listening to traffic roll by and slow jazz playing above. This insufferable Gulf of Mexico heat is unending. Sometimes I glare at the fountain, thinking “Yeah, that’s just what this place needs. More humidity.”
But then I think… “I’m writing in a café in the tropical heat of the Gulf of Mexico. Soon, I’ll be writing in a pub in Prague. And then I’ll be writing in a taverna on a Greek Island.” And who knows after that? Dubrovnik? A return to the Croatia I fell hard for?
And it occurs to me, all my fears I had, they’ve nearly all come true. Yeah, I had a problem with isolation, and I lost most of my income, and I struggled hard. But it’s all done. I’ve met them, dealt with them, and I’m stronger for it.
It’s hard to explain how these kinds of challenges, amid a year of globe-trotting solo, really transformed me as a person. I’m the same person I’ve always been, except I’m not.
This is true of much adversity. Change seldom comes in neon-light INNER-CHANGE HAPPENING HERE ways.
People I know who have been forged by fires of adversity tend to be quietly strong. There’s no shouting it out and laying it on you about how tough they are or what they’ve been through. They know and they don’t need to prove it to you, me, or anyone.
For awhile, I was that way. But then I went astray and I found myself feeling the need to prove things to people. Lately, that’s shifted again and there’s something I just know inside now. I can’t explain it to you. There’s no way I can tell you “yes, this is the resultant feeling of my journey…” because I’m not sure that sense of self has a name.
There are times we hope we know what we’re made of, times we learn what we’re made of, and then times where we just know what we’re made of. For the latter to happen, first we must learn it.
I guess I’ve reached stage three.
Ain’t Sure Where I’m Goin’, But Know Where I Been
The thing about really knowing where you’ve been is you finally realize it doesn’t matter where you’re going.
Like Twain and others have said, the destination isn’t the point, the journey is. But even more than that, it’s not even really about the journey, it’s about how you handle the ride.
Long-term travel will come with every problem you had at home, and then it’ll throw some more into the mix. You won’t have your best friend to come have drinks with you and decompress you when the darkness finds you. Family and friends will be as far away as the heavens are, and phone calls and video calling don’t fill the void. Money problems get scarier when everywhere you go is an unknown, unlike at home when you know where’s in your budget and what ain’t.
It’s the Pausing I Remember
Still, a funny thing happens after all those struggles pass. They dissipate. They’re gone. I can’t tell you where I was in any of my darkest moments of the last 338 days. I really can’t.
But I can tell you I stood on the edge of the Atlantic at Capo de Roca, staring out at the vast ocean that once terrified Portuguese and Spanish explorers who set out to find a new world. I can tell you that, at that moment, I felt like I could conquer the world – because those guys setting out with nothing but a wooden boat, a compass, and wind in their sails conquered it too.
And I can tell you about when a park full of easy-going Portuguese drinking wine and cerveza and watching the sun set over Porto made me realize I had achieved the different life I’d dreamt of for more than two decades.
Or the time I stood all alone in a 2,050-year-old Roman Coliseum. If I listened closely, I could hear a ghostly roar on the wind of 25,000 bloodthirsty Roman citizens calling for blood to spill on the sandy floor. And I remember how I felt when I realized probably fewer than 0.001% of the planet would ever stand alone in the gaping maw of gladiator history.
Then there’s the time I stood over a Mexican city, staring down at its colors fading into dusk, and knew I would come out of my own dark times with an exciting future ahead of me. Because, unlike all those houses full of Mexicans struggling to make it in a hard world, I had so much more on my side.
The Satisfaction in a Job Well Done
Mostly, though, I remember a thousand moments of quiet gratitude. Flashes where, in the middle of whatever I was doing, I realized I worked like a fiend to make a dream come true, and then, presto. It came true.
Yeah, it ain’t easy. What life is? But all you gotta ask yourself is: Is it worth it?
If you can answer “yes,” then that’s the only answer you need to know.
I may be in a brutally hot city I don’t feel like exploring, after a long hard year, but it’s been worth it every single day. And this city’s what I need it to be right now. It’s a place where I’m collecting my thoughts, recharging my batteries, and setting out a rough guide for my year ahead. No distractions, just work.
If this year is what it’s like when it’s hard, I can’t wait to see what the next year is like. It’s been a really great, great ride that I wish everyone could experience at least once in their life.
Going home this time, I know I’ll be happy when I get there, and happier still when I leave.