Four months to go: reflections

Today is four months until I take off, and about two months since I made my decision to quit my job and travel indefinitely. Here is an update on my progress, what I still need to do before I go and my general feelings on my choice and life in general.

Done:

  • Started selling stuff (woo!)
  • Started giving belongings away (woooo!)
  • Started telling people about my choice (some woo! some ugh.)
  • Got a storage unit (eek!)
  • Got a roommate (woo!)
  • Saved WAY MORE money than I thought possible (goldest of gold stars!)
  • Bought a new backpack – my 48 litres of freedom

Still need to do:

  • Find a long-term temporary home for my cat, Wally
  • Sell everything else
  • Decide if I will rent or sell my apartment
  • Set up my business
  • Finish a million and one tasks for work
  • Save even more money

The stuff purge:

In a word, this has been liberating. Everything I part with gives me a momentary pang of regret, followed by a growing sense of freedom. It is almost like all of that space that is opening up shows me just how free and unattached I can be.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Norway and a friend took care of the cat while I was away.  I made three large piles of books on the coffee table and told him to take any of the books he wanted. Before I left I stared at the books at length, thinking about how good some of them were, how I liked the cover art on others and how quaint they look on my shelf, and how I’d like to hold on to one or two for later re-reading. But I behaved – I left them all in the give-away pile. When I got back from the trip the cat-sitter had taken about 2/3 of the books that had been sitting there. And the most amazing thing – I couldn’t remember a title of a single one of the books he took. That felt good. When they were in front of me I needed them, when they were out of sight they were already out of mind – totally unnecessary clutter. Someone else will enjoy them, and my personal load is about twenty books lighter. Win-win!

Home:

Right now I am ‘home’. I think. Well, I’m not sure. Does one go on vacation to home? Honestly I have no idea what that word even means any more.  Last week I was in Vancouver, Canada. I would say Vancouver is the home where my heart is, as corny as it sounds. Seattle is the home where my family is. And Sweden is the home where my job & ‘stuff’ is.

Coming home to Vancouver is always filled with emotions. Good and bad emotions, but always LOTS of emotions. During the week there, I’ve felt elated, bored, depressed, lonely, overwhelmed, loved, missed, forgotten, fascinating, unrelated to, stressed for time and a hundred other emotions. Above all I’ve felt heartsick. Whatever that is. But I feel it in my heart. That’s how I know this is my heart’s home.  I’ve cried twice, and given and received more hugs than in all of the last year in Sweden. I’ve forgotten names and had to tell people I don’t live in Switzerland. I’ve had way too much coffee, but not nearly enough beers. I’ve realised that after five years away, this isn’t home in a where-I-live sense anymore. It is home in a better-from-afar sense in a lot of ways. It isn’t the same as how I left it – and I will never get used to this. But I also know that one day, eventually, this will be my where-I-live home again, so I’ll keep coming back to visit, until I come back for keeps.

This has been one of the two biggest ‘downs’ of the last little while. The other is the general reaction I get when I tell people about my decision to travel.

“I’m going Vagabonding”:

There are aspects of life that one repeats so many times that canned, rehearsed answers tend to roll out without much thought or effort. Especially on the road, conversations often hit on a standard list of questions: where are you from, what do you do, where will you go next, etc.

I am the master of the canned answer, which I think stems from the fact that I find myself somewhat boring and also inarticulate, so when I come up with an interesting set of words I hold on to them. Especially when it comes to work, I prefer to have an honest but generally vague explanation of what I do that allows the person to move to another subject it if they aren’t genuinely interested (90% of the time) but also leaves the door wide open for follow up questions if the person actually is interested (a very enjoyable 10% of the time).

However, this whole vagabonding thing has left me high and dry for an explanation. I haven’t come up with the best way to present it, or accurately describe it such that the person I’m talking to isn’t left totally baffled. Furthermore, I still don’t know if this is due to my explanation of vagabonding, or if it is the act of vagabonding itself that is generally incomprehensible. I’m starting to think its the latter, with a peppering of the former.

Right now the conversation usually goes something like:

Them: “So, how is Sweden?  Are you going to stay there for a while?”

Me: “Well, actually my work contract and residence visa run out at the end of the year. I’ve decided I’m going to take a break from science. Right now I’m trying to save up money and I’ll be travelling from January.”

Them: “Oh, for how long?”

Me: “Well, indefinitely.”

Them: “But what about after that?”  or  “And then where will you move?”  or  “Then you’ll go back to your current job?” or “Will you go to the States at the end of the year?” or… just a blank stare.

So it seems that tripping point #1 is the word indefinitely. Which is a bit funny. It seems we have a culturally preconceived notion of activities that can be indefinite (such as relationships or white-collar jobs) and then other activities that must come to an end (living abroad seems to generally fall into this category, blue-collar jobs are often viewed as temporary until you find something ‘better’, education and TRAVEL).  No one can travel forever, right?  It is just too… fun.  And… expensive. But as you’ll see, or perhaps already know, with a little creativity and a lot of motivation travel can be indefinite, at least in the same sense that any job or relationship is.

Tripping point #2 is a little more understandable to me, especially when I’m talking to people who haven’t travelled much.  This is the itinerary.  “Oh where will you go?” (Solid question!) me: “I’m not sure, I haven’t booked a ticket yet.”  Them: “Well, where are you going to fly back home from?” Me: Staring blankly, having an internal philosophical debate about the term home. I begin twitching. Them: “Well, which countries will you go to?”  One of the greatest joys of traveling is having no set plan at all. I will fly into a country, and I will stay there.  I might stay there for three days, or I might stay there for three months. I might hop a train to the next country: China? Burma? Mozambique?. I might get homesick and fly to Seattle after five days to sleep in my childhood room (unlikely, but possible).  It is totally open. I will go where ever the wind may blow!  At this point the non-traveller usually loses consciousness from the pure anxiety of the concept of arriving in a totally foreign land without hotels booked in the next ten cities. This saves me from further questions, at least.

Occasionally they retain consciousness. This gives me a chance to turn it around. I won’t tell them my plans because the plans don’t exist. But I can ask their opinion (here are three places I’ve thought of – which would you go to? Why?) or advice (If you went back to Asia where would you start?). This usually gets the discussion back on track and is really enjoyable – I have learned a lot about other peoples trips and views on travel this way.

Light at the end of the tunnel:

So, in sum, I would say that with four months to go I have become increasingly excited and tormented. And in response I have started to sprint – heading for that light that surrounds December 31. I hope I don’t run out of steam in the next four months – but I can’t take it easy any more. I need to prep, plan and GO!

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