If only in my dreams...
11.04.2012 - 12.06.2012
“I'll be home for Christmas...”
The song had unexpectedly entered my mind one October day while I peacefully sat on the balcony of The Hump Hostel in Kunming, watching as an airplane flew across the partly cloudy skies overhead.
“...If only in my dreams,” I sung to myself, with a smile.
I had been traveling solo for nearly a year, and although my cash reserves were dwindling down ever closer to the action-inspiring “I'm broke” mark, I didn't feel ready to come home yet, and I was planning to find a job teaching English in one of the nearby countries in the near future, so as to extend my travels out at least another year or more.
Traveling through Asia on my own was, up until that time, one of the funnest parts of my life, and I was looking for any way I could find to extend the trip longer. Teaching would give me a chance to see what it was like to experience another side of Asia; a working life rather than the free-floating lifestyle that backpacking gave me. It would expose me to more diversity, help me to appreciate and understand the world more fully, and I would gain valuable skills as a teacher and as a communicator. I also figured that while teaching, I could save up enough money to go back to India after I was done, and take some mountaineering courses on the cheap at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, in Darjeeling. Also, I dreamed that I could get down to the business of creating some sort of a book or online product during my extended time abroad, which would facilitate more financial freedom and more fun-loving travel awesomeness!
As far as I was concerned, this was a great plan, and it felt hugely ambitious, and so I was super excited to take on this next great string of challenges! I would have to play my cards smartly to pull it all off smoothly, but I had all the confidence in the world that I could do it. I had, after all, over the last several months, thrown myself into all manner of adventures, from rigorous trekking through the Himalayas to witness Mt. Everest, to exploring two Nepalese jungles on foot searching for tigers, rhinos, and elephants. From sitting for ten days in silent stillness learning Vipassana meditation, to allowing life to unfold a larger meditation through my writings over as many months as I had been on the road. From forming deep companionship with fellow travelers, to finding wonderful friendships with locals I had met along the way. I had traveled though dozens of strange and evocative places, and managed nearly everything about my trip on my own, with little issue other than the occasional computer virus or stomach bug, and so I wasn't afraid to find that teaching job, even though I didn't know how I was going to do it!
But one month after that Christmas song played in my head, I decided it wouldn't hurt to ponder the question, “What if it is time to go home?”
It felt almost sacrilegious to even consider breaking from my determined focus and open up this “what if” door. What if it inspired some weakness in me, and I gave up on the challenge ahead? What if I dithered too much in my considerations and ate up precious time contemplating my options, when I should be researching schools to teach at or finding out which certifications I needed? I was wary of my own capacity to second-guess myself out of doing something I truly wanted. But I decided to reconsider anyhow.
Kunming has a collection of Starbucks coffee shops around town, and I went to one to reflect on Seattle, over a mocha. I figured it would connect me to home in some way that sitting around at the hostel wouldn't. During my time abroad, I did my very best to stay away from American chains like this, so that I could experience the flavors of the country I was in; but this was a suitable occasion to break from that rule. Despite the fact that Starbucks in China seems to be more expensive than back home, and that a mocha cost me nearly one quarter of my daily budget, I came here for three days as I went back and forth with myself over the pull to return home, or the chance of a lifetime to find work locally and carry on for another year or two.
I have better come to understand, in the years since I left Kunming, that there is a difference between taking on the thrilling challenges of climbing a mountain, and deciding whether or not it is even the right mountain to climb to begin with. But back then, a good portion of my inspiration for traveling solo, was to test myself, and to really feel into what I am truly capable of. From this, I would build up my confidence to take on the pathways in life that truly matter to me. And so, knowing that I might cheat myself out of a good adventure, in order to indulge in comforts, I was often wary of choosing an easy path forward.
However, another purpose of my travels was to better learn how to listen carefully to my deepest knowing, and from that place within, move faithfully. On these travels, the wild and adventurous path that I had longed for while I was still at home, didn't always happen because I was pushing myself as hard as I could. Sometimes, it came by stopping. Other times, it came by moving slow. Or doing something that was actually fairly easy, like hanging out in my hotel for a week and reading and watching the world go by. Or like sitting around, drinking coffee. Life is mysterious, and all the planning and challenging myself in the world, could only take me so far. And so, after three days of Starbucks meditations, along with the mochas sloshing around in my stomach, in my gut, I knew it was time to go home...
Excited and relieved that I would soon be reuniting with friends and family, but wistful about leaving the enticements of Asia behind, I set myself to finding a flight home, and to making preparations to wrap up my trip. Thanksgiving was just around the corner, and airfares shot up so high, so fast, that I decided to add one last country: Vietnam, to my itinerary instead. After securing a Vietnamese visa, I booked a cheap flight out from Hanoi to Seoul to Tokyo to Seattle, and my course was set. I took the remaining three weeks until that time to fill my hours with gratitude, and reflect on all the adventures, friendships, and wonderful moments I had lived through, during these challenging, yet amazing thirteen months across India, Nepal, China, and finally Vietnam. When I arrived back home, on December 6th, it was just in time to surprise my extended family a few days later, at the first Christmas party of the season.