November 18, 2003
The Year in Review
The passing of time is relative. A year in the life of new mother can go by in the blink of an eye, while a year in the life of a school child dreaming of summer vacation can drag on for decades. One day crawls forward on four legs, while another day races by on two. Some people spend their time looking to the future, while others console themselves with the past.
At 23 I planned a two month trip to South America - a very long time in the eyes of a neophyte traveler. Yet once I arrived, I met people traveling for 6 months, 8 months, 12 months. The concept amazed me, it confused me - and eventually, it consumed me. Four months later I returned home, my eyes having been opened to a new world.
One year ago this past Sunday, I left the United States bound for Australia and beyond. I had more luggage than I could carry on my own, a meticulously outlined timeline of the upcoming year complete with Plan A and Plan B country options (including seasonal weather patterns, political stability and festival schedule), and somewhere, buried really deep - the knowledge that I could go home at any time.
One year later, I find myself in Laos. The most important item I carry with me is the knowledge that I can still go home at any time. I have one backpack of personal items which, while still heavy, I can carry myself. My timeline has been revised and updated so many times that it no longer exists on paper - replaced with a general idea of future travel plans based on factors such as culture, experience and, to a much lesser extent weather (I still hope to maintain the semblance of an endless summer).
There have been sad and lonely times. Times when an email from a friend meant more to me than my passport. Times when I would have given almost anything to talk to someone who had known me for more than just a few hours or a few days. Times when I wondered what the hell I was doing so far away from the world and people I knew and loved.
But, there have also been many more amazing and wonderful times. Times when I was drunk on the power of nature. Times when I saw my life as a storybook. Times when I felt like a child, seeing the world through new eyes. Times when I knew, without a doubt, that I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time - at marvelled at how I had arrived there.
As one friend kindly reminded me during a blue moment, the course of a year for any person is filled with highs and lows, ups and downs. Just because one is travelling, does not mean that their life is immune to this reality. And throughout the past year of my life I can confirm that this is true. For while my geographic location changed more frequently than that of the average person, the realities of human existance and the entire range of human emotions were always with me.
And, so too were they with my friends and loved ones. During this past year three of my friends had babies, while five of them lost a parent. Five of my friends became engaged, and three of them celebrated one year wedding anniversaries. Couples got together and others broke apart. Friends moved into new apartments, big cities, and different countries. Quickly for some and slowly for others, the year came full circle, just as it has for me.
Traveling is said to change people, and maybe that is true. My hair is longer, my skin is more brown, and there might be an extra wrinkle or two on my face. But more than that I can not say. My life for the past year has been lived in a sort of vacumn. Without a past, each person who meets me sees me to be the person I lay out in front of them. I no longer have a history of previous behaviour and past experiences. There are no more of the assumptions that come with being an older sister, a motherless daughter, or a first-generation American. I am just Melanie, another traveler on another journey.
So I start year two with a confession about my journey. I do not know 100% where I am going, what exactly I will be doing when I get there, or when I will be back. This confession scares some of you, as it scares me. It is contrary to my past organized planning behavior, and truth be told there are still moments when I lay awake creating Plan A's and Plan B's.
But I have come to believe that a person will know in her heart when her journey has come to an end - when it has come full circle - and it is time to go home. Not a calendar circle, not a geographic circle, but a circle of experiences that added together, makes a whole.
I'm just not quite there yet.