Home sweet home

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Last entry, wow! How time flew by.

Meanwhile I have been back home in Toronto for over two months, left for my brother's Buddhist wedding ceremony and came back again. I’ve been dealing with some nasty legal outrageousness around my condo, hosted Manu and other travel bugs, and have been keeping busy finding work again. And…I’ve been stalling on writing this last entry. How do I summarize this experience of over 10 months on the road, over a year as free floating, unemployed-by-choice vagabond? What have I learned? How have I changed? Or have I changed? Was it all I hoped it would be? What’s next? OMG, what IS next? Clearly, I need to get one of those regular lives again. At least for a while ;)

So here is my attempt at writing the last chapter of what sure as hell has been my life’s greatest adventure to date. Heads up, I am sure this will be a rather loooooong read :)

Chapter 1: The return
My flight back is on July 27, 2011. That is exactly 10 years and 1 day since I moved to Canada. 10 months and 9 days since I took off on this trip.

Will and Cali pick me up from the airport. Cali wags her tail, Will his finger at me for being gone so long. Martin and Bhavna await me at my place, bottle of wine and dinner at the ready. And I re-unite with Shaista the very next evening over Lebanese dinner.

I didn’t expect being home to be quite this emotional. It doesn’t feel like home when you don’t remember where your stuff is. I am feeling towards my apartment the way one might feel about a person, thinking "I’ll never leave you again for this long." Bizarre to think like this. About a condominium. I guess it’s a good thing for now, seeing as I was worried I’ll want to take off on another long term trip right away. Curious to see how long this will last ;)

Chapter 2: Adjusting
Over the next few days, I am realizing how blessed I am to have great friends. It’ so nice to see everyone again.

And I am absolutely loving Toronto. The glorious summer heat, the boutique coffee shops and myriad of cuisine options, the rainbow of skin colours, the variety of personal styles, being able to fully use my iPhone any time without WIFI, the smell of rotten garbage along Queen West (I am serious, not being sarcastic), the parks, the artsy furniture stores, the vibe of Kensington Market and other neighbourhoods, everyone going about their own business, the schizophrenic bums , even the TTC driver yelling at me for biking past a stopped streetcar (yes, there are some useful rules in Canada also). And of course, I love coming home to my own place and bed and bathroom.

Having been in Europe for some time before getting home, the culture and sticker shock is dampened. I no longer marvel at functioning public washrooms with doors, seats, flushes and most importantly toilet paper! I do however still shudder at the price tags. Like a handful of groceries equaling several days’ budget in many Asian countries. But thankfully, I manage to refrain from haggling for cheaper prices. Or speaking loudly and extra slowly to people that do not look Caucasian. I enjoy the pothole- and (mostly) poop-free side walks.

Chapter 3: Where do I belong?
Thumbing through my travel journal in search for inspiration for this last blog, I came across the following thoughts that seem appropriate to share now, at the end of my adventure. I took these notes on January 25, 2011 while on the island of Koh Mak in Thailand:

I met so many different people on this trip that are long term travelers. Some, like me, that are taking a career break to fulfill a dream; some that are taking time off before going from school to work life; some retirees; some that travel, always, as a life style, finding ways to finance it along the route or in short working stints at home; some with a transportable skill or career, working from anywhere; some running away from something, looking to find some truths, some one or themselves. So many people of different walks of life, age groups, income brackets, objectives and cultures.

When I left for this trip, I thought I am a little different, maybe a bit crazy. My mum likes to call it 'not normal’. Maybe more courageous than other people, or possibly just more cowardly. Whatever it was, I thought I was not like most people. Turns out, I am just like everyone else. Everyone else around me, that is: Recently that was people traveling for extended periods of time.

Before leaving on this trip, everyone else at home was just like me. With our respective flavours of career goals, Western aspirations, fears and sense of belonging.

And thinking back even further, I remember having the same thoughts when I moved to Canada. How unusual a choice, unique a path and special a life I had, compared to everyone else I knew. I quickly realized that in Canada a large portion of the population is just like me. So again, I wasn’t that special then either.

To me, that must mean that in the end we are all just human, and in one way or another we will find that we belong. At least that’s what I am inclined to believe. Because if I don’t, chances are I’ll get lost in my old life after having experienced so much freedom and joy for months on end.

As I watch my last finances dwindle so much faster now, it comforts me to know that no matter what choices I make, there will always be people like me. People that can relate, understand, support and those that will question, criticize and envy. But all of them are just like me. Or I am just like them. And we all belong.

Chapter 4: An ode to the roads and its folks
Since I am talking about fellow travelers, I wanted to remember some of the most inspiring, interesting or just random people I met on my travels. Some of these, I am still in touch with, others I don’t even know their name. But all of them to me, encapsulate what traveling is about and how possible it can be for anyone.

In order of appearance:

-          Klaus from Vienna. Contact = on a 9 day Gap Adventures trip in Africa a couple of years ago:
Retiree in his seventies. Lives in Austria during the summers and travels during the winters. His living costs are the same (or less) when traveling. So he opts to not be miserably sitting around at home in the winter, but enjoy the world on the road. He celebrated his 4th birthday shortly before I met him. Yes, his 4th, I didn’t miss a digit. He considers his survival of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami a re-birth. He was at a beach in Thailand when it hit. His friend did not survive.

-          Pablo from Spain (hola senor ;)!). Contact = a couple of days in the Peruvian Amazon back in June last year. And then a few days visiting him in Spain at the start of this trip:
Mid-thirties, paramedic. Works 24 hour shifts for a few weeks, then takes off for weeks and months at a time to discover the world.

-          Young English couple. Contact = a few chats at a hostel in Istanbul:
On their way home from 2+ years of world-circling with the goal to travel sustainably. Their objective was to circle the world via ground and sea only. They ended up needing to fly twice. Once, because the distance was not yet serviced by the zeppelin they had researched and planned to take. The funding had stalled on the project, so they were left with no option but to take a regular flight.  And another time to cross a war zone that would have been life threatening to overland through.

-          Foncho and wife, Peruvians living in Spain. Contact = BBQ dinner at a cave hostel in Kappadokia, Turkey:
Married couple in their thirties. Foncho is a former SEO expert and online media dude working in the agency business, he quit his last job with Ogilvy to travel the world (sound familiar?). His wife, a TV host and/or producer. Now travel bloggers . I believe they are still going as I write this many months later.

-          Lyos from Mexico. Contact = a few meetings in Kathmandu:
Early thirties, his last stable home was Barcelona. Film producer, trying to sell his adventures to Spanish TV. He's been traveling for 4+ years, much of that on a motorcycle.

-          Christopher from Edmonton. Contact = A few chats over drinks, sing-alongs and beach time in Koh Mak:
Retiree in his sixties. His last job was as a currency trader. He stays for weeks or month at a time in places, making friends with the locals, then moving on. His mother committed suicide when he was 16, his father is a holocaust survivor. His kids live in Tel Aviv and Oz. His only vagabonding timeline is to meet his kids once in a while somewhere. When I ask him what his favourite travel spots were, he responds “the next place”. When I met him, he was hanging out on Koh Mak, taking voice lessons. His next destination was Cambodia. Very cool guy hat lives his life as a ‘game’ he sais. Despite what sounds like a history that would turn too many others into victims, he takes responsibility for his life and lives it to the fullest. I want to be like him when I retire :)

-          Lina from Sweden. Contact = A couple of conversations on Koh Mak:
43 years old. In her ‘normal’ life, she is a travel agent. Now, she helps out at a restaurant on this tiny Thai island for a shared room and bucket of shower water a day. Her travel agency boss recently came to visit. When asked if she will ever come back, Lina was absolutely positive. But now, she is here!

-          CJ from Maine. Contact = One short chat on the beach in Koh Mak, Thailand:
In his thirties or early fourties. Makes $7,000 annually doing seasonal work. Travels 5 to 6 months, flip flopping his time between Nepal, SEA and South America each year. CJ’s brother owns one of two copies of Stephen King’s first novel. It is hand-signed, because they grew up together. Stephen King himself has the other copy of that book that has only ever been self-published. Having had a rough time with the economy, CJ’s brother now needs to sell some of his Stephen King memorabilia. That book started at $1,000 or $ 2,000 when he first put it up for sale. It now stands at 1/4 of a million dollars. He came to Thailand, visiting CJ to get away from all the media frenzy the sales attempt has caused.

-          The elderly couple from Norway. Contact = Quick chit chat while waiting for a street-side fruit salad in Koh Mak:
Retired and traveling for 11 and a half months of every year. Just because.

-          Pat from the US. Contact = A day trip in Siem Reap/Cambodia:
Lovely lady in her early seventies. Lives and works in Northern China as a teacher. Explores SEA countries for weeks at a time.

-          (Another) English couple. Contact = A day trip and cooking class in Siem Reap/Cambodia:
Lawyers, in their thirties, saved up to do a several months long trip as a sabbatical.

-          Mick from England. Contact = a couple days of sightseeing and breakfasts at a Saigon hostel:
28 year old cancer survivor, lawyer, underwent very rough and radical stem cell transplant, his cancer is now in remission and he is ok. Traveling the world for 6 months on his savings and borrowed money.

-          Young couple and son from Holland. Contact = A couple days overlap at the same Flores dive resort we chilled at:
Traveling across Indonesia for three months. With their year-old toddler. On bikes. It can be done!

While I am at it with the people mentions, I’d like to take the opportunity to these people for being an inspiration, welcoming or just plain cool:
-          Kelly from Calgary whom met in Africa for all the pre-travel tips and inspiration. (He really belongs in the above list as well.)
-          Mehdi from Morroco. Mid-twenties, graduate in Sevilla, working as a tour guide. Declined an amazing career offer from Google in Casablanca to resume his not-so-well-paid life in Spain. Because he did not want to be a part of the Corporate ‘who-knows-who’.
-          The numerous Couchsurfers that welcomed us, showed us their city, hung out, ate or partied with us or even let us crash with them: Angela from Oz in Sevilla; Christian from Rome; Sirin and Ceren from Istanbul in Rome and Istanbul;  Pieter from Belgium in Damascus; Anael from France in Amman; Matthew from the US in Beirut; Joe, Rabih and Dany from Beirut; Christopher and Sachin from Mumbai in Bangkok and Mumbai; David and friends in Jakarta; Rully in Jogyakarta; Shiv from India and Dalia from Lithuania in Berlin.
-          Ahmad, Mahmoud and all the other Ahmads and Mohammads in Petra for a glimpse into Beduin life.
-          Pablo (again) in Mallorca/Madrid, Nayla in Beirut, Shaista’s family in Dhaka, Vu in Bangkok (now back in Toronto as well) and Hubert in Hong Kong for letting us/me crash at their place.

Chapter 5: The future
Ahhhhh, this is the tricky part! What’s next? How does one get back to the daily grind after all this freedom? I am not sure yet, but I am excited to see what will happen and enjoy the things I didn’t have while traveling. If I learned one thing on this trip, it’s all about what you make of it! Where I am or what I do is not that relevant. As long as I am present and committed, things will all work out. If I can show up in a foreign country, with no travel guide, not knowing the language, the people, where to go, or how to get there, and still work it out, I should be able to figure things out in Toronto. I hope.

So what about that future? It is wiiiide open…

Thank you for reading along and being there in spirit with me. Until the next trip …. ;)

:) Muah!
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Mark on

Glad to see you back, Henni. It's been fun and insightful reading your blog over the past year.

henniterness on

Thanks Mark (unknowingly which Mark you are :))

Pablo on

And let me match one more person: Henni, a beautiful german expat adopted in Canada, an MBA pro which one day bravely decided to stop asking her self what would it be like being a vagabond, and who took her chances to become free.

Now you are one of those extreme travelers who teach the rest: "a trip it’s all about what you make of it!"

Big kiss!

Connie on

I love your pictures Henni. You have a great eye. I pass so many of these places daily and now see them in an amazing new perspective from your camera! A clear example of how we miss the sights in our own lives.

henniterness on

@Pablo: Gracias senor! Not sure where you have the MBA idea from. Neither am I a basketball pro nor do I have a master of business.....Oh oh oh, waaaaait - now I get it. You are referring to the one picture in here, aren't you? Duh! Sorry, being a bit slow :) Either way, thanks very much for the lovely write up!

@Connie: Thanks Connie. I felt the same way being back in Toronto and looking at it with more of a tourist eye. We live in a GREAT city!

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