There is a certain set of questions that everyone asks when you return from a big trip. "How's the jet-leg?" (answer: terrible). "Is it weird being back?" (answer: more than you know). "What was the highlight" (answer: all of it). It's really nice that some people want to know, and I like talking about it, even if it is the fourth time in the last hour, but if I'm honest these conversations just increase the sense of disconnectedness I have been feeling since coming "home".
For the last 3 months we have been living a different life. Yes, we have been travelling and exploring dream locations, but that is only part of it. We've been operating on a completely different rhythm - no 9-5 job, no social engagements, no kindy or pre-school for Sam, spending almost every waking minute together as a family. It was so strange to go back to work that first day, knowing I wasn't going to see my wife or son for 9 or so hours.
People keep referring to it as a "holiday", and I feel ungrateful when I correct them. It was an incredible journey and I recognise how lucky we were to make it happen, but it didn't feel like a "break" per se. I wasn't working a job, true, but I was still putting in effort every day to keep things moving - navigating, translating, planning, learning, oh, and parenting. We had plenty of fun times, and a bit of down time, but some days were genuinely hard work. Travel days especially were tough - often jumping between multiple countries, juggling different languages in your head, trying to figure out transport, make sure we get the right connections without losing bags or child along the way. It seems churlish to complain, and I'm not really - it's just to say, it wasn't all beersies at lunchtime . . .
In some ways, it's great to be back in New Zealand - seeing close friends and family again, our house is just as amazing as I remember it, and of course everyone knows the pleasure of sliding back into your own bed. It's also a relief to be back in a culture we are familiar with - knowing how to get around, being able to order a meal without using Google Translate, not having to convert every purchase back to your home currency. All of that feels like putting on your favourite hoodie (which, while we're at it, was also nice) - comforting, comfortable, easy.
And yet, I feel out of step. Everyone I speak to talks about our trip as if it was some sort of "break from life", and there's an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) assumption that now we'll get back to normality. The thing is, for us right now, the trip is our normality - commuting to and from work, putting on business attire, un-packing our house, all this feels extremely abnormal to us right now. I suppose some of this will settle in time - after all, we've only been back for a week - but in some ways, I hope it doesn't. I know we need to be back here right now, we need to pay off our debts, we want to spend some time with family, and in some ways we need a breather before we do this again (and we will do this again, I'm not waiting for retirement to live my dreams).
But I don't want to get too comfortable. I don't want to fall back into the same old routine, bumbling along and not appreciating all the life in front of me until some big trauma or loss jolts me out of it. This blog is called You Take Yourself With You, and I guess I'm hoping to take some of the "us" we found while we were away along with us. I want that to be our new normal.
It's funny, because in my small sphere, there has been limited interest in our trip. I guess it's because I didn't have a job to go back to, or rather, one that involves teams of people drudging away on the treadmill of life. Sure, Sam's teachers have all been enthusiastic to see us back, but other than that I've only seen family. Some of them followed our journey daily (I'm a prolific snap-chatter) and didn't need to ask about our trip, but others, of course have lives of their own and while our trip was life-changing for us, to them it's like we never left. And I get it, to hear about people's trips is dull. Especially if it's a place you've never been or if the recent traveler drones on and on and on (we get it already, you went somewhere fabulous & we stayed here, living our normal lives, doing the same old... ah, shut up already).
But for me, coming back to my life and who I was before we left isn't what I wanted to do. My life before we left was an unhappy existence, a cycle of meaningless conversation and pretending for the world that I was coping. And sure, a 3-month trip hasn't just miraculously healed all that. And in many ways I have to accept that, to overcome the disappointment that I'm not magically healed inside & out after escaping life for a bit.
Because for me, that's exactly what we did. Escape life. Because of the multiple challenges of traveling with a 4-year old we had no choice but to live in the moment, and when you're doing that - actually living in the moment - you have no space for anything else. As Nick mentioned, the daily challenges of getting from A to B and just merely communicating with someone who doesn't speak your language was hugely stressful. And hindsight, as they say, is a great thing. Looking back I can see that if rejuvenation was what we needed, then the trip we signed up for would not, could not, provide that. What it did provide though was adventure, distraction, problem-solving, togetherness, wonder and joy. But also extreme stress. The lows were very low. There were arguments, moments of fear, lots of anxiety. It was a challenge, but also an amazing life-changing experience that brought our fractured little team closer together. By the end we found a rhythm where we enjoyed each other's company and gave each other space, limiting our adventures to small outings each day so as not to exhaust us. We learnt from prior mistakes that pushing ourselves too far would result in anxiety, tension and then eventually me either crashing from exhaustion or getting sick. It was not a holiday, but we finally found some peace.
So to find that groove together in the last month of our trip only to come home and have to settle back into another rhythm is hard. I think homecomings are always hard. Anti-climatic. And because I set up an unrealistic expectation of being physically healed and mentally tougher upon our return, I've ended up trying to accept that it is what it is (our life's mantra). Because life doesn't go the way you wanted it to.
I mean, our trip never went to plan. My health didn't improve the way I wanted it to, we had to change plans, navigate minor disasters. Maybe it would have been different if we'd done another kind of trip, I don't know... I would probably still feel this way returning home no matter what we did or where we went. Because home and all the familiar routines just remind me of what I was trying to escape. Now I just need to hold onto the parts of me that I found again, the parts that made me see and enjoy the adventure of life and translate them into my every day normal. Because if I lose that purpose then what was the point?
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.