“So, how does it feel to be home? Are you happy to be back? I can’t believe you were gone for a year!” That’s how most of my conversations start these days. Conversations with friends whom I that I haven’t seen since I left Germany, chats with former colleagues that I meet for lunch, and exchanges with family members that I kept updated on my travels via WhatsApp. And sometimes small talk with people I just met, when my reply to “what do you do?” is something along the lines of “oh, I’m jobless and homeless. And I’ve been traveling for the last year”.
As for the question: it feels weird to be home. Of course I’m glad to be able to spend time with people dear to me, to hear what I missed out on while I was gone. But somehow, doing so feels temporary, like an interlude. Why does catching up with loved ones require this journey to end? Given the choice - or rather, the funds and the time - I would have continued to travel. During the last year I have met so many fantastically interesting people, made new friends, fell in love, fell out of love, learned new skills and much about myself. In contrast, the prospect of coming “home”, which somehow feels akin to settling back into normal life, seems grey and undesirable. Like cutting short a process that has only just begun.
Naturally, there are external pressures. My bank account has seen better times, and I have a green card work which will expire if I don’t use if before mid-September. However, I’ve not encountered the travel weariness that other people have told me about, those who’ve been on the road for a while. Rather, this journey has opened a door inside of me, and I sense that there are so many other rooms to explore that I am afraid to settle back into “normality”, for fear of losing what I have acquired in the last year. The trip has helped me to open my mind to new and non-conventional opportunities, to develop a certain tranquility and ability to live in the moment, and to find joy in observing new situations in a way that both detached and deeply empathetic. I find it terrifying to think I might lose these qualities once I’m back in the daily grind. Knowing myself, I am aware of the ambitious side of my personality and my need to achieve certain goals. I fear that once I am back in a “normal” environment I will lose sight of these other values and qualities that I have encountered during my trip. That I will revert back to my corporate self.
Yesterday, I had an interesting experience. I was going through old pictures as part of the post-travel clean up process. Out of nowhere popped up a 30-second video. I don’t know who recorded it, or when and where it was shot. The video features me, in some Google office, talking to the camera, circa 2014. I introduce myself, and explain what I do for Google. What struck me wasn’t the content of the video, but rather the expression of my past self. I look stressed and uncomfortable; I rattle off my job title and responsibilities without a hint of passion. I seem unhappy. Yet that day clearly didn’t stick in my mind as exceptional in any way, otherwise I would have remembered the video being taped. I was just my normal, miserable self. Watching that video now is like living through a strange deja-vu - I keep thinking, “this looks familiar, but did this really happen?”. But since it’s on video, caught in eternity, I can’t deny the existence of that former unhappy and dispassionate Lea. And I really don’t want to go back to being that person again. That’s why, even though I am happy to be physically back with people that matter to me, I am also afraid to come back mentally.
This, also, is why I have decided to continue the journey, albeit in a different way. In two weeks, I am moving to San Francisco, to use the aforementioned green card that allows me to work in the US, and to start a new chapter. One that will require me to keep learning. One that doesn’t allow me to slip back into old patterns. I hope very much that building a life in a new city, a new country, will keep me on my toes and help me to go forward, rather than back. Ideally, the Lea on video will stay confined to her digital storage space. I think there is space for new, improved versions alongside of it.