I saw the sunrise today.
For the first time in months I was up early enough to witness this natural daily occurrence that to me has become a meaningful event. I missed sunrises. They were some of my more pensive moments while traveling. I came to appreciate them even more than sunsets – maybe because it felt like you had to earn a sunrise, waking up way before an alarm should go off; or maybe because it was a more singular experience, less popular than sunsets and quieter too; or maybe because it was more hopeful, witnessing the start to the day instead of the end. A new dawn. A new day. A new adventure.
So when I was suddenly wide awake at 4 in the morning wondering why the hell I couldn’t sleep anymore I decided to stop fighting it and just accept that my day would start early today. I remembered Inle Lake. I woke up for no reason at 4 in the morning there one day and by the time breakfast started at 6:30 am I had already finished some video editing I’d been putting off and was more than ready to set out on our full day boat adventure. 24 hours later I was riding in the back of a tuktuk as the morning mist rose over the fields on my way to the train to Kalaw. The 45-minute tuktuk ride was frigid cold but I didn’t mind. I had a lot of thoughts that morning about where I was and how far I had come to be there that never made it to this blog. It’s about time they did.
Most important was this: “It’s really the trip I set out to do. I will never regret a single decision I’ve made.” I remember the moment I thought that and the smile that came across my face. The way I traveled wasn’t for everyone – fast-paced, covering lots of land in little time – and I received some flak for it. I was told I was planning too much, I needed to slow down, I was just doing the highlights tour. Sometimes they were right, I did and still do wish I had stayed some places longer, but I made my decisions with reasons behind them and I had to be okay with that. People will always tell you how to travel but in the end it’s up to you, me in this case, to decide what’s best for your trip. My trip was a highlights tour of the regions I went to but what’s so wrong with that?
I never traveled after college. The one- to three-month trip that everyone should do when they graduate (I’m sure the Europeans are scoffing at that short timeline but that’s what is more accepted in the US) was something I skipped. I blame the recession; I graduated in a time when everyone was in such a panic to get work that I just started applying for internships as soon as possible. I also knew that I would make time for travel later. So this trip was my chance to do all of those trips at once.
South American highlights, the World Cup, Australia’s East Coast, a New Zealand road trip, Southeast Asia – think about how many times you’ve heard recent college grads take a month to do any of one of those. That sounds more digestible right? Well, in my all or nothing way of life I decided that I would take a year to do all of those and then some. I could have easily stayed in Colombia for a couple of months and worked at a hostel, applied for a work-study visa for New Zealand and called Wanaka home for their summer, or done a personal exploration long stay in Laos or Northern Thailand, but that wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to see the world, to do a survey of the types of places that are out there, and to have some fun along the way.
I did that. Mission accomplished. And I am so proud that I can say that.
Something else that became clear to me along the way, although it hadn’t fully taken shape before I’d left but was always lingering in the depths of my mind somewhere, was the idea that this trip was an introduction to the world not a closing statement. Just because I can check the box that says Indonesia does not mean that I won’t go back. I didn’t check off destinations, I added more in a different way. Now I know when I have limited vacation time (because let’s be honest, at some point I will have a “normal” job again and won’t be taking year-long world-traveling sabbaticals) where I want to go and how I want to see it.
That how is also a huge lesson of the past year. Now that I have tested the backpacker lifestyle I know better what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, on my next trip I want to plan even less, mainly going off of word of mouth from friends and fellow travelers, and if I find somewhere I like I’ll stay a while. I will also bring a hammock to sleep in and need to pack light enough to throw my backpack up on top of a bus in a hurry. In the future, I will probably not do the same backpacker style of travel (a major contributing factor to the decision of where I’m going next) and know the places that will benefit from having a bigger budget and more comfortable travel arrangements.
All of this is really my way of finally rounding out my posts about the 300 days I traveled the world. I felt the need to say once and for all that I did what I set out to do. Even some places I originally intended to see but had at some point cut, like Ecuador or Brisbane, found their way back in. And new places were added along the way, like Myanmar and Shambhala, that were wonderful compliments to the original plan. And to end the way I did, with an impromptu trip to Japan, could not have worked out any better. I look back at my month in Japan so fondly. It was a place I never expected to end up in that year, despite a strong curiosity to see it, but the flexibility of my open-ended plan and continued communication with a fellow traveler from months before combined in just the right way to bring me there. It was the perfect unexpected adventure to close out my ultimately perfect year of travel.
I’ve wanted to write this post all summer but something held me back. It took an unexpected early morning for me to get here, but that only seems fitting really. Early mornings were times I enjoyed on the road, where the conventional timeline of a day didn’t exist. It’s also August now, and maybe that’s the shift I needed to finally feel like I can focus on the next adventure. I saw the dawn of a new day today, and it made me excited about the many new days in new places to come.