It was cold when we arrived, colder than we had been in months. The trees were still leafless, and the sight of them felt surreal. We went out to a favorite restaurant for an early dinner, and I found myself in awe that we were really home and that we had really traveled around the world.
We moved back to our old neighborhood, but to a new house. In the first few days, friends and family came by, hugs and tears ensued, and stories were passed around. Now, we’re unpacked and mostly organized, despite three of us falling ill within days of our return to Maryland. Theo and I are planning where to hang some special photos from our trip. The girls will finish the school year with home instruction, then return to their neighborhood schools in August. Swim team and summer camp and fall sports and music lessons will be here before I know it.
People ask “How was the trip?” and I reply, “Amazing” but that’s such a pat answer, so inadequate a description. It was the best time of my life. I can’t imagine topping it, and I don’t even want to try. What’s really cool, though, is that I have a bit of the feeling, the spirit of the trip with me still. It’s not just a memory, it’s a change in how I am every minute of the day. You may not be able to tell by looking at me or listening to me, but I sense it. I feel more curious and more peaceful. I feel less worried and less scared. I feel more connected to everywhere and everywhen and everyone.
I do get sad sometimes, sad that it’s over, that eight months passed in the blink of an eye. I’m sad that we didn’t get to all the places we planned or hoped to see. The sadness doesn’t linger, though, because my sense of time is completely different. The constant is that time goes on and life changes with it, so even though I don’t have a concrete plan for getting to Chile and Japan or returning to Turkey and New Zealand, I believe those trips will happen. I have no reason to think otherwise.
Just a few days after passing the seven-month mark of our year-long plan to travel the world, we touched down in San Francisco and hopped over to Houston. It wasn't all the way back to Maryland, but in an important sense we had circumnavigated Earth.
It wasn't the end of our travels, though. In fact, we were planning five more months of travel. We were going to circle the globe again, in the opposite direction, by visiting Central and South America, East Asia, Turkey and possibly Eastern Europe before returning to Maryland. Whereas we left the U.S. on July 8 with every night of lodging and every mode of transportation booked through mid-February, plans for Round Two were a little looser. We had flights through early July, but only lodging and ground transportation booked through mid-April. First destination? The Galápagos Islands.
Sometime between leaving Auckland, New Zealand and arriving in the Galápagos we got some information that put the future of our travel plans in doubt. By the time we were back in Quito after our 8-day cruise, it was clear that we had only one week left before we had to return to the U.S. Costa Rica would be our last stop.
The week we spent in Costa Rica was great. We spent most of it in the Arenal area, checking out the wildlife, having adventures in the trees and on the rivers and lakes, and soaking in the hot springs. We also met up with an old Schlossnagle family friend. The weather was perfect. I don't think I could possibly ask for a better last stop.
Returning to the U.S. on March 1 was, honestly, not a happy event. Theo's company had called him back to work, but our house is not ready for us. We decided that the girls and I would head to Florida to visit family for a few weeks until we could get our things moved in. So, not only were we cutting the trip short, we were going to different cities. Even though it's not great, it's definitely the right thing; Theo can focus on work and getting the house set up with more ease if we're not there, and our days will be significantly more comfortable with family to dote on us and actual beds to sleep on.
I'm thrilled to be with my parents and looking forward to seeing more family and friends soon, and I'm definitely grateful for nearly eight months of world travel as a family. It's not the homecoming I envisioned, but it's a new day. A new adventure begins.
We began the seventh month of travel in Vietnam, but spent most of the month in New Zealand. I designed our trip plan to give us breaks, to let us settle into some places and experience life a bit more like a local than the average tourist. New Zealand was one of those places. It might seem odd, because New Zealand is an amazing country with very many unique and exciting sites, most of which we did not see. That’s okay, and it was what I intended. We’re going around the world, seeing the must-see’s, doing the must-do’s, but it’s really satisfying to get a glimpse of life in a place, and this is an easy place for that kind of travel. What’s cool is our time here turned out even better than I expected.
We arrived in Auckland on January 12 and I didn’t journal or blog at all for three weeks. I fell out of travel mode and into staycation mode fast and deep. Theo’s long-time friend Nat lives about an hour north of Auckland with his family in a gorgeous rural coastal village. Our first rental house was about a 15-minute drive away. We hung out. We did our thing. We hung out some more. I felt at home.
I will always cherish the friendship Nat and Jenine showed us during our visit. For the first time since leaving home, we had a social life and they were a huge part of that. Nat and Jenine had us over for dinner and showed us their “secret beach” and joined us at the Maori village. We had them over to our place for swimming and dinner, too. (Never did I really expect to be hosting friends over on our world tour.) After two weeks in Matakana, we moved over to a house in the next town. The host - Jillian - was also great. She had us over for drinks and conversation. Her dog came to play with the kids. Our staycationing vibe was so strong I sometimes felt I had moved to New Zealand.
Everything about New Zealand felt so familiar - the language, the landscape, the shops, the music, the food. Yet, every so often I saw or heard something that didn’t fit. Maybe it was a plant, like the giant tree ferns that grow alongside pine trees. Maybe it was a phrase, like “half-twelve” which means 12:30. Sometimes driving on the left was the odd bit. All of these odd bits felt like glitches in the Matrix.
About once a month, I get really tired of traveling. (Some days I think I’ll end this trip by sitting on the couch for a month.) All of the novelty can be a real grind. Changing currency, learning transportation systems, dealing with language barriers, swallowing annoyance at security theater are all becoming somewhat normal, but there’s a definite lack of structure, routine, and stability to our lives as we travel that gets me a little down. It became really clear to me this month that many of us get cranky when we’re in a place without a daily plan. We find ourselves unmotivated to go-go-go but also unhappy with ourselves for chilling out. That lethargy combined with rain near the start of our New Zealand stay to zap the appetite for exploration right out of us for a while, but when I look back on our time in the North Island, as well as our week in Queenstown, I'm impressed. And glad. And grateful.
We saw more stars than we’ve ever seen in our lives. We hiked and swam and kayaked and luged and jet-boated and ate and heard live music. Tori sheared a sheep. We saw a place were pottery clay is harvested. We visited a Maori village and we visited Hobbiton. We intentionally broke back into travel mode in Queenstown. We panned for gold in Arrowtown and cruised the Milford Sound. We went to a festival and saw the Running of the Wools. We threw cow patties.
And I am so excited about what’s coming next! We’re off to the Galapagos Islands for a week, then Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile and Peru. In late spring we head back across the Pacific to Asia. We have our sights on Japan, Korea, China, and Hong Kong. Our flight home takes us through Turkey, and maybe we'll branch into eastern Europe from there, or just enjoy the bookend effect of starting and ending in Istanbul. Whatever comes, I'm going to remember our New Zealand adventure for a long, long time.