Homeward bound…wait, where’s that?

Before I get to the topic that the title of this post suggests, a few quick words on the last stop of this trip, Singapore:

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I met a lot of people during my trip that said Singapore was just another modern city. This could not be more incorrect. I think maybe you need to have done some travel around Southeast Asia to really appreciate how unique and out-of-place Singapore is, especially given that it has only been independent for 53 years. If it weren’t for the cost and the weather I’d have trouble finding many faults.

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It’s insanely clean (like Japan level clean), has efficient and affordable public transportation, the architecture is gorgeous, ranging from colonial-style/Peranakan housing to overflowing greeneries on modern skyscrapers, a diverse and delicious range of food, tap water is not only drinkable (unheard of in Southeast Asia) but it’s one of the cleanest in the world, and English is one of its official languages (along with Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay) making everything more accessible to a foreigner like me. However, the heat and humidity was nearly unbearable, with “feels like” temperatures over 100 degrees for most parts of the day, and if you wanted to eat anywhere other than a hawker center it was very expensive. Here are some photos from my week in Singapore:

I owe a huge thank you to Patrick and Raisa for finding a way to meet up with me on their way to a second in two years trip to Japan. It was really special to get to hang with friends at my very last stop and with Singapore’s crazy hawker center scene, having three people at every meal allowed me to try so many more foods than I would have otherwise!

In my very first post back in June 2017, I listed some things I was excited about and nervous about. Now that it’s been over a year since I wrote those things, I wanted to address just a few of them that stand out to me now:

  • The constant sense of adventure. I think quitting your job to travel the world for a year pretty much guarantees this, but one specific thing I always enjoyed was the thrill of making my way to a new hostel. New hostel means new city, new roommates, new food, new transportation, and as a solo-traveler, it was almost like hitting the reset button every 4-7 days.
  • Writing! I loved keeping this blog and intend to continue (after all, I have so much to learn about the culture in Vegas!). It was a great way to memorialize my feelings from place to place and would find myself constantly jotting notes in my phone as I explored a city so that I’d remember to mention something in my blog. I especially found it fun and educational (for me and hopefully you!) to write about the historical things I learned.
  • Loneliness. It’s interesting to think back to my first day in Copenhagen. I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. I hadn’t slept well since I had arrived in Europe nine days prior, I was struggling to relax, meeting people wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, and Copenhagen was insanely expensive. I had all but convinced myself this would be a one month trip. I’m so glad I powered through. I won’t lie, there were hard days well into the trip, they tended to coincide with a bed bug incident or food borne illness, but occasionally I’d just feel completely overwhelmed by how far away I was from anyone I knew and what I was doing with my life. Figuring out how I liked to structure my days, how to relax my mind, and finding good ways to distract from the occasional emotional wave of “what am I doing here alone on the other side of the world” really allowed me to get more comfortable with myself and embrace whatever situation I was in at that time. FaceTime is nice too 🙂 .
  • What will I do when this is over? It took me a while to let this line of thinking fall away during my trip but it eventually did. And just as I started to get sick of traveling, I let it creep back in. Here’s where I’ve landed. I just travelled around the world for a year with relative ease only speaking English. English is not the most spoken language in the world, but in the two months I spent volunteering teaching English I got to see how learning English can impact a person’s life on so many levels.

Many of the kids I taught in Cambodia had dreams of becoming tour guides, one of the best paying jobs in the largest industry in Siem Reap. Not only would working in the tourism industry open up many high-paying opportunities, it would give them the ability to interact with people from all over the world and potentially travel themselves.

Many South Koreans I spoke with at the Busan language cafe wanted to learn English so they could become flight attendants for international airlines and travel the world, or go to Europe for university. I find it amazing that this one language that I was lucky enough to grow up with is the key to opening up all of these opportunities, and I think it makes it incredibly fulfilling to teach.

A lot of what I just said has connections to travel. Of course travel is fun, and it means different things to different people, but I think a major takeaway I had from this trip is how important travel is on an educational level. For one, I found myself ignorant of far too many recent historical events. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the fall of Yugoslavia and American involvement in the Serbia/Kosovo conflicts, the full extent of Japan’s role in WWII, details of the Vietnam War, and the insanity that was Albania in the 20th century (and really always).

Then there’s culture. When you travel somewhere with a completely different culture than your own they say you can suffer from “culture shock”. I definitely felt this at times throughout my trip, but what I found amazing was how quickly I adapted. For example, upon entering Bosnia it’s strange, and perhaps even a bit unsettling, to hear the call to prayer projected over loud speakers all across the city. But by the end of my trip I found the call to prayer, especially near sunrise and sunset, to be one of the most beautiful sounds. When I first got to Southeast Asia it would take me ages to cross the tiny streets in Phuket Town, which is laughable when I think about the five lane roads in Vietnam I’d march out into with my hand held up to stop traffic. It used to be jarring to walk into a local market and see butchers chopping off fish heads and bits of raw chicken and pig heads scattered about, but now…no, just kidding, it’s still jarring.

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I guess what I’m trying to say is, travel opens our eyes to the rest of the world and allows us to learn from, appreciate, and accept other cultures, traditions, and religions. I think now more than ever it’s important to understand that our differences are not something to be afraid of, they are something to embrace, and travel can help make that happen.

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So with all that said, I’ve decided to teach English! After I return home I’ll be taking an online course to get my TEFL certificate (teaching English as a foreign language) with plans to move to Japan, my favorite country of the trip. Stay tuned for more!

A quick update on my trip by numbers:

  • Length of trip: 11 months and 4 days
  • Countries visited: 25 (sounds like a lot until you look at this map…)

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  • Hostels/Hotels/Houses: 80. You have no idea how exciting it will be to have my own room…(pictures are of my first and last hostel, Stockholm and Singapore).
  • Bed bug incidents: Five. Austria, Bosnia, Thailand (twice), and Myanmar.
  • Favorite hike: Nothing ever beat the alps in Lucerne, Switzerland but the Igidae Coastal Walk in Busan, South Korea came close.
  • Blog posts: this one marks #46! Thank you so much for all of the encouraging comments along the way!
  • Just a few of many favorite moments: hiking the Swiss Alps, sunrises in Bagan, Myanmar, riding around with my parents on tuk-tuks in Cambodia and motorbikes in Vietnam, eating a focaccia sandwich and wine next to the Duomo in Florence, tobogganing down the Austrian Alps near Innsbruck, riding around on a motorbike by myself through the rice fields in Tam Coc, Vietnam, listening to the call to prayer spread across the mosques in Mostar, Bosnia, driving a go-kart through Shibuya Crossing dressed as Toadstool from Mario Kart in Tokyo, and watching the world go by at a weekend night market in Melaka, Malaysia.

Some thank yous are in order because while this was a solo trip, without a support system this wouldn’t have been possible. THANK YOU: to family and friends that traveled across the world to see me, to family and friends that I happened to cross paths with and made an effort to see me, to family friends, friends of friends, family of friends, and complete strangers who treated me to meals, to everyone for putting up with FaceTiming with me for almost a year, and to everyone who followed my blog and/or instagram and continuously gave words of encouragement. Many of you have expressed how fun it was to follow me on this journey; it made it even more meaningful for me to get to share it with you!

Although part of me is extremely sad and maybe a little scared to come back to the US, I’m also really excited to come home. In the last few weeks especially, perhaps because I know I’m at the end, my patience for the annoyances of hostel/travel life has started to run dry (smelly people, hitting my head on bunk beds, getting dressed in the shower, just to name a few).

Nevertheless, I am really going to miss the complete sense of freedom that I tried so hard to appreciate throughout my trip. For example, allowing time for reflection, walking uncomfortably slow in order to take in a scene, being able to stop and join any long line for food, or sitting down on a random park bench just to read or people watch. These are things that fall away fast when freedom from responsibility disappears and I’d like to make a conscious effort to make time for these things, even when my life inevitably gets busy again.

So where to next? Well, when I left home my brother and his family of 3 lived with my parents in the East Bay. In an interesting role reversal, just about 10 days ago my parents sold their house, the place I’ve called home my entire life, to join my brother’s family (now 4) in Las Vegas. So I guess I’m not really going home, I’m just on to my next adventure.

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12 thoughts on “Homeward bound…wait, where’s that?

  1. joxmomcoxnet

    Emily, thank you for sharing your adventure with all of us. Not only have you learned so much about the places that you visited, but you taught all of us so much. You are far braver and stronger than I could ever be. Congrats on reaching the end of this adventure and good luck in the next ones!

  2. auntlinda5

    If I could write as well as you, I would be able to express how much your posts have meant to me! You not only shared so much of your amazing adventure, you shared so much of yourself… feelings, thoughts, insights, questions. You’re going home to your family for a while and I can’t wait to see you there! Love you Em – thanks for sharing this amazing trip with us❣️❣️❣️

  3. auntcorie

    You have the contents of a unique travel book in your descriptions of and reactions to the places that you have visited. Your courage and resilience served you well .Even the bad days were valuable by showing what can be overcome. I hope that your future travels will include Chicago that I might get to know my amazing great grandniece.

    1. Thanks Aunt Corie! One of many great side effects of this trip has been getting to correspond with you. I will do my best to make it to Chicago soon, I would love to see you!

  4. gail Biben

    Welcome home Emily. It has been a vicarious thrill to for someone who has always had wanderlust to follow your adventures.
    I hope to see you in Vegas. And maybe someday in Japan.
    Continued safe travels.
    Gail Biben (Grandma Gail)

  5. armeeze

    VEGAS BABY VEGAS! JUST WIN BABY!

    It’s been great following you around. And I look forward to picture of you eating sandwiches in scenic places in Vegas.

  6. shierabrady

    Wonderful and thoughtful reflections and a great plan going forward. Wow how your life has changed! Good luck to you in your next journey-the world is a better place with you in it❤️

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