Thursday, April 1, 2010

Six months

Six months ago today, I set off for the "adventure of a lifetime." At least, that's what everyone kept telling me; I figured I'd have a really cool, fun trip, but I wasn't putting any labels or expectations on things. As it turns out, those people have been dead-on right so far.

Let's just get some numbers and random stats out of the way. I've visited 11 countries (plus landed in three others for layovers) and 44 cities (eight of them the capitals of their countries) on three continents. (Have you seen the Tracker Map? I've also added -finally- a link for it over there on the right. It's maintained by ToadMama and is pretty cool, so go check it out.) Even with all that movement, I still have nine blank pages left in my passport! I've slept on planes, trains, buses, and a boat, none of which had I ever slept on before. I've met people from 40+ countries and counting. I've read at least 20 books, but there are most likely others that I forgot to make a note of. There have been ten CouchSurfing hosts, six hosts gained through friends of friends, and countless numbers of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses (oh, ok, I just went back and counted: 34, but I may have forgotten one or two). Exotic animals? Yup, I've experienced those, too. I've ridden a camel and an elephant, pet a tiger, and been in super close proximity to lots of wild, sometimes aggressive monkeys. 

(A little of what my passport is looking like these days.)
Alright, alright. If you've been following along all this time, you know those things already. Maybe you're even saying to yourself now, "But Shan. How do you feel?" And it would be a good question, but one I'm having difficulty answering. Do I feel different or changed? Yes and no. Do I have a better idea of what I want to do with myself when I return to my "real" life? Yes and no. Let's see if I can explain myself just a little bit.
When I set out on this trip, I'd never even left North America before and could not have fathomed even one year ago that I'd do something like this entirely on my own. I intended for this sabbatical to be a period of personal growth, a time for me to explore who I am and to push myself out of my comfort zone. I feel I can safely say, without a doubt, that this has happened in some pretty big ways.

I am now more comfortable being alone than I ever was in the past. I still end up talking to myself after too much time alone, lol, but I guess that's fairly normal. Being comfortable on your own is one thing, but everyone needs friends and companionship, too; I am now just as comfortable introducing myself to strangers and making new friends. It makes me nervous as all hell sometimes, but that doesn't stop me from making the introduction like it may have in the past.

"Try new things" is practically my new motto. If I haven't done it before, seen it before, or eaten it before and I'm given the opportunity to do so, I jump at it. Not that there may not still be some hesitation on my part, I'm just getting good at ignoring that part of my brain that's saying "You're gonna do what?!" :-)

Plane travel has always been a breeze for me because I got a lot of practice at it with a former job. Now, bus and train travel is just as easy. If ever I find myself in an airport, bus or train station that is completely mobbed, very few of the signs are in English, and I'm not even exactly sure when or where I'm going, I'm confident that I'd figure it out eventually (and keep a cool head in the process).

Speaking of plane, train, and bus travel, perhaps the most frequent mode of transportation is my own two feet. My propensity for getting lost is well documented. But what occurred to me the other day is that I don't really get lost anymore. It's not that streets are any better marked (they're not) or that I have a handy dandy compass to use as a reference (I rarely carry it with me). I think I just might actually be getting better at getting around. Case in point: the night market last week. I decided on a whim to go, but I only had the faintest idea of where it was and I didn't have a map with me. Not only did I get there and back, in the dark!, but I didn't get lost (or even turned around) at all. Not at all. Me! I know, I know, it's just as surprising to me! Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself by mentioning it.

Has anyone noticed that I haven't done a "Not in America" post in awhile? I have notes that never made it into a post, but even the notes to myself had stopped entirely by the time I reached Bangkok. That's because, after awhile, there are more and more things that are at once totally different and exactly the same as you'd find in the States. I gave up trying to take note of it all and decided to just soak it all in instead. Whether I'm writing them down or not, noticing similarities and differences has definitely given me a greater sense of appreciation for what I and, I'd venture to say, what most other Americans have and probably take for granted.

The kindnesses of strangers has been apparent to me on many an occasion in the last six months and it is something I am eternally grateful for. It is my goal to not only pay it forward in whatever way I can, but to also continue to recognize even the smallest gestures for what they are. It is really easy to have a bad day or only notice the negative things that happen in life. If you pay attention, though, I'm sure there are lots of little things happening all around you, all the time, and those add up.

Two big things I've learned: 1) how to handle disappointments better and 2) how to ask for help. This trip hasn't been without it's disappointments. There have been places I haven't been able to visit, friends I haven't been able to meet up with, and things I haven't been able to do (either because of a cost issue or because I'm traveling solo). The thing is, when every day brings something new and unexpected, it's easier to deal with the blows that occurred the day before. I'm sure there must be a way to carry this attitude over to my "real" life back in the States; it may be more difficult to do so, but I'm sure I'll be happier if I at least try. As for the second thing I've learned, stubborn independence isn't always the best course of action on a trip of this magnitude. My normal tendency is to want to figure things out on my own, no matter what. But guess what? Sometimes that's just not possible and I've learned that it's not a weakness to ask for help, even from strangers. Besides, they're too kind to let you know if they think it's a weakness anyway.

I jotted a few notes down recently that could potentially have implications back home. The first might sound silly, but hear me out. "Now that I've 'slummed it,' will it affect how I live and travel back in the States?" Ok, ok, I haven't exactly slummed it, but I have been living very frugally. What will this mean when I'm settled again? Will the frugality continue or will I spend like there's no tomorrow? Considering that I probably won't have a lot of money when I return, I imagine the frugality will continue at least for awhile, but I'm talking about after that. Time will tell, I suppose. The other note: "moving on vs. staying. knowing when it's time." This was actually in reference to my trip and knowing/deciding that I'd had enough of a particular city or country. But considering that I've been ready to leave Baltimore for, oh, I don't know?, YEARS now and have talked about doing it and never actually done it? I know it's time to move on from that city, too, but talking about it won't be enough. Action is required. Not just when I return to the States either, but every time after that that I determine it's time to move on. 

I've often joked around that when this trip comes to a close, I will have no money, no job, and no place to live. Nothing to joke about, I guess, since it's all true, but I'll deal with that when the time comes. There are still a lot of unanswered questions: Where will I live? For sure not Baltimore, not permanently, but will it even be in the US? Or will it be abroad? What about making a living? Will I write (as some people have suggested), teach English (as many foreigners abroad seem to do), go back to recruiting, or do something else entirely?

Perhaps I'll discover the answers in the remaining six months of my trip. In the meantime, one thing is sure. Whatever I end up doing and wherever I end up living, I will absolutely, definitely, no doubt about it, be thinking of, dreaming about, and planning my next big trip.

Part one of the series is here if you missed it. The third and final part is coming up tomorrow. Also: a shout-out and very big thank you to ToadMama who redid my blog header for me. I've already gotten a number of compliments, so it's being well received! 


  1. Nice (and long!) anniversary post.

    You'll always have a place to live, i.e., you don't have to worry about homelessness. Maybe we'll just have to maintain a "home base" for you. You could write for a while, teach English in foreign countries in short stints, write some more... who knows? It'll all come together eventually. It's been fun following your journey. And your Dad and I are very proud of what you are doing. We just hope the next 6 months goes by a little faster... Love ya, babycakes!

  2. Time will tell what I end up doing with myself, but it's good to know that I have a home base to go home to. I've happy that I've made you and Dad proud, that means a lot to me!

  3. what a great post! though i am trying not to focus on the not living in baltimore thing, bc as i keep saying over and over in my head "it's not about you laura. it's not about you laura", but i will be sad.

    but as long as you keep in touch, hell, the past 6 months have broken me in for not having you 15 minutes away. i know you will figure it all out and be where you need to be, when you need to be there. and tell a good story about it along the way.

    big hug, pal! xoL

  4. Laura, you and I can bully her into being reasonable as far as the distance thing goes. I'm sure Amy will help, too. But we shouldn't tell Shannon we're going to tag-team her!

  5. Shan I'm sure you will figure it all out by
    the time you return back to the states. You
    have grown into one amazing woman that I'm very proud of and what ever you decide, always
    remember it's your decision and your life.

    As far as having some place to live, well you
    don't ever have to worry about that. Where ever
    you go and what ever you do, you will always
    have a place with Ken and I wheather it's for
    a long period or just a short one.

    You have started a wonderful journey and you
    will still continue on this journey probably
    for some time to go. What I'm trying to say
    sweatheart is just live your life and be happy!

    I love you very much

  6. Well I think I'm clued in to the tag teaming now! Don't go thinking you can get rid of me that easily, though. I'll miss you guys way too much to stay away for very long.