Before this trip, our longest journey was 6 weeks in 1987 when we travelled around China for our honeymoon. It was our first destination outside Europe and an amazing experience (China was only just opening up to independent travellers) and it started us on a lifetime of trips to places that were just a little bit more interesting than a package holiday to the Med, which was as far as most people in the UK went in those days. Some trips were independent, with flights booked over the phone via Trailfinders, sometimes we joined tours run by companies such as Exodus or Explore which enabled us to pack more in to our time, which was limited by our jobs. We were fortunate to have jobs with generous leave allowances and understanding managers (ie fellow travel enthusiasts), so we could occasionally go away for up to 4 weeks at a time, and our one 6 week trip. But we never had the opportunity for a really long trip.
Originally we planned this trip to be 18 months, which was the longest travel insurance policy that we could get. Then we found that we could get a 6 month extension. Then we found a company who would insure us while we were travelling. So the trip stretched to 30 months.
For the first 3 months we moved quite fast – a couple of 3 week stints, but mostly only a few days in one place. It burned us out, and we had to decamp to an apartment in Goa for two months. 3 months later we were in a condo in Hua Hin for July and August. Then back in the Goa flat for 6 weeks in November/December. And 7 weeks in a Bangkok apartment in May/June this year. It’s what keeps us sane I think – our holiday rentals give us a place to think of as home, a bit more space, and a respite from restaurants. And we experience a little something of what it’s like to live in those places.
But I read blogs by other long term travellers, all much younger than us, and I wonder sometimes if we’re too jaded to get the most out of this. There are so many things to do and places to see but most of the time we simply can’t be bothered. I’m writing this from a house in Bali that I haven’t left for 3 days apart from one short stroll around the village. Partly it’s a question of money (although we have savings, so if we really wanted to do something we could). Partly it’s because we don’t want to acquire Stuff (so a batik or kite-making class is out). But mostly it’s sheer idleness. The idea of seeing yet another beach or temple just doesn’t grab me – I can only feel enthusiastic about completely new places, like our time in Japan and our upcoming Australia trip. Even socialising seems bit pointless – the people with whom we spend time occasionally are nice enough, but they’re not real friends and never will be because we’ll be moving on. Is it because we’re older? Or because we’ve already seen most of the things that we really wanted to see? Or is it just what happens when you travel long term?
Afer 21 months I don’t pine for home and never have. If I was told the trip was coming to an end next week I’d think “No – not yet!”. Even another 9 months feels like a short time. And yet if I could be anywhere I wanted right now, just for today, I’d be on my allotment.
I suppose it brings it home to me that this journey is not only about what we’re travelling to, but also what we’re escaping from – ie the need to work. Going home means getting a job. So if we’d won the lottery and could afford to stay in the UK without working, would we have embarked on this voyage? I suspect we would, because the experience of long term travel, of living in other countries even for short periods, is something we were curious about. But perhaps by now we’d have returned to the UK for a while before setting off again, reinvigorated.
Right now I feel that I’m just filling in time, and I’m frustrated at the things I can’t do that I would be doing if I was in the UK. I want to see friends and family. I want to wear nice clothes and for my hair not to be a permanent mess. I want to cook recipes that require an oven and a grill. I want to walk along unobstructed pavements. I want to eat stilton and pine kernels and rocket and strawberries and roast lamb. I want to dig potatoes and chop down raspberry canes. I want to sit in a garden with roses and lavender and herbs, listening to a blackbird and cooking sausages on a barbecue. I want to cuddle a cat.
But I have a strong suspicion that once I’ve had the chance to do all those things I’ll miss what I have now. Never feeling cold. A garden bursting with lush greenery and frangipani flowers dropping around the lily-filled pond. Restaurant meals that cost less than a Marks & Spencer sandwich. Smiling people. Sunshine as the norm. Snatches of gamelan music from across the rice fields. Our simple, stress free days. The sense of freedom that comes with having so few possessions. No doubt it’ll all seem like a distant dream, just as my life back in the UK feels like a dream now.
The Buddhist approach is to live in the moment – the past and future are illusions; there is only now, so appreciate it. Perhaps I just need to get better at doing that.