I am supposed to be in Turkmenistan right now. Instead I am in Turkey.
According to my original itinerary – or at least the itinerary that existed on August 30, 2011 when I hopped on a flight to Helsinki – I should be marking my eight months of traveling while camping somewhere in the Yangykala Canyon in Turkmenistan, nowhere close to a computer, much less internet or even electricity.
The original plan had me arriving back in Chicago on July 15 – just two and a half months from today.
I tossed that itinerary out the window months ago. Even before I threw in my detour to Italy and Turkey, I had spent more time in Lithuania and Belarus than planned, squeezed in 10 days in Warsaw over the holidays and decided to volunteer in Tajikistan for a month this summer.
Now the plan (and yes, I have an itinerary in an Excel spreadsheet that I update almost weekly) has me landing at O’Hare in mid-September – two months later than I originally anticipated.
I have finally found my groove.
Back in February, a friend told me he was worried I wasn’t having fun.
He was right. For the vast majority of my first six and a half months on the road, I wasn’t having fun. I marveled at the palaces in St. Petersburg and the beauty of Lake Baikal. I soaked up the history of the Baltics, Poland and Belarus. I got a kick out of practicing my Russian with strangers. I also valued the time to myself, pondering life, love and everything in between.
But I wasn’t laughing or smiling or having this amazing, incredible time that everyone seemed to think I was having (and that I thought I should be having). Sure, I never intended my career break to be one long party tour – if I had wanted that, I would have hit the backpacker trail in Southeast Asia. But I did expect to meet some great people along the way and share some fun experiences on which I could eventually look back and laugh.
It took a while, but everything is finally clicking
It started on the last day of my horrendous ferry ride to Georgia – something about getting hit on by multiple Georgian guys who couldn’t speak any English gave me a much-needed boost of confidence. It continued on the overnight train to Tbilisi, drinking and dancing with several more Georgians until well past midnight. And then it all came together in Armenia. That experience, the people I met and the lessons I learned there were exactly what I needed. Although I shed a few tears along the way, I laughed and smiled more in five weeks in Armenia than I had in my entire trip combined.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of fun, fun and more fun. Pub trivia and dancing in Yerevan. Hiking David Gareja in Georgia with two girls I met at my hostel in Tbilisi. Laughing my ass off with Dalene and Laurel, my roommates at the Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU) conference in Umbria. Drinking wine, wine and more wine with a great group of travel bloggers in Todi and Orvieto. Enjoying a meyhane (Turkish tapas bar) in Istanbul with Akila & Patrick, Anil, Nailah and Priyank.
I feel invigorated and happy and I don’t want it to end.
When Go With Oh announced their blogger competition – a competition that, if I had won, would have kept me in Europe for another month in fall – I didn’t hesitate to enter. When Michael Hodson of Go, See, Write tweeted about organizing another Ultimate Train Challenge, traveling from Lisbon to Saigon by train over thirty days in October, my virtual ears perked up. And when I heard about the U.S. Davis Cup team (yes, I am a tennis-loving freak) playing in Spain in September, I started thinking about how I could work that in on my way home from Central Asia. While four months ago I was hitting a wall and not sure how long I would make it, suddenly it feels natural to keep extending my travels.
But at the same time, I am ready to know when I am going home.
It may sound weird, but I want to know when the finish line is. I want to know when I have to start thinking about things like finding a job and where I will live. I find myself longing for the stability of being home again, catching up with old friends and sleeping in the same bed every night. I am completely torn between the desire to keep going and the desire to know when I will finally head home.
For now, all I know is that when July 15 rolls around, I won’t be on a flight to Chicago. Instead, I will be wrapping up a month of volunteering in Tajikistan and getting ready to fly to Kazakhstan to begin the last phase of my journey, traveling through the rest of Central Asia.
And while I have mentally prepared myself to return home in mid-September, I won’t be booking that flight any time soon. Not while I am having this much fun.