Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Backpacking Then and Now (Part II)

(Written in Arambol, March 20th)

It’s odd, really, thinking about going home.  I thought I’d be sad to be finishing my time off, reluctant to give up the freedom that comes with not having an office schedule to keep.  I thought I’d be dreading going back to work and taking up adult responsibilities again.

Oh, that’s all true in some ways.  This year off has been a very valuable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  But, instead of dread and reluctance, I find that mostly I‘m okay with the concept of “real life” again.    Much of that, I think, is because of the point in my life at which I chose to do this; had I gone wandering around the world for an extended period of time when I was, say, 27 instead of 42, it might’ve been a very different story.

You might’ve read the post I wrote a while ago about what it’s like backpacking now (as a *cough* older traveller) compared with travelling when you’re young.  (If you haven’t, please go back and read; I thought it was pretty funny and you might get a laugh or two.)  That one was a lighter look at the differences in the experience, but this one is a more serious take.  It appears I am in a contemplative mood, this close to the end of my trip, so I thought I’d share some of it with you.

My experience travelling now, as a 42-year-old woman (hey, that might be the first time I’ve admitted to my real age this trip!), is very different than it was when I was 20-something.  Some of that’s just the changes to how you manage the day-to-day experience of travelling; the fact that I can write this blog to tell you all about my trip, add my pictures online so you can take a peek well before I get home, keep in touch with everyone at home instantaneously through Facebook and email and Skype, and do all my research and bookings online on the fly, makes the practical side of travel light years removed from what it was like in 1993, when I first hit the road as a backpacker.

But there are other differences that are more profound, differences more related to my age and my stage of life than to the technological advance of the 2000’s compared with the early 1990’s.  Different, too, to the travels of the 20-somethings I’ve met along the way; our experiences of day-to-day travel are similar, but our outlooks are quite different.

The biggest difference, I think, is that I’m going back now.  When I first went off backpacking, there was no back to go back to, as I’d just finished university and one stage of my life had ended.  Whatever I did next was going to be invented from scratch, whether I chose to hit the road with a backpack or start a “grown-up” life at home. That’s the case, too, for the 20-somethings I’ve met along the road this time; they’ve finished university (or not yet started), given up temporary casual jobs, left all their stuff in storage at Mom and Dad’s (since they don’t yet have permanent homes), and hit the road.

But for me?  I have a career, which I’m going back to; I’m not temping or waitressing or whatever until I figure out what I want to do.  I have a home, with furniture and furnishing and a vast array of shoes in the closet; I’m not crashing with my parents until I find a place to live.  I’m going back to a city which I’ve come to love and where I’ve lived for more than a decade; I’m not starting all over in a brand new place.  

It’s been an interlude in my “real life”, this year.  Had I done this when I was younger, it would’ve been different; it would’ve been harder to give up the freedom to wander when I didn’t have anything specific to go back to.

But you know what?  I have lots to go back to — lots of stuff that I like, and that I probably appreciate a lot more now than I did at the start of this year off.  I like having home, friends, career:  roots, in a word.  I like having a corner of the world where I feel that I belong, instead of being a rootless nomad trying to figure out where it is that I should stop.    (And I like the idea that I’m going to have money coming in again, instead of always going out!)

And, of course, there’s the shoes.  There’s no room on the road for pretty, frivolous shoes, shoes that you wear just because you like the way they look, not just because they’re comfortable and you can walk for hours in them.  So I’ll be happiest, probably, about trading in the Tevas and hiking boots for my Manolos and Jimmy Choos.  

And I just might have to reward myself for going back to work, with a new pair of ... oh, maybe Christian Louboutins.  Anyone want to come shopping with me?  Meet me at Holt’s on the 24th of March; I’ll be the one drooling in the shoe department.

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