Its been a week now since I ended my whirlwind European adventure and boarded my plane from Zurich back home to New York. My original plan was just to take off to South East Asia for 6 months which I later on changed to year and ended up to a year plus three months in Europe. 20 countries, 15.5 months and a travel blog after, I’m back home.
Manhattan skyline view from Hoboken, NJ pier
My plan was really just to travel. Even creating a travel blog wasn’t in my plans. But after consistent demands from my friends and answering the same questions again and again on how I actually do it, I saw the need to share the things I learned. I did see the world, experienced it, tasted wonderful cuisines from different countries, met people from all over the world, I had fun- lots of fun actually, and above all I learned so much about myself and the wonderful world we live in, in this amazing journey.
An Interview with an immigration officer
This long trip was the first one where I left the US soil for more than a year, after having lived here for six years. On my way back, I wasn’t really sure if I’ll be interviewed for being gone too long. I was hoping not since I already am a citizen. However, on the immigration form, there was a box to write down all the countries visited prior to returning to US. I couldn’t have possibly fit all the countries I went to for the past year so I only wrote the European countries. Before exiting, I was halted by the immigration officer which happens to be a lady.
IO: Wait a minute. You visited all these countries???
Me: Yes, I backpacked around Europe.
IO: Don’t you have any friends?
Me: Umm yes.
IO: Isn’t it dangerous?
Me: Not really.
IO *with a very shocked face*: Wow. Welcome home!
What a relief that I actually just had to go through those simple questions. However, I felt a little bit sad that I had to add another one to the big list of people who view the world as a dangerous place for women traveling alone.
A few thoughts and observations on my homecoming
Sunday afternoon in Bryant Park
I went home just in time before my 90th day in Europe. For US citizens, we are only allowed 90 days out of 180 day period to stay within the Schengen territories. I left on the 89th day to be exact and just a day before my jury duty that I postponed twice since last year. Actually, it was also just in time before I peaked travel fatigue from bouncing so much around Europe for the past three months.
The very first thing that I noticed when I landed at the airport was that everybody was speaking English. Duh of course. But after having been gone for so long and not have visited an English speaking country, hearing American accent everywhere wasn’t quite the norm for me anymore. I noticed that I spoke English slower than I used to do, walked slower than I used to and I also found myself still doing some sign language sometimes.
When I left, one friend of mine was still pregnant, now I get to meet her lovely daughter who’s already walking and making small talks. Also, another delightful thing to see for me was the freedom tower. Our office headquarters was just a block away from ground zero literally with views of the construction site. When I last saw it, they were still building the tower. Now the freedom tower dominates the biggest buildings of lower Manhattan. Oh what a year can do!
Freedom tower light over the Hudson River
During my walks around NYC and Jersey, I noticed that not so much has changed. Well, a couple of stores shut down which of course included a bookstore where I told my friend from Barcelona to meet me and ran through some problems. But almost everything is the same…except me. It has been just a week and there’s still a lot for me to absorb with this whole experience but one thing I know for sure, long-term travel really changes you so much in ways you wouldn’t even think you would. And when you come home, you view the very same things but with a different set of eyes.
Coming to America circa 2005 with my Auntie
Home for the past 15.5 months has been wherever I was. One of my gifts that I found out when I was traveling is that I can adapt very easily to wherever I am. It was the same case when I moved to the US a few days before my 21st birthday, which was my very first travel experience and first country to ever visit, yet alone live. I was asked if I felt some culture shock. I can’t remember if I actually did. Maybe. But for the most part I didn’t. Working and living in New York has always been my dream growing up. So when I had the opportunity to leave with a flight ticket as a graduation gift from my aunt, I left home, my family, friends, my longtime boyfriend back then and all the familiar places within my comfort zone armed with a very strong desire to fulfill a dream. The feelings that I had back then were the same I had when I set off to travel the world. I was very curious of what’s out there, excited to be somewhere new, thrilled with new experiences and learn new things but most of all, I was dead scared of the unknown. But still I went, despite being so afraid and being told how “risky” or “dangerous” what I was doing was.
After having experienced all these things in my life, I think I can now rightfully say that sometimes all you need is just a strong desire and will to make all your dreams come true. Time and time again, it just proves this simple fact: everything you want is just outside your comfort zone. I’d say it won’t be easy but it’s surely worth fighting for. If I can do it, so can you!
Now that I’m not moving so much, I’ll be writing (finally!!!) to share my stories and misannzventures, travel tips and recommendations for you dear reader. It will be a series of travel recommendations on the destinations I visited and my personal travel tips including how I self-financed and budgeted for my long-term travel, creative ways I did to survive in the very expensive European continent and how I stayed safe as a solo female traveler.
As always, thank you for following along and reading.
I did it! Yay!!!
To living the life of your dreams,