NB. This post comes with a warning. It’s full of personal emotion and some things that have not been mentioned in my blog this year while traveling, so might take some by surprise. If you just want to stick with the happy go lucky imagery of our 2016 travels, please feel free to skip this post.
It seemed like such a fine plan – buy an RV and go and travel the USA; no work, no worries, no stress.
And I’m sure that’s what many people would think upon reading that plan, and for some that might translate from paper to reality very well. However, I can tell you right now, for me personally, it really didn’t. But I should be clear in saying that, in my opinion, this was for a number of personal reasons, not necessarily that living fulltime in an RV is poor idea.
At the end of December I flew back to the UK for two weeks. When the plane finally hit British soil I could feel the tears welling up, I was home. And it was as if something magical happened, because all of the stress I had been carrying around in my head, the anger and frustration in my heart and the general weariness on my shoulders; lifted. It was in that moment that I truly realised how difficult and personality altering my year had been.
At this point I would like to tell my best friend AJ, who has just recently delivered the happy news that she is to be married to her boyfriend Rob this year, just how much I love her. AJ, I mean this from the bottom of my heart, you saved me this winter buddy, you really did.
For two weeks I was welcomed into their house (with the approval of their cats – Kato, Lynx, Hero and Diesel) and was treated like a member of the family. I was able to spend the time letting everything that had boiled and bubbled in my brain for the past year, just slip from my mind. We spent time dog walking and cat cuddling, treasure hunting and wedding planning. We ate curry and roast dinners (not in dish soap this time), watched movies and attempted some dance moves. I had the use of my old treasured Clio and was able to roam the countryside at will to catch up with all of my chores, and then come back to tea and natter with my buddy. It was more than I could have hoped for.
I was able to spend New Years’ with my sister and her husband; we got to spend time together working on her puzzle, watching The West Wing and even painting our nails together. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And my friends, my awesome amazing friends who have made a champion effort of keeping in touch with me over Skype, by sending me food parcels and even just through weekly texts, I got to spend time with them thanks to the fabulous hostess skills of Binky – who laid on a feast of food and let us all invade her house for a catch up gossip.
And simply to be home, to be in England; to walk and drive familiar streets, to food shop where all of my favourites are in easy reach, to overdose on tea and sweets and to wake up to weather, real changeable weather! Frost! Cold! Rain! Fog! Overcast skies! Where I need more than an outfit of shorts and a t-shirt, where my coats have a purpose in life, where I can wear my beanie again!
There is a quote that was given to me by Desperado, a hiker friend of mine, which comes from a book by Terry Pratchett. It reads…
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there you see differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
And to this I can attest. Many times have I been on the delivering end of a string of complaints about living in the UK – the darkness in winter, traffic on the M3, rants about work, the price of petrol, the bloody rain causing mould to grow on the patio – take your pick.
However, there were two things that I didn’t really take into account when I left – the first is that these things, while mildly annoying, were a source of familiarity. At least I knew the complaints that I, and my fellow Brits, would be muttering. We were in our misery together. Two – I took the good bits, the bits I loved, very much for granted. When you are suddenly taken and placed in an environment lacking the greenery, small towns and cool weather you love, suddenly you begin to miss the cloudy days and frosts. You might not believe it, but it’s true. I even miss navigating the god awful one way, traffic infested system in Winchester. I miss tiny roads. I miss having to layer up and brave whatever weather may be outside.
So to have two weeks where I could revel in all of these dearly missed things, however ridiculous they may seem, was bliss. Being in a situation where I could view the world in front of me in a positive light, to be surrounded by people I missed, loved, could talk and relate to (and yes, that specifically means you Di Morrison and your most incredible pep talk); it all completely lifted my spirits.
My time also gave me the opportunity to address probably the most important thing I had been battling with for nine months, I confronted my deepest fear; that I would never be able to come home again. I had worked myself into such a state of terror thinking that by making the choice to sample a potential life in the US suddenly meant that I had made it impossible to return to my old life, should I choose. That I had now forever stuck myself in a country I did not like or enjoy with no practical options to reverse this decision.
But what I found was my best friend waiting at King Alfred’s statue for me when I arrived. And a room in her home, freshly decorated just for my trip. And a promise should I need to come back, should everything go pear shaped, that she would be there to lend me a space until I sorted myself out. It was not only what I needed to hear, but I could see with my own two eyes that she completely meant it. And it was everything my heart and mind required. It allowed me to savour my home country without sadness, and to board a plane back to America confident that she had my back should I require.
It’s a hard thing to explain, but I have been back for three weeks now and the panic and stress has not re-joined me. I was told by Loop’s mum just the other day that I seem like a completely different person. And, for now at least, I feel that way.
I have come to realise that there were fears and pressures I had been carrying around with me, which were hampering my ability to be open to new experiences last year. I now realise that my home will always be my home, and it is there waiting for me should I return, with someone to lean on if I need. I’ve come to understand that just because I am somewhere different, it doesn’t mean that I will suddenly lose the essence of who I am, my values, thoughts and beliefs, nor should I feel I have to give them up to fit in. I can be me wherever I live, and that’s an okay thing. And most precious and astonishing to me, I can wander four thousand miles away for almost a year, and return home to friends who act like I’ve never been gone.
Which brings me full circle to our year of traveling and its complications.
Yes, traveling around the USA in an RV sounds great, but in order to accomplish it in any successful fashion you need to be open to it in the first place. You need to leave any anxieties or hang-ups behind. You have to be willing to be cooperative and flexible. You just have to roll with the punches.
In my case, pretty much none of these applied to me at the beginning of our travels. In hindsight, I came very ill prepared to the changes that were taking place in my life. I had left my home country, family and friends. I left behind a lifetime of familiarity. I was no-where near happy. I felt under duress. I was frustrated and angry and I was simply not ready or prepared to try to be open to new experiences. I tried to wash over it and put on a brave public face for it, but in the end, it all became too much. By the time I made it home, I was exhausted mentally and physically.
But why have I come back then, you may ask?
Because even amongst the angst, I can still appreciate the value of the opportunity that I have been given. I can look back over the year and remember all of the new and unique sights and experiences I have had the good fortune to have, and I would like to have more. The difference being is that hopefully this time I shall be more prepared for what awaits. I will come to it having put to rest the fears that have been crowding my brain. I will be ready for the inevitable sticking points that will crop up, and hopefully make better decisions on how best to deal with a situation. I shall remember what constitutes a fruitless course of action and what is more productive.
I learned so much about myself this year, both good and bad, and I hope this knowledge holds me in good stead for a better travels in the coming year.
“Accept that this experience taught you something you didn’t want to know. Accept that sorrow and strife are part of even a joyful life” Cheryl Strayed.