What’s it like?



For the last few months of my motorcycle trip and for the first few months of my being home, I found myself constantly being asked the same question…how will you adjust to being home?  Some people even went so far as to pump up the bluntness and add a judgmental tone…how are you ever going to go back to normal life?  And those who have made or are on a journey like mine asked still another version, hoping for either some suggestions on how to more easily adjust when they made it home, or to find in me a partner for commiseration…what’s it like?
So here, finally, is my answer…one for each version.

For the first…I don’t know, I will just figure it out.

For the blunt…What is “normal” life? Normal to one person is crazy to another. If you mean “how will I go back to a day job and bills and plain, non-travel life?”…all I can say is that I will do it gracefully and gratefully, or at least I hope to. Having the privilege to travel as I have for two years has come at a price. I worked hard, very hard, (as in 50-60 hour weeks for years on end) to save thousands of dollars before my trip. And while traveling and being unemployed for two years, I lived on my life’s savings, whittling away at my future and my retirement, all the while worrying that it would be a hard financial move to ever recover from. I sold my home, and came back homeless. Yes, I traveled to some beautiful places, and loved it, but it was also very hard work. My days weren’t made solely of romantic vistas, umbrella drinks and walks on the beach. While I’ve focused on, and tried to share through my blog, some of  the beauty of the places I was lucky enough to visit, there is always a yin to the yang. Most days were filled with dust and sweat and aching bones, frustrating language barriers and security and safety concerns. Some days were filled with very bad roads and a lot of fear on my part. Many days were filled with the harsh realities of life that I have been insulated from in the comfort of my own country. There were orphans, and poor and naked children, families scratching bare survival out of the dirt, skeletal and parasite-ridden dying dogs, dogs with dangling limbs, malnourished and bony livestock, garbage and stench, litter and waste, poverty and illness, and natural disaster. Some days were filled with food poisoning, diarrhea,  spider bites, jellyfish stings or fever. Hours and hours were spent in lines, which added up to days by the end of the trip. Days were spent sorting out paperwork and buying parts. Days and days were spent doing the hard work of daily life – walking miles to markets and back to camp, struggling through communication to find the basics like food and water and medicine, fuel, oil, tires and parts, carrying everything we owned to and from camp and supplies to and from town, walking, walking and more walking, setting up the tent, packing away gear, washing clothes by hand, sewing and mending the handful of things we owned to keep them useable, and getting cash and managing exchange rates since no one took credit cards. I have allergies and the change in climates, pollen producers, altitude and air quality meant frequent sinus issues and headaches for me. Different living standards in parts of the world exposed me to a lot of dirt. I saw and stayed in some of the filthiest conditions I’ve ever seen, and there are many parts of the world that are MUCH worse than anything I saw. Riding long days and camping in a tent for nights on end in all sorts of conditions – jungle heat and humidity, torrential downpours, lightning, insane winds, cold, plagues of insect, sand and grit and more – takes a toll on you physically and mentally. By the end of the trip, my months of hiking, riding, sleeping on the ground, packing, carrying and bumping my way though two continents had genuinely worn me out.  It is definitely not for everyone. I am so unbelievably grateful for every bit of the experiences I had, good and bad, but it wasn’t a “vacation” and therefore, coming home won’t be boring or dull in comparison, unless that’s what I want it to be. Life will be comfort and luxury compared with what I’ve been living, and if I am lucky it will be filled with family and friends whom I have missed. My work and life made my last trip possible and my new job will help make my future possible. So I’m grateful for four walls, the chance at a good job, and for a rest.

And to the third…this is the hard part. It’s hard to come home. Not because you don’t want to be there and not for any one tangible reason. And not because it isn’t good to be home. It’s impossible to explain. I didn’t even know what I was feeling as it was happening. I wasn’t living the bike trip and I wasn’t living my old life, I felt somewhere in limbo. Having now come through my first six months off the road (although that included more travels which only prolonged my transition back to reality) and my first month back at a full time job, I am gaining a little perspective on what it was like. For the first few weeks I was home I literally just slept and ate and showered. I luxuriated in the little things like toilet paper, regular hot water and flush toilets, which seems sad, and a little funny, to those who haven’t lived it because I seem so bathroom focused. Life at home is so easy compared to life on the road. You know where things are and don’t have a language barrier or dozens of questions to ask to get what you need to live. I didn’t want to unpack all my gear from the bike, so some part of me must have wanted to keep at the ready. I was happy to see everyone but at the same time overwhelmed by crowds of anything more than two people. I was surprised by how few people actually asked about my trip, not because I think they should care, but because I would care if the roles were reversed. I would want to know what it was like. But then it occurred to me that my curiosity is what led me out into the world, and the lack of curiosity that keeps some people from going out into the world may be the same lack that keeps them from even wondering about my trip or asking about it. Some people think it’s strange and irresponsible that I took the trip. Some people didn’t even know I’d ever been gone.  It reminded me of the feeling Neo has when he finally awakens from The Matrix. You can go back, but you aren’t the same anymore so don’t expect it to feel the same as it did before. I found I didn’t have as much in common with people as I did before I left, and I didn’t have any interest in some of the old things that used to interest me. I had changed, so my view of some of the old parts of my life had changed.  While I sometimes thought people’s personalities had changed while I was gone, I later realized it was my perspective that had, and I needed to let that go and just enjoy things and people as they are. Since the trip I’m much less interested in material things, but more and more time here is changing that again in the way that I like the comforts of home.  When I came home I found I needed to keep myself focused on something in the future that gave me happiness. It helped me to feel less stir crazy and channel that energy. I decided to try and share some of what I learned on the road with other people who might be considering the trip. I stayed connected with a few other travelers just to still feel connected to the road. As much as I wanted to see my friends and family when I came back I also found it just too much. I had to work back up to being around a lot of people and needed to have some alone time to balance it out. I put on weight, partly from being less active after getting home and partly from all the garbage that we eat in America. Maybe it was a form of depression. I did sleep a lot. But I never really felt depressed, so I don’t know for sure. I’m not a person who gets depressed, thankfully, but I do worry and fret and get anxious.  I did definitely have a serious bout of anxiety right before I went back to work and during the first week or two. Sleepless nights, palpitations and chest pains were clear signs of it. I thought about the trip a lot.  My writing and working on a couple of presentations kept it on my mind whether I wanted it there or not.  It was hard to get actually excited about going back to work, what with the nerves and the actually having to get out of bed in the morning, but I tried to focus on the parts of things that made me happy.  I was going to have fun seeing friends in the hotel world again.  I loved what I did before and I had the chance to work with a better company and some great people, which made me happy.  All in all, when I came home I had some bad and bitchy days, but I didn’t dwell on them.  I was patient with myself. One day at a time…just like my life in the road. I choose to try to stay positive and to plant seeds of happiness for my future because having something to look forward to has always been a way I keep myself going and happy. Some of those seeds may eventually show up here. I wish I could explain it better…the feelings and process of coming back from life on the road. I wish I had the words. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. Disorienting. Strange. Even surreal. It must be very different for each person who experiences it. The only thing I can say is that you will get through it. Sharing the experience with other travelers, both those I traveled with and those who have experienced the coming home, definitely helps. It’s a withdrawal of sorts, I suppose, and maybe having a group of people going through the same thing helps. Just remember you aren’t alone.

Happy New Year, friends. Wishing you all the best in 2016!

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31 comments

  1. Happy New Year! I really enjoyed reading this today. I’ll apologize now for being the blunt one and asking questions about ” normal” life. Lol. I’m so proud of you and so glad your life path lead you down such a brave journey. Still waiting for some one on one time to hear all the details 😃

    • Your love, support and friendship have meant the world to me…always. But especially these past two years. Without fail, on a bad or boohoo-ey day, your words of kindness would cross the miles to raise my spirits and make Mae smile. You have nothing to apologize for…your question wasn’t the kind I meant. One month under my belt and I feel like I can breathe. So how about we celebrate friendship sometime with a couple of bottles of something. I want to hear all about your beautiful adventures too. You say when.

  2. I toast you and ‘the normal life’. I have been blessed with the ability to manage my work time instead of work time managing me. Being a manic obsessive person, once I get the idea in my head to ride somewhere I just have to let those around me let me go and do it so I can return to their ‘normal life’. The Zen like experience on the road is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. The bad weather, bad experiences, broken parts, near misses, running out of money never happen if we don’t leave the house. But, neither does the road magic of a sunrise ahead, a vista that was created just for you to see, a helping hand from a stranger to help you get your gloves on in a rainstorm, a truck stop conversation with another rider, or a nurse.
    I’m setting riding goals for 2016 and I hope you are going to live your dreams on the bike this next year too. Life is too short not to use up all the tires they make. Cheers.

  3. By far, one of the best blog posts I’ve read. Beautiful description of what life is on the road. Thank you for sharing. You are an inspiration. Happy New Year and save up for another big ride. Hope our paths cross again. Hugs.

  4. Your adventure in life will never end – you’re an adventurer! Though different forms may manifest, your spirit will prevail and you’ll continue to inspire us. My one regret about route trip? Missing that day of riding with you guys as you passed through Virginia. I was just sick..sorry.

    Perhaps sometime I’ll get to drive chase for you two and that’s better than never getting to ride and learn from you. BTW, I remain impressed at Brian’s mechanical aptitude!

    ^5
    Tom Croom

  5. Great post and summary of the feelings you are going through. We are coming upon 1 month home after 15 months of travel and I still don’t know how I feel. Lots of people asking those questions and my answers vary day by day. Welcome home and enjoy the modern comforts.

  6. Beautiful write-up expressing the feeling when you return back from a long road trip…. Wish all your future dreams come true… Cheers and happy new year 🙂

  7. Beautiful write-up expressing the feeling of being back home after a long road trip… Wish all your future dreams come true…. Cheers n Happy New Year.. 🙂

  8. Michelle, what was the total tally of miles?

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. My husband and I have been on the road for the last three years, and recently we’ve been talking about settling down and growing some roots in one place. We’re apprehensive about it and are talking to people like you who have finished their trips and returned to a more familiar lifestyle at “home”. All the best and Happy New Year.

  10. Good luck Sturgis. Had a great time reading this and preparing for my first trip.
    Best wishes from Lithuania!

  11. Very true and realistic description of what life is on and back from the road.
    Happy New 2016 Year

  12. I love reading about your adventures – living vicariously through you. At the same time, I’m glad you’ve made it home and are getting into a familiar routine. Think about what you’ve accomplished, the places you have gone, and the people you have met. You can’t place a price tag on that.

    Cheers to your safe return, a new career and an exciting 2016! XOXOXO

    ~ Chris

  13. Hi Michelle,

    Great post. It rings true with many of the things I have experienced since getting back and starting my new job. You are tempted to just slide back into the life you knew before, but things are not the same, you are not the same, so that doesn’t work. You have to find new ways to live in the same place you lived in before. It’s an interesting process.

    Best of luck to you, and sending great wishes for 2016 to both you and Brian.
    `emma

  14. Michelle, I must beg to differ…you absolutely do have the words to describe what it’s like, both traveling and the return from travel. Beautifully stated and I love how you are focusing on the positive in every way. My circumstances are different but I will still view you as my role model as I aspire to be so positive! All the best to you as you find your way in this new year! Cheers, Lynne

  15. A friend shared this with me and can relate on many levels. My first travel was for 4 yrs. I managed returning for two years because I knew I was leaving again. Soon i will be returning after another 2 year trip. I’ve seen that my perspective has changed. I get the appreciation for simple things like water. But I too saw how the longer I was bacj materialize slipped into my life and yes the weight gain from the N . American food. One day at a time

  16. Wow, you paint the picture really well, Michelle. Mark Donham kindly passed this post onto me, and it struck a cord. A deep one. Having only visited home for a two-month holiday over Christmas, I could entirely relate to what you’ve expressed in your heartfelt account of feeling and being different upon returning home. I lost whom I thought was a good friend of mine, heck we go back over 15 years, which hurt, got thanked by a couple for “not banging on about our trip” while spending the evening in their company but ultimately, it was interesting to see who asked about the trip out of obligation (and who didn’t), versus those that enquired out of actual fascination about our journey on the road thus far. Predictably, it was folks that had travelled beyond the fortnight summer holiday and week away skiing (nothing wrong with either I hasten to add), that were genuinely interested in and intrigued by what we’ve been up to. One guy even spent three hours with us just reliving our trip through details I’d totally forgotten–leaving me touched beyond expectation. My expectation upon seeing friends and family was never to harp on about all the places, people and experiences we’ve encountered, rather, I guess, just be given some airtime in keeping with your average two-way catch-up conversation. Our travels have alienated a small handful of people from us but fortunately, brought us much closer to those we really cherish–namely to whom we can still relate, and hopefully the feeling is mutual with them…Above all, I loved reading your honest perspective; you’re well on the road to the new set of adjustments and clearly adaptable to your environment, which is why you’ve come as far as you have. I hope I can be half as gracious during my transition period as you. Cheers and hope to see you in South Dakota one day, that’d be great. Lisa

    • Thank you, Lisa, for your kind words. I’m sure you both know all too well, and will continue to experience in different ways, exactly what I was referring to and what all of us travelers must see in one form or another to varying degrees. Experiences like your time on the road, and mine and Brian’s, aren’t shared by many other people, so it’s nice to find someone else who can relate. I wish you a smooth transition when you’re ready and til then, I wish you safe travels. Please do add South Dakota to your list this year. I’d love the chance to meet you both, the storyteller in two versions (you with words and him with photographs). You’d be very welcome.

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