The way back is not the way forward

So here we are, exactly 90 days since I boarded that one-way flight to London, and chose this adventure. What a wild ride its been so far, so many peaks and valleys, externally yes, but also internally.

I’m writing this from Kotor, Montenegro, where I’ve arrived three days ago. Being here was loosely part of the plan before I left, but the path that I’ve taken to arrive was not.

Those fateful couple of minutes at the train station in Madrid changed the course of this adventure so much, again both externally and internally, and negatively and positively.

I stayed longer in Santiago de Compostela than planned and I don’t think I would have connected with it like I did if I hadn’t. A return to both Madrid and Barcelona were also not planned, yet provided me with some needed perspective. And spending the entire last month in Croatia certainly wasn’t originally scoped. In fact, when I was thinking about spending the summer in the Balkans, I had been purposely excluding the country, thinking it to be far to touristy and not “off the beaten path” enough.

While those external changes were unplanned and shifted the adventure, I think the internal challenges I faced were as big, perhaps bigger and the changes they brought about more profound.

The palpable energy around Santiago de Compostela, coupled with my emotional state, provided the backdrop to a reflective time, and allowed me to see the forest for the trees. I left with a greater appreciation for this adventure, and challenged my own internal ideas of what I’m doing out here.

You don’t choose a life, you live one.
Martin Sheen as Dr. Tom Avery, The Way, 2010

Madrid, and a return to the scene of the crime, forced me to confront my irrational fears, and ultimately to truly adopt a “what may come” mentality. And then Croatia, especially Zagreb, just felt like a giant bear hug, giving me that pure unadulterated joy and love of travel back.

I’ve learned so much about myself through these last months, and love the ways I’ve changed. At this moment, I feel stronger, happier and more resolved that I am on the right path.

Time can be such an odd construct, as in this moment the start of this adventure feels both forever ago and like it was yesterday. I can physically feel that construct disappearing from my view. I really have no idea what day of the week it is at any given moment, and hours seem to pass incredibly slowly, yet days are over in an instant.

When I think back to specific moments from the last three months, it’s difficult to comprehend that they weren’t all that long ago. Birthday drinks with Eli, family dinner with the Ducrocqs, sunset from Welsh castle ruins, Negronis under the tree – all feel as if they happened years ago. Oddly so does the sunrise over Hvar from just days ago. But when I close my eyes and play back those moments in my head, my heart feels them as if they were yesterday.

I love a good rankings list, but I’ve had far too many moments to try to sort and rank them right now, so here’s just a handful of random ones.

  • Trying to find a place to eat dinner on a Saturday night in one of the newest trendy places in London, with my parents and Eli, and ending up at some random pizza joint.
  • Watching Eli walk away to catch his train to the airport, and the overwhelming emotion that swept over me, reducing me to tears and making me feel more alone that I ever thought possible.
  • Playing golf for the first time in almost 20 years, and not completely sucking.
  • The first sip of coffee at Ratinos in Santiago de Compostela, the morning after “the incident.” Never has a sip of coffee tasted so sweet and been so relieving.
  • The conspiracy theorist I met at the top of the mountain on the island of Mljet, who upon hearing I was from the US, asked if I was with the CIA and there to “get him” for the things he had been posting on Facebook.

Throughout these 90 days, as I’ve sat in cafes and parks, walked narrow city streets and gazed at incredible, worldly beauty, my mind has wandered far and wide. Questions have led to more questions, many times without answer.

But what I’m finding is my head and heart are becoming more focused, my gaze sharpened. My entire being has recalibrated and I feel myself returning to my forever ongoing internal question … what’s next?

Below is a collection of these thoughts, a reflection on these last 90 day and a view ahead to all the adventures yet to come.

I’ve tried to put them into understandable sentence structures, using the English language, but so much of it is such a stream of consciousness that it’s hard to make sense of it. So I’ll leave it here as best I can.

  • This world is huge. This world is vast.
  • Slowing down is necessary and feels good
  • Not having internet shows how addicted we get. I am enjoying the discipline of no internet to help me soak in the moments and be present. Even if it’s just sitting at a cafe or riding the bus or ferry. Just reframes how big this whole thing is
  • Lonely but not at the times you’d expect
  • Learning to open up to meet people
  • Dining alone much harder. Ordering can be difficult. Cafes are totally awesome to sit alone, and I enjoy that immensely. But dining is, oddly, a whole other ballgame. I feel so self conscious eating alone.
  • Park time. Love that. Making it a point to find a different park every day. Parks are expanding to plazas, piers and beaches. It’s really just another opportunity for me to slow down, be HERE now and reconnect with myself.
  • Internal battle between planning and flow
  • Being ok with doing nothing for a day
  • There’s an odd nostalgia about a place when you don’t know if you’ll ever return to it
  • Adjusting to this new way is not always easy. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s lonely.
  • Understanding that this is the new way is also interesting. Days are just days sometimes and that’s ok.
  • 5/18-5/20: feeling of hitting my stride. Comfortable in this new skin, with this new way. Vacation/travel mode has disappeared, and it just feels like my life now.
  • My ability to just sit and take in life continues to grow and it’s amazing. The feeling of needing to be doing something lessens with each time I do it. Whether cafe or park, the time that I spend there lengthens. My mind wanders but remains calm.
  • Confession. I’m a terrible tourist. I don’t like touristy things. And I certainly won’t pay through the nose for them. Do I miss attractions? Sometimes. And I’m ok with that.
  • 5/20: Interesting self realization thought. I’m enjoying the routine more than I like the location or activities. Meaning I find more joy in having the routine in new places more than the new places themselves. Is that true? I’m finding myself sticking more to my set routine hours rather than deviating and spending more time on activities.
    In example, in Dubrovnik I’m sure I could find plenty of things to do to fill my 6 days. Instead on day one I set my plans, with activities wrapped around my routine, and find myself more beholden to that routine than the FOMO of a new location.
    Meaning, I’d rather experience a place through the context of my routine rather than going rogue and doing what I want whenever I want. I’m finding I crave the routine to keep the day moving and fulfilled.
    I know I am someone that needs structure and routine but to witness it in action in the context of something that is inherently unstructured is fascinating.