Taking Stock: 500 Days of Summer

Posted by on Aug 16, 2015 in Taking Stock, Travelogue | 20 Comments

500 days Sunrise over Provence

Today it is 500 days. 500 days of summer, 500 days since we left home. Though I am not really sure where “home” is anymore. 500 days since we left the life that we knew behind. 500 days since we left our jobs, our family and friends, 500 days without a fixed address; 500 days of hotels, hostels, campsites and squatting with friends.

When we landed back in Europe, I cried. I wasn’t sure why, a mixture of happiness and relief? An overwhelming emotion of coming back “home”. It took us 306 days and crossing over 20 countries to go by land from Brussels to Hong Kong and a mere 12 hours to fly back from Hong Kong to Paris.

Re-entry to Brussels began with excitement. Extreme joy at seeing old friends again, the comfort of familiar streets, of knowing my way around, of not needing a map, of tasting familiar foods, of finding the cheese rack in the supermarket with no less than 200 choices of the good stinky stuff. The pleasure of finding my favourite moisturiser in the store and its recognisable scent on my skin. The euphoric opening of musty suitcases and re-discovering silk dresses and wool sweaters I had forgotten about and deciding that I did not need half of them once again. The re-devouring of my cookbook collection, left living under a layer of fine dust, multicoloured post-its sticking out of the pages, now discoloured by the sun.

There were never-ending drinks, then never-ending dinners. Catching up on everyone’s lives, meeting new babies born while we were away, flipping through wedding albums of celebrations we missed and gossip updates from our old offices. Doctor check-ups, messy phone calls about taxes, administrative appointments and a big decision to make. To stay or not to stay?

We still have no “home”, we’ve spent the last 200 days drifting between Hong Kong, the Philippines, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Brussels, Lamu Island in Kenya, Tuscany in Italy and Provence in France. It seems completely normal to float from one place to another, unable to stay put for long, yet at the same time it feels like we are rushing, waiting for something else to happen.

We tell stories from our journey at dinner tables, yet keep silent about it most of the time. Someone said to me the other day that we haven’t talked much about our trip, yet proceeded to ask no questions. Today, I found a small note I wrote to a friend many years ago after a particular time in my life where I felt disconnected from those back home after two years of living away – “It reminds me of all of us coming back from UWC (the school I was in), forever changed and no matter how many stories you tell your friends back home, they will laugh in all the right places, but they will not understand, what you yourself cannot understand, what you cannot explain, what you cannot put into words. I guess my memories are for myself only. Our memories, no one can take away from us.”

Coming back from our journey often feels similar, because I am not sure we are coming back. Coming back to what? To a life well-known, to a life well-lived, but a life that quietens my desires. I still cannot put into words all that these 500 days have given us, I still cannot explain which steps our every emotion and intellect have taken. I have memories that I am scared of losing, some are already blurring. Many people say, “I wish I could do that, I wish I could leave.” Others say, “you were so brave, I could never do that.” But you could, if you really wanted to. William Blake said, “those who restrain their desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to restrain.” If we truly want it, it can be done. But do we truly want it? Is our desire weak enough to restrain? After over a year on the road, what is it that we now desire? What do we want to do with our next 500 days?

We have been free, entirely free. We have felt alive, most days we have felt the world at our fingertips. We woke up with adrenaline pumping through our veins and muscles aching from hard beds, but most of all we felt incredibly light. Far from any judgements, opinions or fears. Do we now want to feel the weight of security, the weight of responsibility? I can feel my naked feet wanting a clean wooden floor to walk on, my back wanting a sofa to call my own, my fingers craving a pile of books to leaf through, yet my heart is beating fast, panicking at the thought of four walls closing in.

In one of my favourite books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera challenges the dichotomy of weight versus lightness. “Conversely the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.” Has our lightness this past 500 days been insignificant or have we soared to such great heights that it has become almost impossible to return to full reality?

We had a choice to make. Unpack our boxes, move into a nice home again and settle back into our old neighbourhood. Familiarity and comfort would be our bonus friends. We could have drinks and dinners with good friends whenever we wanted, I could eat as many cheeses as I craved. We would never stop travelling, but it would be a different kind of travel, the type we used to do, which was not any less meaningful.

Or…We could put even more boxes in storage, pack two suitcases and move. Move slowly, but surely in a world more unknown, there would be less of the old and more of the new. Less cheese, more noodles. We could move to Hong Kong. For a while, at least. We would upgrade our 10kg backpacks to 20kg suitcases, but without the burden of boxes and boxes. We would still travel, using it as a base to discover more of the region and eat our way through all the street food Asia has to offer. We would still create a “home”, albeit a temporary one and lacking a full library of our favourite books, but a home nonetheless.

Which one do you think we chose?

In mid-September we will be moving to Hong Kong. A compromise between fears and desires, a leap into a challenge we may not be ready for, but that we will adapt to. If anything, these 500 days have taught us how adaptable and resilient human beings are and how maybe sometimes we are not entirely sure about what we want, but we very clearly know what we do not want. And for now, we are not really ready for those boxes to come out of storage just yet.

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20 Comments

  1. Yasmine
    August 16, 2015

    It’s almost crazy how much I can relate to this, even down to the Milan Kundera quote (one of my favourites). We’re on day 475 of our “trip”. Although after a certain amount of time it’s not really a trip any more, it’s just life. We’re still on the road with no plans to stop. After living like this, it’s so hard to imagine stopping and also so hard to imagine not stopping!

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      August 17, 2015

      Hi Yasmine, congrats on your 475 days! It’s exactly as you say, it becomes life and it’s hard to find the happy place between stopping and not stopping. Enjoy the road πŸ™‚

      Reply
    • Rikki
      August 17, 2015

      Thank you for articulating everything I am feeling after being away almost the same amount of time and returning back to Australia 2 weeks ago.

      I’m just putting one foot in front of the other right now and experiencing all those same things you’ve described. I’ve no idea what next but I know what I don’t want!

      Enjoy the next chapter!

      Reply
      • Nico & Gabi
        August 18, 2015

        Hi Rikki, happy to hear that you have the same feelings too. Enjoy your time back home and good luck with your next steps!

        Reply
  2. Camilla Z
    August 17, 2015

    Nicely written! You know neither of those decisions need to be final. Saying ‘yes’ to home, books, familiar faces and cheese can be something to do until you feel like moving again. The last time I opted for home base I just really needed to stop for a while, thinking it might be my last move, and lo and behold, a few years later itchy feet came calling again!

    I guess that is kind of the temporary decision you have made πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      August 18, 2015

      Very true! The itchy feet keep coming back at some point πŸ™‚

      Reply
  3. Cheryl
    August 17, 2015

    Such a beautifully written piece. My husband and I are starting to talk about saving up some money to travel for an undefined period of time.
    Since I was a teenager I have always wanted to live ‘a life less ordinary’. Not following all the rules, buying a house, settling down. It seems like it might finally come true.
    I feel such a connection to your blog and hope that my husband and I can create something as beautiful.
    I am glad to hear you will be continuing the quest πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      August 18, 2015

      Hi Cheryl, it’s wonderful that your dream is on its way to coming true! Thank you for your lovely comments and look forward to seeing how foodlovejourney develops.

      Reply
  4. Jc
    August 18, 2015

    Napakagaling niyo pong dalawa ! Isa po kayong inspiration sa aming lahat na makita ang mundo.

    Ang buhay ay hindi limitado sa apat na haligi ng bahay o oposina.

    πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      August 18, 2015

      hehe Salamat, need to brush up on our non-existent Tagalog πŸ™‚

      Reply
  5. J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats
    August 18, 2015

    So exciting, congrats on your decision πŸ™‚ I think for traveling the best time to do it is as soon as possible. As you get older it seems there are more strings tying you down to one place and its harder to shake them off and wander about. You rarely look back and regret that one time you took a trip instead of staying home. Excited to see what comes out of your move and travels!

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      August 18, 2015

      Thanks J.S Definitely true that we never regretted any trip we took. Hopefully the strings that tie us down will stay loose even as we get older until we can move no more! Have fun in Gansu πŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. Patrick
    September 3, 2015

    Wow… amazing journey! I wish I could go on such an adventure,but at this point in time, my financial situation would never allow it… perhaps in the near future though, I’d love to take a landtrip from Europe to Thailand, through Turkey-Iran-Pakistan-India-Nepal-Tibet-China. That’s like my fantasy journey :). For now, though I’ll have to be satisfied with reading about things like this, and writing my own articles inspired by others, on a tourist-guide website. I’ll just leave it here for anyone interested in reading through it (it’s still a work in progress right now): http://www.travel-tourist-information-guide.com

    Reply
  7. Sarah & Laura
    September 4, 2015

    Wow!

    You’ve just put into words everything we’ve been afraid we’ll feel when it’s ‘time to go home’!

    We’ve been travelling only six months so far out of the 12 months we’re planning to be away, experiencing the world through food much like you guys are doing. It’s really opened up so many doors that maybe otherwise would have stayed closed.

    Still the thought of going home, finding somewhere to live, going back to the 9-5, (re-establishing that much loved bookshelf!)… well it’s hard to describe really.

    Exciting, daunting, overwhelming… Ahhh, maybe we just won’t go home at all, I think it will be much easier!

    All the best and enjoy your next 500 πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      September 20, 2015

      Hi Sarah and Laura, happy to hear you are enjoying your trip so far, make the most of it! Am sure you will find a way your happy with when it comes to decision time. We have just arrived in Hong Kong and while it is not easy, we are definitely excited about the new challenges ahead! Enjoy your next six months on the road πŸ™‚

      Reply
  8. Jo Anne
    October 2, 2015

    <3

    Reply
  9. Steven
    November 13, 2015

    This text is just perfect. The definition of travel addiction:) Gives you amazing adventures, takes you higher and higher, just takes away the skill of being comletely happy with your normal life. You just have to be in the road again to feel alive. Not easy… but beautiful and real.

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      November 14, 2015

      Thanks Steven! Yes definitely not easy, the road is another drug πŸ™‚

      Reply
  10. Virginie Drocourt Blumet
    June 4, 2016

    Such a beautifully written text! Anyone having once (or many more times) been an expat can relate to this… Thnaks for all that you share with us! And all the est with you, so far away! I hooe we can see each other again and meet your little Max some time, here or there… All the best and keep going!

    Reply
    • Nico & Gabi
      June 6, 2016

      Thanks so much for the encouragement Virginie! Hope we can meet each other again soon too, maybe in Essaouira? πŸ™‚ xxx

      Reply

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