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.