There is a commonly held belief that long-term travel is not “real life.”
After embarking on a round the world trip 10 months ago, I can’t count the number of people who have asked me when I’m going to return to “real life” or what my plans are when I come back to “reality.” It makes me wonder if I’m living in some alternate dimension I didn’t know about where my skin doesn’t age and my breaths don’t count. Do I also get to eat gelato every day without it showing on my hips?!
To be fair, many of my days are plagued only with the concerns of which bikini to wear or how late I should sleep in before I miss the breakfast buffet. Life is often wild and carefree and fun. At least that’s how it appears on my facebook page.
But behind all those photos of glittering beaches and sunset cocktails is a real life girl with real life experiences. What is it that makes life “real”, anyway? A job? A home? A relationship? Or is it something more?
I might not always work a 9-5, but food still costs me money and my bank account is always a concern. I may not be at home with family and friends but I’m still building and experiencing new relationships and the accompanying ups and downs.
I’m still falling in love, crying over friendship fights, and spending the occasional evening with Netflix, girlfriends, and ice cream. Hell, I’ve even been on a few Tinder dates. Nevertheless, I can see how people might think this isn’t reality and I, too, occasionally fall into the trap of thinking I live in a fairy tale.
Recently, however, Real Life wanted to be sure I acknowledged its presence and wound its arm up to deliver me a hearty smack in the face. It’s a long and winding tale of love, lies, death, heartbreak, and unexpected changes. The details could fill a book, but I’ll be brief. The story begins in Thailand…
In May, I met a man. He frustrated and perplexed me, but undeniably attracted me. We kept it casual for a month until he disappeared to Europe with another girl. I never expected to hear from him again but not much later he wanted to reconnect. I told him I wasn’t changing my plans but he could meet me in Bali if he wanted to.
Two months later he did, and we spent the month traveling Indonesia and really getting to know each other. Travel has a way of expediting the relationship process, especially when you’re both sick and spewing from either end. The night I hotboxed a tent with my farts really took us to the next level.
After a month he had to return home to New Zealand for a job; he’s a carpenter and would be living with his parents while he renovated their home. Ironically, I had already booked a flight to New Zealand before I’d met him. We decided that after I finished my travels in Indonesia and Australia I would join him in New Zealand and live with his family for a few months. We would both work and save up money before heading to South Africa together.
Another two months of being apart went by and the day finally came for me to fly to his hometown. I woke up giddier than a kid on Christmas morning, but then the devastating call came: his father had unexpectedly passed away that morning. I felt the beautifully constructed walls of my plans crashing down around me, though I had no idea what was in store for me.
I flew down anyway. I wanted to be there to support him and his family, though I feared being an intruder and a burden. With all of his siblings and relatives flying in from around the world I suppose it was one way to be introduced to the family all at once, but under no circumstance would I recommend meeting your partner’s family in such conditions. The whole thing felt surreal, like a scene from a Lifetime movie. It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life.
The following week I started a job working on a hops farm. I was glad for an excuse to get out of the house but it came at the price of my back and my sanity. If hunching over spiky plants all day in the hot sun by yourself sounds like fun to you, then you’re psychotic I’ve got a job for you. I endured three more weeks of working a miserable job and living in a house of mourning.
Eventually it was decided that I should leave and give the family some space to grieve. The tiny town they lived in was short on jobs and houses and would be difficult to travel around in without a car. I essentially had to choose a new city at random to make a new home in. Queenstown, a small tourist city toward the bottom of the South Island, seemed to have a lot of work available and looked beautiful. I was heartbroken to leave, but decided I would move to Queenstown.
Last week Dave and I drove down the island in the 1989 Mitsubishi van that he restored and camped along the way. We saw some beautiful sights along the way and relished the few peaceful days of escape in between the reality of his loss and my unknown future. Then we arrived in Queenstown and I had 5 days to find a new home and job before he returned up north.
In a town imploding with workers but not enough housing, finding a place to live was hell. In a strange twist of irony I finally found a room for rent in a house with a middle aged Korean couple. At least I might get a dose of my beloved Korean food. After doing temp work for a couple of nights for catering companies I got lucky and found an amazing job at a luxury hotel. I start tomorrow.
So for now, my boyfriend lives 12 hours away and I am alone in a foreign country in a city where I don’t know a soul and I live with a middle aged Korean couple.
But as I walked through the sunny streets overlooking the shimmering blue waters of Lake Wakatipu, I couldn’t help but feel like everything is going to be okay. Life is like that: if you do the best you can, it slaps you around a bit but puts you where you need to be. Dave and I will be reunited next month and in the mean time I’m determined to love this place.
My life may not be normal; it is wild, unconventional, and unexpected, but it is most definitely the realest life I could imagine.