It’s strange to think about the last year of my life. It’s gone by incredibly fast and has been a whirlwind of movement and discovery. I’ve traveled a lot throughout my 20’s. The longest stretch being about a month. Always had an itinerary and a date to return. When I’d meet travelers who were going for months, even years, with open ended plans, I was so incredibly impressed and awe inspired. It seemed like such an impossibility for me. But as the years have gone on I’ve realized more and more that my reality is whatever I decide it to be.
The notion that anything is possible, if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it, is pretty empowering and opens up the limits as far as the the stars above. I still have trouble believing that I’m now one of those people I was once so awe struck by. Traveling where the wind blows me. Working to save enough money for my next adventure. Figuring out the cheapest routes and taking chances with strangers, couchsurfing and ride shares every day. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting. Filled with awesome highs and sometimes very real challenges.
In January I left to Australia, by way of Maui, with a one way ticket. Coming all the way from Brooklyn, NY with no set itinerary and not knowing anyone personally in the country it was a bit daunting. The month or so leading up to it I was filled with so much anxiety and anticipation I could barely sleep at night. I’d listen to ocean soundtracks to help me relax and dream about how the summer breeze would soon be sweeping through my hair as I sat and gazed at the ocean. It was getting more frigid by the day in New York but I knew that in Oz the summer was just getting started.
I did three months traveling up the East Coast of Australia. Stopping in Melbourne, Sydney, Byron Bay, Cairns, Darwin and everywhere in between. I met some of the most kind people and saw every wild animal us Americans can picture down under. Heaps of kangaroo, koala, dingo, snakes, spiders, bats, crocs, water buffalo, migratory and local birds and so on. The coast line was more stunning and wild than I could ever possibly describe. And the people (with the exception of a few of course) treated me as well as a family member in town for a visit. I’ll talk more about the details of my Australian journey in a future post.
As much as I wanted to stay in Oz and explore areas like the red center and the west coast, I was getting nervous when funds got low. Even with a good exchange rate, Australia is one of the more expensive countries to visit. I got as far North as Darwin, and every Ozzie suggested I go to Bali for a cheap escape; so I took their advice and hopped a flight to Indonesia. A $125 plane ticket on AirAsia and a $35 visa got me in smoothly. I had no idea what to expect and did little to no research. I just knew Bali was this exotic foreign island that I’d only heard of from time to time. I’d occasionally stare at maps and try to understand Indonesia…so many islands. What was it like? I really hadn’t a clue.
Being from America, and especially a city as fast paced and materialistic as New York, Bali absolutely blew me away. I had never been to a third world country before. Once I left the touristic airport city of Kuta and began to explore the island and the coasts deeper I was able to piece together a realistic picture of the people, the traditions and the vast differences that exist among them. The ornate, intricate temples and commitment to belief, religion and family was something I hadn’t experienced on that scale before.
Sure, I was raised Roman Catholic by an Irish American mother who loves Jesus. Religious instructions and church every Sunday was normal for me but this was a whole new level, deeply ingrained in the history and culture. Whether people specifically believed in the Balinese hindu religion or not, they were all committed to its traditions. Making offerings and burning incense every morning to appease the good and evil spirits, having a temple in the center of their home, wearing traditional garb on special holidays. The market people would always give their first customers a good price to ensure good luck for the day.
Beyond that, the simplicity of day to day life shocked and refreshed me. The people have little next to nothing. Small humble homes, limited health care, food, clothes etc. Yet they seemed happier and more content than any successful New Yorker I’ve ever met! They work to live not the other way around and when they have a few rupiah in their pockets they stop and enjoy life and go back to work when they need a few more. Because of this, the incredibly friendly and curious people, and beautiful natural scenery I extended my visa and traveled around the various islands of Indonesia for 2 full months. More details about that leg of the trip to come.
When my visa was finally coming to an end, I was riddled with internal questions about what to do and where to go. Should I continue travels around Asia? I was hearing tales of all of the wonderful places to go nearby and how cheap travels would be…but I heard Brooklyn calling my name. Not to mention the fact that my 96 year old grandfather had just been in the hospital and I wanted to see him very much. I was starting to miss friends and family as well. All of that pointed me towards home.
So alas, by the tail end of June I set off to good ole Brooklyn, NY to indulge in some of my most cherished things and people. My heart was set on visits with grandpa, my favorite chicken parmesan from Pizza Town, italian ices, beach trips with friends, riding my bicycle over the Brooklyn bridge and through open fire hydrants and of course my happy place: Fire Island, NY. A small barrier island 3 hours outside the city with no cars and stunning natural beauty.
All the while I knew going home for summer would not be the end. After all, travel is in my blood and my gypsy spirit can’t sit still for long. This was a pit stop. Burning Man was just around the corner in August and I had a one way ticket with my name on it.