Twenty-two and Four Months: Going Home

A spider traveled the world to see where she should make her home. She left her heart in so many places, she created the world wide web.

If you thought that was corny, you should see the children’s books I’m trying to publish.

I made that video two years ago and had forgotten about it until last night. The individual clips were never intended to be anything- had they been, I would have held the camera steadier. I was just playing. That said, the sentiment matches tonight’s.

This is it. One day and three plane rides separate me from home. I’m the oldest of five children. I took these photos in August just before I left.

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I’ll have to come up with another group photo idea – thoughts welcome. The last time I came back from a trip abroad, I got them to do this. They were 3, 9, 11 and 13 at the time.

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California, August 2009

I went on this trip with no plans, no itinerary and very little knowledge about any of the places I’d be going. I had no agenda for the trip or this blog, no preconceived themes and not even the confidence I’d stay the whole four months (which, looking back, goes quickly). I left with just enough money in the bank, no job lined up upon return, and even so, the full support of so many of my family members and friends.

I arrived in Europe one day shy of my 22nd birthday. I remember talking to people that were at the ends of their trips, talking about how wise they felt, how different they felt, what they had learned and their nerves about going home. I remember thinking how far away that point – home – was for me, and how cliche the “This is how I’ve changed” comments seemed.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and I think I’ve changed.

Here’s what I know.

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Cafe Zurich

I like that I don’t give a damn anymore what kind of milk is in my coffee. You’d never sit outside Cafe Zurich and order a “cafe con ‘skim’ leche.” I’m happy I’ve been pushed to be flexible. To deal with minor inconveniences, and not feel inconvenienced. To accidentally stay on a train too long, and roll with it. To say “pork Hungarian style? No idea what that means, but sure!”

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Bulgaria, September. I don’t have a webcam. This was a response to someone needing an explanation of when I said my hair was “getting big.” E-mail subject line: This is where I’m at.

I like that I’ve put on mascara six times in 122 days. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy a tube and it’ll get used when I get home. I’ll do it because I like that look, too, not because that is what makes me feel like a complete, acceptable female. I like that I’ve made friends everyday regardless of cheap backpacking t-shirts, no foundation and hair that air-dried.

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Today, Park Guell, Barcelona.

I like that the photo above wasn’t posed. I like that real life can look like that, and it’s just a matter of how you approach it. How you frame it. What you see when you really start looking at people.

I like that talking to strangers gives me more inspiration that the best Hallmark cards.

I like that I sat next to a man on a train yesterday for three hours without speaking, offered him gum, fought my way through fifteen minutes in Spanish and when I asked him to repeat something, he said it in perfect English. I like that we both laughed. I like that I said my school is known for basketball and he asked if I played, then said, “Well, maybe you will still be a playmaker.”

I like that the girl from Mexico I talked to in the cafeteria last night talked of her problems traveling, and said, “You know, sometimes I think things happen and it’s destiny telling you something.”

I like that I tell people where I’ve been, but at “no, not Asia, no, not South America,” I’ve been told I haven’t seen anything yet.

I like that the world is so big.

I like that I met a man in Istanbul, who a month later recognized me in Bucharest. Backpackers I met in Göreme, Turkey, who I ended up at a bar with in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, before we recognized each other. My Milan roommate again in Pisa, six days later. A college friend studying in London, in the Museum D’Orsay in Paris. Clinton and Sally on a train to Nice. Clinton and Sally again in Paris.

I like that the Brazilian cashier at dinner last night said he lived in California once. It’s a big state and I figured it would be one of those “You go to Massive State College X? You know my cousin?” moments. But no, he lived just two major streets over from my family.

I like that the world is so small.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Assen’s Fortress, Bulgaria

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Füssen, Germany

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Sintra, Portugal

I like that guardrails stopped being necessary. I’m not patting myself on the back like I climbed Everest. I like that I have faith that getting on hands and knees and holding onto tree roots is an okay route to something great, and that I’m capable of doing it without a clumsy moment. As one American said at the top of the castle in Sintra, “This would never pass code back home.”

Also, I like that I’m wearing the same shirt in two of the above photos. I like that I “need” less now.

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Lennon Wall, Prague

I like, though it scares me, how this trip has changed the way I think about writing and future. I’ve never been one to embrace being an “artist” or choosing any route toward publication. I have a degree in public relations and political science and intend to use it. Art – writing, for me – is such a scary concept. You put so much time and effort into something hoping someone will want it, but there are no guarantees until it’s done… And there are a million people just like you doing the same thing.

Some 150 posts, 5 children’s books drafted, 2 Freshly Pressed days and a few poems later, maybe I’m up for the challenge now.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Budapest, Hungary

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Salzburg, Austria

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Florence, Italy

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Nice, France

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Paris, France

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Lisbon, Portugal

I love that I learned the value of getting above the consumer junk, which is probably a literal and figurative life statement. Tourist shops and luxury stores are ugly.

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East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

I have been overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and strangers over the last four months. People ask me how I handle being alone so much – well, I spent a lot of time looking for more to share with everyone. I never felt alone, and on walks where I might have, I had good thoughts of home to distract me. I have always been impressed and in awe of the backpackers who go just to see for themselves – their own heads, their own satisfaction. No blogs, no personal websites. Of course, I did this trip for myself, but I needed to fill time with writing and photography. It kept me company, it kept you all close.

2,400 hits later, the post Freshly Pressed the other day has gotten just one negative comment, and this one comment has made me think a lot today. It certainly didn’t ruin my day, nor do I put much stock into his opinion, as the comment made fun of my first name along with its critique (and it wasn’t even witty). Also, accused me of “downloading” photos, as if I didn’t take them.

That said, the comment made me think and provided the perfect way to sum up my rather long thoughts.

It accuses me of being naive, dismissing responsibilities, hiding behind “freedom” and running from family and friends. At 22, it accuses me of already being behind in taking responsibility for myself.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I know.

I am blessed to have the closest friends and family I could imagine, who have supported this trip from the start.

They’ve read every post, every e-mail, seen every photo, and barely questioned it when I brought the idea of this trip up as a thought in January.

At points, they have had more faith in me than I have.

They push me to see more. Write more. Observe better. Dream bigger.

I have parents who put up with the questioning their peers and friends had for them, questioning why they’d allow this to happen.

I have siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who are a constant source of inspiration.

I had a summer romance to rival the best scripted ones in Hollywood, and yet, on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, dare I countdown the days to a reunion, I get harshly admonished.

And after all this, if I told them I wanted to go this route again, I’d have their support.

So NYTimes, MSNBC, CNN, National Geographic, Time, USA Today, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, PR travel agencies throughout the world, send me where you need me. All I need are new shoes and a new pair of jeans.

And if mass pleas for employment don’t do the trick, I have family and friends who lead beautiful lives, and capturing their special moments, and being there to share them, is a far better use of my time than television.

“May God bless you and give you the wisdom to settle down someday.”

Someday, this travel blog, life blog, might be a road to wedding blog, and with all my heart, I hope I get to author the best darn Mommy blog out there. But those are goals, and those are dreams, and they will never happen because I’ve settled.

You know, I haven’t been to church a lot lately, and I tend to focus more on being a good person whether it makes me a good Christian or not. I believe a smile can change someone’s day and laugher is the best medicine, that volunteering at a hospital on a Sunday morning can be as gratifying for me as church is for another, but…

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I feel.

In 2011, I graduated from a great school with a dual major, magna cum laude, with experiences I’ll remember for a lifetime. I had the honor of co-chairing an event raising $174,000 for the American Cancer Society that, more than being a personal or professional dream, taught me that each day is a gift and life should never be taken for granted. I have a personal blog with 20,000 hits in four months, and I have no complaints.

I have friends I became closer with even as I flew 8,000 miles away from them. I have friends who have put up with terrible Skype connections, rambling stories and far too many e-mails.

I just spent four months in Europe, three months alone, and I never had one issue. Not a pick-pocketer, not an overwhelmingly frightening situation (rush hour man in Istanbul, you sucked but it wasn’t traumatizing), not a lost passport or ATM-eaten debit card, not a sprained ankle or open blister.

So you know, I think God and I are on pretty good terms.

I think He approves.

Thank you all for being here, and coming on this journey with me… We did it!!!

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What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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27 thoughts on “Twenty-two and Four Months: Going Home

  1. I almost cried. Had wells forming in my eyes. Congratulations and welcome home. Sometimes I think about what my favorite part has been, but this last post by far takes the cake. My favorite part is the end, but it’s not the end. It’s only the beginning. I love you, my brilliant cousin.

    xoxo, Haley

  2. Hey, I found your blog the other day on freshly pressed and had a read because I’m going to Lisbon next year, and I ended up reading a fair few of your other posts. I’ve been travelling alone before when I was about 21, and I still want to go again now, over 10 years later. Reading your posts has been an inspiration..thank you.
    Safe travels home and keep on blogging!
    herbie

  3. Janae, what a great way to sum it all up and a great ending (to this part) for your readers. Yes, there were tears … : ). I just have one question: were you referring to me or the Starbucks barista when you talked about your summer romance? Kidding of course … But, I do think we had more dates together. We both can’t wait until you are back (along with everyone else). Safe travels home!

  4. Bravo, Janae! Bravo! I’ve followed your blog since day one. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to comment. But your stories, your photos, your insights and perspectives have left me speechless at times. I will miss these daily adventures and the connection to places and people I most likely will never see. You have a gift and I’m so grateful that you chose to share it so generously. This has been amazing! You are amazing! Peace, love and welcome home!

  5. You are wonderful. I am so blessed that I met you while you were on your journey. I can only imagine what you learnt about yourself, as I’m still realising all the things I learnt about myself. I absolutely loved sharing my journey with you. I shall miss your blogs about Europe but I know that there is more still to come. Great people do great things my dear, and you are beyond great. Much love always chica x x

  6. I love this post! What a wonderful journey you have been on and just think it’s just the beginning!! Looking forward to hearing more. Loved the picture of the elderly men in the park…..reminded me of Italy:) Safe travels and Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

  7. Janae, this post was just wonderful. After a long day, it really took the edge off. I feel like I was blessed to be able to read every day about your adventures. It really was a pleasure. TRAVEL MORE!

  8. janae……..
    Your plane is late,
    But I can wait,
    Through the years I’ve learned this and more,
    The loves in my life were worth waiting for…….

    Thank you again for all the joy and wonder you’ve brought so many. See you very soon sweetheart……love grandma

  9. Skimmed by the other day to say thanks for following but didn’t have time to read this and find out more about the “great adventure”. So glad I have now done so and I wish you all the luck in the world with your future. I’m sure it’ll be a good one and I look forward to experiencing it with you.

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