A year passes faster than expected. Full of surprises and new adventures, Portland has been a chance for new beginnings. And no, I have not written nearly enough. Plenty of challenges and surprises filled the past twelve months; I’m looking forward to what comes next.
Just like the “Oregon Trail” game, I followed the American Dream to move west and continue my adventures in Portland, Oregon.
Slowly, pieces are falling together. Plenty of coffee, good microbrews and exceptional food trucks (make time pass fast). And—without exception—lovely people. Already many days spent beside the window, rainy fog on the other side. A new place I’m only just beginning to explore.
Looking back at 2013 and everything which has come before, I am astonished and so incredibly excited for what comes next.
I’m sitting with my grandmother. It’s on me for not visiting during the past two years, but I’m here now. She asks about my future plans; listens as I describe stories from abroad; and shares her love and excitement for my next adventures.
Just a week ago, I was driving along an empty mountain road on Colorado’s front range. Snow began falling just after midnight, both picturesque and quieting.
Memories are beautiful and complex and tragic. While old memories are fast becoming fleeting, I aspire to leave a few new ones.
I sometimes find myself wishing that growing up were less challenging. This is a part of life; I’m struggling with acceptance. I never expected visiting my grandmother would be this challenging. Family frequently suggested I make this trip; it took far too long, but I’m glad I made it.
I have so very much for which to be thankful. More than anything, I am thankful to have such an amazingly supportive family. I am fortunate to have returned safely from travels. And to share this journey with an incredible partner, Sarah.
Ten years ago, I registered my first domain name: benjaminchait.net.
I never imagined the value it might have. Some years earlier, I had published my first web content via Pico (in Unix) and was jumping between static HTML pages and into dynamic frameworks, learning more advanced techniques and dabbling with ASP.NET and MySQL. At some point, it made sense to centralize my identity online, before Facebook and Twitter and everything else we have today. The world wide web has grown and changed immensely in the time since I first “settled” online. It impacts every aspect of our modern lives, acting as both a tool for work and providing entertainment. Without the internet, backpacking would have been a far different experience, from booking flights to communicating to sharing stories. My current endeavors as a freelance consultant rely upon the web. And yet, I’m fortunate to have my name as my identity.
A lot has changed in the that time. But I’m even more excited about what the next ten years might bring.
I had the great opportunity to work with some incredible folks in the Boulder community these past few weeks to produce TEDxBoulder 2013.
Waking up Saturday morning, I was already exhausted; putting together any live event is daunting. The preceding week was packed with meetings, responding to messages and getting everything ready. But walking on-stage during sound checks, meeting speakers and volunteers—the excitement and energy grew quickly. Time blurs among all the preparation. Then, at 5 pm sharp, I hit play on the TEDx intro video—no turning back.
Some four hours, three musical acts and fourteen talks later, we finished. And even with technical challenges, I think the evening was great. I am constantly impressed by people in our community and what they do every single day.
The hardest part of travel is returning home.
My friends warned me of this. Almost everyone shared that for all the culture shock one finds while abroad, the first few weeks back home are the worst. However ready I thought I was, nothing prepared me for this.
Landing in America was a blur. Oddly enough, US Customs and Border Protection screened the entire flight in Dublin allowing us to land in a domestic terminal in Philadelphia. One moment, I was in Ireland; some anxious few hours spent hopping across the Atlantic; and suddenly, I was walking about on American soil. My iPhone worked again with full service, messages began to light up the screen. People once again spoke the same language as me; signs were readable once more. Prices were in US dollars—my credit card worked and I was no longer playing a game with exchange rates. A short time later and Sarah and I met with Brooke, one of my closest friends from university; we relaxed and caught up for a bit before departing for an evening in Newark with Sarah’s family. Still dark when we departed, an early-morning flight had us in Denver almost an hour early; the Rocky Mountains just waking for the day.
The first weekend home was almost a dream. I was more emotional—happier—about being home than I would have imagined. Seeing the front range, I realized how much I missed this place. And for all the experiences abroad, part of me was so incredibly happy to not be traveling—at least that instant.
Somehow, others had a perception that my travels were a simple vacation, a “holiday” of sorts; nothing feels further from the truth. It’s hard to describe but for me, backpacking on its best day was more challenging than my job on its worst day. Yes, certainly each and every day was rewarding and rich and what I made of it. But that itself is what makes travel challenging: I have to make something of each day. Extensive planning, research and exploration kept the past year in budget and safe. I accomplished goals while abroad, saw places I had set out to visit. So yes, I had a blast, but it was far from “easy.” Being home is thus bittersweet.
Some few weeks later, it still feels surreal to be in America. In some ways, it’s almost as if the past year was just a dream. A blur. My world has changed, yet everything remains the same.
Looking around me, I wonder how much has changed—or how much I have changed myself.
America feels loud.
Everywhere I turn, noise follows. Part of me wonders how much is based upon language. When traveling, I often ignored those conversations around me when I could not speak nor understand the language; now I find myself constantly bombarded. Small moments like sitting in a café or even music on the radio seem overwhelming. My days are a cacophony; only at night can I truly find quiet. By no means is this bad—I just find myself more aware of my surroundings than before travel.
Maybe being hyperaware of my environment is a side-effect of extended time abroad? For the first time in nearly a year, my days are not full of learning new places, people, things. Boulder is a place I can navigate, I have family and friends and my favorite local spots. We drive on the right side of the road. I feel comfortable with the culture—tipping, how to be polite and so forth. Yet parts of it nag at me. Why do we tip? Who decided upon sales tax rather than VAT? Small questions lead to bigger ones. I’m confounded at our insecurity as a nation, our paranoia. How have we become so ill-at-ease with our neighbors?
I realize I’m exhausted.
Unexpectedly, the most aversion and challenging reaction I have to any culture is none other than my own. Without question, I am happy to be home. I’m thrilled to sleep in the same bed more than three nights in a row. Learning new languages and exploring new cities was absolutely a thrill but so is being here, in one place, where I can find some stability. Build some true connections and relationships. Not constantly say goodbye.
In many ways, I’m thankful for the chance to slow down and breathe.
Maybe one day I’ll have more of a plan. But not yet.
Right now I’m devoting time to focus on myself. I’m trying to make more time to take better care of myself and to grow as a person. I hope I’ve done that these past few months; for now, I’d like to dedicate just a little more time to me. Working on simple projects. Learning new skills. Starting to run once again. Small things in the hope to make each and every day count.
Whatever happens next, I look back upon my experiences and have no regrets.
Just shy of nine months abroad, I find myself back in Boulder. In many ways, the reality of being home has yet to sink in; the past few weeks have been a blur. Landing Thursday in Philadelphia and visiting friends for a night; New Jersey for a second evening; and one final flight to arrive in Denver.
Some 260 nights ago, I departed Boulder. In that time, I slept in 62 cities (not including overnight trains). My passport—brand-new before departing—now has 37 stamps and is nearing full. I rode 35 trains—including plenty of overnight sleepers. Flew on 29 airplanes, endured 23 long-haul bus rides and four boats. Took far too many taxi, metro and tuk tuk rides to remember. And sat atop one elephant. I had the opportunity to visit 21 countries; not counting the five places in which I transited like Qatar or Brussels. My wallet now carries change in 18 currencies. I learned words—simple phrases like “hello” and “thank you”—in 15 languages. My best guess is that—when added together—I’ve traveled some 100,000 kilometers. But numbers cannot describe this adventure.
I made so many new friends. Shared unbelievable experiences. I was challenged, pushed to my own limits more times than I can recall. I grew, in more ways than I might describe.
As Sarah and I reach the end of our current travels, we met others just beginning theirs. And while returning home is bittersweet, I am excited for what adventures comes next.
A quick hop to Dublin for two evenings gave time for pints of Guinness, exploring the town by foot and making new friends. Plenty of open spaces, riverside walks and lovely food. At this point in the journey, we’re exhausted—no museums, just seeking good food and drink. Spending a morning in a café with delicious food, chatting with folks while sitting in the park through the afternoon and enjoying an Irish Pub for the evening was great.
Perhaps more than anyplace else thus far visited, London is truly a world city. Just walking down the street and I find myself amazed at the diversity, from food to language to businesses to people. And yes, plenty of activities exist between theatre and museums; local pubs to culinary exploration. Even just relaxing outside in the gorgeous summer weather is delightful.
Arriving just in time for my twenty-sixth birthday, the city was excellent. Once again I could comprehend and understand those around me—excepting the accent and small bits of slang. I was constantly full from all the varieties of food, everything from fish and chips (absolutely the best from a true “chipper”) to Turkish kebabs to Indian curries and more. The food and drink was made better only with some lovely company, seeing friends now moved to London (or back in their hometown). Sarah, Grace and I explored an incredible amount in such a short time—Westminster Abbey and British Museum being some of my favorites. It’s hard to describe how much we ran all over the city, sometimes taking a few hours to relax in the park or perusing bookstores before jumping once again onto the Underground in search of another neighborhood. Even with ten days, plenty remains for next time.
Another delight was a short trip to Cambridge via rail, both to see the renowned university town and to escape the chaos of the city. Even looking out upon the English countryside made me wish I had more time to spend here, rolling hills and plenty of greenery. Just an hour or so beyond London, Cambridge itself was full of local pubs and quiet spaces.
Everywhere in London is full of history. From traditions like the changing-of-the-guard at Buckingham Palace to the numerous monuments and memorials scattered throughout the city, I was constantly in awe. Often I found myself corrected, constantly re-learning facts and figures and dates from western history. In much the way places like Tokyo or Nepal have made me realize how I am but one individual in this world, London expands that across the spectrum of history—both humbling and inspiring as I walk past those tombs of the great poets buried at Westminster Abbey.
Crossing canals never gets old, the peaceful quiet of Amsterdam is interrupted only by the occasional ringing of a tram bell. A curious city, the man-made waterways which encircle the downtown act as subtle transitions between neighborhoods. Water is everywhere, including the soft patter of rain on cool mornings. Escaping it, we take shelter in any of the plentiful cafés to enjoy great drink and lovely company. Something about the city feels different. People are polite, society is ordered and structured so everything always seems to happen efficiently and quickly. The language amuses us, recognizable yet different from what we know. Regardless, we still find ways to order tremendous meals. I had not imagined I would love Amsterdam so very much; leaving was that much more heartbreaking.