Hi, I’m Benjamin Chait. After backpacking around the world, I spent six years in PDX before moving to SF. Say hello @benjaminchait (or email) and let’s grab coffee?

Culture shock, reversed

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.

Nine months

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.

Dublin

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.

Sunset flight Pint

London

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.

London Eye Buckingham Palace at end of The Mall

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.

Triangles, British Museum ceiling Rosetta Stone

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.

Cambridge rooftops Pint

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.

Guard, Buckingham Palace

Amsterdam

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.

Tye in front of Amsterdam letters Canal

Paris

I have much love and affection for speaking French that is hard to explain yet captivates me. Visiting Paris feels much the same; without question it is a beautiful city. The landmarks and monuments are stunning. History lives at every turn. Food like crepes can be found from plenty of street vendors. Magnificent art is waiting among the many museums. And of course, everyone is speaking French!

Objets d’Arte Louvre Pyramide

Having studied the language in college, I am both thrilled and terrified to practice my skills. And though I lack perfection—a relatively limited vocabulary and poor accent—I love being surrounded by others speaking. More often than not I respond with a simple phrase (usually oui or non, yes or no) and am then forced to revert to English. But even the challenge is exciting! And for the first time while traveling, I feel far less lost when the native language is not English; though I might not always speak proper French, I certainly understand it. Being in a foreign city and not feeling alien is comforting, especially in a place as large as here.

Eiffel Tower Notre Dame

Paris is truly an enormous city. Much like Rome, it has far too much to see in such a short trip. Days were spent exploring both the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Tye and I ate crepes while meeting friends at the Eiffel Tower after dark. Walking between the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden, along the Champs-Élysée to the Arc du Triumph filled hours. Visiting Notre Dame was great but I was more interested in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore only a few minutes away. Merely wandering the city was lovely. Sarah and her sister Grace joined our final day as we explored Napoleon’s tomb, the Pantheon (which holds in its crypt the tombs of such authors as Rousseau) and hiked up to amazing views of the city at Sacré-Cœur to explore what became my favorite part of the city, Montmartre.

Arc du Triumph Grace and Sarah

Yes, it is far from perfect. Parisians are—for the most part—incredibly kind and helpful though plenty of them were less than helpful to travelers. Space is limited, and everything costs a little more than elsewhere. But grabbing baguettes and some drinks and roaming the city is quite amazing in itself.

Nice

Stunning blue water. Beautiful coastlines. Good food and drink and lovely company made for a short but amazing stay in the Côté d’Azur.

Azure

Turin

A beautiful mountain city provided my final stop in Italy. Long boulevards and grandiose architecture fill the city from where Italy’s royal family came. Too short a stay, Tye and I enjoyed great food and one last gelato before departing to France.

Tram Long view toward Piazza Vittorio Veneto Gelato

Venice

An art exists to wandering lost. In a city with no cars—only water—my brother Tye and I constantly find ourselves facing canals, our paths often and irrationally concluding with a dead-end. Three days exploring Venice; its beauty complicated by a sense of abandonment.

Gondolier during day

If cities are themed, Venice owns water. Even before arriving, stunning views of the Venetian Lagoon separate the city from the mainland. Upon arrival, Tye and I opt to walk rather than pay for a water taxi; two minutes later and we had grab our cameras while standing atop Ponte degli Scalzi over the Grand Canal. The sound of water permeates, a serene reminder of what lies as the foundation to the city. Boats buzz past in all directions. Gondoliers sit beside canals throughout the city, always eager to provide a ride for the many visitors. Venetian masks line shop walls, Murano glass crafted into goods of all forms—the Rialto Bridge has all of these plus great views. The palace and Saint Mark’s Square are iconic. Yes, Venice is gorgeous.

Tye in a small alleyway Venetian masks

Yet for all its beauty, I felt the city itself wears a mask. The main paths are a constant bustle of activity yet one block away feels empty, abandoned. Shops are closed, buildings look forgotten—or at the very least ignored. The constant presence of water is taking its toll. I wonder how true the claims are that the city has more visitors than residents; then again, if the city truly is sinking, I probably wouldn’t choose to live here myself. In some sense, the more we explore, everything we find makes the city feel more and more superficial, a theater for tourists.

Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge Gondolier during night

Even with such tensions, we meet some lovely fellow travelers and explore some amazing history. Instead of people-watching, Venice has boat-watching. Grabbing snacks and a Bellini and enjoying musical performances makes for some lovely summer evenings. Despite Venice appearing in an incredible number of films, nothing quite compares to the experience of standing in the center of Piazza San Marco or merely enjoying an afternoon sitting beside the Grand Canal watching boats pass.

Sorrento

Along the southern coast, Sorrento offers clear, blue water as it meets black-sand beaches among the many hillsides and cliffs. Lemon groves exist in troves surrounding this 16,000-person town. Beautiful, quiet and relaxing, our one-day visit concluded with a delightful meal—at a small, family-run trattoria—and was capped with the town’s specialty, limoncello.

Steep hill People on piers