Today I sit overlooking the Bosphorus Strait from a rooftop patio in Istanbul. I arrived over three weeks ago and this is literally the fifth day of sunshine I’ve encountered. The preceding days were cloudy, rainy, and cold with only a handful of moments where the sun managed to break through the thick blanket of ominous clouds. The weather isn't quite what I was hoping for, but then again, it is the beginning of December. All things considered, I can't really complain since I’m sitting outside in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirt, but as surprising as the weather may be, today marks a far more important milestone - the sixth month anniversary of my departure from the US.
6 months, 26 weeks, 186 days, or 4,368 hours… it’s quite a long time regardless of how you look at it.
When I boarded my flight to Portugal I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to do. Since I already spent six months in Europe during my exchange in college, I assumed I’d make my way through the continent relatively quickly and be further along into the Middle East by now, but it is not the case. The concept of travel for me is like battling the mythical Hydra, for every city I visit I discover two more that I have yet to see. It seems the longer I travel, the more I realize how little of the world I’ve actually seen.
The more you know the less you know, and the less you know the more you know.
Needless to say, my bucket list is growing at an exorbitant rate even as I attempt to cross things off of it, but I’d much rather have too many places to visit than not enough. Travel may be an endless game that you cannot win, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. I love the fact that it would take several lifetimes to see everything on this wonderful planet. While not technically the midpoint between Portugal and Japan, I’m happy to finally make it to Turkey, but it will be hard to fit India, South East Asia, China, and Japan into the next six months especially considering they are completely unexplored territories to me.
What’s more surprising (even to me), is that six months out I am still going strong with my trusty 40-liter backpack. I’m astonished I’ve been able to get away with so little… and that I could actually stand to live off of less! In addition to clothing and electronics, my little backpack houses a tent as well as a sleeping bag that take up approximately 50% of the space. Think about it, if I took just those two items out, I could do this entire trip out of a regular school backpack! My one pair of leather shoes are really beaten up and they've seen more use than all of my other shoes combined. I’ve resoled the poor guys three times now because I keep wearing holes in the bottom of them. And to my uncle and mother, I’d like to report that I am still using my one pair of long pants - they are easily the best pair I’ve ever bought in my life.
Basically, I’m a professional hobo… and I couldn’t be happier.
While my family and friends might feel some level of insult, I have yet to have longing bouts of homesickness that I expected to haunt me by now. The traveling life is full of excitement, entertainment, and perpetual change and I can’t get enough of it. Even when I take time to plan in advance, I have absolutely no idea how the day/week/month will unfold. More frequently than not, new opportunities present themselves at the last minute and any plans I have go out the window within seconds. With that said though, I am still in Europe, a continent that is part of the developed world and very familiar to me. I have a strong feeling my perspective on homesickness will change in India, when I find myself in a bug infested hostel having to shit in a hole they call a "toilet" because I [inevitably] got food poisoning.
I suppose we shall see when I get there.
Even after six months of traveling through Europe, I still consider myself a novice backpacker. Surprising, yes, but I’ve come across people both younger and older than me that put me to shame. Many of the travelers I meet along the way have incredible, almost unbelievable, stories while others haven't planned a single aspect of their trip aside from booking a flight from their home country. Even still though, I’ve learned a lot since my first trip out of the US over five years ago.
For example, while in Istanbul I met a group of students on exchange studying at Bocconi of all places. Much like I did, they've been traveling throughout Europe since August, but apparently this was their very first night at a hostel! For the last five months, they've stayed in hotels because they were concerned about the safety of hostels. The look of shock on their face when I told them my story is something I will never forget. In that instant I realized they had the same mentality as I did when I first started. These travelers were simply versions me five years ago. While travel is by no means a competition, it was a surprising reminder of how far I've come - both physically and mentally.
Over the course of the last six months I’ve learned a few things. Normally I leave these thoughts out of my regular posts (which I promise more are going up soon) because they feel out of place. Since this is one of those big milestone posts, I feel there should be some reflecting. Some of these are new realizations while others I’ve only come to really appreciate while on the road. Take them for what you will, but I wanted impart whatever wisdom I’ve garnered from my time abroad if for anything else simply to reflect on your own life as I've done in mine.
That is, of course, assuming anybody still reads this blog. I’m sure my one follower has stopped looking for updates at this point.
So in no particular order, here they are:
- You do not need 90% of the crap you currently own. This applies to most backpackers I meet too.
- Being “alone” is not the same as being “lonely.” You control the latter.
- Happiness does not lie in tangible possessions - it lies in experiences. Do not confuse the two.
- Sometimes there is no better way to enjoy a city than by doing absolutely nothing.
- Live in the moment. Learn from the past and plan for the future, but spend your time in the present.
- The idea of a “future” is a concept that exists only in your head. Do not mistake your internal projections as reality.
- “Home” is simply a state of mind. It can be where ever you want it to be.
- Relationships are the most important things in life. While difficult to juggle, they’re worth it.
- Happiness and suffering are two sides of the same coin. You can only understand one by experiencing the other.
- Life isn’t fair, and you know what, I’m horribly, horribly lucky. Odds are if you're reading this, so are you.
Of all the little nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected so far, there is one quote in particular that has come to mean a great deal to me (naturally, I couldn't let a post like this get published without at least one quote). The idea is eloquently summarized by Mark Twain and underscores much of the reason why I travel. The concept applies to everyone, traveler or not, and is something that I carry with me everywhere I go.
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Tomorrow I will finally leave Istanbul - my home for the last three weeks. It is the longest I’ve stayed in a single location since departing the US, and while it is sad to leave, I’m ready to begin moving again. From the patio atop my hostel, I gaze across the Bosphorus Strait at the Asian continent and a familiar feeling begins swelling within me. This body of water before me represents the symbolic line of demarcation between the known and unknown world for me and today I stand at its precipice. Just over the horizon lie new and exciting experiences that I look forward to discovering, but more than anything else...
I can’t believe its been six months!