After Paris, it was a mere six hours back to the US. I awoke in last night’s clothes with a headache and hefted my pack for the final time and grumbled my way to the train station. It was an early flight, ensuring that I’d be back before the day’s end. That’s something I’ve always wondered at, that I can wake up in France and go to sleep in Ohio in the same day. Especially over the prior months where making my way to the next city seemed like a daunting accomplishment.
It was a weird thing to board that New York-bound plane. I hadn’t been thinking a whole lot about the actual day of departure, aside from a faint awareness that it was approaching. After nearly a year, the day that always loomed ahead of me was actually here.
I’d be lying if I said I was mostly happy about it, or that I’ve warmed up to it since getting back. I left Kathmandu feeling like I had unfinished business with whatever it was I was doing. Being abroad. Living in a foreign place. Learning the language. It was by far the most interesting time period of my life thus far, charged with missteps, anxiety, and ultimately, a sense of belonging I haven’t really found before. Just as I was feeling like I had a solid foundation to really stand on, it was time to leave.
I’d sooner go back to living somewhere than to traveling. Over the several months it took to get back to the US from Nepal, I definitely came to understand how people could just travel around for years on end. I used to not understand it, instead wanting to be in a single place and understand it as much as I could rather than dash around.
It seemed exhausting. And it was. I definitely didn’t make it easy on myself. There were several times where I wondered if what I was doing was actually a good idea, or even a feasible one. But after the initial difficulty of constant movement, I came to feel much more calm and confident in myself, and to an understanding of what it takes to do it.
Over the distance covered, city to city, country to country, I took in a lot. There was a lot I didn’t really appreciate in the moment, often instead focused on the grind to keep moving. But being back, thinking and writing, the experiences have distilled down into my sort of tenets to abide by. Some are still in progress, but all are going to make the next round a whole lot more interesting.
My Top Lessons from Abroad
Everyone is a whole lot more similar than you’d think.
It’s probably a cliche, but it’s also really hard to fully internalize it until you see it for yourself. A lot of the differences one might perceive in the people they meet abroad are often superficial. Food, dress, language. They’re all largely surface-level traits that can be admittedly difficult to get past, but surface-level nonetheless.
When you get opportunities to push past them, it’s always an enlightening experience. From the first day in Nepal to the last and every in between, I was constantly surprised at how similar I could be to someone who seemed so different on paper.
Probably one of the biggest unifiers for me was the fledgling rock climbing scene in Kathmandu. Most of my days at the wall were just me and the Nepalese crew. After a day of teaching, I’d go there and work on climbs with guys who didn’t always speak English. Yet we’d work out the ways up the wall together anyway.
At other times, it was the board game club that met every week at Everest Cafe. Yeah, the board game club. There must’ve been ten different countries represented there, and it was awesome.
There was the time I swapped recipes with my roommate from southern India. We shared pilaf and exchanged our favorite restaurants, which helped to get me past one of my biggest difficulties.
I could occupy this entire post with such anecdotes. The point is that there’s always common ground. Not enough people get that.
Whatever You’re Planning, It’s Probably a Lot More Doable Than You Think.
I think this is one of the most important things I learned, as far as travel is concerned. I first sat down to give an honest shot at figuring out my Central Asia route in January. My departure was May. Five months of research.
At first, it was such a strange thing to plan. I had never actually traveled before. Sure, I did a study abroad program, but I was confined to a city or two without a whole lot of independence.
The only experience I had prior to leaving was that layover mad dash through Hong Kong on my way to Nepal. So I really had no idea what I was planning and was at the mercy of intel from whoever had gone before me.
And after I got through it, I realized that so many travel blogs are just full of shit.
Caravanistan is the authority on Silk Road travel. I don’t want to badmouth it, because virtually all of my information for getting across came from there. But quite a bit of my anxiety came from it as well. It’s something most travel blogs, mine included, are guilty of. We like to make things seem especially crazy or difficult for the sake of the story. I was planning for and fully expecting the worst case scenario for anything I tried.
It wasn’t until I had bumbled my way across Uzbekistan did I realize a lot of my pre-departure anxiety was unfounded, egged on by these doom and gloom bloggers who want you to think any given place is scary and crazy. I was sitting under an awning eating an ice cream cone in Khiva, wondering just what I had been so scared of. I almost didn’t even try to go to Kashgar.
But at the end of it all, logistics were the only thing that was actually all that difficult. It took me four months to construct an itinerary that could conceivably work. So I feel that a lot of ambitious travel plans aren’t as ambitious as they might feel. I don’t mean that to say your plans are probably lamer than you think, but rather that they’re more attainable than you might expect.
So if you’re wondering if you’ve bit off more than you can chew, that might not really be the case.
The Adventure Doesn’t Start Until Something Goes Wrong
I realize this is kind of a counterpoint to the previous one, but it’s something I needed to internalize in order to maximize the experience. After my study abroad program in Iceland ended, my brother came and we road tripped around the country. It was the first time we had traveled together. I was just getting into it, and he was fresh off over a year of living in Vietnam and bumming it across India, Myanmar, and a lot in between.
Anyway, there was something that had gone wrong. I don’t remember what, but I remember being upset about it. And my brother imparted his lesson from his travels to me:
“Travel isn’t fun. It’s a fucking death march.”
Prior to leaving for Nepal, he left me with another nugget of positivity:
“Something will go wrong. It’s a matter of time, so just accept it.”
And y’know what, that’s true. I think I coped with a lot of misery by just accepting that it was just a part of the experience. There were a whole lot of days where I definitely wasn’t having “fun.” A wild experience, of course, but not fun. I remember sitting under a bush in the desert in Turkmenistan, trying to wait for the sun to drop lower before hiking more. As I waited, all I could think was,
“This fucking sucks.”
But it’s not an experience I’d give up. Traveling requires a lot of voluntary suffering. Maybe it’s embarrassing yourself while trying to get past a language barrier. Maybe it’s food poisoning. Maybe it’s getting arrested, or almost getting detained at the border. There’s almost always going to be something that doesn’t go according to plan, so why stress? When situations change, your only option is to just rely on yourself and to figure it out. So embrace the shittiness and roll with it. No one likes a story where everything goes according to plan.
You Don’t Need a Lot in Common to be Friends.
This is kind of a continuation of the first one, but it was a revelation in its own right. I realized pretty early on that a lot of my friends were very situational, like that group I ended up in during my first trek. We had only known each other for maybe a day, and were going to be out of each other’s lives within the week. All of us were from different countries, but serendipity brought us together and so we were friends.
At first that bummed me out, but then I expanded it to my social life in general. At the neighborhood bar, you’d find embassy workers, hippies, and everyone in between. Simply being one of the expats is all you need. It’s a filter. Even if everything else is different, we had that one big thing in common, so we always understood that about each other. For me, that was huge because I haven’t always felt like I was among “my people.”
And now, some of my best friendships began simply because we were the only two in the room who spoke the same language.
I Have a Goal in Mind
This is a personal lesson that’s not going to apply to anyone reading this, but it’s my blog. I said that I felt like I have unfinished business abroad, and I still feel that way. I don’t plan on this being the only time I live abroad, and I certainly don’t plan on it being the shortest. The next time I pack my bags, it won’t be short-term.
After feeling pretty directionless, it’s nice to at least have an abstract goal. I’m not really sure what form it’ll take, but it’s something to work towards. And that’s good for now.
The Top Photos
It feels appropriate to close out this chapter of a mostly photo-oriented blog to share my top ten from the year. I grew a lot as a photographer over this year, and it was primarily thanks to the motivation provided by maintaining this blog. It was mainly an excuse to get out and take photos.
The Future of Standard Passenger
Long story short, there probably isn’t one.
I started this blog as a way to hold myself accountable. If I had a public record of what was going on, then I couldn’t just hole up in my room. I had to be deliberate about seeking out new oddities to explore and experience.
I think it served that purpose.
It allowed me to keep a log of places I wanted to see, and encouraged me to get out and take photos even when my surroundings became familiar. But in time, it also morphed writing and photography into feeling like an obligation.
I really didn’t feel a desire to turn it into an actual travel blog, with guides and advice, except when I actually felt like it. What it has finished as is more of a continuous narrative that can be an example of how unique each experience can be.
It’s easy to feel like what you’re doing isn’t different or crazy enough. I crossed Asia by land and sea. Cool, right? While traveling, I met someone who was in the process of hitchhiking from Vietnam back to France. In Turkmenistan, I met a Czech guy who was navigating the Silk Road by motorcycle. He was on his way to Iran. Both of those felt a little cooler.
But the thing I wasn’t thinking of is that the cycle never ends. If I was the one motorcycling my way through Asia, then I’d be looking at the friends-of-a-friend who’re a year into a two year walk across the Silk Road.
It’s easy to get bogged down in comparison, especially if you’re like me and derive a lot of motivation from a desire for differentiation. Maintaining this blog made me especially susceptible to self-comparison. It was hard to feel like I was writing something interesting when I was meeting so many people doing stuff that seemed a lot cooler.
So I’m closing out this blog as a single, unique example of one person’s experiences. I’ll keep writing in different capacities, but probably not for anything like this.
With that said, thanks to everyone who followed along for the last year and a half. It was Sorry to the couple people who followed me this week. If anyone is so inclined, they can follow along on my Instagram.
Now, for the last bit, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some shoutouts to the individuals who helped make this so awesome.
💖 Special Thanks 💖
Peter, Mom, Dad, Mitchell
Dipil, Pranav, Bidushi, Thomas, Kate, Jess
Tiffany, Pemba, Ang, Stacey, Chris, Sujan, Helena
Sara, Ayush, Lise, Pauline, Marion, Sophie, McCall
Sander, Morgane, Nestan, Angie, Cigdem, Savana
Amit, Nischal, Pranay, Rubina, Taff, Ekke, Emmanuel
We’ll be in touch.