"Do you feel like you've learned a lot in your time away?" she asked.
"Oh, I feel like I've aged a decade," I replied.
I sit here utterly flabbergasted that one year ago today I was putting my suitcases in the back of my mother's car, saying my final goodbyes, and driving off for JFK on a chilly night. I left the evening of March the 23rd, and flew out to the other side of the world in the early hours of March the 24th.
Exactly one year ago. 12 months. 365 days.
Time flies, and yet it feels as if I've lived 10 years in the past year. I look back and hardly recognize the girl who was leaving the U.S. in a flurry of nerves and fear and unknowns, who had no idea what was coming, who simply needed to go.
I feel so utterly different now.
I spent three months backpacking through foreign countries by myself, and goodness if that doesn't give you a lot of time to think.
It gives you a lot of time to be lonely, too. Forced loneliness can be a beast of a thing. It's like walking through fire and coming out the other side. Stronger. Wiser. A changed being.
I am completely certain that those three months were three of the most important months of my life. I'm not sure what would have happened had I not experienced them. I made up for so much lost time. I did a mega amount of deep diving within myself. I got scared. I got through it. I was more open to meeting new people than any other time in my life. I drank a lot and smoked a lot. I slept with strangers. I lived entirely dangerously. I didn't know what was coming in the next week, day, sometimes hour. I didn't have a job. I didn't have a home. I had a backpack, and that was about it.
But having nothing opens you up for everything else. I had friends. I had strangers. I had dorm beds. I had courage. I had a great support system. I had confidence. I had freedom. So much freedom.
It turns out that listening to your heart is a pretty good decision. Making choices based on kindness for yourself, rather than fear, is pretty revolutionary. And doing it for a whole year long?
It's a recipe for a really fucking good year.
I stretched so far out of my comfort zone I didn't even recognize myself. I did things I never thought I'd do. I surprised myself every single day. I discovered how entirely capable I was, not only capable of taking care of myself, but capable of making myself deliriously happy, too. I could book plane tickets on a whim and be lost in a Thai city on a motorbike and strike up conversations with complete strangers and take dangerous overnight buses and say yes to a new job on a new continent and eat all three meals of the day totally solo.
After those three crazy months, I followed my heart again, this time to Australia. A country I'd never been to. A country that hadn't exactly been on my list. A wildly different plan than when I'd left home.
And yet after two quick Skype interviews and a really solid feeling in my heart, I flew to Sydney. I moved in with a family of complete strangers. Who now feel like my family. I tucked my backpack in my closet and whispered to it that I'd be back. I felt like an outdoor cat coming inside. I had to start over. Settle in, make friends, attempt a new job. Figure out what I was doing. Figure out why the hell I was on the furthest continent I could get to.
It turned out that it was the safest, softest landing place I ever could have hoped for.
When I was little, I had to whisper to my mother what I wanted to say so she could say it for me, because I was too painfully shy.
And when I was 28, I country-hopped by myself with reckless abandon.
This is the year I turn 30. I'm certainly not where I thought I'd be at this point in my life — when I was a little girl, I always assumed I'd have a life like my mom's. Get married at 22 (25 latest, I'd tell myself), have babies right away, be settled down by the time I was in my 30s, etc etc. But I can't help but have this deep seated belief that everything is happening exactly as its meant to. That this is exactly where I'm meant to be. That this is the perfect unfolding of my life.
It's not always there, this faith, but when I look back on this past year, I can't help but believe it to be true.
On an even more melodramatic note (I know), I want to say a big giant THANK YOU to everyone who supported me along the way. It never would have worked out this way without all the help I had. From preparing to go an entire year ahead of time, to the actual removing of myself from my immediate life in Providence, to leaving so many things behind, to jetting off, to mentally collapsing in Hanoi, to making huge life decisions every other week. I've had so many lovely people cheering me on and giving me a (sometimes virtual) shoulder to cry on along the way.
And for that, I am deeply grateful.
HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM
PHONG NHA, VIETNAM
HOI AN, VIETNAM
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
VANG VIENG, LAOS
4000 ISLANDS, LAOS
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
KOH PHI PHI, THAILAND
KOH TAO, THAILAND
KOH PHANGAN, THAILAND
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA
GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA