The Scariest Part About Traveling Is Coming Home

Exactly one month ago I got on a plane in Bangkok and came back home for the first time in 18 months. I was terrified. Going to a foreign country? Meeting new people? Living in a strange culture? Bring it on! Going back home? Honestly the scariest thing about this whole experience.

I’ve had bad experiences with coming back home in the past. When I was 16, I lived abroad for a year and once I got back, more than half of my friends didn’t talk to me anymore. I had the biggest existential crisis of my life, wanted to quit school, go back to Canada and do – well, didn’t get that far, but something other than have to face my life in Germany. Of course, this time I wasn’t 16 anymore, but the fear remained.

There are a few things that helped me with this experience, and maybe they’ll help you, too.

Tell your family exactly how you want to arrive.

They won’t know unless you tell them. Last time, they thought I wanted a quiet first day – but I wanted the big party. This time I told my family that I wanted nobody to know that I was coming back (I didn’t want my whole extended family there because I knew I’d feel overwhelmed), instead I planned a family get together for the following weekend. I wanted to meet everyone on my terms. My sister picked me up at the airport, my parents were waiting at home with a homecooked meal and a glass of wine. Perfect!

Reach out to your friends before you get back.

Last time, I didn’t really keep in contact and then I got back and was like “Hey I’m back, let’s meet up!” – needless to say, that didn’t work out. In the end I’m glad I got rid of those friends anyway, but at the time I was devastated. This time, I made plans with everyone for the first two weeks. I wrote the dates in my calendar, planned different things with everyone and in general just let everyone know way beforehand how much I was looking forward to seeing them. I went to a festival with some, ate breakfast with others and we had the best time. So glad to have them in my life!

Make a plan for the next steps in your life.

Now, this is all depending on what you’re planning to do with your life. The first time I came back, I thought it was all planned out anyway – I was going back to school. That was seven weeks from then though because the summer holidays came first. With barely any friends, nothing to do and the fear of going back to school building up, those weeks were horrible. This time, I wrote job applications on the beach in Thailand. I planned a holiday in Portugal in October. I made sure that I had things to look forward to and it worked. I am having a bit of downtime right now and it’s quite boring until I start my new job, but at least I know what I’m waiting for and I’m not having doubts.

Talk about your struggles.

When I was 16, I wasn’t able to show how hard coming back was. I cried alone, I got angry at the weirdest things and at myself, and it was not a good experience. This time, almost everyone who has asked me how coming back home was got an honest response: It’s not easy. It will never be easy. It’ll always feel weird and that’s okay. You can also reach out to others who have gone through the same thing, that has actually helped me a lot. Even though everyone goes through different stages, you’re not alone!

Remember that it’s not the end of traveling.

Just because you are back home now doesn’t mean you have to stay there. I looked for a job in the city where I really wanted to go back to (which is kind of home for me but quite far from my parents, I went to university there) and I also know that I will always be traveling. For now, it’s not going to be another huge trip like my last one, but I will always leave the country for a few weeks at a time to explore new cultures, to visit my friends abroad and who knows, maybe one day I will leave again for a long time. It’s comforting to know that I can. It’s also comforting to know that I don’t have to. It’s all up to me, the same as your life is up to you. There’s always a way, you just have to find the one that’s right for you.

While the scariest part about traveling is coming home, it’s also a very exciting part because it’s a chance to change how things are at home, too. To reconnect with your family and friends, to find out which parts you didn’t know you missed. There are easier days and more difficult ones, and sometimes you just have to accept that a day will be just you lying on the sofa, missing traveling. It happens and you have to get through those days, too.

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re having a bad day, trust me, I will understand.

After-Vacation Breakfast (or: Overnight Oats Porridge)

Ever got home after being on vacation and didn’t feel like going shopping right away? Well, depending on how long you’ve been gone, most things in your flat won’t be edible anymore. I have just the thing for you – vegan, healthy, easily prepared and the best thing is, all the things you need are things that you should always have at your flat anyway! (i promise they won’t spoil. unless you’ll be gone for a few years, that might be a problem)

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I got the recipe from a woman in New Zealand, I lived with her for a few weeks and she made this. You can always add fruit, of course.

Ingredients:

Oats
chia seeds
flaxseed
millet
cashews
pumpkin seeds
sunflower seeds

(but really, which ever nuts and seeds you prefer is fine!)

Preparation:

Quite simple. You layer the ingredients in a glass (for example a mason jar with a lid) and add about the same amount of water as dry ingredients. Put the lid on, put it in the fridge overnight and take it out in the morning. Pour the mixture in a pot and add a bit of water (you can also add almond or rice milk if you have the non-perishable version. or if you haven’t actually been on holiday, just add whichever you have at home). Heat it up for a few minutes (on my stove, two are literally enough) and stir it. Done!

I enjoyed mine today with some fresh coffee – best way to start the day!

How To Live In A Minivan

Living in a van sounds romantic, right? Driving wherever the road leads you, parking the car where you like it, sleeping with a view of the stars above, breakfast at the beach.. Sometimes it actually is that way. Sometimes it’s not though. There’s police officers chasing you away, rainy days where you don’t have anywhere to go, a lack of privacy and most importantly mosquitoes. Tons of mosquitoes.

Anyway, the all in all six months I spent living on the road in a van were some of the best ones in my life. Hard, but also fun. I am going to talk about some important points and maybe after that you’ll decide that clearly, living in a van is not for you. Maybe you’ll want to try it out sometime, though!

Get a van. Obviously. There’s tons of different models, big ones, small ones.. I decided on a minivan, a Honda Odyssey 2002, which I bought with my friend David who helped with checking that it’s running smoothly (because frankly, while I’m a good driver, I don’t know much about cars). The good thing about minivans is that they don’t use a lot of gas and are quite cheap on the upkeep. Other good models would be a Ford Windstar or a Dodge Grand Caravan. Bigger vans are more expensive on gas, but have more space. Whatever fits your budget. Local car dealers might have what you need, but private sales on sites like craigslist are usually the cheaper option. Registration and insurance are important, even in countries where you don’t necessarily need it (looking at you, New Zealand!). If you have questions about the Canadian system, let me know, I know quite a bit about that.

Name your van. Totally necessary step! Mine was called Bobby (the car).

car mountains

Equip your van. You don’t need a fully equipped backpacker van with a bed and everything, despite what everyone says. I even kept the seats in there in case I wanted to bring more people and to sell it in the end as a normal car, not just for backpackers. I simply put an air mattress in the back, flipped the seats to the front and bought sleeping bags. Very important: make some curtains (we used shower curtains, another time just cut up some fabric from Walmart)! If not, you’ll have street lights or the sun shining in your face (especially fun if you go to Alaska in the summer – we had kind of forgotten that it won’t be dark at night). A camping cooker is pretty handy. You’ll figure out what you need along the way, depends on how long you want to live in it.

car inside

 

Find a travel partner. Of course you can also go by yourself, but it can get quite lonely and you might not want to sleep in dodgy areas. I traveled with a girl I met on a farm, then a friend from Germany joined us and in the end it was just the German friend and I. There will be arguments, it won’t always be easy, but in the end I was so glad I had someone by my side to share this adventure.

Find a route. Check if there are unpaved roads. You are risking popped tires (I had three of those during the 15 months I had the van), and if a road is only suitable for 4WD, don’t go on it if you have 2WD. Check for road conditions. Do you have snow chains if needed? Do you even have winter tires? You won’t need them if you’re roadtripping through California in the summer, but go up to the Rockies and it might be a different story. Also remember that in some parts of the world, you won’t  find gas stations every few kilometres, sometimes there might be a few hundred in between. Know the route.

Sleeping. There are different rules in every country, but in general, you are pretty unsuspicious in a minivan. Nobody will suspect that there’s someone sleeping in there, unless you wash your dishes in a parking lot at 10 am (yes I did that. Yes I got caught). Ideally find somewhere where a public toilet is nearby (or alternatively a bunch of bushes). In the US and Canada, you are allowed to camp in most Walmart parking lots, so if you’re near a city, that’s a safe option. Other big supermarkets sometimes allow it, too. There’s public rest areas, a lot of those are okay. Sometimes they are next to the beach, the most perfect spots. Sometimes there’s fire places, go there. Other people have camped there before and most likely didn’t get caught. Check Allstays and Freecampsites (they are not always reliable, but I found some awesome spots on there!)

Don’t leave a trace. Take your garbage with you. In so many places I found other people’s trash, it’s not pretty. There are less and less places where it’s allowed to camp without paying, and people that leave their trash are the reason for that. Don’t be a part of the problem.

Apologize to the police if they find you. The two times I ran into the police while sleeping in a van, the encounters weren’t bad. A warning, they sent me away, that’s it. Don’t turn up again the next day! They might give you a fine sometimes, but usually they just warn you the first time.

Find a place to shower. There’s a few places where you can shower. Firstly, there’s community centres or pools. Truck stations often have showers (for a fee, obviously, but they are mostly pretty clean and sometimes you can do your laundry, too!), some hostels will let you shower. Campgrounds will most likely let you shower for a fee (or you just walk in and don’t get caught).

Take a break. Sometimes it’s good to book a motel room just for one night. You’ll see when you’re at that point. For me, it mostly came after about three to four weeks. It’s okay – you don’t have to live on the road full time.

Word of advice: It always sounds great to buy a van and then sell it in the end, because you’ll get your money back anyway, right? No, not always right. Sometimes it costs a lot on the road because it’s expensive to get parts replaced or repaired, and sometimes you won’t be able to sell it for the same price because the demand isn’t high. We were lucky with repairs, just a few new tires and oil changes, but in the end, our brakes were done, the doors didn’t work and we had to scrap him. So when you buy a car, always remember that you might not get your money back. Still cheaper than a rental though, and to be honest, way cooler. Once we knew that we wouldn’t get any money for it, we drew on the ceiling – in the end it was an artwork of our time there.

scrap van

Got any questions about living on the road? Let me know, I’d love to help!

Around The World In 526 Days

I only planned to travel the world. Not literally around the world. It somehow happened anyway, and it’s been glorious! How, you may ask? That’s quite a long story with lots of ups and downs, turns and a few loopings. After I got my bachelor’s degree in February 2015, I knew, that I wasn’t ready to face work life yet. I just had to go abroad. On March 31, my flight left from Frankfurt to Denver, where my sister was living at the time. I didn’t know at that point that it’d be 18 months until I set foot on German ground again. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Denver that day. Thanks to a storm I had to spend the night in Reykjavik, Iceland, and had 24 hours to explore he city. After that, I spent a week in the Rockies with my sister, we celebrated Easter, fought against the snow and then went hiking with a sunburn. Welcome to the USA!

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After that, I was off to the real destination of my trip: Canada. Black bears playing in the grass on the side of the road. Grizzlies hunting in the fields. Moose crossing roads. Clear lakes that never quite warm up. Mountains that have barely ever been climbed by humans. Neverending roads, that go straight for hundreds of kilometers. Snow so high you can’t see out your window. All of that is Canada. Most of all, it’s home for me.

It all started in 2008 when I spent a year in Quebec when I was 16 years old. I lived with a family, got my high school diploma and promised my friends that I’d be back. I kept that promise. Between 2009 and 2013, I visited my favourite country four times.

It was now April 2015 and I was back for longer. I stayed in Montreal for the first month with my friend David and visited my old host family in Cowansville almost every week. I wandered through the city, ate Poutine at La Banquise, hiked on Mount Royal, discovered shops I already knew and some I didn’t. Most importantly, I spent time with the ones I loved.

Mai was a pretty special month. On a website called workaway.info I had found a farm in Port Hope, close to Toronto, where I was able to work and live (I didn’t have a working visa at that point, it was volunteering). I spent some of the best days of my trip there with Lin, her daughter Julie and their dogs and horses. I loved it so much that I went back there in August and even watched the farm for Lin while she visited her son in Alberta. In Port Hope, I also met Cassy. We decided to go on a roadtrip to the Eastern part of the country together. I had already bought a van, put a bed inside and called him Bobby.

For six weeks we now lived on the road. The cliffs in the Gaspesie in Quebec, neverending forests in New Brunswick (and neverending rain), the red shores of Prince Edward Island and the Highlands on Cape Breton were some of the highlights, just like the dolphins we saw in Nova Scotia were. We slept in Walmart parking lots or at the beach, drank beer on the roof of a student in Quebec who interviewed us on his radio show and drove thousands of kilometres. I spent my 23rd birthday doing tidal rafting and my friend from Germany, Stine, joined us. That was the beginning of our one month long trip to the US!

We drove down to New York City and slept in a house with a pool by a guy called Mike, who also took us on his yacht. He kept our car while we flew down to San Francisco. We spent time in Los Angeles, hiked in the Grand Canyon, relaxed in hot springs in the Sierra Nevada and climbed mountains at Lake Tahoe. We lived with Molly who let us take her dogs down to the lake, and with Sharon who gave us her house for a weekend in L.A. We partied in Las Vegas with Tokio Hotel, a German band that I got to know a few years ago, and I visited their shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Back in NYC, Mike took us on a boat to watch the sunset near the Statue of Liberty and we said goodbye. At that point, my life was so fast that I couldn’t even think clearly.

After these first five months on the road, it was time for a break. I got my work visa and Stine and I drove 4000 kilometres west to Jasper, a little village in Jasper National Park in Alberta. We had a job offer from The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. We ended up staying much longer than planned – we lived and worked there for more than seven months. We hiked on our days off, explored beautiful lakes, glaciers and mountains. We drove the legendary Icefield Parkway to Lake Louise and Banff, made lots of friends and the best time. I rediscovered my love for cross country skiing and snowboarding, we celebrated Christmas, New Years and Easter with new friends, saw the Northern Lights lighting up the night sky and managed to save up quite a bit of money for our next trip.

May 2016 was when our next big roadtrip started. We started at the beginning of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek and reached Alaska after a few days and a stop in Whitehorse, Yukon. We didn’t only see bears and moose, but also bisons, we slept in places where nobody was for hundreds of kilometres and finally stayed in the US’ northernmost state for ten days. Nature was breathtaking up there and the sun never really sets in summer, it was beautiful. On the way back we hiked in Kluane National Park and visited the Olympic Village in Whistler, British Columbia. We took the ferry to Vancouver Island and stayed there for two weeks. Such a different climate! Rainforests everywhere. We surfed in Tofino, lied on empty beaches and watched the Euro world cup in an Irish pub in Victoria. It was the end of June, our last days in Canada. We met our friend Julia from Jasper in Vancouverand spend a few days there. Bobby’s journey came to an end. We had to scrap him after 30 000 kilometres.

You might think that it was time to go home. It wasn’t. On June 30th we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. For seven weeks we drove around the North – and South Island. It was winter, but for winter in New Zealand is pretty warm. We even went to the beach in the North. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was a real highlight, we hiked through active volcanic terrain, smoking volcanoes, balancing on craters. For two weeks we did some work for stay with Melissa and Burton close to Wellington. Kiwi life at its best! I was able to ride the horses everyday, up in the hills, through rivers. Amazing days. We celebrated my 24th and Stine’s 26th birthday. I went snowboarding in August, we saw beautiful valleys and lakes, snow-covered palm trees, empty beaches, neverending fiords – New Zealand is a dream! Nevertheless, the nights in hostels became pretty exhausting. We also had an accident that cost us 2000$ excess for our rental car.

Next stop: Thailand. On August 20th we flew to Melbourne and then Bangkok. A new culture, haggling with taxi and tuk tuk drivers, almost dying when walking on the side of the road and very different hygiene standards. There were also breathtakingly beautiful temples, neverending markets, the friendliest people and an incredible amount of exotic fruit for almost no money. Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai in the North were our first stops. Chiang Mai is amazing for going out to eat, we basically had red, green and yellow curries all day, as well as fruit shakes. We hiked to see beautiful waterfalls, rice fields and rain forest in Doi Inthanon National Park. We spent the second week on an island called Koh Lanta where we didn’t do anything except for sleeping, eating and relaxing. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, how beautiful is that? We also started to mentally prepare for ‘home’. One last stop in Bangkok, a few massages, manicure, pedicure – ready to take on the long flight to Germany!

This is how I arrived back in Germany after 526 days, i had accidentally traveled around the world and brought home a rucksack with almost no clothes, but lots of experiences. 18 months on the road have not always been easy. I missed having a home, there were bad days, car troubles, sickness. I am so lucky to have a family who supported me through everything, who was always there to skype when I felt down. I had the best travel partner who was by my side every day. I have friends in Germany who couldn’t wait to have me back. I saw a whole ton of things and I’m now ready to face real life for a while. I miss Canada and I promised my friends the same thing I always do – I’ll be back.