(scenes from New York, all the nostalgia and memories being made in real time with the diana camera)

Another immigration line, wheeling our weathered suitcases and selves, hats disheveled, a clammy feeling in my belly and hands. Thinking of what a rip-off those in-flight headphones were for the inane rom-com movie i watched on the plane . . . How unremarkable another little stamp in our passport seems at this point, but this ink, this blue and red oval-shape, is a special one -- Reading loud and clear -- DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.

"Where have you been?"
"And before that?"
"How long have you been gone?"
"Uh... 8 or so months? . . . Well we started in India, then Vietnam, Turkey, Croatia, Italy . . . Should I keep going?"
"What were you doing, just traveling?"
We shrug and sigh, "Yeah I guess."
"Have a nice stay in New York" ---- STAMP--- "NEXT!"

And just like that, we're through. Home. The USA.

I can't answer the inevitable, "how was your trip?" very well. It seems we've grown up and stayed kids within this 9 month journey away from our city, friends, apartment, work, family -- our regular life -- as I referred to it the entire time while away. What I would like to share is my take on the differences on long versus short-term travel, because it was the length of time we had that had the greatest impact on our traveling style.

(the skype conversations that meant so much to us)

When you know you're going to be away for so long, you sort of settle in for the long haul. The idea of controlling and planning every site, meal, method of transportation becomes obsolete. With this 'no plan' plan, I started to become acutely aware of my surroundings. Starting off in India I'm sure played into this moment-driven state -- there's so much to observe, smell, taste and experience -- you need all of your faculties functioning at 100 percent at the beginning just to manage. India demands negotiation and both Dave and I stepped up to the plate -- It's like this --

Oh these bananas, for you, 50 rupees (5 times the going rate).
How much money do you make?
Just one or two emporiums, so I can buy shirts for my childrens.
You cannot wear shorts in the pool, only swim trunks.
Will you pose for a snap with my baby, my aunt, my sister, my wife?
You are so nice and your skin is very White.
I'll bring your hot water bucket to your room very very fast, madame.
This is ghee-- it's good for your health. I'll put more on your chapati for you.
We don't need to preheat the oven for this banana cake -- just put it in for 2 hours.
If you see a cop, if he's wearing brown, just give him money, if wearing white -- I don't know, just listen to what he says.
This next train, you've bought a ticket, but there's no more seats. LOOK UP -- so we sit on the luggage racks.
you wanna get off this janky, hot, 5 hour, bumpy bus to pee -- how bad?
you need toilet paper too-- how much can you pay?

There's no room for wallflowers -- and I learned to stick up for myself and get in the thick of things. My mind would race pretty much before every transaction, problem or question -- trying to think of the unknown and the multiple follow up issues that could come up. I was on bargaining overdrive. When someone asks what I did in India, I should just say, got things done. It took ages. Anything -- mailing a package was an epic, the drug store to get sunscreen an essay, booking a train ticket a saga, taking a swim was a poem. Our India expert friend and researcher put it well -- "Indian people have a different relationship with the material world." When everything is up for negotiation, everything gets interesting, whether you're in the mood for it or not. By the end of four months, I'd say we were good navigators of this alternate reality -- it seemed less work than ever and it was, most often, a joyful existence. The pace, people, energy and flavor of the place felt wonderful and lush. What would we do without all the pushing and flowing and slipperiness?

(NYC and Brooklyn highlights -- the bridges, cupcakes, subways, people)

It turns out, many other countries felt a little boring after such a place. Vietnam, our following country, was a walk in the park comparatively.
Motorcycle taxis for honest prices.
Clean sheets and towels in our hotel rooms, without having to ask.
Western-style toilets (holy crap -- literally!).
French pastries.

It's a place that is easy for a tourist to plug in to the tourist stuff and get out, very comfortably. Not to say that was a bad thing -- it's all in the relativity of a journey isn't it? -- what came before and what's next. While in Vietnam, we were in a recovery type of mode from India and an anticipatory state for the next long-term stint in Istanbul, Turkey. It rained. We spent too long in the North. We were in a little bit of limbo.

The rest, Istanbul and then Europe-- you can imagine. We entered a world nearer and nearer to our own. It was superb, but in a different way. We found a beautiful apartment, on the 5th Ave of Istanbul (Nisantasi neighborhood), my parents came to visit. I cooked lentil soup every day. We stayed warm within the cold winds, blowing off the Sea of Marmara -- When I asked a cute guy at club where his favorite place in the world was, he shouted, "right here, around Taksim Square, on a Friday night, it's the best spot on Earth!" I love a place where the people are so enthusiastic about their home town. And he was right -- Istanbul was one of the most captivating cities I've ever been -- the dynamic mixture of East, West and everything in between still churning and pulsing through it's streets. We saw all the sites-- but at a leisurely pace, one where we could sit and draw or write or get out our thermos of tea and just people-watch.

(D and I walking in Croatia)

We were always able to go slow -- see things in time, not cram to fit 10 temples or mosques or cathedrals or whatever in one day -- we became expert dabblers -- see one thing, really feel it out, listen to it, explore each nook and cranny. And just be there. No rush, no tour, no place to be or get to later. At times, the seemingly endless ocean of space and time was the last thing I wanted -- but most often, with my best friend and partner, we filled up the space with laughter. We learned, read, touched and talked over everything in front of us. And because we knew we were all each other had, we tread lightly on feelings. When you know you're it for awhile, truly each others' only comfort from home, regular life, you are slower to draw swords for a battle. You work on peace-making skills.

Traveling can be stressful -- after so long at doing it, we became practiced in problem-solving on the spot and working through our conflicts or opposing opinions better than we did at home. We grew into each other and our new marriage. Out of our element and away from all our friends -- we had to. And I've never loved my husband so much after watching him become such an expert traveler and pleasure-seeker. He really taught me, while away, to find the best view, treat, painting, shrine, bus ride, moment -- to really seek it out and relish in it for as long as possible. No one else is going to do that for you -- and you can give yourself permission to let the fun, beauty and experience wash all over you. Life can be that good. Routine is comforting and warm and safe, I love it, but getting out on a limb and sharing something amazing and new with your number one pal is sublime.

In the end, traveling for so long taught us about ourselves as individuals and as a team, what we like (pomegranates!) and don't like (if i hear "pashmina" in one more country, I'm gonna kill the individual selling the cursed polyester) and about why we love our home. We love our friends, community, city and family. It's the good stuff of life, the backbone, that can support an individual. Everyone we encountered --Indians, Vietnamese, Turkish, Croats, Italians, French, Brits, Germans -- is seeking this feeling -- a place in their world. We are no different. In uprooting myself, I never felt so much appreciation for my regular life. For work, play, family time, the weekend, routine, bookstores, the farmers market. I also never felt so much for my country -- America. The diversity, choice and freedoms I took for granted, I think I'll look at differently now. We are imperfect nations, all of us, but the US has some things right. And, most importantly, it's where all the people who I care about -- who help to define me as me -- are settled. Because when there's no background noise, work or obligations -- wherever you are, you're still there. And you really get to know that person, who you are -- and I saw a lot to change and a lot to love about myself. When the bouts of homesickness were really strong (Thanksgiving and Oscar Night -- food and celebrity fashion, they're my thing, okay?), the best cure was watching cartoons on youtube. Old Disney, Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty and Care Bears. Definitely CareBears. How can you be sad when Cozy-Heart Penguin is saving the cloud ship full of other animals?

We were enchanted, challenged and down-right delighted by most foreign lands we experienced -- but I cannot wait to live a life, beyond a suitcase and get domestic in Portland, forever and ever . . .

Or until the next location -- hola, South America!


  1. This was such a perfect ending post to your trip. It filled me with inspiration for our upcoming one!

    If you do go to South America, let me know! I spent 9 months down there...

  2. what a beautiful summation of your travels. i followed the whole adventure and lived vicariously through you and dave. thanks for writing and bringing joy and smiles to my days. now i cant wait to get more leela recipes, since you're ready to get down and dirty with domestic life!! i love you big worm!

  3. i loved this piece most of all. it's a well wrought essay, a memoir made small, a poetic wax about something that can never be encapsulated.

    it's weird to come back from such a long haul (don't i know it) and find anyone who can relate to the uprooting and sweet struggles you two just went through. it's going to be a long time before the full essence of it descends upon you and you realize just what happened.

    we're glad you're back, too. safe, sound, and changed. we look forward to seeing you!

  4. I loved reading this post Leela! Glad you're back safe and sound and ready for new adventures!