Friday, October 18, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: The Now Question

Independence Pass, Colorado

We get variations of the following question every single time we hook up with our friends or family here in Colorado, as well as getting asked it by folks on Facebook, Google+, and just about everywhere. 
So, do you have jobs yet?
When are you moving back into your house ?
How does it feel to be back?

Yeah, this one we get a lot. We would say it is the most frequently asked question of our lives right now.  Including by ourselves. 


Colorado Rockies Game

Do we have jobs yet?

No, we do not.  Lana worked for the federal appellate court prior to leaving on our trip, a job which she loved. At the moment, there is no potential for a job in the federal government.  Cutting the budget equals cutting jobs (or at least not hiring any new people), so getting her old job back just isn’t the reality we came back to.  David is still figuring out what he wants to do next, but he’s still putting the pieces together. We joke that Lana knows the job she wants but can’t get it, and David doesn’t want the job he can get.  Right now the thing we know is that we’ll need to get a job to pay for health insurance before long, as that is our single most significant expense.

Countertop Remodeling Project

When are you moving back into your house?

See the “Do we have jobs yet?” answer. Until we do have jobs, it makes no sense to kick out a renter who is paying our mortgage, HOA fees and insurance, and then a little bit. She’s currently on a month-to-month basis, so when we get jobs we can give notice to her and move back in within 60 days, possibly less. From what we understand the rental market right now is incredibly tight in Denver, and it’s difficult to find a rental. We could probably make more money off our house if we re-leased it, but we honestly don’t know what the future holds, and locking ourselves out of our house with a one year lease doesn’t make sense. So far it seems that our renter is a good fit, and we don’t want to rock that boat either and potentially get a different renter who isn’t such a good fit. So for now, we’re sitting tight and letting our expenses be very minimal (mostly a painfully large COBRA health insurance payment each month) and hope that we find jobs that include or pay for health insurance. We’ll examine where and how we’re going to live once we iron out where and how we’re going to earn money to pay for health insurance.  And can we just take a minute to say how happy we are that we will have a health insurance option come January when our COBRA coverage runs out? Yay for the PPACA.

Fall Moon, Leadville, Colorado

How does it feel to be back?

This one is a larger question.  It does feel good to be back; we exhausted ourselves before we exhausted our travel budget.  In part, that’s due to the pace we chose—we went for breadth of experience over depth, averaging a new country every 10 days.  We were ready to get off the treadmill of planning where to stay, eat, and go.  We were also ready to spend time with our family, friends, and our little dog.  Lana was ready to get back to a routine, which involves healthier meals and a running schedule.  That said, it’s also hard being back. 

We suffered some reverse culture shock when we got back, even though we finished our trip with a couple of months in Europe. Driving seems much more stressful and annoying. The first time Lana walked into a Target store, she felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff it contained, and how much of that was completely unnecessary. We still find ourselves hesitating to run our toothbrushes under the tap when we’re brushing our teeth.  We’re still living out of our suitcases for the most part, since we’ve bounced around a bit between our parents’ houses and our family home in the mountains. And we find ourselves sticking to six or so sets of clothes (although not the ones we had on the trip) and three pairs of shoes. We got really used to using cash for everything in countries where credit wasn’t readily available, and switching back to a plastic existence has seemed somewhat odd.

When we first returned home it was all so overwhelming that we found ourselves pulling back and holing up away from all of our friends. We’re still in the process of reconnecting with all of them, but there are times when it seems like all we talk about is our trip, and we don’t want to become those people who only have one topic of conversation.  Sometimes we wish we could throw a big party for everyone we know, and tell everyone about it at once. Catch everyone up on the stories and photos, so we don’t have to tell the same stories over and over again—or just get in the habit of telling the same stories over and over again. 

It’s hard to let go of the freedom we had by living in the moment--waking up each morning and asking ourselves and each other what we wanted to do that day, or where we wanted to be tomorrow.  It’s hard to walk down into the basement of Lana’s parents’ house to confront the huge volume of stuff we own that is so clearly not essential to living happily.  It’s hard to stop comparing every mundane detail we encounter with the completely different mundane realities we experienced in other states and countries.  And we’re sure it’s hard for everyone we talk to not to roll their eyes the umpteenth time we unconsciously steer the conversation to how people in <insert country> do <insert activity> completely differently.  It’s hard to have lived out of two bags for a year, and glimpsed so many cultures that don’t revolve around consumerism and consumption, and then return to a country where that is the established, expected path.  It would be so easy to slip back into what was once normal for us. We find ourselves fighting it, sometimes more successfully than others.  This ties back into the previous two questions as well, of course.  After quite happily living in 100 to 200 square foot accommodations, we’re not aching to return to our cavernous 1000 square foot home (though we do miss the neighborhood).  And we’re downright nervous about falling back into an 8 to 5 routine that will push us towards finding meaning and joy from stuff.  One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other, but we’ve read The Power of Habit, and we understand the strong correlation between a set of familiar triggers and a set of previously established behaviors.  As we traveled, we developed an abstract vision of a minimalist lifestyle on our return.  Now that we’re back, we’re struggling to define a concrete and realistic version of that.  We want to settle down, but we don’t want to slide back into the life that 2011 Lana and David had.  It’s been said that if you return from travel unchanged, you did something wrong.  We got a lot wrong while traveling, but at least we didn’t get that wrong.  We are not the same people we were—we don’t fit into our old jeans  (er, some of us don’t) or our old life.


So now we’re trying to answer the question of how to live a life that is informed by the last year. We don’t want this year to have just been a hiccup in our history, a magical year out of time. But we have no idea what that means. Do we travel more? Do we try to convince other people to travel? Do we choose to fundraise for countries and people we feel need help? Do we take what we’ve learned in other countries and try to apply it to our life? What would that look like or mean, anyway? We have no idea, other than making it our goal to keep the wonder and excitement of travel with us every day, whether we’re at a 9-5 job or just out running errands. The one thing we have brought back with us is gratitude for all the wonderful things about America—the safe drinking water, for one thing. Life isn’t easy here, but it is so much easier than it is in a lot of other countries, for a lot of other people. It’s very easy to forget that and fall back into getting frustrated when everything doesn’t go the way you want it to.  We had an incident with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina (that’s it’s own post), where we thought we were in the worst possible scenario, but ultimately everything worked out alright.  Since then we find ourselves asking each other, when there’s a problem, “Is this a Bosnian flat tire?” If the answer is no, which it always seems to be, then we know we’re going to be ok. Certainly one of the best souvenirs we’ve brought home has been perspective.  It feels a little like we’ve drunk a potion from Alice in Wonderland, but instead of growing physically bigger (although, ha! because gelato) our context is bigger.  Everything we see and do is informed by what we’ve seen and done in the world this year. This is not to say that we’re better than anyone else because we’ve traveled. We aren’t. But we do feel like we’re better people than we were, because we’ve traveled.

Right now we’ve got several places to stay, including parents’ homes, our family place near Leadville, and offers from friends in Denver to stay with them when we need to be there. We’ve still got some money in the bank, if we’re careful. We’ve got clean water, heat, food, family, and friends.  We’re healthy (touch wood). We’ve been blessed with the gift of some time to process our year, and figure everything out. We’re going to be ok, we just don’t know what “ok” looks like yet. We’re open to suggestions. What do you think we should do?