I’ve now been on the road for exactly one year. It’s crazy that so much time has passed so quickly. And it’s incredible that a year’s worth of travel has now evolved into another year abroad. The past year has been a whirlwind – to say the least. It’s very easily been one of the best years of my life, but it has definitely also been the most challenging. But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself!
When Aaron and I moved out of our apartment a year ago we had a plan to travel around Southeast Asia indefinitely. We’ve been traveling the world together for years, but we’d never been able to escape for more than a couple of months at a time. Traveling around long term is something we’ve always wanted to do. So when the moment came, we seized it. Aaron graduated with his Ph.D. last June – a seriously impressive feat that I still marvel at – and we decided it was the ideal time to embark on the journey of our dreams. After his graduation we spent a month moving out of our house and in August 2013 we left our hometown of San Diego, California, and hopped on a plane to Thailand. We planned to take full advantage of having the time to travel but while we were living the nomadic life we’d also work on securing jobs for the fall of 2014. Aaron would apply to be a university professor and I, well, my career path was a bit more fuzzy than his!
We spent seven months traveling all through Southeast Asia and had the time of our lives. But, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always fun and games. There were many times where we had to take lengthy breaks from exploring new cities and bumming around perfect beaches to apply for jobs. We spent countless days hunched over our laptops in hot hostels, we had numerous freak outs when we couldn’t find reliable Wi-Fi for Skype interviews, and we endured handfuls of heartbreaking rejection letters.
The rejections were the toughest part. Part of being in the world of academia means that we’ve always been prepared to live anywhere. We always knew the day would come when Aaron would graduate and have to take a position at some little school somewhere in Middle of Nowhere, USA. But, being a diehard traveler, I have always been open to moving pretty much anywhere – barring a warzone. In the past year I prepared myself for living in freezing cold Boston, a small town in Tennessee, a metropolis in China, and back home in Southern California. Getting to the last phase of a job interview and mentally preparing to make such a big move is an emotional experience. And getting our hopes up only to have them dashed time and again really began to take its toll on both of us.
After spending seven months in Southeast Asia we took an unplanned detour back to the states so Aaron could attend a couple of in-person job interviews.
After suffering two more frustrating rejections, we weren’t entirely sure what to do next. Summer was approaching and time was running out on getting a job for fall semester. So in true procrastinator fashion, we decided to keep our travels going for a little bit longer. We would continue our journey into South America with the goal of seeing a part of the world which had eluded us for far too long, while also asking ourselves some serious life questions.
Did we want to return to the US and start over, for me to return to my career and for him to try to piece together adjunct teaching jobs? Did we want to give expat life a shot and teach English in Colombia? Or did we want to throw caution to the wind and just keep traveling through South America until the money ran out? None of these options were ideal and, for anyone who knows me, the latter was never a viable one. I’m far too much of a stress case to ever let my bank account reach zero, or anywhere close.
By the time we landed in Colombia it was already mid-June and the uncertainty of our future was weighing heavily on the both of us. But after a rough couple months back in the states, arriving in Colombia was a breath of fresh air. We felt at home being back on the road and we felt ready to do some serious soul searching. To figure out not only what the practical next step should be, but to figure out what would make us truly happy.
I fell in love with Colombia. And I thoroughly relished every moment of my trip. I spent decent chunks of time in Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena and I would love to live in each one of these cities someday. Despite the fact that Aaron and I were having a blast in Colombia, real life nagged us at every turn. And as we traveled through this South American wonderland I would have a slight panic attack every time I withdrew money from the ATM. A few weeks ago I made the decision to stop looking at my back account balance altogether because I knew it would just stress me out. Aaron and I knew we were at the point where we had to make a serious and immediate decision about where we were going to work.
It was July and we figured all hopes of Aaron finding a teaching gig for the fall were lost. So as were sitting in the tiny town of Doradol, Colombia, stewing after a frustrating travel day we were shocked when Aaron received a message on his Google Voice number – a number he only gives out on job applications.
It turns out that a university in Jakarta, Indonesia, was looking for someone with exactly his skill set: not only a mastery of American literature but also international experience and the ability to work with non-native English speakers. Check, check and check!
The interview process went on for weeks. We experienced a few more freak outs – our internet seemed to go out whenever he had a scheduled Skype appointment. We weighed the pros and cons of living abroad. And we sifted through the risks associated with signing an international contract. But in the end I knew it would not only be an amazing job for Aaron but it would also allow us to live in another country, something we’ve always dreamed of doing.
So Aaron and I were overjoyed when he received a job offer a couple of weeks ago. Three days later we bid a bittersweet farewell to Colombia (and our very short-lived South American odyssey) and boarded a plane back to California. Today we returned to Indonesia’s capital, a city I spent an uneventful few days in back in February of this year.
It’s crazy how things work out. A month ago I would have never thought I’d be back in California trying to figure out what to pack for another year abroad. A year ago – as we were setting out on our journey – I would have never imagined that in a year’s time I’d be an expat in Jakarta. It’s going to be another wild ride, full of ups and downs. But I am so excited for our next chapter.
I’m sure the next year will be full of posts about what it’s like to make the transition from backpacker to expat. But I’m also thrilled that I will be living in Jakarta, a city that’s located a short flight away from places like the magical Gili Islands, the temples of Borobudur and the island paradise of Nusa Lembongan.
There are also so many other things I want to experience while I have the chance to live in Indonesia, like hiking with Komodo dragons, spotting wild orangutans on Sumatra and trekking to the top of one of Bali’s massive volcanoes. Life is unpredictable and I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring!
Have you ever struggled with transitioning from long-term travel to the “real world?” Feel free to share your experiences!