The bags are packed, we returned the scooter, handed back the key to Rendira II, and indulged in one final massage. By the time this post goes live, we’ll be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, flying a circuitous route from Bali to Australia to Los Angeles and onward to Seattle. From takeoff in Bali to touchdown at Sea-Tac: 27.5 hours.
We left at 11:55 p.m., five minutes before our visa expired.
The past month in Bali was the perfect wind-down from the trip. To arrive back in a place this beautiful and already know our way around, have our favorite restaurants, and know its flow and patterns was truly a gift to be cherished. Countless travelers have come and gone since we were last here, yet we were remembered. The welcome back hugs from our instructors were a nice touch. As was having our “usual” orders remembered by the waitresses at our favorite cafe. Long-term travel isn’t about packing your days “doing things” but rather about selecting a location and simply being. And that’s what we did. We went to yoga nearly every day, a 90-minute morning session in a studio set in the treetops. It was the perfect way to ease into a day of relaxation and reflection. A little swim to cool down afterwards — it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day — and then a few hours being productive in a cafe before taking another swim, reading, and going to the grocery store. Just like home.
Our home away from home is Bali. Pinch me.
Kristin starts work on January 11th and was notified today that the company performing her background check needs to do a criminal search for each of the countries we spent more than 30 days in. It’s an unusual situation, she’s in. Before this trip, I had never been in a foreign country for more than ten consecutive days. But now? Thanks to the meandering style of our journey, they’ll be having to run those criminal checks in Morocco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Japan, and Indonesia. Lucky for them, we came up a couple days short of thirty in France, Spain, United Kingdom, and Canada.
This makes me giddy. It’s amazing to look back over our itinerary and know that there are six countries that we’ve now spent over a month in (and over two months in Italy and Indonesia). And not because it brings me some sort of bragging rights, but because I know certain towns and places so well that I can go back tomorrow and know where things are. I would recognize people, be able to identify restaurants we ate in, markets we shopped in, and know how to get around. I wouldn’t be lost; I wouldn’t need a map.
I never wanted anything more from this trip than to feel at home anywhere we went in the world. And we did. From Pamplona to Kobe to Bordeaux to Edinburgh to Fargo, and everywhere in between, we have memories. For the rest of our lives, we will hear the name of a city or a country or a mountain range and instantly recall a friendly local who took time to chat with us; a restaurant we dined in; or a road we pedaled along. Bicycle touring gives one on-the-ground knowledge the likes of which is impossible to obtain otherwise, save for walking. It’s this knowledge that means the most to me as we head home. It’s my most cherished souvenir.
I just paused my writing this to read the above to Kristin, to check with her on the tone and content. I read it aloud, as she likes me to do, and she nodded and returned a sad smile from across the room. We sat in silence for a few minutes; time we really don’t have to spare. The bags actually aren’t completely packed yet. There’s a rotisserie chicken cooling on the counter, we’re leaving for the airport in less than two hours. And just this past moment, as we sat in that silence, it finally dawned on us that this is really over. Six years of planning, two years of doing. And now it’s over. I always knew there’d be some tears eventually.
Where was I?
The same wonderful friends of ours, Katrina and Alan, who so generously hosted us after we sold our house and who drove us to the Seattle waterfront for our initial start, will be there picking us up tomorrow when we land. Great friends make the sturdiest bookends to our life’s biggest moments. We’ll be staying with them again while we get settled. They’re already filling our social calendar with Christmas parties and happy hours. I can’t wait. It’s also the reason why I’m so glad we took this time in Bali. We’ve met other long-term travelers whose segue back into real life was anything but smooth. People who were back at work within a few short days of pedaling their final mile. We used this past month to not only come down off the trip, but to plan for our return home. We’ve e-signed a lease on a townhome, finished a slew of digital chores we wanted to get done, and even started picking out furniture and a car. It might not sound like an effective use of one’s time in a tropical paradise, but that’s the reality of the kind of trip we’ve been on: the extraordinary eventually became ordinary.
And that’s how we knew it was time to go home.
Thank you for reading; see you in the New Year!
PS: We’ll be back early in the New Year with some fun to share concerning our future travel plans. Some of our Facebook followers have been busy chipping in with suggestions; the results will be made clear soon enough!