So it begins! Hugs have been given to all our family and friends, our desks have been cleared and our work badges handed in, and the last few boxes of our possessions have been tucked away in the back corner of Dwayne’s parents’ basement. We’ve handed in the keys to our apartment, parked our cars in an out-of-the-way spot, made copies of our passports and stuffed as many comforts of home as is humanly possible into our two carry-on bags.
As it was happening, I felt strangely unemotional about radically shifting from a very stable, safe 7:30-4 in a cubicle type of lifestyle to becoming a willy nilly vagabond. The weeks leading up to the trip have been so wildly hectic that I haven’t had much chance to reflect on what’s about to happen, though there were a few choice moments when I felt the weight of the situation pressing more firmly on me than usual.
The moment that it was time to leave my job was a difficult one for me. Shutting down my computer for the last time and hugging my friends goodbye (some of whom I had worked with since 2008) made me choke up a tad, though I hope they didn’t notice. It was also tough for me to close the door for the last time on our apartment in St Louis. It has been a great little home for us. It’s the place where we lived when we got engaged and married. The place where I plastered the walls with photos of faraway places while planning for this trip. We are leaving behind our favorite parks to go walking in, our favorite hole-in-the-wall breakfast cafes and the ability to visit family and friends any old time we feel like it. Our nieces and nephews will no doubt look a little different when we return, some of the littlest ones might even be speaking in full sentences by then, who knows. But hopefully there’s only so much we can miss in a six month period.
I’m guessing these will feel like the fastest six months of our lives, and at the same time we will come back feeling as though we have been away for years. Travel always has a way of making two weeks ago seem like a lifetime away. No doubt the songs playing on the radio will be different, people will have moved away or bought houses or gotten engaged or pregnant, and with any luck the government will have figured out how they are going to deal with the ‘fiscal cliff’ (so glad we’re leaving THAT whole mess behind us for a bit).
As I was headed out of St Louis on Highway 64, my car loaded down with the last few kibbles and bits from our now-empty apartment, I caught a glimpse of the Gateway Arch in my rear-view mirror and it made me smile. What an amazing place that city has been for me. The most unexpected place to end up has turned into a second home that I will sorely miss. The decision to move to Missouri led me to find not only my husband and his incredible, kind, welcoming extended family, but also a career field that I think could keep me interested for life. So, I leave Missouri behind with a big thank you for all the love, paychecks, BBQ’d pork steaks, summer float trips, career opportunities, Schlafly pumpkin ales, Cardinals baseball games, free concerts in the park, cheap utility bills, weekend road trips to Chicago and Kansas City, and the best friends I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with.
We flew out of St Louis airport on December 22nd, not sure whether we’d be moving back after our trip or not. Time will tell. For now, the future is wide open and anything and everything is on the table. The Missouri side of the family sent us off with pizza and plenty of well-wishes, and then it was off to Maine to celebrate Christmas and say goodbye to everybody there.
Christmas in New England was as relaxed and wonderful as ever. The icy temperatures are always a bit of a shock to the system, but there is plenty of hot tea, a crackling woodstove, and a couple of fluffy, warm dogs who are always willing to snuggle. So, we stayed cozy in my parent’s house, snacking on lobster chowder, pan-seared Maine scallops, and taylor ham and cheese on toast. My parents had decorated the house in grand fashion as usual (complete with a bridal-themed Christmas tree for my sister’s and my big year), and I savored the time we all spent together around the table, eating her home-made lasagna and playing cribbage games. Although one of the things I love the most about travel is the way it reminds you of the things you love about home, I almost never lose sight of these small details that make me feel so lucky to be living this life.
On Christmas day, we exchanged our gifts and visited with my extended family, which always does wonders for my soul and my stress levels. My brother-in-law had spent a lot of time making us some music playlists to bring with us on our travels and he loaded them onto our gadgets for us. And my sister, who is in grad school to become an expressive arts therapist, had prepared journals for Dwayne and I to bring on our trip with calming quotes, photos of beautiful parts of the United States, and relaxation techniques to help deal with the anxiety of our upcoming trip. She wrote a visual description/meditation about our home in Maine and all the comforts that make it feel familiar and safe, pasted a family photo into the front covers, and then had the whole family write us encouraging messages on the first few pages of each journal. What incredible gifts! I know there will be times during these upcoming six months when home will feel so unbelievably far away and this journal and music will be what I go to for comfort and reassurance that my family is still out there and, at any given time, I can go home to them if I choose. It’s this knowledge that gives me the courage I need to fly further and further away.
The morning that Dwayne and I set out, my whole family woke up around 5:30am to see us off. My Dad said that he was in awe of what we were doing, and as I was hugging my Mom goodbye she told me that she thought we were very brave. My eyes swelled a little at the thought of making my parents proud. We’ve had a bit of a unique experience among RTW’ers in that we’ve had no negative feedback about our trip whatsoever. We expected at least a few people would think this was a terrible idea, but everyone we’ve talked to about our trip, from bosses to parents to landlords to insurance agents, has had the same reaction…”COOL!” For all I know, they may just be telling us that it’s a neat idea but actually thinking we are entirely foolish, but either way it feels great that we haven’t had to justify our decision to anyone. Just another reason to be thankful for our incredible support system.
My family waved from the doorway as we pulled out of the driveway to drive three hours to the airport in Portland, Maine. The morning was bitter cold and the weather report was calling for a huge snowstorm in the next 24 hours. Knowing that we were destined for warmer climates, we left our winter wear in the car (that my parents would be picking up in a few days) and dashed across the parking area in our light jackets, teeth chattering as we finally got inside the airport doors. We flew from Maine to New York City and checked into a hotel in Queens just outside of JFK airport to wait out the storm and then (hopefully) leave for Honolulu the next day. Sure enough, Winter Storm Euclid dumped a pile of snow on the northeast, but we missed out on it entirely as we were curled up in our hotel room watching ‘Frankenweenie’ on Dwayne’s netbook while the wind swirled outside. We woke up in the morning, ate some fruit loops, and caught our flight to Los Angeles without any incident other than an awkwardly angry mother bellowing at the top of her lungs at her two kids on the escalator behind us. Ahhh, New York.
We reached Los Angeles around sunset on December 27th, only to be greeted by a three hour delay in our connecting flight to Honolulu. It turns out we were lucky, as many other flights were being cancelled altogether for no apparent reason (certainly not weather, it was sunny and gorgeous as usual). Ahhh, Los Angeles. Grouchy passengers all around were battling it out for the available outlets to charge their gizmos. Dwayne and I, also eager to make sure our electronics were charged for the long flight ahead, stumbled upon a Christmas tree near one of the gate desks where people were sneakily plugging into the strings of lights. Genius! We followed suit and placed our phones and netbook inside the Christmas tree to charge. By the time we were ready to board, we were charged up and ready to go.
The last time I was in Los Angeles was when I was driving away from it after living there for a year in 2005-2006. The southern California phase of my life was a particularly bizarre and transformative one, and the place it holds in my memory is bittersweet. And yet, I still wished for a few extra hours in LA to take Dwayne to Palms and Santa Monica and show him where I used to live and work. This place taught me so much, for better or worse, and I’d love to just stroll the Venice Beach boardwalk and reminisce for a while. Ironically, it was Los Angeles where I first heard about people doing RTW (round-the-world) trips while working as a travel agent for STA travel. Now, here I am years later waiting at LAX for the flight to the first stop on my own RTW trip. Whether I like it or not, LA will always be a special place for me. We loaded onto the plane and took off and as the plane banked right to head out to sea, I could see the sprawling lights reaching back to the mountains and the crashing surf on the beaches below. I watched until the lights were gone and there was nothing but black ocean below us and the Hawaiian Islands (and who knows what else!) ahead of us.