Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Making It Work

So I've been playing around with my trip itinerary trying to finalize the major details. My travel agent, Kristina, at Air Brokers, has been amazingly patient with me as I've sorted through my dysfunction (we're talking weeks of changes and at least a half dozen "what-if" scenarios). Ultimately I decided on a minimalist itinerary that provides flights for the beginning and end of my journey, leaving me six weeks in the middle to make changes as needed and linger in places that appeal to me. Of course, this means much less flying and much more over-land travel, which has positives and negatives (cost/convenience vs. time/scenery). Ultimately I made this decision because it was almost $1000 cheaper, but it has the added benefit of giving me a more local perspective of the countries I plan to visit. Also, the idea of trying to cram 6 countries in 8 weeks is an overwhelming notion that I still can't get my head around.

I did a foreign study through Central and Eastern Europe in college with a similar time-frame and similar pace and, although I enjoyed the trip immensely, there was absolutely no point on the trip that I felt as though I had made a connection with the local culture and done anything more than pass through on my way to the next thing. I really want to get my hands dirty and soak up some culture and I'm setting myself up to improve my odds at having a more profound and meaningful experience this time around. The problem with overland travel is that I now have to factor several overnight train trips into my very limited schedule and this may mean cutting some of my already-pared-down plans. While I have the flexibility to be able to do that, I'm not sure if I have the willingness. There's a lot of ground to cover and not nearly enough time to make it as leisurely as I'd like.

I've been asked why I'm trying to do such a marathon trip in such an abbreviated time and the answer is complicated. First, visa applications do not happen overnight unless you are willing to spend a small fortune. Several of the countries on my list require visas before you arrive and will deport you if you don't show up with the proper documentation. Second, I am currently fostering a dog for a local animal shelter and need to find him a home before I run off around the world. My parents generously have agreed to watch my dog while I'm away, but that offer will not be extended for a second animal. Third, my original plan after wrapping up the house flipping project at the end of July was to return to Colorado for a few months to earn some more money to fund part of the trip, see my friends and take long weekend excursions around the desert. But when those plans fell through I ended up staying in Tennessee and finding ways to stay busy. Earning money is still a priority. Fourth, I'd be disowned if I weren't home for Christmas. None of us kids are married, so the holidays are still very much a family time.

Ultimately, with all those other reasons (excuses?) aside, the biggest reason I'm not making my way through Asia right now is that my 10-year high school reunion is scheduled for the middle of October and I want to be here for it. Its an odd sentiment I never expected--to look forward to this event. High school, for me, was not the best time of my life. Hands down that was college, although the last two years are a very close second. I spent years feeling awkward, melancholy and stifled by my small town and by others' expectations. I didn't feel capable of being "me" and felt that I was playing the version of myself that my friends had known since I was seven years old, incapable of personal growth or change. During those formative years, I was not comfortable in my own skin and didn't feel like I'd ever be at a place in my life where I could sit around with those people and reminisce about "the good old days" because for me, they just weren't that good. Sure, it wasn't all bad and I do have several fond memories, but the overwhelming feeling I get when looking back is "UGHH!"

I heavily considered blowing off the reunion and sending my regards from China or some other far-off place, but the reality is that I'm in a good place now and feel capable of revisiting those years without bitterness and discontent. I grew up with these people and even though I haven't kept in touch with more than a handful of them over the years, I'd like to see many of them and find out how life and circumstance have shaped their journeys over the last decade. Equally, I want to show up and be proud of my decisions and the differences in the "me" from long ago and the "me" I have become. I doubt I'll return for my 20-year reunion, and if I did, I'd likely have more in common with those people than I'd care to admit. So it makes it more important to show up for the pomp and circumstance that these occasions inevitably have and put myself on display for all to see. One of the biggest reasons I'm undertaking this two-month trip to Asia is for adventure and self-discovery. I'd say that, on a different smaller scale, my 10-year high school reunion offers a similar set of challenges and rewards. Given my current aspirations and ambitions, I'd be foolish to turn away from either opportunity.

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