Monday, August 10, 2015

"So, how does it feel to be back?"

Of all the questions we've been asked since we arrived in Portland, the subject of this post is probably the most common. It's also the most difficult to answer.

The quick, accessible reply is that it's weird. (Irony of ironies that it's "weird" to be back in the Weird Capital of the US... but it's true.)

Portland has changed a lot over the past few years. We're not about to complain that dozens of new breweries, distilleries and food carts have popped up around the city. But rents have skyrocketed, gentrification is rampant, and dear lord - all the condos, all the traffic, all the people! Where are they all going at 10:30am on a Tuesday, anyway? (Non-Portland people, click here to find out whether you should move to Portland.)

To be fair, we've changed a lot more than Portland over the past few years. We still appreciate the city's commitment to green, the DIY attitude toward just about everything, the ease of finding delicious local food, the abundance of music and culture (and so much of it free!), the glorious Multnomah County Library system...

... and yes, the weird

But our tolerance for crowds, noise and traffic is much lower than it was in April 2013. Patrick's tolerance for inconsiderate bikers, my tolerance for snark and sarcasm, and our collective tolerance for "weird for the sake of being weird" have also all taken a nosedive. We still don't enjoy Portlandia - but we understand it a lot more now than we did two years ago.

We loved this city when we left and there are definitely elements of it that we still love, but we're not exactly sure Portland is for us anymore - which is great to know, that's the whole reason we parked here for the summer.

Unfortunately, we don't know where to go from here. So "lost" would be another really good answer to the question. (It's also ironic that of the 17 countries and countless cities we visited, the city we called home for over 5 years is officially the only place we've actually felt lost.)

You know how, when you go back to work after a 2-3 week vacation, it takes you an hour or two to really get back into the swing of things? Well, imagine if that 2-3 weeks were 2-3 years instead. For the last five weeks we have spent many hours wondering where we were, who we are, what we're doing, what we should be doing, and whether that whole 26-month jaunt around the world actually happened.

another perspective

And honestly? Here's how it feels to be back: lonely. In a city of 600K people including many of our friends, we feel lonely. (Is that ironic or Alanis-ironic? I'm not sure.)

I was exchanging emails with a traveling friend a while back; she'd just returned to Portland after 15 months abroad and I had asked her about re-acclimation. She replied, "People ask 'where was your favorite place you visited?' And I say Myanmar and then we move on to talking about their cat or whatever."

I laughed at her description at the time. Now that we have lived this exact scenario dozens of times between Maryland and Portland, it's not so funny. Friends and family ask questions about our trip but often can't relate to our answers about countries they've not visited and experiences they've not had. Totally understandable. So they ask "what's next?" and as we start to describe our non-9-5 future options, their eyes start to wander. Also understandable. We ask what's going on with them; we can't really relate to their 9-5 lifestyle and our eyes wander. Eventually we all talk about the weather, because hasn't it been insanely hot in Portland this summer?

On the other hand, there have been many conversations where no questions are asked... That makes me feel even more weird, lost and lonely. We did really just jaunt around the world for 26 months, right?

There are definite exceptions to these scenarios. We've had great conversations about our trip and our future since returning to the mainland, and those have left us energized and excited about whatever is to come.

indeed

Just to be clear: this is not a "no one understands!" whiny post - at least that's not my intent. All this doesn't mean that we haven't enjoyed catching up with friends and family while we've been Stateside. It's been fun to see familiar faces in familiar territory, catch up on life news and work gossip, and meet new family additions.

We're just in a different mental place right now. We've been through this with friends who had babies or found religion or whatever, so we get it and we appreciate everyone's patience as we desperately try to inject travel stories into every conversation. We have also been very fortunate to connect with new faces here in Portland with whom we can share travel stories and farm talk.

a gentle reminder
(Field, British Columbia)

Many travel bloggers have written about the challenges of re-acclimation after an extended trip, and they've said it much better than I ever will. Their posts are comforting and help with the weird, lost, lonely feelings. (Seeing these bloggers in person and commiserating over beers helps immensely!)

~~~

I asked Patrick to read a draft of this last night; I'd only gotten as far as that last sentence. He commented that he wasn't sure about the conclusion. I thought that was a pretty appropriate summary of the whole topic...

Maybe this is the real answer: we're not "back" and we don't know "what's next." All we know with 95% certainty is that we're in Oregon through mid-November. This is exciting... and challenging... and scary as hell.

Isn't that how life should be?

"you just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N"

24 comments:

  1. Welcome home!!! Crack a Portland beer for me!

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    1. Thanks Erin! Done, done, done. :)

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  2. oh boy... you KNOW we can talk about this very subject over beers and mexican food in just a few weeks but OMG.. we STILL don't feel like we really fit in. We came home and were excited to be back for exactly 4 days. By then we'd seen everyone we wanted to see and then..... nothing. NO one wanted to hear about our trip, they'd ask one question just as you said and change the subject, and I think that it isn't because they don't care.. it's just that extended travel is SO foreign of a concept to the average American they truly can not comprehend how awe inspiring, make you drop to your knees, life changing it is. Even though we're just getting ready to depart again, I can pretty much say we don't think Portland is really for us anymore either. Too big, too expensive, too much traffic, too much "trying" to be hip... we are pretty sure some day we'll end up in a little town near the beach in Mexico... but maybe that will change too! For now at least you're getting to see your home town as a new place and that may help you decide .. in the Meantime.. you MUST watch a documentary called A Map for Saturday.... you will sit, at the end, and be brought nearly to tears by the travelers portrayed in it attempting to explain exactly what you just wrote about, how they came home to everything being the same, except they no longer fit. I think it should be required viewing not only for all long term travel wantabes.. but for the loved ones they leave behind as well. Keep the faith, and at least enjoy some good Portland beer and food. See you soon!

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    1. Hey Rhonda! Thanks for your message. Yes, it's not that people don't care, they just don't understand - which is why it was so difficult to write this in the first place. I wish more people in the US did understand though. Travel is really life-changing in so many ways.

      Thanks for the documentary tip - we'll definitely check that out. Looking forward to seeing you guys soon!

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  3. It's fascinating how much visiting another country can change your perspective.

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  4. So interesting to read this! So sorry you feel lonely, but I think I can see how you might... I agree, Portland has changed a LOT in the past few years--it's so different from how it was when I went to high school in downtown 10+ years ago. Now sometimes I feel like a tourist or roll my eyes at the intense hipsterdom. I'm sure you'll take on a new challenge and find something that makes you feel comfortable wherever you are!

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    1. Wow, Portland must feel like a totally different world to you these days! Thanks for reading and thanks for your support. We'll figure something out... or The Universe will figure it out for us. It's all good. :)

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  5. My husband and I spent 3 months traveling last year, and had a tough time coming back to the "real world" (whatever that is) so I can only imagine what it would be like after 2+ years. We are contemplating our own more extended trip and I have had concerns that returning would be hard to readjust that we will have changed so much and life here wouldn't be the same as when we left it. So I really do appreciate your candid, honest comments. Though on the flipside, you now have had so many different, amazing experiences, and that is pretty incredible.

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    1. Thanks Erin. Everyone has life changing experiences, travel just happened to be ours, and yes - we are very fortunate that we have been able to see the world and learn so much over the past two years. I really hope my post didn't come across as whining about the "real world" (whatever that is) because I really am grateful, it's just challenging right now.

      I definitely recommend long term travel for anyone who's interested in pursuing it and willing to make the sacrifices to make it happen. Maybe you should join our travel support group. :)

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  6. After such amazing world adventures and experiences with do much newness I can understand that a routine stay in one place can be jarring and not feel like the right pace of life for you anymore. Even though my trips are no where as long as yours, only a few weeks after I return and finish enjoying every last memory with putting together a memory album and layout of a photo book, I find myself already looking for the light at the end of the regular work schedule tunnel with what's the next trip.

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    1. Thanks Pech - glad you have that wanderlust too. :) We'll find our place someday!

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  7. I could see how that would be seriously jarring. My in-laws have liven in Japan for 30+ years and are looking at places to retire. Part of them wants to go back home to Texas because they miss it and have family there. The other part wants to come out and be close to their children and grandchildren here in the PNW, but they are afraid that they won't like it. I'm so scared that neither place will really feel like home for some time. Portland has changed a LOT in the past few years, I still love it and feel like it is home, but we no longer go to the same places we used to go to and often hang out with friends at our homes rather than brave the crowds or hit up shows, etc. Part of it has been having kids, the other part has been us changing in a way that Portland has not changed. Hopefully the acclimation happens soon so you can feel more comfortable and less lost for your remaining time here (however long that might be) but, I'm also hopeful for more travels for you because I love reading about them!

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    1. Wow, yes 30+ years in Japan to mainland US? That would be a jar no matter where in the US they end up. Best of luck to them in their decision-making.

      Thanks for your kind words, Jenni. I know that being older has something to do with Portland not quite fitting anymore. We also prefer backyard hangouts to bars, and we're now the ones who get there early to get a seat at Mississippi Studio! Never thought I'd see THAT day. Haha.

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  8. You did a great job of describing those post-trip emotions that many of us long-term travelers have felt when "coming back". They are emotions that are definitely hard to pinpoint. I agree that it's been extremely comforting and cathartic to have discussions with you and Patrick and other travelers we've met up with since being back. I also had a very hard time with people who showed little interest in my travels and would ask the one or two questions then move on (especially people very close to me like siblings and parents). A person who just had a baby might be in a similar situation. She has just experienced the most amazing, weird journey of her life and it's all she wants to talk about but only the people who have also experienced it can really understand what its like. The rest of us have no way of relating. That's how I think many of my friends and family feel about my trip - they can't relate because it's something they have never experienced and don't ever plan on doing.

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    1. Thanks Lindsay... So glad we finally were able to hook up with you guys. More talk+beer please!

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  9. I've really enjoyed reading about your journeys across the country (I need to go back and read the earlier posts). I do understand about re-acclimating, though. While I have never done extensive travel like you have, I did go to school in another part of the country and I always had a bit of a tough time when I first got back to Oregon.

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    1. Thanks Melinda. That's actually a good point - I had a very similar weird/lost/lonely feeling when I went away to college for a few years and then went back home to finish my degree. I think it's just personal change that makes it hard to acclimate to the life you once knew. Change is good though. :)

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  10. But...but...no one does understand!!! Except the new faces. Especially the snarky ones. When they talk over beer. What was I saying? Right, Portlaaaand.

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  11. time to start a NEW hippie colony..... in Bismarck, North Dakota!

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    1. Actually I hear Lincoln, Nebraska is the new Portland. I'd rather have the old "new Portland" (Bozeman, Montana), though...

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  12. To be honest, no matter where you are, it'll be weird for a LONG time. It's probably most jarring because you're somewhere that was once so familiar and easy. And there are probably parts that are easy, but MY GOD THAT QUESTION. We have answered it more times than I can count and still, a year later, answer that question when it comes up that "oh you were the ones who traveled." And it usually becomes a conversation about wherever the person we're talking to has gone before. So be it. We were only gone about a year, but a full year later, it still all seems surreal at times. We're back, close-ish to Portland, and "reacclimated" in a sense, but I still feel like an outsider at times. I will say, though, that now that a lot of the initial weirdness has passed (ok, some of it), it's really good to be with our friends again. I hadn't realized how much I missed my community, and although we're close, we're hoping to move closer. Although probably not Portland because, as you said, HOLY CRAP what happened to the affordable housing?? Long-term travel for longer than we were already gone wasn't for us, though. Different strokes, you know? Good luck reacclimating! It takes time and patience, for sure.

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    1. Thanks Carmel! We are so grateful to hear from those who have done this and who have struggled (or are still struggling) to re-acclimate. "Surreal" is definitely a good word for life these days. Maybe we'll just avoid the issue, pack up and keep moving... :)

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