In fact, I totally forgot the anniversary. Which is a good sign, I guess.
The fact that I was just back in Melbourne, half way around the globe again, probably helped, and I forgot it.
When I came back in March 2015, I was ready for the big depression. Being back at work every day, having to be in the same pace, no more traveling and hedonistic wanderings… I was sure I would hit the wall sooner or later.
And, true, I sometimes had the blues.
In the first weeks, when I could not sit in artificial light in the office.
On weekends, when I felt lonely and disconnected and didn’t know what to do with myself.
When I uploaded all those pictures of friends I had made on the trip, and started crying…
But looking back at it, all in all, and with a bit of a distance, returning home and re-integrating into ‘real life’ was ok, and not as hard as I thought.
Reintegration (or rehab?)
At first I moved into a little furnished place of a friend, and slowly got my things out of storage. Having my own place again, and staying there for more than four weeks, was a good thing. I adapted quickly, as I had in any of the previous places.
Slowly I started to look for a bigger place, for me to buy, finally. After 15 years in Brussels, and a lot of rent paid to others, it was time to find a home base. Though I wasn’t yet totally convinced of the concept – and the long term decisions it involved.
Work life was ok, too. I was given a job in my former unit, not the same tasks, but similar, so I had an easy return, as I basically knew what I was supposed to be doing.
And work life wasn’t my first priority either, rather a necessity for the first couple of paychecks to pay back the little loans I had taken on from my sister and a friend in the last weeks of the trip… (and in preparation to the Madonna tour…)
I also kept on traveling… not necessarily less than before.
With Madonna going on tour, and me seeing 26 shows on three continents, I probably saw more airports than during my round-the-world trip. 68.800 kilometers, 25 flights, 14 hotels… it felt great, like I was on another trip. It was, actually, another round-the-world tour in and by itself.
As for friendships, it was relatively easy to reconnect, more or less. Some of them had just continued as they used to, wherever I am in the world. Some had faded a bit, but were resuscitated easily. Others had faded, or ended…
I also try actively to stay in touch with people I have met on this trip. Sometimes it’s just over Facebook, or through Whatsapp. But I make the effort to stay connected, hoping I can see them again over a beer when I am back in town, or if ever they come to Brussels.
Some people I have met again – the bunch in Montreal, even twice – the guys and gals in Melbourne. I plan to be back in South America and Cape Town some time…
Some of those of course have also faded away… names, phone numbers and emails in my contacts which I can hardly attribute to anyone. But that’s normal too.
Some people have visited me in Brussels. That’s always the biggest joy, having someone over from my trip, and showing Brussels to him or her, and giving back a bit of the warm welcome I had been given.
I also tried to go out, and re-discover Brussels. Make new friends, just as I had learned on the trip. I mostly did this in moments of loneliness, bordering on a depressive afternoon, where I dragged myself out and went to new places, social gatherings etc, and tried to connect anew.
It somehow worked, preventing me to get overly sad on a given Sunday afternoon or evening.
And I tried to re-discover Brussels as my home town. As much as I was annoyed by the city before I left, I knew I had to give it a second chance. If I would be as unhappy here as I was before leaving, then I would have to call it quits and leave. But first, Brussels deserved a second chance.
I have to say it used this chance well. The point is, the city hasn’t changed that much in 18 months. A few things did, a construction site finished, a metro station finally renovated. But it was basically the same place.
What had in fact changed, was me.
Brussels has a lot to offer, and, like any city in the world, has its flaws. It’s how you deal with them, that’s what makes the difference.
I re-appreciated the city’s liveliness, it’s cultural life, the bars and restaurant, and the crazy mixture of cultures and languages that it offers, all the while being, after all, a small sized city of just over one million. I could walk to work in 25 minutes, if I wanted to.
Creating a new home base
On top, I also finally decided to buy an apartment. I had looked at a few places, but it never really took off. Until one of my best friends announced he was selling his place – which I always had an eye on. In the right neighborhood, the right size, the right prize. Within weeks, and while on Rebel Heart Tour with Madonna through Australia, I started the process of becoming a home owner. And then moved in right away.
It feels good. When I moved and finally unpacked the last of the boxes with my stuff, that I had packed nearly three years earlier, before leaving, I felt: this is it. I never want to pack another moving box.
This is my home base.
Every traveller needs one.
As much as I love being on the road, I think I’m not cut out for eternal travelling and becoming a nomad. All respect for those who dare, sell everything, travel and become a ‘digital nomad’ and live off their earnings of their jobs, working on their laptops anywhere around the world, as long as there’s a decent wifi signal.
I think I want a certain stability.
I am not yet sure when I will take another crazy trip like this one. Or what exact shape it would have.
I have a list of cities I’d like to include when I do it again. I also have the idea to study photography, for a year. I want to live in Melbourne for a year. I want to live in Montréal for a year. I have a list of some 30 trips I’d like to do with my sister, before we’re old.
So it seems I am settling back into a somewhat normal life, with a regular job, a home, a daily rhythm in Brussels. And lots of traveling thrown in, which has become normal to me (and of which I have to remind myself that it is not normal, but exceptional, and crazy).
My friend Michael remarked that when he drove me to the airport on my last visit to Melbourne, when I had just flown half way around the world to see Madonna on tour. He reminded me that for most people, a trip to Australia would be a once-in-a-liftime opportunity, a dream come true.
This will never stop.
Even as this journey becomes less prominent in my thinking, I can start a conversation about it – lasting for hours, if my counterpart bears with me – reminiscing, thinking, asking questions, thinking about what I have learned, what has changed.
Those moments become increasingly rare – my friends have heard all about it and more and are probably over the topic.
But sometimes I meet someone new and I get this opportunity to talk about the journey for ages, over one or more bottles of wine. Those moments are really valuable to me, because they give me another opportunity to process it all. And I really appreciate that.
This trip is really over now, it starts to fade away a bit in my memory, though I think there’s probably not an hour every day where I think of something that has happened during this journey, think of someone I have met…
It’s a constant presence in the background, and I think it will never go away.
I will carry it with me.