Coming back home after a gap-year around (half) the world

07/01/2013

Blog

It’s been nearly 2 months since I came back from my 1 year round (half) the world trip. The first month I was pretty much just busy meeting up with friends to tell them about my experiences and hearing from them what has changed in a year time. You’d think that 1 year is long, but when you’re traveling for a year, everything passes by so fast. When people asked me about some stories and experiences from my trip, I often don’t know where to begin the story. One of the most difficult and rather annoying question is asking me to name my favorite country. I do believe I have a few “favorite” ones, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the countries were bad. I believe that I had a great experiences with each country and it’s people. That’s also why I have this blog up, because eventhough it only represents a small part of what I experienced, it still tells the story better and more detailed.

I do admit, it does feel odd to come back home after so long. And part of me is happy to be back home, but that feeling never really lasts long after you’ve been exposed to everyday adventure for so long. I even start to appreciate the “normal” things around me. My bed, hot shower and even my closet! All the old clothes I had, seems all like new clothes after having only a few pieces to wear for a year. I think it’s that post-travel glow that you have where you look at life and everything else so much more positively.

Looking back at 1 year traveling

The second month back I focused myself on finishing the posts that were left to do on the blog and there were quite a lot as I was hopelessly behind on updates. But it was also refreshing to relive those last months through pictures and blogs. It wasn’t until then that I realised how much I’ve done and seen during the past year. It was really odd to think that I’ve just spent waking up on monday morning walking on the beach and surfing in the afternoon and eating some fresh grilled fish at a local restaurant just a few months ago. It all seems so surreal to me now.

Gili Trawagan - Philippines

Gili Trawagan - Philippines

I set out with a few goals in mind for my trip, but at the same time, I wanted to leave enough room for impulsive decisions and flexibility. Part of that impulsive decision, was deciding to go to South-America without really thinking about it. I’ve always said that the main focus of my trip was Asia, but since I had a few months to spare, I figured I’d go check out South America since some of my friends went there and came back raving about it. So I randomly picked out a few well known cities and countries and off I went for the first part of my trip.

BBQ with Andrea in Buenos Aires - Argentina

BBQ with Andrea in Buenos Aires - Argentina

I was really pleasantly surpised by the hospitality and warmth of the people there, in every country. That’s the best thing about making impulsive decision, you go there with no high expectations, so you won’t be (greatly) disappointed. Just keep an open mind of things and let things come as they are. I’ve tried my best to absorb as much of the local culture in each country I’ve been to. I steered away from fast-food chains most of the time and only ate what the locals ate, using transport that locals use, hanging out where locals hang out. All this with limited local language skills. Before I arrived, I had no knowledge of Portugese and Spanish, but after a good 2 and half months, I could speak a decent word of Portugese and Spanish. At least enough to get around and I’m really glad I did. You experience so much more when you immerse yourself with the locals.

Meeting travelers and locals in Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Meeting travelers and locals in Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Hanging out with creative minds in Valparaiso - Chile

Hanging out with creative minds in Valparaiso - Chile

One of my personal goals was to learn the local dance in each country, or at least try to. I’m not a great dancer myself, but that Latin culture has so much rythm and sense of dance that it’s a must to me. In Rio de Janeiro, I learned the samba from a few local couchsurfers and got down with the best of them on a wild friday night out. In Buenos Aires went to a tango place and even took a few tango classes and in Chili a few local girls taught me the Cueca (a parody of the courtship of a chicken and rooster).

Attempt at samba in Rio de Janeiro

Attempt at samba in Rio de Janeiro

It was also in Chile where I celebrated my first Christmas eve in my life as we aren’t as festive as home while growing up. It was a really refreshing experience eventhough it was low-key. I was staying with a local couchsurfer and her family welcomed me with open arms and they invited me to celebrate the holiday with them. It was really a great personal experience for me and really grateful to them.

Christmas eve in Santiago de Chile - Chile

Christmas eve in Santiago de Chile - Chile

After South-America, I went to the USA to visit some online friends whom I pretty much grew up with and helped me improve my English eventhough it was never my intention. I’ve known them for roughly 7+ years or more but have never met them, so it was really great to finally meet them and hang out in real life after all these years.

NBA MADNESS!!

Long time online friends in Colorado <3

Shinjuku - Tokyo - Japan

Shinjuku - Tokyo - Japan

Japan was the first of many Asian countries I was going to visit. There was no real explanation why focused on Asia, maybe it was because I was Asian and I wanted to know more about my roots, whatever they may be. The challenge with Asia compared to South America was the difference in language and culture which I had to get accustomed to each time. I spent max 1 month in each country, some less. Which means I had to try to learn a new language every few weeks, or try to. It may seem tiring in the beginning, but it’s so rewarding when you manage to talk to locals in their native language. I also feel that you should put the effort in, eventhough it’s not much since things aren’t always written in English.

Traditional kimonos in Kyoto - Japan

Traditional kimonos in Kyoto - Japan

Local advertisement in Seoul - South Korea

Local advertisement in Seoul - South Korea

Bikers in Nha Trang - Vietnam

Bikers in Nha Trang - Vietnam

I don’t wanna get into detail for each individual country, but I totally loved the diversity of all the Asian countries. They each have their own history, culture, language, mentality and people. Each their own charm. Eventhough it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, I still managed to find something good in each place I’ve visited and made tons of new friends along the way.

Celebrating Thai New Year (Songkran) in Bangkok - Thailand

Celebrating Thai New Year (Songkran) in Bangkok - Thailand

Hanging out with local fireman in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Hanging out with local fireman in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Me eating Tamilok (wood worm) in Puerto Princesa

Me eating Tamilok (wood worm) in Puerto Princesa

It’s true, traveling alone is lonely sometimes, but the bright side is that it forces you to go out there and meet new people and talk to people and get to know them. I’ve met tons of great people during my trip and eventhough we’ve only spent a few days with eachother, they were great moments. We all share the same pashion for traveling and taste for adventure and motivate and push eachother to do something out of our own comfort zone which I’m grateful for. The hard part is to say goodbye to these new friends, eventhough the internet makes it easier to stay in touch. And it’s not just other travelers, I’ve hung out with locals through Couchsurfing and at times, I wish I lived there so I could hang out with them more often in the future.

Cliff jumping and hiking in Sai Kung - Hong Kong

Cliff jumping and hiking in Sai Kung - Hong Kong

Party people down at Puerto Princesa - Philippines

Party people down at Puerto Princesa - Philippines

Shenanigans in Vang Vieng - Laos

Shenanigans in Vang Vieng - Laos

I really made it my goal to experiences things as much as a local. One of the major events on the planning was to celebrate Thai New Year, Song Kran. To me it was just a huge waterfight in Bangkok, but I had tons of fun and learned a lot more about the celebration in the surrounding countries as well. I just love the overal Asian culture and traditions, it engulves so much past history passed from generation to generation.

Getting lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore

Hanging out with CS Jakarta - Indonesia

Hanging out with CS Jakarta - Indonesia

Bamboo train in Battambang - Cambodia

Bamboo train in Battambang - Cambodia

me at Dilips place in Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

me at Dilips place in Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

I’ve learned so much the past year from the travelers and locals I’ve met along the way. They showed me that pretty much everything is possible if you put your heart to it, no idea is too outrageous, you just need to get over that “impossible” thinking bump and ANYTHING will be possible.

Getting drenched in Foz de Iguazu - Argentina

Getting drenched in Foz de Iguazu - Argentina

Now what?

After 1 year of traveling, it’s hard to pick up your life where you left it. You know what else is possible rather than just staying in your old life. I’ve thought about relocating to somewhere else and continue the rest of my career/life there. But that takes some planning as well and I feel it’s an even bigger step than simply traveling there. The good thing is that you’ll always have something to fall back on when you come back I guess. I’ve thought about teaching English for a few years in Vietnam or even Japan. Maybe could even get my dive master certificate so I could travel around and work as a dive master, combining my hobby with my job and live on the beach. How great does that sound?!

Gili Trawagan - Philippines

In the beginning, during the post-travel glow, I thought it was possible, it still is, but there are other consequences as well. I’ve often talked about social pressure where you’re forced to grow up and settle down, get a decent job, save for a house, get married and all that. But eventhough I don’t like to give in to conformity, I do feel the pressure to follow. I’m getting older as well and feel that at one point I need to decide what to do with my life and start working towards it.

For now, I will take it easy, but the idea and taste of adventure is still lingering in the back of my mind. So for the time being, I’ll be a good little boy and start working and thinking about my future, but once opportunity arrises I can’t promise to sit still! I wanted to wait to finish all my blog posts before I can start to move on from my trip. To be honest, I haven’t even really finished unpacking my backpack. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but part of me just doesn’t want to let those good times end, but with this, I think I can store away those good memories from the past year and start on a new chapter in my life which I think will even bring me to higher places! SO POETIC IT HURTS!

Finally, I think everyone should go out there and experience what I did. I’m not a miracle worker or someone amazing, just your average traveler. Tons of people actually do it, you just need to be willing and brave enough to take the step and I promise you, you won’t regret it, you’ll just get more hooked to it.

This isn’t the end of Asian Backpacker, I’m not sure yet what to do with it, but I won’t let it fade for sure. I might update it with some short trips during the year, or I’ll get some other Asian Backpacker guest bloggers. Just stick around and see what happens. ;)

Back home with the family after 1 year

Back home with the family after 1 year

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About Alex Yip

Alex Yip is a web enthusiast who put his online marketing career on hold to travel around the world for a year. This blog is his virtual journal and logbook to keep people updated on his backpacking adventures on the road.

View all posts by Alex Yip