You can always go home…but it will cost you.
$1,100 (to be exact) and 25 hours of flight time across three continents and, easy! Just like that, I was back home in the states. No matter the cost, it was so worth it.
Landing at the San Francisco airport after a year and four months of being totally, completely, GONE, felt so surreal. I was watching a movie of the previous year all in quick mental flashes. Europe…Asia…South Africa…19 countries and now this place again. Thoughts rushed into my head trying to make sense of the strange emotional response I was having to seeing the “land of the free” again. My home.
Nervousness, excitement and anxiousness filled me up while I took in the eerie familiarity that is San Francisco.
It felt as if an entire lifetime had gone by since I flew out of this same airport at 4 AM in August of last year.
“Did all of that really just happen or did I dream it? Did I really just backpack my way around the world then end up falling in love on another continent?” (Yep, I became the total Eat, Pray, Love cliche. Just like I swore I wouldn’t.)
I brought my South African boyfriend home with me, and here we are…home.
Sitting on the plane waiting to land, I look next to me at Rob, then back out the window over sweeping miles of land and water.
Yep. This is real. Here I am, back home, where everything started, ended, caged me in then set me free. I can feel all the pain I left behind, all the triumphs, but more than anything I feel all the love waiting for me on the other side of this finish line. All the people I’ve been missing, for what feels like forever, are here and I can not wait to see them.
My friend Vanessa is picking us up and coming back to my hometown with us for the weekend, and my heart is bursting with joy. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. Literally bursting with excitement.
This homecoming was a long time coming…to say the least.
“We are on my turf finally!” I said to my boyfriend Rob about five times while we waited for our bags then went outside. We’ve been together over 6 months and it’s always been in his “bubble.” Finally, bringing him back to MY bubble is making me feel more excited than a kid on Christmas. “Here we arrrre!”
I ran outside baggage claim and found Vanessa’s car, running into traffic like an idiot, only caring about giving my friend the biggest hug ever.
Our first stop now that we’re stateside? You guessed it. In n’ Out. My God, I have missed you American gluttony. And In n’ Out…you are the (other) love of my life. (Sorry Rob!) Traveled 19 countries, tried some of the best food in the world. Still can’t stop thinking about animal style fries.
For good measure, we then drove through Starbucks on the way home to my parents house in Redding (four hours of driving after all those flights increased the coffee need-o-meter to the maximum).
You just can’t get this size coffee anywhere else!!
A month in the car (that’s what it felt like) later, when we pulled up to my parents house, Rob said how “typical American” our cul-de-sac appeared, like in the movies. I never would noticed before, but he’s right. Our neighborhood does look American classic, and unlike others I’ve seen in foreign countries. For the first time, I felt wholeheartedly grateful for the modest upper-middle-class street I grew up on. After seeing poverty around the world, I see my home as so much more than I did before. I see it as GOLD. And I see my family as very fortunate. We were never “rich” by any means, but we wanted for nothing- and to most of the world, that IS considered rich. I am humbled and grateful coming back here.
Truly seeing my home through a new set of eyes, we walked in to my parents who greeted me with the widest open arms ever.
My Mom and I…and Rob photobombing. Please excuse the poor picture quality, we were all pretty excited!
My mom cried and I did too. The feeling of seeing my friends and family after such an intense year, felt like letting myself breathe after holding my breath way too long.
Many (happy) tears filled the rest of my time spent at home. I saw those closest to me, and looked at California through my new “global lenses.” I finally appreciated my hometown, Redding, for the natural beauty that it is.
At present, life could not be better.
An added bonus to the whole experience, for me, was that I was finally able to play host and show my boyfriend around my turf. We’ve lived only in his home country and he’s always “the local expert,” which I totally appreciate, but it was nice to be in the driver’s seat for once. For a while, no longer was I the coin American in the room (HE was the foreigner now! haha).
I soaked up and appreciated every small and large luxury that came with being home, especially the time spent with my fellow Americans.
No matter what’s going on in the world, or in our own backyard, I will say this: Americans are some of the most friendly people in the world, and I’ve come to appreciate them (us). Throughout my time abroad, I heard endless complaints about Americans being “too loud,” etc., but you know what? After all that time away, I relish a loud American greeting. Bring it on ya’ll! (Just kidding about the “ya’ll.”. I’m from California, not Texas. You get the point.)
We may have our issues, America, but you sure now how to make a girl feel at home. I found myself appreciating the way the girl at the check out line was smiling for no reason at her customers- something you just DO NOT see in many countries of the world. Politeness and friendliness are taken to a higher level in America. Perhaps I just became extra sensitive to it after visiting some less-than-welcoming countries. Regardless, I was appreciative and felt warm and fuzzy inside.
In order to see as many people as possible (and introduce the boyfriend), Rob and I got in my car and started a road trip from my hometown all the way down to Southern California.
When I got behind the wheel to drive, I squealed loudly with excitement. I hadn’t driven the entire time I traveled, and I never was a very good driver, so you can imagine how happy Rob was to ride in the car with me. (Spoiler alert: We lived!)
We drove my car all the way from Redding (the last city north before you get to Oregon) down to San Diego to visit my sister. We visited friends all along the California coast, exchanging stories and giving big hugs, sometimes sharing happy tears.
It was the best road trip of my life to date.
In driving the length of my home state, I took time to see California in a new, fresh light. It would never look the same as before. As we traveled up and down California visiting people every day for a week, home looked different now…foreign even. It felt comfortable, and uncomfortable at the same time. And, admittedly, I found myself missing Cape Town.
Everything has changed. I changed.
As we drove back up towards San Francisco completing our “tour.” I remembered myself a few years back saying things like: “I could never live outside of California. I just couldn’t. I’m a CALIFORNIA GIRL.” Well, joke’s on me. I didn’t just move out of state…
After my month long visit, I am not sure when/if I will be returning home. For the foreseeable future, Cape Town, South Africa is home.
Now that I’ve really decided to stay here and plant myself, it’s time to switch gears from “Nomadic Backpacker Chick” to “American Expat living in Africa.”
I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but it’s sure to be an interesting chapter of my life and I plan to continue sharing the process, bumps in the road and all.
My world, and I, have changed immensely. And my definition of the word “home” has too.
I realize now that I was never “homeless,” even when I gave up my apartment and belongings to travel, living only with a backpack. I am my home, and right now, I will be in South Africa continuing to create my new life abroad.
Now, seriously, who’s coming to visit?!