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17 countries. 259 days. Thousands of miles. 67 blog posts. 56 books. 1 stolen wallet. A million new friends. And I’m finally home.

 

I’m writing this from my place in Toronto with only a vague shimmer of a realization of what has happened to me over the past nine months. I have sat down to write this final entry so many times and yet… nothing. Even now I’m fighting the urge to put down the pen and turn on the TV or pour another cup of tea. It’s funny how quickly you settle back down into “life.”

 

The future is uncertain. Maybe that’s the reason I’m so against closing up this past. And although once again I’m going to find myself on the move – to the UK in the fall – there’s no ticket showing me where I’m going to end up and that’s disconcerting. But I am the eternal optimist.

 

I think no matter how much they try to deny it, all travellers are optimists. Only an optimist could stand on the side of the road and know that the next bus, bike, pick-up truck or car will take them to their next destination. Only optimists go alone to the middle of nowhere knowing they are sure to meet a kindred spirit in a bar to stave off the loneliness of “far from home.” Only an optimist can be sure that the very last dollar in their bank account is worth spending on yet another bus ride to yet another place. You have to know it will all work out alright, or else you wouldn’t have left in the first place.

 

Looking back over Sarah and my travel blogs is hilarious – it’s amazing what has changed and what has stayed the same. Team J-A-S broke up early on.  At least half of my original packing list got trashed in Africa and had to be replaced in Australia. We not only made it to the Aussie Open but scored incredible seats. My first reference to Lofty is as “a friend from Stray bus.”  The most useful item I brought with me turned out to be my sarong.

 

One thing I did get right is that this trip changed my life. One thing I got wrong is that this was a “once in a lifetime.” I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve caught the bug! Travel will always be high on my priority list. South America calls, as does China, Japan, the Middle East and most accessibly, Europe. Is that the whole world yet?

 

My favourite country was New Zealand, followed closely by Zimbabwe (just don’t get me started on Mugabe). My favourite city was Cape Town, then Melbourne. The best island was Zanzibar. The best beach Matai Bay in northern NZ. The best dive in Fiji. The most relaxing moment? A tie between gliding through the Okavango Delta in a makoro and having a Thai massage on Chaweng beach. Finally, the scariest moments: standing on the edge of Bloukrans Bridge, rolling a car outside Brisbane and approaching the bone-filled stupa at the Cheung-Ek Killing Fields.

 

I learned so much – how to scuba dive, how to survive in the desert, how to surf, how to sky dive, how to make a killer tom yum gai soup, what to do if a lion/rhino/elephant starts to charge you. The Oasis tour in Africa was fantastic and I made so many friends for life. I would recommend it to anyone. For that matter, I would recommend travelling to everyone.

 

Compared to the hundreds of travellers I met on my trip, it’s not as if I had a more exciting itinerary than anyone; tried harder to get off the beaten track; visited more remote islands and exotic places; felt more alive or been closer to death. Most of them are still going and I am back home. But that’s the beauty of it. I know how accessible the world is, now. It can happen for anyone. It could happen for you, if it’s what you truly want to do.

 

Final words of travel wisdom? Trek towels stink. Exchange books at secondhand stores. Never refuse an invitation. Remember that – just as rules are made to be broken – plans are made to be changed.

 

Always use the hostel kitchen. You never know who you might meet.

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