Chicago: July 5-10, 2017
California: July 10-21, 2017 | Sept 17-24, 2017
Since we began our nomadic travel adventures, our annual trips home have become like an intermission – a pause in our new life abroad, a reflection on our past life, and a look ahead to future possibilities. It’s much like a washer to a bolt. It fastens our experiences together and tightens (or sometimes loosens) the bonds we’ve left behind at home.
Our initial return in July 2017 was also our first time back on American soil in the New America. The America that fell into the hands of an egomaniac as the evolutionary result of the proud ignorance that emanates from the American populace. After departing from our smooth and relaxing 7-hour flight across the Atlantic from Lisbon to Boston on TAP Portugal, we were welcomed to the jarring scenes of the unfortunate circumstance, accompanied by the blaring sounds of CNN Airport “News.”
Every other handful of steps separated above by signs of “Welcome to the United States of America” followed by scenes of this unfortunate reality. It was this reality that brought me to a state of rage and tears on the appalling night back in November 2016. And now this was the first real time, I had to live with it on a second-by-second, minute-by-minute basis.
The quantity and pitch of infotainment blared into the ears and flashed in front of the eyes of arrivals to America is wretched. It was absolutely inescapable during my 4-5 hour layover at Boston International Airport that beautiful, sun-lit afternoon. At every turn there were screens blaring, newspapers screaming headlines, and more than enough sidebars conversations going on in the waiting areas, that I simply had to walk around constantly with my headphones in my ear. I was back in the comfort of “home” but felt complete discomfort.
An intermission is supposed to be a pause, a quiet moment of reflection. My first few hours back in the States were anything but that. Fortunately, I was off to Chicago in a couple of hours, which would provide a nice 4-day escape away from the noise and nonsense that has pervaded public spaces in what has become the “Divided States of America.”
Chicago – Conquering Two Birds But Throwing No Stones
In 2016, after our first 3-month stay in Europe, my wife and I both visited Chicago for my annual trip home. It’s a trip that I’ve been taking for at least 1 week annually for the past 20 years. It allows me the perfect amount of quality time with family and friends before I start to feel cramped, and beset by the feelings and memories of why I decided to leave Chicago (not once but twice) many years ago. I love my people but the place no longer feels like my home.
Yet, during our time away this past year, we missed the arrival of 4 newborns in our circle of friends and family in California. So to give my wife ample time to visit her friends and family on the West Coast, we split up in Boston – she flew the rest of the night to arrive in San Jose, California and I landed in Chicago before the sun set on July 5th.
Quite honestly, the time I spend in Chicago is simply never quite enough. Perhaps it’s because I make sure to leave before I reach the saturation point. I leave satiated but not saturated. It’s a fine balance to achieve. But I love it this way because I get quality time and attention with those that I love and whom I’ve kept in touch with over the 20 years of annual visits. But there are two significant differences between my visits to Chicago than those to California.
First, nothing in Chicago is planned (for the most part). I don’t need to set a schedule or send a calendar invite to make time. I can simply show up at someone’s house and just hang. Whether it’s playing basketball or a doing a push-up challenge with the kids in the backyard or laying on the couch and watching a basketball game on television, or simply hanging out at a kitchen table talking about whatever comes to mind, my times in Chicago are simple yet enormously fulfilling.
The second (and at this point, perhaps most important) difference between my time in Chicago and California is that NO ONE in Chicago (well, except for my mom) ever says to me, “You’ve been traveling for long enough, it’s time to come home.” Everyone in Chicago clearly knows that it is no longer my home and has adjusted to my life “away” for the last 20-ish years. I can’t say the same for those in California.
California – 1,100 Miles or Bust
Whereas my time in Chicago is slower and simpler, my time in California is the complete opposite. From the moment, I hop into the rental car to the time I drop it off – nearly a week later – every 2-4 hours is scheduled. Ironically, in California I feel more at peace and at ease. It’s been this way since I first moved to the state in 2004. Every time I returned to it, I felt alive, full of energy, and excited to be back. It was how I knew that I would never intend to move back to Chicago. But as I alluded to previously, life in California (especially, Northern California) is more organized and hectic.
All of my close friends, clients, and family are spread across an area as far north as 100 miles from San Jose, 150 miles east of San Jose, and 250 miles south of San Jose. It’s both my duty and challenge to cover all of this ground during my now annual 7-10 day returns. Fortunately, I learned my lesson from the previous year’s return, and decided to slow things down a bit and split key visits across the two periods that we’d be visiting in the area in July and September.
At the very least, I’m honored that our folks in California carve out time in their hectic lives to make quality time for us. Sure, things tend to be more formally arranged but in some ways it allows for more focused time together. It forces us to find creative ways to enjoy time together – whether it be spending an evening together in the middle of the week, attending broader family functions on the weekends, meeting up for a quick brunch or wine tasting, or simply finding an hour to enjoy a mini-hike in the neighborhood, folks make time for us in their hectic lives and we appreciate these moments to strengthen our bonds.
Ding! – “Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s Time to Return to Your Seats”
And so the warning bell tolled on our “intermission” at the end of September. When we departed in July for our two-month stay in Medellin, it was easier knowing that we’d be back in California soon. It probably felt (for everyone else) like an extended weekend trip for us, in terms of separation. Life happens so fast in California that two months can feel like two weeks. Yet, as we readied to depart for our second stint of living in Asia, we found a moment to walk and reflect in one of favorite spots. It’s the place where our dreams sprouted and where we would often go to plan out our life abroad.
Now, nearly 1.5 years into the experience, we took a moment in the park to reflect about recent trips abroad, our experiences back at home, and our future. Even though every thing back in California was on the upswing – the economy, housing market, job market, and the birth of new offspring – we knew in our heart of hearts that we weren’t ready to come back to daily life there. It’s one thing to visit in short bursts, spending quality time with family and friends, yet it’s another thing to come back into the frenetic pace of life. The high cost of living, the traffic, the frequent droughts, the “random” acts of violence that have practically become normally accepted, and the proud ignorance that dictates the public discourse.
For us, to live abroad gives us the space and pace that provides comfort on a daily basis. The visits home are great as they allow for quality time, focused attention, and a deeper appreciation of the limited time we have to fulfill our life dreams. Whereas being back (beyond the point of satiation to reach the point of saturation) regenerates the stresses, emotions, anxieties, and costs (in both time and money) of daily life.
After two brief stints back in the States, the sun set on both our time and the day. We departed on our favorite flight to Asia – the red-eye Singapore Airlines (SQ02) flight to Hong Kong – losing a day in our lives but gaining something priceless. Re-entering our bubble of comfort may sound odd to those with a fixed lifestyle and place of residence. It may seem that our life abroad is hectic and uncertain. Ironically, it is anything but that. The challenge, though, continues to be how to maximize the time and opportunities that this style of life creates. We knew we needed to return to Chiang Mai to help address some of our open questions – one of which being, might we have found at least one medium-term destination?
On that infamous aforementioned day back in November 2016, I joked with friends as we silently (and subconsciously) protested by enjoying our first meal together as new friends and Americans abroad at a Mexican restaurant. The paradox was that prior to this infamous day, I said that if the nightmare result occurred that we might just stay out of the States for the next 4 years.
Now it’s not a joke, it’s our reality. Even though there are many other life questions that emerged for us as we began our second stint of life in Asia, we resigned to the fact that we cannot stand divided in our pursuit of life goals – wherever these goals may take us. Instead, as we walked through the jet-way and peered out the window at mountainous landscape of Chiang Mai, Thailand, we were welcomed back to life in our second city, and we welcomed the opportunity to continue to define our life on our terms.
Read more Tales from the Nomadic Adventure and find out where we’ll be in the coming months.