I had been dreaming peacefully – well, as peacefully as one can when riding a sweltering overnight bus along winding roads of Ecuador with a TV blasting low-budget murder movies – when I suddenly woke in a panic. My backpack – it was gone.
¿Dónde está mi mochila? I asked the man in the seat behind me, who happened to be awake at 2 a.m. Suspicious.
He shrugged, shaking his head. When I had gone to sleep I had looped it around my ankle so if anyone took it I would wake up. Obviously, my plan had not worked.
The driver must have seen me searching under the seats for it, when he came over and pointed to the rack above my head. Apparently, he had been trying to do me a favor, not knowing how I usually slept with one eye open on these buses guarding my things.
I gave him a wry smile, taking my bag down from the shelf and hugging it. I was exhausted, not just from lack of sleep, but from traveling in general. From having to sleep on uncomfortable buses while hugging my purse, having to make new friends and say goodbye to them three days later, constantly being lost, craving pork chops and meatloaf and not being able to take a hot bubble bath and read a trashy novel. I loved culture shock more than anything, but after awhile it could really make you appreciate home.I stared out the window, envisioning the mountains and lakes transforming into flat highways and fast-food restaurants. I’m usually not the type to get homesick. I’ve never felt particularly lonely or scared, and even when I miss home I never let it ruin my trip. At this moment, however, my mind was wandering to a place where comfort was the norm. It was a place I hadn’t been in three months.
What’s funny was, the things that were exhausting me were also the things I usually craved when traveling. Heading out on a trip without any plans, getting lost in new cities, sampling foods I’d never heard of, trying to communicate with locals and “roughing it” with just a barely-filled backpack – this was the point of traveling. To get away from the comforts of home, pack light and learn about the local way of life.
And, it still was; however, that didn’t mean I wasn’t really starting to appreciate the life I lived at home. Deciding on a late-night snack, I pulled out a small bag of fresh cheese and biscuits. As I attempted to slice the mushy cheese using a pen, my mind flashed to La Roma, a pizza place in walking distance from my house on Long Island. Crispy crust topped with bubbling cheese, chunks of meat and plump vegetables. What I wouldn’t give for a slice.
I tried to will the thought away, feeling guilty. It was as if travel was my boyfriend and I was mentally cheating on him with my lover, home. With home, there was no trying to find undiscovered cafes or underground bars. I was the local, so I already knew them. While I had been traveling through South America trying to find unusual landscapes and historical sites, there was so much of that on Long Island that I took for granted. With home, I had my routine, my Sunday hip hop classes and Friday happy hours with friends. I could walk three blocks to get my favorite Snickers Italian ice, and was always fully stocked with almonds, pretzels and peanut butter, three staples of my diet. With home, it was always comfortable.
Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty for appreciating home. It doesn’t mean I love travel any less. However, home came first, and has been there all along. No matter how far away I go, or how much I change as a person, it will always there waiting for me as if I never left. And for that, I am grateful.