1. Ditching the backpack: Oh my. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a purse until I got home. My backpack held up like a champ over the year, but I missed having the freedom of carrying around a small bag with you wherever you go. Also: not having to lug around a giant backpack in hot weather on the way to the bus station.

I also missed not having to carefully think about how much space I had and where I was putting my stuff. When traveling, especially when in hostel dorms, you can’t just throw your clothes everywhere or leave your toiletries somewhere accessible. You have to fold everything in a precise way so that the Tetris-jigsaw situation that is your backpack will still zipper closed.

2. Ordering things from Amazon (or online in general): Need a new hairbrush? Hard drive broke? Just order a new one on Prime! Easy!

Yeah-huh, not when you’re switching addresses every day and your hostel is on top of a favela.

The legendary dragons of Ljubljana, Slovenia

3. Real chocolate chip cookies: People have this idea that America is just a hot-mess of pepperoni pizza and orange chicken and copycat cultural flair and to those people I have to say: BEHOLD! THE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE! A brief history lesson, if you will. The dear, beloved, chocolate chip cookie was invented by an American in 1938. This turned out to be the original Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe, which explains why 1.) Tollhouse has continued to create an unparalleled brand of cookie for the last century and 2.) you cannot find a good chocolate chip cookie outside of the U.S. Tollhouse rocks all things sweets, but at least in the U.S., their legacy lives on in independent bakeries and stores around the country. Have you ever had a Safeway cookie?! It’s life-changing. LIFE. CHANGING.

Point being: the grand gift-on-the-world that is the American chocolate chip cookie, has yet to take stage in any other country. I mean this literally. My body is composed of 55% water, 25% mass, and 20% cookie dough, so it’s absolutely necessary that I consume at least one cookie a week. While abroad this proved difficult—I cut down my consumption to once a month (who knows what damage I’ve done to my body!), and every time I thought I might be reunited with my beloved creme-de-la-creme dessert, I was foiled.

Too dry. Not buttery enough. Crumbles upon first bite. Where were the chewy, chocolatey, crispy-edged cookies that my childhood foundation was built upon?

I digress. I would just like to point out that every country around the world has seemed to adopt American customs and traditions in stride (see: Diet Coke and tater tots) and some, even better than we have (see: Korean fried chicken and McDonald’s, like, everywhere).

And yet somehow, the humble home-baked chocolate chip cookie has yet to appear on shelves anywhere else.

(When people ask me if I’d ever take another longterm trip again, sometimes I hesitate to say yes, because I honestly just don’t know if I can handle another year of this.)

Details at Jinli Pedestrian Street in Chengdu, China

4. Normal toilets: Oh-em-gee. I missed having ordinary public restroom experiences SO MUCH (Japan, you are the sole exception here with your robot toilet inventions raised straight out of a 2080 dystopian film). Toilets abroad are almost always: 1.) lacking toilet paper 2.) lacking a toilet seat 3.) pay-for-only (especially frustrating when you never carry around coins) 4.) require manual flushing (i.e., pour a bucket of water over your poop when you finish) 5.) a literal hole in the ground. Or, not uncommonly, all of the above.

This isn’t to talk trash on the living conditions in other countries; I have so much respect for the people who are able to get by (and those who aren’t) on these standards. It’s just that I also now have a very, very strong appreciation of how differently things are run in the U.S.

5. Working out every day: Okay, so I’m still not back on track with this one, but I do miss the days where I was at the gym every morning. You can, of course, workout no matter where you are, but it’s a lot more difficult when you don’t have a gym membership and your hostel dorm is the size of a closet and it’s already 95 degrees outside before you’ve even had your morning coffee.

I missed when working out was easy.

Making friends in Cusco, Peru

6. Plugging things into the wall without an adapter: This classifies as “the little things in life”. I didn’t realize how much I missed a classic U.S. three-pronged-outlet until I plugged in my computer for the first time back home without needing anything to connect it with. #blessed

7. Grocery shopping and cooking: I’m sure I’m gonna get a lot of raised eyebrows for admitting this but I find grocery shopping to be a great time, almost meditative to an extent. It’s like the answer to all problems in life. Stressed? Go grocery shopping. Bored? Go grocery shopping. Overwhelmed? Light a candle and put on some Netflix. Oh, and also go grocery shopping.

I don’t even need to go cart-heavy on every trip (because who has the money and/or stomach for that) but even just browsing the Trader Joe’s new arrivals section or running in for a bag of cherries totally rocks my world. The idea of settling down and domesticating in the suburbs one day becomes a little less anxiety-inducing when I realize it means that I get to go grocery shopping all the time.

There are of course grocery stores in other countries, and they can be a lot of fun to navigate and explore when you first arrive on foreign soil (especially in East Asia), but there’s something about filling your freezer with lazy-day emergency TV dinners and building your tea collection that you just can’t get when you’re on the road full-time.

A full-stocked fridge is just a beautiful thing (especially when you’re not required to carefully label everything with your full name and date of checkout), and I missed waking up in the morning, grabbing a few eggs, and throwing together whatever vegetables were in the fridge to make an omelet. Or even just having more spices to work with than just salt.

Local market in Bologna, Italy

8. Having more than six outfits: I find it funny that I’m adding this here, because really, I only ever wear just as many outfits when I’m home. Go figure. It just feels a lot more restraining when you don’t have the choice. And a lot of the clothes I brought with me were, well, of a more “practical” nature (i.e., no ripped jeans or heeled booties).

9. No data, phone number, and terrible wifi: Okay, so I realized that I don’t actually need data that much. Except to load GIFs on my Instastory posts, but we all have to make sacrifices.

Not having reliable wifi was the true killer: if I can’t check messages while I’m out or look up a good restaurant for dinner, fine, I can work around that. But it’s awful when you get back to your hostel and realize you can’t even connect to the wifi. Not being connected is especially inconvenient when you arrive in Fes at 3am and have no way to locate or contact your hostel (and there’s a creepy Moroccan guy following you around insisting that if you just tell him the exact address of where you’re staying, he’ll help you find the place. Uh-huh).

This is also an appropriate time to bring up the fact that NOT HAVING A PHONE NUMBER SUCKS. You’d think that this wouldn’t really matter, not with all the FaceTime-Skype-Messanger shenanigans going on in our modern world. As it turns out, your phone number is the verification method for any and all suspicious activity. And guess what? When you’re in another country, EVERYTHING YOU DO ONLINE IS SUSPICIOUS. Also, I couldn’t even download WhatsApp. Fun fact: everyone in the world uses WhatsApp.

Sampling bánh bèo in Hue, Vietnam

10. Family, friends, and familiar people who know about your life: I also really missed going out with friends. Joel and I didn’t drink much over the last year, mostly because there wasn’t much of a point when you’re socializing exclusively with strangers. I know some people live for this stuff, and it can be a fun time when you’re with a larger group of friends, but it’s just not my jam. For me, nightlife has never been about meeting new people (although if that happens in the process, that’s great!). It’s about staying up late with friends, talking about anything and everything that’s been on your mind. It’s about occasionally going a little overboard and still sharing those memories and stories years later. It’s about spending time with people you love.

I’m sure things would be different if I were single. But I’m not. And so going out has a very different connotation to me than it does to other people, and I missed being able to do it with the people I already know.

11. True downtime: Sure, you can sit around on your bum all day when you’re in a foreign city, but try that for more than half a day and watch the guilt start to creep. When you’re home, you’re allowed to relax off of work hours (not that I’m ever relaxed, but hey, at least it’s a little less gnawing than when you’re out and about in the world).

Hellbrun Castle, filming location for The Sound of Music, in Salzburg, Austria

12Having time to plan and reflect: This is one of the biggest downsides when taking an extended trip. When you’re constantly in “go mode”, you’re always focused on the next country while in the previous. There’s no in-between, no space from here to there.

I love planning my trips. I know there are a lot of people out there who swear by the buy-a-one-way-and-see-what-happens method, but I’m not one of them. And I was forced a lot of the time to become that person, because I just didn’t have the time or mental strength to always be in planning mode. I needed breaks. But the trip was moving forward whether I was ready or not. And often times, we’d be planning the next country before I even had time to process what happened in the last.

Having space between experiences is important. It gives us time to understand and reflect on our past and dream about the future. I’m excited to get back to that now that I’m home, and now that many of my upcoming trips are one-week to two-week stints.

(Let’s see if I still feel the same a few months from now. ;))

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