“So, what now?”

Orlando, Florida, USA

One year and six days, seven countries, two jobs and one volunteer position later, I am home with my parents safe and sound in Bay Hill, Orlando, Florida. I made it home on Aug 16.

Being showered with kisses by my dogs, Bella and Ginger, in my bedroom the evening I arrived
Dinner with family & friends at the Bay Hill Country Club

“So, what now?” asked almost everyone I’ve seen since I’ve been home. I can’t be annoyed though because I know it’s only out of curiosity and is completely expected.

Short answer: I don’t know but I’m figuring it out.

People always want answers, don’t they? I can’t blame them. I’m one of them. I always want to know what my friends are thinking and where they’re headed next. But for some reason when it comes to ourselves, the question of “What’s next?” is intimidating and scary. We feel like we have to shoot an answer back right away that makes it sound like we have it all planned out. Well, after a year of pretty much “playing it by ear,” and having it work out to be the best year I have ever had, I am so much more comfortable saying “I don’t know.” I have ideas and long-term goals, yes, but when it comes to knowing what my next five years will bring, or heck, even my next five months, I don’t have an answer for you yet. But give me some time and I’ll get back to you on that.

Everyone is in awe of the travels. When you’re traveling, you are ten times more interesting. You have Instagram and Facebook pictures showcasing some of the most beautiful places in the world, you have stories to tell that people at home have only dreamed of, and your cultural knowledge and wisdom are increasing every day. Everybody has admiration for you. But when the adventure ends, what happens? Who are you? Where do you go? Or in other words, how do you manage to get your sh** together? I actually think post-travel is one of the most important and fascinating parts of the whole travel experience. It is a time you get to realize how you’ve changed, view everyday situations and societal habits from a new perspective, and think about what you learned and how you can apply them to life here on out. I imagine that the choices I make and the person I decide to be during this time could have more of an impact on my life than I possibly could’ve predicted. It’s the crossroads and it’s the opportunity to begin again in any direction I choose.

Coming back home, I felt I could do one of two things: go back to my old routines, habits and attitudes I had before I left, or use the lessons and thoughts that came with all my experiences throughout this past year and figure out a way to make myself better because of them. I am still working on it but I truly do believe I am better. I feel calmer, fuller and more appreciative of the simple things. I practice mediation, I think (more) before I speak, I eat better (except for when I’m devouring the foods I’ve missed), I exercise every day, I wake up early and I make time to write reflections like this. I still have plenty to work on and get anxious now and then when I think about the life I want to live and how I’m going to get there but who doesn’t? Above all, I am happy with who I am, what I have and where I’m headed. I feel so elated about the greatness and opportunity in the world and feel I’ve learned the discipline to celebrate it and contribute to it. I think that makes me somewhat successful… or at least it’s a good start.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve spent most days with my Mom and Dad around the house making up for lost time and enjoying each other’s company. But we’ve also managed to get out a bit by meeting up with family friends and taking a short 2-night trip down to our beach condo in Pine Island. I’ve gotten to reunite with my brother and sister-in-law and celebrate all the incredible things happening in their lives. Not only are they expecting a baby in February but my brother has a new job that seems to make him really happy. I’ve gotten to shower my dog Ginger and the new one, Bella, with love. I’ve gotten to reconnect with old friends, from college and from childhood, who are all learning to be adults and starting out their careers. I’ve talked on the phone with family friends and extended family who are all celebrating big life events as well such as sending my cousins to college. And I’ve even had a FaceTime convo with a girl from UF who is just about to begin her own journey to Australia. Through it all, I’ve gotten to share more and more stories about my travels and have gotten to think more and more about where I may be headed.

Giving my brother and sister-in-law the Thai dress I bought for their soon-to-be little girl

I felt a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of my arrival to Orlando but with every day, I have learned to adjust and find comfort with where I am now. I recently accepted a temporary assignment with Heart of Florida United Way to keep me busy for the next month and am setting myself up here for the time being. It’s not the pristine beaches of the Sunshine Coast or the green mountains of Northern Thailand but it’s home, or as like to think of it, the gateway to the next life adventure. Thanks to my incredibly supportive parents and friends, I can feel at ease during this major transition in my life. More wild ideas are brewing but I’ll save those for another time.

To all those I haven’t gotten to catch up with yet, I am so looking forward to it. I may not be able to give you much about where I’m headed quite yet but ask me where I’ve been and I won’t stop talking.

– Annaleigh





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