A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

The Adventure Begins

Bittersweet excitement

sunny 35 °C


It's hard to believe the time has come for our trip to begin. I know I'm supposed to feel excited about the start of this great adventure, and I am, just a little bit. But I'm feeling mostly sad that my love affair with Chicago has to come to an end. I've been running around like a headless chook trying to get everything organized, and I just want some time to sit, do nothing and recover. I've been in a blur of packing, selling/donating almost all of my belongings, wrapping up work, and frantically searching for a shipping company; all whilst trying to make the most of the Chicago summer with my friends. After constantly having a thousand things on my to-do list, it's weird to now switch to traveling mode.


My little cousin, Vincent, whom I'm doing the trip with, came for my last week as a Chicagoan. Amongst the packing frenzy, I was able to do some sight-seeing around the city with him. This made me to look through rose-tinted glasses and appreciate Chicago for the wonderful city it is. It has the perks of a big city, but the down-to-earth vibe of a small one. The gorgeous lakefront with the stunning skyline as a backdrop constantly reminds me what a beautiful place it is to live. I love that I haven't needed a car since living here, with the public transport well set up and running so frequently. I love all the triathlon, marathon and all the other fantastic training groups and events to choose from. But most of all, I love all the amazing friends I've made.


Before I came to the US, I had a few stereotypes in my head of Americans - the Hollywood valley girl, the redneck, and the uptight New York big-shot. But what isn't portrayed in American TV shows/movies, and less well-known is the warm, welcoming and friendly nature of the Mid-West. It may be easier for me being a foreigner, but I was quickly befriended by a lot of great people. Without realizing, I now have a strong support network of friends who are there to help me through the transition, and be sad with me about my departure. It's sad to being saying bye to my Chicago family, but as cliche as it sounds, I know it's just a "see ya later". After moving from Melbourne, I've learnt that the friendships that matter will stay strong despite the distance. With Skype, Whatsapp and other cool technology, I know that keeping in touch will be easy.


So here I am, finally embarking on The Trip of a Lifetime. I have fleeting moments of panic. I feel flickers of regret for turning down my company's offer to transfer back to Melbourne in order to embark on this journey. And I'm feeling way too old to be backpacking and "slumming" it in hostels. But, it's too late to back-out now, and I know, deep down, this is what I need. It'll be character-building, right?


Our first stop was supposed to be DC, but a few weeks ago we had to change it to Montreal because of my Visa. I was super unorganized and left to the last minute validating the grace period for staying in the States after my last day at work. I'd vaguely remembered someone telling me it was 28 days, so i wasn't too phased. To my surprise, my employer's lawyers informed me that when "legal aliens" on the E3 Visa terminate employment with their sponsor, it is advised to leave the US immediately. I couldn't quite trust the information, so I contacted a few other immigration lawyers for some second and third opinions. They all said the same thing. So three weeks out from our trip, we had to reroute the east-coast portion of our route so that I don't outstay my welcome. Knock on wood that I'll be allowed back in with no issues.

As a result of my schedule-obsession (I'm a Project Manager, afterall!), we have a pretty firm itinerary. But aside from flights and accommodation, we haven't planned anything else. That counts as spontaneity, right? Our itinerary will be:

1. Montreal
2. Boston
3. NYC
4. Washington DC
5. Glacier National Park
6. Yellowstone National Park
7. Grand Tetons
8. Seattle
9. Vancouver
10. San Fran
11. Yosemite
12. Austin
13. Orlando
14. Chile
15. Argentina
- Back to Chicago
16. Auckland
17. Melbourne

First stop, Montreal!

Posted by always_explore 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged chicago Comments (0)


Leaving the comfort zone to embark on a new adventure

sunny 29 °C

Summer in Chicago is having time be on fast-forward. 3 months can feel like a short couple of weeks. It feels like yesterday that I made the decision to quit my job and travel before “repatriating” to Australia. There have been months and months of preparation leading up to today, yet it still doesn't feel real that in a couple of weeks, Chicago is technically no longer "home", in the sense of where I live.

After calling Chicago home for 3.5 years, my apartment is now empty with all furniture sold and all my belongings crammed into boxes and a few suitcases. The key milestones have been reached - one-way ticket is booked, broken the news to my family that I'm quitting my job and traveling, and handed in my notice. My beloved bike is dismantled and boxed, and all my favorite photos and artwork off the walls and carefully wrapped into boxes. Despite all these painful processes, leaving Chicago is not yet part of my reality.

A common question I get is, "Why are you leaving?" It's a hard question to answer because its not that I hate living here. I love this city and feel completely assimilated and at home as a Chicagoan. I've learnt how to adjust my accent and use words so that people can better understand me. Learnt that the red line smells like pee, and which el stops/lines to avoid. Learnt which times the lake front path is the worst death trap of tourists, rollerbladers, marathon runners and cyclists. Learnt that if the waitress gives you the wrong or unsatisfactory order, you can send it back. The list goes on - all the small and novelty, to large and life-changing, quirks of Chicago. There have been times when I've felt conflicted in my decision - mostly when I'm with good friends either at a great concert or delicious dinner that was super affordable, or taking advantage of the easy access to travel being in the US. But my need to be close to my family outweighs it all. In April, my dog of 13 years passed away. Not long after that, it was the Boston bombings. These two key events validated for me that moving home to be closer to my family is the right decision. And let's be honest, I probably couldn't have survived another Chicago winter, no matter how "mild" it is :)

It's still hard to feel completely comfortable with the decision, as I now feel I am Chicagoan first and Melbournian second. I hadn't heard the term "repatriation" until recently, when I started planning for the transition back to Melbourne. It helps to know there a term for it - makes it feel more...tangible...if that even makes sense. As irrational as it sounds, its a bit scary to think of assimilating back to Melbourne life. Most of my friends in Melbourne are moving in with significant others, getting married, buying houses and adding pets to their family. I'm quitting (what society considers) a great job to travel for 3 months, and I'll be returning "home" to live with family, unemployed and broke. I know I can't compare, yet I still do and envy the grass being greener over there.

What has helped is an article that described "re-entry shock". It is "when home just does not feel like home anymore". It helps to know these despondent feelings have been experienced by others before. Also, I know that just because I'm going back to Melbourne, doesn't mean it's forever. I can always come back to Chicago, or even go somewhere else. It's just right for right now. I know I have a lot to figure out, but I'll get there in my own way and in my own time.

All this talk about "home" reminds me of the TED talk by Pico Iyer, where his words ring true - "Where you come from now is much less important than where you're going...and home, we know, is not just the place where we happen to be born. It's the place where you become yourself".

Posted by always_explore 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged home chicago repatriation Comments (0)

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