Growing up I had always envied my friends with mid-year birthdays, being able to tie balloons to your backpack and bring in cupcakes for the class. But on the flip-side, having a mid-August birthday meant I was lucky enough to celebrate wherever my family was vacationing that summer.
A couple younger birthdays were spent on the island of Kauai. Exhausting days spent waterskiing, swimming and finishing the evening with the “Mustang Sally” sundae at the corner ice cream store.
My 17th was one of the most memorable, celebrating with my family in Morocco. The waiters of the hotel had constructed a type of Mediterranean cake and did their best version of Happy Birthday.
I don’t say these things to brag. Only to reflect that after years of celebrating getting older abroad, I should be used to it. In fact, spending birthdays abroad are kind of a metaphor for my life at the moment. Birthdays in another country are undoubtedly exciting and usually full of adventure. But what does it really mean to turn another year old if you can’t celebrate with the people who know you? Who’ve seen you grow up, evolve and mature?
I say that this is a metaphor for my life right now because as I continue to travel, I’m learning that I can’t have my birthday cake and eat it too. Traveling long-term and spending quality time with my friends and family are, unfortunately, contradictory. This year, for example, my birthday was action packed. Jules surprised me by taking us to a salsa class, then we went on a factory tour of my favorite rum and capped off the day by getting drunk with our hostel mates and dancing the night away. It was possibly the perfect travel birthday. Culture, dancing and lots of Nicaraguan rum. Still, there is a part of me that misses the tradition of my family signing Happy Birthday off-key. And as much as my new hostel friends cheers’d me with cold Toñas, I know my home friends would have cheers’d even louder.
Travel is by far my biggest passion in life and I love it inside and out. Even if it leaves me broke, lost and full of parasites, I still love it. I wouldn’t trade my life in for anything and I acknowledge everyday how lucky I am. But it’s not without its sacrifice. Where some people sit in their 9-5 cubicle daydreaming of exotic islands, I sit on the beach and daydream about having a normal life. Okay, maybe not while I’m on the beach.
But I do daydream at times of having a normal job, the same bed to sleep in every night, being able to count on a hot shower, having a refrigerator full of fresh (parasite free!) fruits and vegetables and hummus and Greek yogurt and OMG now I’m drooling.
I daydream of being able to do normal things like meet up for happy hour, bitch about normal things like bosses instead of things like bed bugs, make weekend plans with friends, having friends that stick around for longer than 2 days! These things may sound trivial to everyone at home, but these mundane, everyday life things are what I miss most. That, and being able to surround yourself with people who know you. Truly know you! Who know not to be offended by your ill-timed inappropriate laughter, when to offer a hug and when to leave you alone.
Lucky for me, I get to travel with my best friend and love of my life rolled into one. He is my rock and without him I would never be able to travel this long without going insane. But I do miss being able to say those things you can only say to your best girlfriends. I miss the unconditional love I receive from my family. And I miss my friends.
There is a part of me that feels a sharp shooting pain when I see Facebook photos of all my friends getting together or status updates about the latest music festival. I may have even shed a tear after looking at everyone’s Coachella albums earlier this year. Should I be complaining about missing a music festival when I’m living on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico? No. Does it still suck? Yes.
I wish I could fly home for each of my birthdays, or better yet, fly all the important people in my life here, but its not possible. Right now in my life I’m choosing to explore the world over spending time with my friends and family back home. It’s not an easy decision, but it’s made a thousand times easier by knowing that whenever I do come back home, even if I am gone for a year, I will still be welcomed with the same warmth as if I never left.