“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
You’re going to miss the moments leading up to first introductions, matching the faces to the names of people you’ve only heard of in passing — whether on social media or this curious little blog/community/travel group you just signed up with — and not knowing whether these will be people you’ll be quick to forget after the trip or hold onto long after it’s over.
You’re going to miss landing in a city you’ve always heard of but never been, breathing in air so thick you could cut it with a knife, then fighting off the dregs of jet lag while experiencing series of serendipity upon serendipity in your first 24 hours here. As locals welcome you with free drinks and the crowd begins to settle in, so your sense of anxious curiosity, unsure whether first impressions really do mean anything anymore and whether intuitions are really all you can rely on for the next 3 weeks.
You’re going to miss the 10 hours of sleep you’d get before the last day of the year, hunting down early morning breakfast (and second breakfasts) after waking up in new neighborhoods, grocery shopping to pick up too much unnecessary food, purchasing lawn chairs you’ll never need, staggering your formations in getting to the Mrs Macquarie’s Chair Park while the last folks in your group begin arriving in.
You’re going to miss holding places in line for people you’ve never met, devouring a whole chicken to yourself because utensils are overrated, the quick-fire rounds of mafia to introduce yourself to the group, managing a precarious place during 14 hours of waiting in line (maybe you won’t miss that), dodging back and forth for prime viewing spots before finally celebrating the arrival of a new year under those fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
You’re going to miss rallying for late night raving after the fireworks, getting free drinks from table service, calling the next morning a beach day so you can jump in for a swim at Icebergs and take instagram worthy photos, walking along the coastline of Sydney’s beachfront, the lazy gallivanting around a city still asleep for the new year.
You’re going to miss running around downtown Sydney hunting for the right spot for dinner, the pangs of hanger while keeping up a straight face, the desire to be polite because it’s only the second day, hunting meat-pies, and finally finishing the night with al fresco drinks and dinner while tucked away in a quiet corner by Darling Harbor.
You’re going to miss an unexpected 2 hour layover in a city you’ll explore by jumping from church to church, stopping for a banana bread brunch, then trading the urban jungle for the real thing in Cairns, landing for a few minutes to catch another flight so you could go back up again — this time over The Great Barrier Reef (even if it means flying the actual plane yourself!) — before becoming the regretfully stereotypical loud Americans with our nonstop drinking games that almost get us into trouble, but we wisely change scenes to imbibe in egregious soju-filled banter and Korean BBQ.
You’re going to miss listening to why the Great Barrier Reef is such a big deal in an orientation that lasts forever, diving down into the reef for your first ever Scuba experience, snorkeling around and finding new love for the water, making up for burned calories with a ramen snack break, and the ruthless slaughter of kangaroo and lamb shoulders prior to a hungover stroll through a night market long past its bedtime.
You’re going to miss bungee jumping in a BMX bike, renting a convoy to order McSpiders at your local Macca’s, avoiding being struck by lightning on a beach while looking for platypus, chasing koalas, chasing joeys, chasing waterfalls, chasing natural water slides, and chasing that one more perfect bowl of ramen before getting caught in a biblical flood 5 hours before your 6am flight out to Uluru.
You’re going to miss waking at a god awful hour to trade wet for dry the next morning, landing in record-defying temperatures, learning to live without any cell signal for once while learning about the aboriginal culture, taking your first helicopter ride over a natural wonder, constantly filling your water bottles to stay alive, hiking around natural monoliths millions of years old, watching the sunset over Uluru as you slyly steal alcohol from neighboring parties, the tasty morsels of pasta and chicken cooked haphazardly over an open stove, doing your best YMCA dance on the bus, learning how to unpack and pack your first swags, and stargazing under a night filled with shooting stars.
You’re going to miss waking up to the soft music of Harry Potter (or was it Lord of the Rings?), getting involved in your first inadvertent kidnapping situation in an effort to retrieve bags that fell off while on your way to see the sunrise before saying goodbye too quickly to a guide that somehow worked himself into our group like a kindred friend.
You’re going to miss the 2 hours in Melbourne as you struggle through record-breaking heat of the air and within the group, meeting up with someone you’ve had only known for 5 minutes back when you were in Romania a year ago and yet was kind enough to offer to look after your bags as you explore, sucking on gelato, staring at stupendous street art rising to the skies, and doing your best “where the hell am I” face while getting smashed at an airport so far away in the middle of nowhere.
You’re going to miss cramming up to 7 people in Uber XLs too small for backpackers, singing karaoke late into the night, finally having your first kangaroo pizza next door, hunting for stacks of TimTams, taking in the wind on Harbor Bridge, photo-shoots by the Opera House, smoking shisha in the afternoon sun, meeting new friends of friends, reconnecting with a fellow wandering soul you’ve last met 8 years ago before reconnecting with a fellow wandering doctor-to-be over a meal of a lifetime, the impromptu last night drinks before getting kicked out too early, and the first batch of farewell hugs (for those who even remembered that tomorrow would be the last day for some).
You’re going to miss waking up with no more time for goodbyes, rushing out to cram into another Uber XL, hightailing it to your international flight while your Debbie Downer driver ironically proves to be no more helpful than a backseat one, running until your muscles pump battery acid so you can make it to the check-in desk in time, scrambling to your gate, chugging that much needed bottle of water before passing out and waking up in a different country, waiting over 45 minutes in customs before breathing in the magic already apparent in New Zealand air.
You’re going to miss kidnapping a newly initiated weltenbummler at your hostel after you caution her not to die when she trips into a fan as you walk by, the subsequent lessons in German over Thai food, having another monsooner seamlessly melt into the folds of our group in a place no more beautiful in Auckland than a sunset on Mount Eden, fighting back an appreciation for an impromptu Christian acapella concert, taking an elevator up to the top of Sky Tower, pregaming back in your hostel before taking on a night that seems without end involving karaoke and shisha a few doors down to mark your first day in a country that may probably change your life forever (but we don’t know that yet).
You’re going to miss saying goodbye to a FOMO queen who will thereafter make you appreciate everyday that you’re still on the road, taking the reins of the day by renting a van to drive down a beautiful countryside, singing twinkle twinkle little star in a cave thousands of years old, standing around awkwardly in the dark albeit feeling shivers up your spine when you hear a heart-rending rendition of Amazing Grace right afterwards, boating down the darkness as gloworms stare at you from above, brunching it at a high-end diner nearby, returning to your new favorite capital city to bewilder the locals with your shameless karaoke’ing, before being taken to work by a fellow American you met the night before and dancing your ass off around the corner until it’s time to say goodbye to a city you’ve just gotten to love.
You definitely won’t miss freezing your ass off in the 3 hour bus ride to tourist-friendly Rotorua, but you will miss recovering at temporary home base I-Site, eating your first Hangi feast and yet wishing for more umami, breathing in stinky sulfur at Sulfur Point, learning about the Maori villages, seeing your first geysers erupting, discovering what AYCE really means at Korean BBQ, soaking in your weary legs while finally getting to know one another at the Polynesian Spa, meeting a local Maori there who changes your perspective on life and travel, almost getting your flip-flops stolen by one of your people, getting locked in and busted out when you simply just take too long getting changed, and having the group come up with organic alterations to the itinerary while waiting outside for our overnight bus to arrive because travel is all about surprises (and more surprises yet abound).
While you also won’t miss freezing to death once again, this time on our first and only overnight bus ride (despite having flat beds), you will miss slowly recovering amongst a rainy dawn at the Macca/McDonald’s Camp For Backpackers, loving everything that’s made out of wood in Wellington’s CBD in the morning, birdwatching under the rain at Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary in the afternoon, and appreciating one of the world’s best free museums at Te Papa Tongarewa in the evening.
You’re going to miss witnessing Wellington’s capacity to live up to New Zealand’s magic on the 11th hour by learning how some emotions have age limits, and through a fellow New Yorker when we meet her during a sit-down dinner, kidnapping her for shisha, drinks, and dancing that’ll go far past her (and our) bedtime.
You’re going to miss the early morning check-in on a ferry with more frills than you could ever fit in on its 3 hour journey to South Island before leaving behind in North Island everything (and everyone) that we used to know in the fog behind us when matter-of-fact conversations begin to dare us to live the lives we’ve always wanted.
We land onto South Island reborn again from our quiet earthquakes, eschewing the original itinerary of being passive bushoppers in favor of our own Scooby-Van, stopping for munchies at a chocolate factory before setting off for a town fittingly still rebuilding from its own trauma…
You’re going to miss the taste of your motherland for your first meal in Christchurch, the delirious grocery shopping afterwards for supplies we may not have needed (except the wine of course), twilight monsooning among the surreal aftermath of an earthquake 8 years prior, the failed attempt to rage on the way back to our family-like hostel, and late-night games of wine & scrabble to make up for our loss.
You’re going to miss the final 6 hour drive into Queenstown, witnessing the gorgeous backdrop of lands and waters seemingly untouched by man, detouring to see a local horseback riding event, tending to a fellow injured monsooner felled by a rabbit hole, and being struck in silent awe at a beautiful town too laid back to care what would be going on in the rest of the world.
You’re going to miss grocery shopping for a home-cooked dinner at a local AirBnB, finally having a civilized dinner with civilized people, watching a late night movie (and falling asleep through it despite my warnings), before waking up to a home-cooked breakfast as one final respite before your trip revs back into higher gear.
You’re going to miss walking around a town that will encapsulate the very essence of your entire journey down under, evoking upon a nostalgia for a life you’ve never had, eating one of the best burgers you’ll ever put in your mouth while watching one of your favorite movies in the afternoon, hairstyling your best Dragonball-Z ‘do, taking group photos by a sunset over the mountains, dancing with light amongst the stars under one of the darkest skies in the world, before going out on the town and then dancing the night away while beginning to feel that you’re going to miss this long before it’s over…
You’re going to miss feeding alpacas, the drive into a desktop background, filling up a formerly digital world with the sights and smells of a place that now feels all too real, the taste of cup noodles as trade winds press upon your face, the glee at which you can see all of that which you just saw — this time from 15,000 feet in the air — before inadvertently falling into a very expensive nap.
You’ll definitely miss ginger beer…
Tons of ginger BEEAAEER.
You’re going to miss the long hike alone up Bob’s Peak, fancifully running into the same local twice in 2 different venues all for a free veggie patty and milk shots, and the endless rounds of your own farewell shots from original teapot concoctions so you could own the night one more time together as a group. . .
. . . before waking up the next morning to miss the quiet drive up the hills that will lead you towards the rest of your life.
You’re going to miss boarding one more (“another one!”) small plane to take you 15,000 feet in the air again; this time you’ll jump off without looking back, staring down at a peacefully crazy world now bowed before you — ceremoniously dropping into the quiet afterthought that is everything you’ve left behind while knowing that you could not have asked for a better ending to a journey long overdue.
You’re going to miss both the rush and eternity moment of the freefall, realizing finally that the biggest adventure you could ever take was to live the life of your dreams. And yes, as you miss your last bite of a Fergburger, you’re also going to miss the soft looks of those around you with whom you’ve just shared these experiences, and all the subsequent goodbyes to finally postscript a chapter in your life that many of us were trying to close for good but didn’t know how. . .
. . . until now.
Therefore you’re going to miss most of all, each other; the company of diverse personalities united by a perfect marriage of camaraderie and wanderlust, the way we’ll all look back one day and ask yourself: “did we really do all that?”
“Yeah we did.”
Because as Queenstown slowly fades in the horizon behind and beneath you, the 13 of us will recall the other shores we’ve willingly left behind …
. . . .while defiantly looking forward to the foreign new oceans that now await us . . .
. . . .as we dare to live the lives we have always wanted.
Photo credits: Calvin Sun, Mary Lin, Rachel Xu