Classic wisdom states you can never go home. Technically you can always travel back to where you came from, but it will not be the same as when you left it. Time passes on. Home is not dunked in formaldehyde upon your departure, perfectly preserved for your return.
After college, I returned to my small hometown in up-state New York. Among the many changes, my favorite dessert shop had closed, replaced by a Weight Watchers. Several years after graduation, a visit to my college alma mater was principally marked by getting lost and discovering the neighborhood grocery no longer carried my favorite cookie brand.
During my 14-month trip, the United States has changed. In 2010, the number and rate of traffic fatalities, 1.09 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled decreased to an all-time low since 1949. Conversely, vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.7%. (1)
While I puttered around Africa, Europe and Asia, FMCSA recommended requiring electronic on-board recorders for long-haul motor carriers and the Hour of Service rule for truck drivers continued to be a source of contention. The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act was introduced. Passenger vehicle design improved in rollover protection, as noted by IIHS’s crash tests. NTSB added motorcycle helmet use to its most wanted Most Wanted List. And local stores stopped carrying my favorite ice cream brand.
Home may not stay the same, but neither do you. G.K. Chesterson said the, “object of travel is not to set food on foreign land; it is to at last set food on one’s own country as a foreign land.” Traveling changes you. I returned with several strange habits, including the need to scrub my fruit intensively, a snobbery about Indian food authenticity, and a deep appreciation for my shower, my toilet, and my smokin’ fast wifi.
I also returned with some unsafe road safety tendencies. Because pedestrian behavior was so closely controlled in China, and so devil-may-care everywhere else, I usually walked across the street whenever and wherever I wanted. I now must work to curb this habit.
I continually find cyclists and their scads of gear humorous. While many countries abounded with bikers, equipment was pretty minimal. In Ethiopia I had to fight with the renter to get brakes fitted. In Beijing, bicyclists swarmed the street, dolled up in work duds, including suits and stilettos. Conversely, in my new hometown of Seattle, bikers have never met equipment they did not like, including saddlebags, helmets, biking glasses, lights, gloves, jerseys, shorts, cycling shoes, reflective gear, etc. The site of a bicyclist, swathed in gear and tottering down Seattle streets, his balance thrown off by the stuffed saddlebags, is disorienting and humorous.
Last, street signs fill me with joy and delight. I am so used to a complete lack of street signs (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka), useless street signs (China) or street signs in another language (Ukraine and Mongolia). Now, seeing a clearly signed intersection that actually corresponds to a place on my map is a wonderfully regular event.
Over 14 months I traveled through 33 countries on four continents. From the dusty barren expanse of Namibia’s highways, to the speedways of Oman, to the pedestrian overpasses of Beijing, and now to the leaf-flecked sidewalks of Seattle, it was been my pleasure to take you with me on this trip. My deepest thanks to the staff of ASIRT for their assistance and kindness in giving this blog a home, to my parents for their editorship, to my readers, both domestic and abroad, and to my patient husband, Adam.
Lin Yutang said, “no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.
Despite my adventures, I am happy to rest my head in my home country and focus its road safety problems; to lie back on my old, familiar pillow while visions of crash tests and U.S. helmet laws dance in my head, crowding out India’s 3-wheelers and Mongolia’s road quality.
NHTSA. Early estimate of motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2010. April 2011. Available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811451.pdf