Once I landed back in New York, I did like all New Yorkers do: I hit the ground running. I began flitting around the city, catching up with old friends, and eating my favorite American foods. Then I shot upstate to spend time with my family and reacquaint myself with American consumer culture.

In this post, I'll give you a fast-paced run-through of my arrival back in New York. But then I'll slow it down a bit, as it wasn't until I was tucked away in upstate New York that the full impact of my travels settled in.

Inevitably, I returned with knowledge of languages, cultures, people, and foods that have all become a part of my every day thoughts. Most importantly, I have returned with the challenge of integrating lessons from my travels with my lifestyle back home. During my travels, I learned how to resist planning ahead and allow my innermost wants to guide me. Now it's time to apply these same lessons to the chapter ahead.

A Bird's Eye View of New York

Long before I even left for my travels, I imagined what it would be like to return to New York after being away for so long. I hoped the flight path would take me over the island of Manhattan so I could see my home again in all its glory.

What I imagined must have been a premonition because my flight ended up flying directly over Manhattan for a full bird's eye view of New York City.

Downtown Manhattan and Bridges into Brooklyn

The Empire State Building (tallest building at center) and Chrysler Building (Upper Left)

Upper Central Park

Upper Central Park

Flying into LaGuardia Airport was the best choice to ensure this flight path. But it was the clear, sunny weather in late Autumn that helped pull it off!

The plane landed on the tarmac in full view of the city skyline. "There she is. My New York," I thought.

Catching Up With Old Friends

You might guess my first night back in New York with friends would be spent out on the town. Nope! With my friends, nothing beats laying around in pajamas, having a meaningful chat, and laughing heartily.

The next day, I finally got my hat back from Frank! If you remember, this is the hat I bought at the Hut könig in Germany where my grandfather bought his old hats, once upon a time. Frank took it back to New York for me after we met up in Berlin!

I missed going to shows with my music-hungry friends for 15 months. So I had to go with them to catch a favorite of ours—a Brooklyn multi-piece band called Escort—some weeks after I returned.

Closer to Christmastime, I bonded with my old roommate over our obsession with the Hunger Games. We visited the exhibition in Times Square before it closed.

Revisiting the Foods I Crave—A Top 5

I'm a foodie and that's a fact. So of course I had a list of foods I NEEDED to taste upon my return the New York. The following were at the top of a very long list of favorites.

1. The Ultimate Bagel From Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

2. Pizza from anywhere in New York

3. Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery at Grand Central Station

4. Harney & Son's Tea from upstate in Millbrook, New York (also in Soho)

5. Holy Cow Ice  Cream from upstate in Red Hook, New York

There's also nothing like Mom's home cooking. Dad's, too! The following photos are a few highlights from the meals I shared with them during my stay.

Appreciating Home

The following are a few reasons why I have a newfound appreciation for home, NY and the USA.

If that bird's eye view wasn't impressive enough, New York is most spectacular on the ground. From snow-covered forests and rolling mountains upstate to the city skyline and lights of Manhattan, New York can be pretty damn beautiful when it wants to be.

What is it about Americans and having so much choice? The grocery stores here are on crack with the number of options and I am so into it. Just look at all of these cereals!

I was in Cheerios heaven!

Getting packages in the mail from online orders has also been pretty awesome. Oh yes. I think the American consumer in me has been retriggered.

I am not even embarrassed to admit how happy I felt when I received my first Amazon package (free delivery!) after 15 long months.

Reminders of My Travels

The most random things remind me of parts of my travels. For instance, I go into the grocery stores now and recognize many items that never stood out to me before.

I recently spotted the same fruit paste Carolina and I ate with cheese and crackers at our Lake Dunstan beach camp in New Zealand over a year ago!

I was also absolutely thrilled when my Mom was able to find Skyr at a supermarket. You may remember—it's that amazingly creamy-smooth yogurt I discovered in Iceland.

I am so happy it's sold in the USA. Score!

Since I returned right before Christmas, I immediately benefited from receiving gifts from people I met overseas. I was lucky enough to make some very strong connections with many people while I traveled, but Jono (New Zealand) and Carolina (from Sweden, met in Iceland) were two of the strongest.

I exchanged gifts with them both! Jono sent me a ton of New Zealand candy I was missing, a New Zealand t-shirt, and jewelry. Carolina sent a bracelet and beeswax candles she made herself.

Lessons From My Travels

Once I settled into living in upstate New York, I had the chance to reflect on my travels and the lessons I learned.

Travel taught me to stop planning so much and start listening to my gut more.

I practiced limited planning as I traveled because planning (and the expectations that come with it) can distract us from what it is we really want in any given moment. I had an idea of the countries I wanted to visit, but I didn't tie myself down with plane tickets and arrival times and hotel bookings. I kept things open so I could travel where I wanted, when I wanted.

This allowed me to guide myself as much as I allowed the natural course of events leading up to the present guide me.

I could turn my motorbike around and meet a Monk instead of ride around Northwestern Thailand with another traveler who wanted to go too quickly. I could volunteer instead of waste time searching for paid work while in New Zealand. I could dive the Great Barrier Reef to get some needed perspective on a promising relationship that was developing. All of these deviations had positive outcomes.

Every deviation I made during my travels painted a path around the world and that path was guided by two lessons: (1) Allow events to happen naturally with minimal planning; and (2) Trust in the guidance of your own in-the-moment, feeling-based decisions.

The best part about not planning is never feeling like I've missed out on anything. As I traveled, one wonder would lead me to another wonder and I'd be left thinking, "Wow! If I didn't come across X or do X before that, I never would have seen what's in front of me right now!" In my opinion, any approach to life that encourages appreciating the present is the way toward absolute life fulfillment.

Trusting in the decision I make to get me there is half the battle. Each time I was presented with a choice as a solo traveler, I made the decision on my own. I silenced out any outside perspectives and listened only to my perspective. This is easier said than done. It requires loads of self-awareness which I got better and better at as I traveled. But through this process, I identified my truest values and staunchest limitations. They were the only voices that had a say in the paths I took.

Integrating These Lessons After Travel

On the train in NewYork

On the train in NewYork

Post-travel, I have worked on integrating these lessons into this next, more settled chapter of my life. I have resisted the temptation to plan ahead at a time when my options are limitless. I have become at peace with whatever happens by knowing I have prepared myself to the best of my abilities. I have built trust in myself to make the right decisions whenever choices present themselves.

I didn't figure all of this out as soon as I touched down in New York. But once I did—Wow! Life started to happen very quickly. Suddenly, opportunities started presenting themselves and that solo, self-guiding voice of mine became clearer with every decision.

It's a constant work in progress, but I now feel confident that every next decision I make will be the right one because it'll be all my own.