I arrived inside the airport to find it swarming with holiday travelers, but was thankful to arrive at my last destination on time and safely (I was nervous that the protests were going to possibly delay or not allow me to leave India). The line at Air India was very long and took about an hour to get up to the front to check my bag. Even though I was like 6 hours early to my flight, I was relaxed and stress-free which was good. Then security and immigration took another hour and then I went to get some last minute sweets and gifts at Duty Free before grabbing a sandwich at Subway (the one place that seemed healthy). My stomach was killing me again and I literally thought I was going to throw up during security screening, it was awful but thankfully made it to the bathroom and had diarrhea instead. I found anti-diarrhea pills that I took after eating something and ordered a lemon ginger tea at this coffee shop while I FaceTiming with my Pop and uploaded IG before heading to my gate. It was quite the experience going with Air India, I didn’t know what to expect because I had read so many bad reviews. But it ended up working out as I snagged a whole row to myself in the second row, window side...relieved that I didn't have to be stuck between strangers on this 15 hour flight home.
The flight was 15 hours but felt like 10. I think it's because I wasn’t ready to go home. I was so tired but wanted to finish journaling so I watched a few shows and then journaled for like 3 hours as I napped in my comfortable row. As we were approaching Dulles International Airport in about an hour or so, it suddenly hit me. I wasn’t ready to go home. I mean my mind and body were both exhausted and needed a break, but I felt like I could keep going a bit longer. I hadn’t really been able to reflect in Asia as much as I had in South America, and it’s certainly because I was on the move without any breaks to really reminisce. So by the time I got to India and participated in the yoga training, I still hadn’t really reflected on my time in Asia. I needed more time to reflect and get in the right mindset to go back home. I know there’s really not a perfect time for anything, but I was way out of my mind at this point. That last hour on the plane, I literally bawled my eyes out as I laid across my row cuddled up and hiding myself from others. I couldn’t believe I was going back to the United States of America... back to my home...where I left 9 months prior (the longest I’ve ever been away from home).
What was going through my mind over and over again were the best memories I had in each country and the people I met along the way, and what I’ll always cherish about my journey. I just couldn't stop crying and as I finally got up from laying down, I looked out the window to see the airport I am most familiar with in this world. As the plane touched down at Dulles International Airport, that feeling was very powerful and it's hard to explain in words, but I felt all of these emotions all at once, all of the feelings I had felt from when I left everything behind to go to Costa Rica 9 months ago, to when I decided to backpack from there 6 months ago, to have experienced a thrill of a roller coaster ride hopping around country by country...to 17 different countries and 3 continents I had never been to before...all on my own, just me....to being in shock that I was in the vicinity of my home that I've lived in for the past 15 years...was this actually happening? I felt powerful, empowered, and most of all grateful and happy. I couldn’t believe what I just accomplished, it felt unreal, like a dream..and I'll hold that inside for the rest of my life.
As the captain announced "Welcome to Virginia" I still couldn't stop crying with tears of joy and sadness. I probably only got like 4 hours of sleep the entire flight and felt like a zombie but all of the adrenaline kicked in so it didn't really matter because I was ideally in a state of shock. As soon as I got past immigration and to baggage claim, my backpack was one of the first so I quickly snagged it and texted my sisters to see where they were to pick me up. They weren’t answering and I didn’t think anything of it because I had a feeling they were driving, but when I walked through the doors to exit baggage claim, I saw my mom and 2 sisters dressed in Christmas outfits with signs saying “Welcome Home Audrey” as they yelled for me...AUDREY'S HOME! It was the most sincere surprise and I was very happy to have them next to me at that moment. Even though I was still in shock and it didn’t feel real, I felt a kind of relief that was minimal but more happy than anything. As we walked towards the car, my sisters asked if I wanted a Starbucks coffee and I didn't really know if I felt like one but we decided on going to another location and that was the first thing that really hit me...all the possibilities and options you don’t ever think about when you’re alone or backpacking in another country, came back to me...I was back in America.
As we walked out the doors to the parking lot, I could feel the cold crisp air as it was December and there was still snow on the ground. It felt warm to be next to my mom and sisters again but I was still in a state of shock as we drove away from the airport and onto the highway I drove on for many years. When we ordered a Starbucks at the location we used to always go to as kids, it felt weird being there as I just wanted to be home, but it was nice getting a Starbucks with my sisters (my mom was passed out in the car because she was up all night decorating for Christmas). When we arrived at my house, I was very happy and relieved, it was still so early in the day, around 9am. We took some pictures out front. As I walked through my front door, it felt weird, but especially when I went to my room and even more so when I saw all of my stuff packed up in the attic (it was a quick realization that I have way too many belongings I don't need). My mom was exhausted so she went to take a quick nap as me and my sisters sat and chatted a bit in the living room. Since it was Christmas time, everything was decorated as it always is in our house (my mom has 10 boxes of decorations), like a winter wonderland...I was home.