Back in the Comfort Zone – A Christmas story

by Jakob Horvat, December 22nd 2017, Karlstetten, Austria
Christmas 2016, one year ago. I laid in my sleeping bag under a self-made shelter in the mountainous forests of northern Tenerife. It was cold and rain drops trickled through constantly. I was on a Vision Quest – three days without food, alone in the forest. It was week six of my 13,5 months world trip. This year the scene looks slightly different: I’m sitting on my mom’s couch, she just served me tea. My feet are wrapped in a warm blanket, the cosy fireplace crackles and radiates warm air into the living room and the fluffy cat cuddles with me. I’m back in my comfort zone. I’m back from my world trip.

“Vision Quest” in a self-made shelter: This is what December 22nd looked like for me one year ago. Three days without food, alone in the forest.

When the aircraft touched down in Vienna five days ago, my eyes filled with tears

I wasn’t much suffering from homesickness in the past year, but I would lie if I’d say, I wasn’t homesick at all. Every time that feeling arose, it was connected to discomfort and hardship. Then, I pictured that moment of my homecoming so vividly, that my emotions overwhelmed me when it finally became a reality. When my dad and his girlfriend waited in the arrival hall, I couldn’t say a word. I was just laughing and hugging and feeling them

Arriving in my parent’s house one hour later, the place I spent 17 years of my life, felt unreal. My mom and sister were already waiting on the doorstep, I ran to them in pure excitement and couldn’t wait to hug them. The table was already set for dinner with lit candles and a nice bottle of red wine on it. My mom cooked Käsespätzle, some kind of cheese noodles, but I don’t think there is an appropriate English word for so much Austrian awesomeness.

The process of arriving – when details become spectacular

The wood in the tiled stove crackles, the dogs are playing around and the old wall clock of my great-grandmother still does its so familiar gongs. The wooden floor creaks as I walk on it – as it did all these years. I drink water from the tap in large gulps with neither worries nor purification tablets. Do you guys know how incredibly clean Austrian water is? What a treasure!

I smell the air which is so fresh and clear that I can’t get enough from soaking it in. I watch the sunset at 4PM and the clouds appear in different shapes and the warm tones of orange look much colder above the winter landscape. There’s a thin layer of snow on the fields surrounding the house. The outside temperature is 2 degrees Celsius. That’s insanely cold for my perception. My feet are cold almost all day, but that’s okay. In the past year it has rarely been that easy to get back into my comfort zone: I just take an incredibly hot bath with some nice aroma. I didn’t take a hot bath since I left home on November 10th 2016.

Some travel statistics

Instead, I swam in six different oceans. I mud-wrestled in the longest river on the planet, jumped from plenty of cliffs, took baths in fresh jungle waterfalls. I took a shower clinching to the back of the forward moving sailing catamaran I crossed the Atlantic Ocean with – below me blue waters of 5.000 meters depth. In the past 13,5 months, I traveled 6743 km by boat, 16762 km by land and 47273 km by plane. I spent 402 nights in 119 different sleeping arrangements in 13 countries on 4 continents. I slept in 44 different hostel dorm beds and 9 different guesthouse beds. I surfed 23 couches and beds, spent 53 nights on boats, 22 in a beach bungalow, 18 in tents, 13 in the jungle, 8 in an occupied house, 8 in hotels, 5 in a Zen monastery, 4 in an Ashram, 4 in trains, 3 in AirBnBs and 3 in a self-made shelter alone in the forest.

Mud wrestling in the Amazon

Climbing a waterfall on Maui/Hawaii

In the past year I’ve seen, experienced and felt a crazy amount of beauty out there

I portrayed 20 people and their impactful projects from all around the world and published their stories as footprints on my website to inspire others. More than ever I feel that the world is an amazing place and that – besides all that cruelty we’re doing to each other and, Jesus, to the planet itself – there also lies an unbelievable amount of potential in humanity. After all these stunning places I’ve seen, breathtaking moments I’ve captured in my heart and amazing people I’ve encountered, one thing I can tell for sure:

 

A family that welcomes me back with so much love, compassion and emotion is the most beautiful thing in the whole world.

Land in sight after 3 weeks on the Atlantic Ocean

Flirting with a sea turtle in Puerto Lopez/Ecuador

How has the trip changed me?

A question I had been asked a lot. Honestly, this is something a bit hard to say now. I’ll probably know best after I spent some time in my home environment. Changes are recognized best when there is some time and distance between the catalyst, the impact it has made and its application in everyday life. Some changes are obvious though: I became a vegetarian and learned Spanish up to a decent level. I learned about Sailing and improved my Salsa – a bit, at least. I learned to play the guitar, to be alone and to trust myself. I got deep into Yoga and Meditation so that both can serve me as valuable tools in my life back at home. I learned how to deal with my fears and how to understand challenges as life’s invitations to learn and grow. I opened up to spirituality, got insights about cultures and mentalities that have put my own world into another perspective and last, but not least, worked on some profound issues I had with myself. At least this is how it feels right now.

56km of distance, 3.000 meters of altitude: Running up the Haleakala volcano on Maui was the hardest physical challenge I ever took

The challenges at home have a different face and feel to it, but they are certainly not less in quality

 

1. Keep up the good vibes

This is one that most long-term travelers face at one point: How to bring that positive spirit one gained from the open world to one’s structured life back home? How to implement new ideas, perspectives and positivity into one’s role in the system of western society? How to avoid being swept into some grey and dull day-to-day life?

2. Catch up on my job

I haven’t followed any news in the past year – that was part of the idea. January 10th 2018, I’ll be back in my job as a news reporter covering Austrian politics for the national television again. Needless to say: I’ve got some homework to do! I’ll have to read loads upon the new Austrian government that was just established one week ago. It’s a coalition of the conservative and the right-wing party. That couldn’t be further away from what I believe Austria and the world needs. Hence my relationship to Austrian politics feels currently similar to the one I have with my cold feet: I don’t like it, but I have to deal with it.

Combining these two challenges will be an interesting task of its own

How to do this? Truth be told, I don’t know yet. I’m curious to find out though. Pretty much like I had no idea how to find a boat across the Atlantic or how to hitchhike through Europe, I found out as I went and mastered the challenge eventually. It’s a step by step thing, as quite always. So far I can come up with two concrete ideas:

First: I feel that I can keep up the momentum by not drinking alcohol

So I decided to extend next years’ fasting period, will start it on January 2nd and won’t drink until Easter. I’m putting this in here because telling people about a goal enhances the inner force to not break the deal – a strategy that already worked for me back in the days.

Second: I’ll try to apply techniques I’ve learned for as long as possible

Yoga and meditation are two of them. I feel that practicing them on a regular basis would be essential to quiet my mind when reality tries to rush in and focus myself on what really counts. Cherishing the moment, soaking in reality and embracing what life hands to me, that would be ideal. What a nice goal to work on! My 12 ideas on first steps may help me well on this path.

Seeing home from beyond horizons

When you see and feel home from a far distance for over a year, you start realizing its pure beauty and the essence of what it’s all about. You comprehend on a profound level that what you took for granted is actually not granted at all – not when you see the bigger picture beyond horizons. In fact, you realize that you are a damn lucky person. I’ll try to conserve the feeling that comes with this realization in a mental box. To grab into it with both hands every time the small and ridiculous things start to bother me again.

To all of you: Thanks for following this journey!

I’m back from my world trip, but the journey of learning, creating and growing continues. Thousand First Steps was just the beginning. There are thousand next steps that impose on being taken.

I’ll try to heed the words that Zen Master Ama Samy told me in the Zen monastery in South India just a couple of days ago: „Take small steps, don’t try to change the whole world, that’s very difficult. Light a candle in the darkness.“

Merry Christmas

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