In a people-packed diner in Madrid, I sat at the counter for weekend brunch, secretly grateful for the small-talk I knew I’d get with the barkeep. As inevitably happens, he asked about my “vacation.” Travelling the world for 5 years isn’t a vacation. Being on the road over 120 days, that’s not a vacation. It’s travelling.
So I explained how I’m a nomad. Sold everything. No home, no stuff, no routine, no place, no plan. Not really. I’m like the wind, as much as one can be when governed by Google Flights and railway stations. I explained that I work wherever my laptop plugs in and the Wifi connects.
His reaction is one I’ve had before. “Wow.” Steps back. “Wow! Oh, this is the dream, no?”
Then he stopped and furrowed his brows. “But don’t you miss your people?”
No one had put it like that for me. “Your people.” Oh, wow. Don’t I miss my people?
Home isn’t where I lay my hat
I smile when I see photos of friends enjoying life. Yes, I miss them. Pictures of my father meeting his 4-month-old granddaughter, my niece I’ve still not met, had me in tears. I get worried about my aunt who has had a rough go of it, I long for conversations with friends I speak well with.
I get deeply homesick and lonely sometimes, and knew I would, too. My friend Nadia pulled me aside months before I left and told me the day would come where I’m overcome with loneliness and “what the hell am I doing?” kind of self-doubt. She wasn’t wrong.
I’ve been through hard times in life – near-fatal wrecks, struggle, money, et cetera – and being heartsick/homesick seems so silly in comparison sometimes. Still, I chose this life. I’m in _________ (Zagreb, Lisbon, Madrid, Istria, et cetera – you choose). How TERRIBLE.
Yet sometimes it is. It’s a brand of devastating loneliness you just can’t describe, and no one takes you that seriously because you’re “so lucky” because you’re travelling the world. Me, I think “lucky” is one notch up from this – it’s having a home to return to for breaks in between. Even when I go home next month, all the beds will be unfamiliar to me.
The heart wants what the heart wants
I don’t know about you, but the income I earned then, and still live on, wasn’t enough to travel and sustain a home.
In a way, my heartsickness is being saved by the Canadian dollar getting spanked by the Euro, because I need to get the hell out of Europe. That’ll let me go home and see the people I love for a few weeks and regroup. I’ll be there just long enough to remember why that life isn’t right for me anymore, and then I’ll hop on a plane and do it all over again.
Whether you travel for four months or five years, I guarantee loneliness will find you. It finds all nomads. I have yet to meet one who hasn’t spoken of that loneliness. But life is sacrifice. Dream job, dream city, dream life, dream relationship – they all come with choices. You can’t have everything, so you pick the thing you most need for feeling complete. We all sacrifice. The guy with a wife and a kid who secretly dreams of doing what I’m doing, he knows why he’ sacrifices that dream. Because he’s got the thing he needs more.
I would never be able to afford this travel life and a home. Not at the same time. And travel trumps routine, for me. Sameness gnawed at me. Those family and friends I miss, they know how profoundly unsatisfied I was by the life I had. They also knew I didn’t envy them theirs.
Choices are complicated
There’s a soul-swelling that comes from saying I Choose This and going all-in, no matter whose sacrifice we’re talking about. For me, it’s somewhat courageous and daring that I’m willing to give up everything in hopes this is everything I’ve dreamt of. Could I be wrong? Yeah. Absolutely. But am I? Nope. This is what I’ve dreamt of.
That doesn’t mean I can’t have the duality of believing this is absolutely the right life and the right road for me, while dreading all I’ve given up for it. That’s what “sacrifice” means. You have to lose something to gain immeasurably more.
I see others who’re on the other side, who’ve travelled five years already, even 7 or 10 or 12, and with no intention of giving it up. Will I be them? I don’t know. I hope so.
Growing up, my favourite author was travel writer Paul Theroux. To read him now, he seems sometimes bitter and disgruntled, curmudgeonly and dismissive, but he also dead-set his life was what he needed. If you haven’t read him, he’s the ultimate writer of travelogue. He’s a bit of a snob. Unlike most travellers, he shuns museums and ruins and the like. He’s addicted to writers’ homes and just feeling the vibe of places, and I confess I’m the same on all counts.
When Less is More
Sure, maybe I’m “bold” and “daring” and “courageous” to take on this life of travelling alone for five years. I’m also a giant marshmallow defined by people I’ve had around me throughout my lifetime. Being in my 40s means my family is aging quickly and the time with them is likely ticking out. But I can’t yield to that fear of time ticking out. I was already quite removed from them via living remotely for 3.5 years before my travels began. My absence is more profound and rewarding than it was before, when I was isolated and lonely. Then, all I did was work toward achieving this reality through paying down debt and planning it out. Today, I see amazing cities and architecture and culture. There’s the upside. Better for phone calls, trust me.
Just seven weeks ago, I had no interest in going home. It was a really great ride. Then Christmas came along and broke my damn heart.
Now I’m up and down. In part due to currency shifts and a realization I was naïve to think I could financially cut it for a half-year or more in Europe to start my travel life. I think 3-4 months, tops, depending on the currency, per year in Europe, may be how my travel life unfolds over the next half-decade, and that’s just fine.
Life is a highway
song alternate Canadian anthem goes:
Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There’s a world outside every darkened door
Where blues won’t haunt you anymore
Where the brave are free and lovers soar
Being a nomad is about being adaptive, listening to the wind, and knowing roads bend and curve, but seldom go straight. Hell, life is all about knowing that, but it just gets more obvious when the road is where you live.
Do I miss my people? Yeah. But you know what I’d miss more? Getting even older and realizing I’d had all these dreams of exploring my world that I never saw come true. Why? Because I wasn’t courageous enough to realize I might sacrifice comforts and companions, but everything I really need in life, I already have.
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Such a great post thank you for sharing. I have been travelling for three years and this Christmas for me was the hardest, no idea why, never missed home before. Now I’m planning to make a stop home in 8 months time to regroup – just for a while! I don’t think I could go back to the ‘sameness’ forever now.
Wow, three years without being home? I don’t think I could do THAT. I want to get back twice a year, but not for as long as I’m going back this time. I have a few things up my sleeve so I’m trying to get it all sorted while I’m there. The price I pay. It’s really brutal when the homesickness hits hard, though. I imagine I haven’t even seen the half of it on that front, but we’ll see.
“Sameness” was literally destroying my back and all kinds of things. I thought travelling would be hard on my back (had a 5-year injury) but it’s better than it’s been in a decade. I think “sameness” was the problem. I wonder how many other people decide against travel because they worry about something like their back, like I was, when it might even be helped as a result. How weird.
Yeah it gets hard sometimes being away for so long and missing out on family events and things, I’m actually trying to sort out going home for a while to visit. It’s been too long! That’s so good that travelling helped your back, that’s definitely something That would worry me about travelling in case it made it worse, so glad it worked out good!
Great post. This is a topic my sister and I have been discussing recently. Whether we go or stay and potentially miss milestones in our nephews life, or the deaths of our aging family members. We’re leaning towards the go decisions.
It’s so hard. It devastates me to not see my beautiful little niece in person and smell her and hear her laugh, but I know there are bigger things in my life and I can’t sacrifice my dreams so I can be a spectator with my nose pressed against the glass. It sucks to make that choice, but if my dream was to pursue corporate life or whatever, I could do so in the same part of the world as her. That’s not my dream, though. It couldn’t be farther from being my dream.
Thanks for the post. I struggle with not having a home to return to as well 😉 You have helped me feel not so alone in this and it’s a comfort.
It’s a tough thing to process and people don’t understand how challenging that is emotionally, but gosh, it’s a humdinger for me. You’re not alone. We need to speak up about how we can be living our dreams but yet not happy all the time — and that it IS okay to feel that torn, ambivalent feeling despite being in the midst of an unbelievable adventure. 🙂
I’m so happy to have come across your blog today. Last year I decided to sell everything to be a full time nomad at age 53. I’ve been “home-free” since March 2017. You’re the first nomad I’ve come across that really elucidates what it’s truly like travelling full time with no home to return to. I’m unfortunately back in Canada due to an illness I caught in December that caused hearing loss. I really dreaded the thought of returning to Toronto to deal with this health issue and if anything, being here has reinforced my original decision to explore other countries. I do worry what happens when the money runs out. I will have to figure out a way to generate an income eventually. Perhaps one day I will chose to live in one place again, but I haven’t found my “place” where it feels like home (however, Morocco is a contender!). Keep on exploring and sharing your thoughts and tales. Your words inspire, Steffani!
I did this between filing for an immigrant visa and moving to Vancouver. The overwhelming joy of being out of Hungary, being away from that hellhole for the year plus I was doing this was enough not to miss my family. And, of course, my nephew wasn’t born yet… everything changed once he did 🙂