Travelling is one of the most important things in my life. I don’t want to say it’s the most important thing, because over the years I have realised that no amount of sea and sand will make up for having a loving family and loyal friends. Travel is important to me for many reasons, the main one being that it has had a profoundly positive effect on my life, pushing me to leave my comfort zone and discover places I previously could only have dreamt about. Travel has changed my outlook on life, has steered the direction of my career and has made me a happier and more rounded person. The people I have met on the road have made me realise that anything is possible in life, and there are so many ways to live the limited years we have been given.
I used to get agitated as to why people didn’t understand my obsession with travel, why they too didn’t want to drop everything and travel the world. However, after 10 years of nomadic life, jumping from country to country and job to job, backpacking through more than 50 countries around the world, I now realise why they did not see through the same eyes as I did.
While long-term travelling has many merits, and anyone who does it will certainly have no regrets, there are also many downsides to living a nomadic life. Downsides that make trying to settle down in your home country one of the most difficult things you will ever do. And for many, something we may well put off until it’s too late to ever return.
There is a famous travel quote that everyone knows and loves to share. It says, “Life is a book and those that don’t travel read only one page”. While I always loved this quote, I actually don’t think there’s a whole lot of truth to it. There is far more to living a happy and fulfilling life than dropping everything to travel the world. People value different things and people should do what makes them happy. Be it job satisfaction, excelling at a certain sport, finding love, having kids, building an empire or living a frugal life on the road, everyone has their own own story to tell. Maybe life is a book, but it is your own personal adventures and not travel that will fill the pages and make for an interesting read.
Like I said, I have no regrets about living the type of lifestyle I do, I just want to highlight some negative aspects and assure people there is no such thing as ‘living the dream’, there is only ‘living your dream’. I am eternally inspired by all my friends and family and can only hope that they are as proud of me and the life I am living as I am of them.
We have all read the endless articles on the merits of travel, on how it will change your life for the better, but let us now take a few minutes to look at how travel ruined my chances of living a normal life.
I can count the number of serious relationships I have had on one hand. I have fallen in and out of love far less than I have flown in and out of countries, and yet leaving loved one’s behind because I had the urge to keep moving remains one of the most heart wrenching feelings I have will ever experienced.
Sometimes it wasn’t meant to be, but other times you have to question if things might have worked out if you hadn’t had the need to keep travelling, if you could have just kept still for longer than a few months. When you live a nomadic lifestyle, packing up and leaving your life behind many times a year, maintaining serious relationships is nigh on impossible. I still crave companionship the way I did when I was younger, when I was on the road less, but these days it seems it’s just one or the other. Does long-term solo travel mean you must sacrifice the chance for long-term love? I hope not.
There are some friends, the special ones, who you know will always be in your life. The one’s that you can stay up all night chatting with after being away for 2 years, and yet it feels like you never left. The one’s you don’t need to Skype with all the time, but you know you can meet up and pick up right where you left off. If you have friends like this, as I do, consider yourself a very lucky person. However, even the longest friendships can slowly start to dissolve if you are away long enough. When you start missing engagements and weddings, when you have to turn down an offer to become a godparent or you don’t get to see your best friend’s baby until they are no longer an infant, the friendship you once had will no longer be the same.
“Travelling builds character and shows you are a team player, yet can also helps you become fiercely independent and self motivated. Your experiences abroad help you deal with the most stressful circumstances and lead to a better understanding of how business is conducted abroad”.
I know, I’ve heard it all before. In fact I’ve said it all before, every time I try to settle down and seek full-time employment. That’s all well in good when you return from one year overseas or after a few months backpacking around Europe, but when an employer see’s a CV of a long-term traveller, who has had 11 jobs in 10 years on 5 different continents, all of them in different fields and with little to no consistency, the tough questions start to be asked.
Believe me, trying to persuade a new employer that you are not a flight risk is like trying to persuade a parrot not to talk. It might work in the short-term but in the end, the truth will come out. Especially when you are already wondering how many weeks vacation you get and how soon can it be used! Employers want loyalty and commitment to a company, not someone who will have most likely flee the country in less than 12 months.
This is a crazy one but sometimes I believe I am too independent. Most of the time, I don’t rely on anyone else for help, for advice, for companionship. Like a lone wolf, I am happy to do everything by myself despite the fact that I am a total extrovert and love making new friends and being around people. Renting a motorbike by myself to travel around an island for a few days, or jumping on a plane by myself to a country I can barely pronounce, does not faze me. Every time I have tried to live a settled and normal life back home, my extreme independence has worked against me. I forget to call my friends to go for lunch or to go see a movie with me, as I am so used to doing it alone. I become a total mess when forced to do things with groups (be it for work or leisure) as I have become so accustomed to leaving when I am ready, not having to wait around for others and making my own decisions. Where as my friends would happily wait until everyone has a free week off during the summer and all go on holidays together, I would prefer to hop on Skyscanner, find the cheapest flight possible regardless of destination, and head off at whatever date suits me.
My love of travel, or obsession if we’re going to be honest here, has turned me into the worst saver in the world. I am 30 years old and don’t own a house, a car or any possession of any worth. If anything were to happen to me, all that would be left for my dear parents would be a small overdraft! When I was younger 30 seemed so old, it seemed like the age where I should have accomplished everything in life and the age at which I should be rolling around in cash. Where as normal people save for the future and think about mortgages and babies and new cars, I literally can only think about what country I am going to next, a decision which is made depending on how big or small my bank balance is! While I don’t regret spending all my money on flights and hostels and adventures of the unknown, it is most definitely a factor that will make living a settled life extremely difficult.
Travel has made me question everything I used to believe in. When you explore new countries and new cultures, you meet people that open your eyes wider than you ever thought possible. People who teach you that there are many ways to live your life, from jobs you never knew existed to living without money and finding spirituality in the strangest of places. You end up having deep discussions about politics, money, religion, cultural practices, love, sex and everything in between and suddenly all of your original thoughts and beliefs are smashed. Then you return home, and surround yourself with people who all think differently to you again, people who challenge your new beliefs while you can’t help but question theirs.
I realise there are many, many more things that will make it difficult for me to settle down some day, these are just some of the main ones that popped into my head. Travel may have ruined me for a normal life, but I guess it has prepared me for an extraordinary one.
If there are any other long-term travellers reading this, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! x