It’s been almost a year since I looked back on five years of full-time travel, and I thought it was time for an update on how my nomadic life has evolved in the past twelve months.
It’s been now over 2,000 days since I switched my London apartment for a life on the road, and quite frankly, I’m tired of being on the road constantly. Over 2,000 days of vagabonding – that’s even longer than I had an apartment in London, or anywhere else I’d lived before. When I started traveling in 2010, I thought it would be a one-year trip around the world. I even had a new employment contract ready for me to sign, and a job waiting for me upon return.. which I obviously never started. In the beginning, I thought I could travel forever, never getting tired of exploring new places, meeting new people, trying new foods. I had an insane amount of energy, my body fueled by new experiences and my mind stimulated by the ever changing scenery around me.
I had so much energy to work while traveling back then – just recently when I was researching for my current (and third) South America trip, I came across an old blog post written by my friend Erin of Never Ending Voyage, written shortly after meeting us, in which she says: ‘We were impressed with the Globetrotter Girls‘ work ethic when we met up with them last week in Panama. They get up early and work before a day of travel or sightseeing, then work late in the evening too.’ I wish this desirable work ethic would have lasted forever, but of course the longer you are on the move constantly, the more tiring it gets, and I have yet to meet another long-term traveler who doesn’t bitch about travel burn out at some point. And running a business out of your suitcase instead of an office isn’t easy. It isn’t impossible, but it comes with challenges that most business owners don’t have to face.
When I think of all the times that I found myself touring the coffee shops of a town in order to find a decent wi-fi connection.. A waste of my time and my energy, and I often get frustrated before even battling the painfully slow internet connection. Or all those times when I tried to send off an article that was due – or even worse: large files with high-res images – and failed, or tried to call someone on Skype on a sketchy connection. No one is going to show any sympathy for you when you try to blame it on the mediocre wi-fi in Nicaragua. It is hard to maintain a business when you’re traveling, but grow it? Let’s just say it takes a lot of discipline, and when you’re your own boss, it takes a lot of willpower to stick to deadlines and work routines. But still, for a few years, traveling the world was all I wanted to do, and I was willing to put up with the hassles. Traveling is addictive – the more places you visit, the more places you add to your travel wish list. Soon, places that you never imagined you’d see in your life, aren’t out of reach anymore.
As the years went by, I became somewhat jaded though – travel couldn’t really excite me anymore, unless it was a place that was completely different from anything I knew, such as the Atacama Desert or Cambodia. I started to spend longer periods of time in the places I visited – a couple of months on a beach in Mexico, a couple of months in Santiago de Chile, a couple of months in New York.
I needed these breaks to recharge my batteries, to get itchy feet again. As might be expected, if you visit new places all the time, it turns into a routine rather than an adventure, and I started to miss the excitement about exploring a new place And sometimes, all I wanted to do was curl up on a sofa and do nothing for a few weeks, not deal with travel planning (which takes up so much time when you travel all the time), just relax.
I’ve also missed having a steady circle of friends instead of the alternating nomadic friends or travelers who you hang out with on the road, parting ways after a few days or weeks together. I missed regular catch-ups with good friends, people who’ve known me longer than for a few short days. ‘Come to New York!’ was all I needed to hear to book a flight back to NYC in October when I was supposed to travel to Nepal. I listened to my heart – I just couldn’t get excited about my trip to Asia and the 3-week Annapurna Circuit, even though it is a trek that is definitely on my bucket list. But I was still tired from a six-week trip around Europe and knew I wouldn’t fully enjoy it. And I am so glad that I didn’t stubbornly stuck to my original plan, but followed my heart.
One of the reasons why I chose to return to New York was because it is the place where most of my friends are now that I’ve lost touch with most of my friends back in London after all these years. I was craving to spend Christmas and my birthday with people I loved instead of trekking in the Himalayas. It felt amazing to have a routine again, weekly drinks, dinner and movie dates, and last but not least a workout routine, because I’ve noticed that I start to feel unbalanced and moody pretty quickly if I don’t have a regular workout (in my case: running) routine, which is hard to maintain while traveling, especially in hot and humid places like South East Asia. But it’s not only a solid workout routine that I’ve been missing – what I’m craving even more is having my own kitchen again. Sure, I’m fine living on fruits and nuts on a weeklong road trip, but never being fully in control of my diet stopped being fun after a while. Even when I rent an apartment, they are usually never stocked as well as a real, lived-in apartment – which is why I love housesitting so much.
Cooking and baking are two things I enjoy tremendously, and I cook and bake up a storm every time I have a well-equipped kitchen at my disposal. I throw dinner parties, try out new recipes, and bake just for the fun of gifting people cookies. But it’s not only about how much I enjoy it – I am also very picky with what I eat, and traveling as a vegetarian can be difficult. Last year in the Philippines, I lost nearly ten pounds simply because I couldn’t find anything but fruits on some days. If you want to eat healthy while traveling, that’s an even harder thing to accomplish, because most local specialties you want to try are not necessarily healthy.
In Argentina, the only vegetarian option would often just be cheese pizza or cheese empanadas, and the salads there were some of the worst I’ve had anywhere in the world – try to eat healthy while traveling through Patagonia for two months. This might sound pathetic but right now, I really miss my daily green smoothies.
I haven’t even talked about relationships yet, but naturally it is not easy to keep a romance going when you’re out gallivanting the globe for months at a time instead of showing that special someone that you care about them. In an ideal world you’d find someone who is also location independent and can pack up whenever they feel like it, but let’s be honest: most people have a traditional 9-to-5 job or are tied down by other things. Not a single person I’ve met last year (who wasn’t nomadic already) was in the position to simply pack up and go as they please, the way I can.
I had already felt tired and burned out going into 2015, and I knew that I needed to slow down. Did I succeed in slowing down in the past twelve months? If I’m honest, I would say only to some extent. While I succeeded in finding a base, my travel itineraries in between longer stints were still much too ambitious and tiring – like September, when I didn’t have a single day to myself all month, or February and April, when I spent too much time traveling instead of planning in a balanced work / travel schedule. In periods like those I wished I had a home to go back to just sit still for a while, but instead I kept going, because there was no place to go home to.
There were several times in 2015 when I thought about giving up – when I nearly lost a freelance client because I didn’t have wi-fi on an island in the Philippines resulting in me missing a deadline, when I wasn’t allowed to board my flight (on two different occasions!), when my bank account began to dwindle away and my savings were eaten up by unforeseen expenses, or when I felt completely burned out after traveling too fast, taking on too many assignments at the same time.The past year has already seen a shift from long-term stints in one region to shorter trips and having a base in between. Three months in Asia were my longest trip in 2015, followed by three months in the U.S., during which I was trying to recover from island hopping around South East Asia. For the first time in years, I planned several shorter trips, like a week-long road trip through Iceland, or a week in Italy, instead of committing to a month or longer in one place, like I used to do. I knew that I was ready to put down roots again when I had gotten so comfortable in my routine in New York, and having my own kitchen again (plus every kind of food that I could possibly want) that I started to dread my departure to South America – even the cold weather didn’t bother me, and I usually despise winter. But I’m not going to lie – arriving in Cartagena’s scorching heat was something I didn’t mind at all after getting pretty chilly on my runs in the park in New York in the weeks leading up to my departure. My ideal situation would be to still escape the winters, but have a base for the rest of the year.
I love traveling and I will always be a traveler (when I still lived in London I was able to travel somewhere every other month, thanks to a generous number of vacation days and public holidays), but the past year has been pretty rough, to be honest.
Most people dream of leaving their jobs behind to travel the world, which is something I can’t recommend highly enough. But traveling the world forever with a constantly changing social circle, barely any belongings, and no place to call home? It might be for some, but it isn’t something I want to do forever. Now that I am back in South America, I sometimes look at the travelers I meet here and find myself envying them, thinking how nice it must be to just travel – without worrying about making money, just enjoying a year off. I think I might still do that at some point – save enough money to travel for a year, living off my savings.
Don’t get me wrong – I still love what I do, and I am grateful every single day for living this life, getting paid to write, seeing places that most people will never be able to visit. But there are drawbacks and nuisances, hurdles to overcome (things like taxes, health insurance and a mailing address, to name just a few things that give me headaches regularly) that aren’t fun in the long run. And my trusted backpack, which has been serving me well for six years, deserves a break, don’t you think?