More and more people are setting off with one-way plane tickets in search of broader horizons, grand adventures, and a nomadic lifestyle — even if only for a year or so. We have elaborate ideas of all the places we will see; some familiar, some different, and some completely alien to all our senses.
We start off touring through the first few destinations while we get our traveling legs under us, we learn to make fast friends on the road, and we slide into a decent rhythm of traveling.
And then it happens: we get stuck.
It happens to all of us. Spend enough time on the road, and it will happen to you too.
I happen to be a very (very) slow traveler. Since leaving my hometown two years ago, I spent one year traveling through my own country of Canada, and the second year between Hawaii, Southeast Asia, and Australia. I still have another six months in Australia before I plan to move on. And believe it or not — I am gearing up to spend even longer here.
Even nomadic travelers have nesting instincts. Settle down somewhere for a few days, and your bags will be unpacked. Stay there long enough and the thought of packing them up again gets tiresome. Stay there even longer and you will accumulate new things that root you even more to a place you may only have intended to pass through.
While traveling through SE Asia, I got stuck in Chiang Mai (partly due to a subconscious desire to see the inside of a hospital for a week, and partly due to a humanitarian project I adopted on the fly). Either way, I spent a month in a city I had intended to spend no more than a week in. What happened?
While traveling through Australia, I fell in love with a particular area and set up shop for a while. When a potential job opportunity and visa paperwork seemed to land in my lap, the initial prospective six months turned into a few years pretty quickly. What happened?
If some place feels right, would I not be doing myself a kind of disservice by not staying a while?
I am a Professional Hobo – a full-time traveler – and I have more than once found myself getting stuck. In defining my travel goals, I know that I would do myself a great disservice if I had to end my travels and return to Canada for some reason, and the places I had seen were few and far between on my originally extensive list. Then again, if some place feels right, would I not be doing myself another kind of disservice by not staying a while too? And where is the balance between the two?
I have chatted with many travelers from days of yore, who reflect on the time in their lives when they took a few years off to see the world. The vast majority of them left home with a long list of destinations on their wish list, and found at the end of it all that they got stuck in one of the first few places they visited. Although they usually admit the experience was wonderful, they also tend to wistfully gaze at the horizon pondering all the other places they wanted to visit and never saw. In some cases, they downright regret getting stuck.
Not that getting stuck is a bad thing — far from it. Staying in one place for a while as opposed to passing through gives you an entirely new perspective on the country, the people, the culture, and the undercurrent which pulses through the nation but which cannot be defined. But how long is too long?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself whilst traveling to ensure you are either not getting stuck at all, or are getting stuck for all the right reasons:
Why are you traveling?
This is a seemingly simple question, but with undertones that will make your mind spin. Dig deep and truly define the reasons for your travel; uncovering the root of your vagabonding desires could well be exactly what you need to stay on track.
What are you getting away from (if anything)?
Most of us don’t like to admit it, but we are usually running away from something when we travel. It doesn’t have to be a mind-blowing trauma, but we are certainly at least searching for something we don’t currently have in our lives. Otherwise — why leave home at all?
How long do you have to travel?
If you have only one year and a round-the-world ticket burning a hole in your pocket, then detouring to India for eight months will probably be a little too much of a “getting stuck” diversion. Then again, if you have an undetermined amount of time, settling down somewhere for months or even years could strike a balance that fulfills both your vagabonding desires as well as your homing instincts.
If you had to return home today, would you have regrets?
Ask yourself this every day of your travels. If you keep this question at the top of your mind, you may find yourself taking advantage of opportunities you might otherwise pass on, and ducking out of unnecessary obligations that you figured you would do for lack of having anything better on offer.
If you are stuck, and would have travel regrets if you continued to stay, how will you change your situation?
This is the moment of liberation. Hey wait a minute — I can hop on a plane tomorrow if I want to! I am a traveler! Hear me roar! Even if you don’t go anywhere right away, watch how your attitude changes, and how the world of possibilities is reopened to you.
How long can I stay here before I will start to either make it my new home, or miss my old home?
For me, the surefire sign that I have transported my nesting instincts to wherever I am hanging my hat, is when I crave shopping. I want kitchen appliances, toys (oh, how close I was to buying a Nintendo Wii), and other things that won’t fit into my luggage and that further entrench me in my surroundings, making it harder to leave even if I want to.
The other sign I need to move on is if I start missing my old home too much. In so doing I realize I am trying to recreate my home, but without some of the essential ingredients (like family) in place.
Do I want to set up a new home away from my home country or city?
Then again, sometimes a fresh start is good. Maybe you don’t have a home town or geographic area that will forever call to you as “home”. Maybe your family and friends are scattered around enough that you could live anywhere and still maintain easy contact. Maybe you don’t identify with a certain place in the world — and hence maybe that is why you are traveling. If you identify that the reason for your travels is the search for a new home, then you have a whole new series of questions to ask yourself. But alas, that is far from avoiding the perils getting stuck, and will be reserved for another post.
What are your experiences with getting stuck, and subsequently un-sticking yourself (or alternately, choosing to settle down further)?