Getting Stuck on the Road: How to Avoid It (or Embrace It)

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.

Making a Goal, Bali
Making a Goal, Bali © ^riza^

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.

China Beach Sunset, Vancouver
China Beach Sunset, Vancouver © inottawa

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)?

15 Responses

  1. Audrey

    I like the concept of getting stuck while traveling. I often tell people that when we started our round-the-world journey we thought we’d be around the world in 12-18 months…and then we got stuck in Asia for 18 months. People look concerned at first, “Stuck?!” as if we had concocted some strange disease that kept us from leaving. I explain that we were pleasantly stuck, we wanted to explore and dig deeper and had the flexibility to do so.

    I love one-way tickets, too.

    Reply
  2. Amanda Kendle

    I don’t think you’re “stuck” until you stay somewhere five years or more. And I also have a theory that at a minimum, you need two years to get to know somewhere well (in the second year you finally get to do all the seasonal things you heard about in the first year, but too late to do them). And if you’re “stuck” with the intention of having a base to travel the region from … well, I don’t think that’s stuck at all!

    Reply
  3. Jody Broyles

    My husband, Bobby, and I started out from the States on a journey to Tierra del Fuego over 15 years ago. So far,we have gotten only as far south as Ecuador. Our journey has given us the opportunity to live and volunteer in practically every Latin American country along the way. We’ve been in Ecuador now for 4 years, but have lived in two completely different places and intend to stay as long as we are happy and contributing to the community. I guess that’s why we are known as “The World’s Slowest Travelers”!!!!

    Reply
  4. soultravelers3

    I enjoyed this post as only a long term traveler can. We are a family on an open ended tour and love slow travel.

    I think we have found the best of both worlds by traveling slowish for 7 months out of the year via land, mostly using an RV combined with lots of mass transit & ferries or freight ships across seas.

    Then we return to a tiny 15th century village to immerse deeply which works fantastic as a family.

    We have done 4 continents & 29 countries so far on our 3rd year of these travels, but have been focused on Europe primarily, the icons and the hidden places not often traveled.

    We plan to do similar style as we hit other continents for long stays.

    It is interesting that the more one travels the more one sees how large the world is and how small!

    Sadly, in one life time, one can not REALLY see it all, but we are giving it our best shot…slowly but surely. ;)

    Reply
  5. Ciel

    Great one Nora!! This is what you do so well. We were “stuck” in Scotland for a year once and seem to continue to be there in our minds, constantly fighting the urge to return before we have checked at least a few more places off our ever growing list. We are, joyfully, somewhat stuck in Mexico at the moment although recently made a commitment to ourselves to move on in September. Now the question is will we next be tempted to get stuck somewhere in Central or South America, Italy, Greece, or New Zealand? Only time and the value of the dollar will tell.

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  6. Nora

    Thank you for the comments, everybody!
    I am pleased that fellow travelers concur that slow travel can be beneficial.
    Here’s to “getting stuck” once in a while!

    Reply
  7. brian from nodebtworldtravel.com

    You’re never ‘STUCK’ if you want to be there. Stuck is being in Thailand during the protests or grounded for days because of snow. You’ve made a carefully considered decision to slow down and enjoy something longer than for a few days. Nothing wrong with that.

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  8. Marco Bressan

    In my opinion being stuck in a place happens after 2 months you’re in that place, and at the moment I’m stuck in Sydney, AU. The world is too big and there are too many things to see to stop in one place for more than a couple months, especially if you’re in a big city, which is the same everyday. The thing is, traveling is expensive, no matter how slow you do it, and sometime it’s ok to get stuck somewhere to cash up and take your time.

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  9. Brooke vs. the World

    Stuck is when you decide to take a job in UKRAINE and then regret said decision, but still feel obligated to continue on bc you said you would…. but, I’m not really stuck and I realized that not long ago. I definitely have a tendency to spend more time in places than I thought I would. I was only planning on going to Central Asia for 3 months and ended up staying 5. I spent 5 weeks in the Baltics when I had only planned for half that time. But, I like this route. Fastpacking all the time is just NOT for me ;)

    Reply
  10. Kristina

    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? —– SO TRUE.

    and am raring to go to the land of oz midyear 2011! rawr!

    Reply
  11. Ali

    Good post! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who tends to want to shop and accumulate ‘things’ when stopped in one place.

    We’ve been in Sydney for six months working to fund further travels, it’s a great place but there’s always that lingering “antsy” feeling. Like you too Nora, we’re considering extending our stay in Australia further, we plan to tour the country for 6 months, trying to do seasonal work to extend for a 2nd year visa and see what happens next.

    Yes it’s lovely to get to know a place better by living and working alongside locals, but sometimes it becomes necessity in order to fund further movement. Anyways, thanks for giving me fuel to get up and go!!

    Reply
  12. Jamie

    Getting ‘stuck’ on the road is one of the most wonderful things to do because it means that you like a place long enough to stick around in. I spent five months this summer hitching through 24 countries in Europe and only stayed in one place longer than a week. Most the time, I stayed for just one or two nights. It was a wonderful experience, but when I slung down my backpack, it was nice to stop in a place for a few weeks and know where to find everything.

    Reply
  13. Dariece - Goats On The Road

    I love this post! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with travelling slowly, and after being on the road for awhile you do kinda crave some sort of a routine. This has happened to us 2 different times (both after backpacking through India)…we found ourselves in Thailand and couldn’t peel ourselves away from the beach. Not beaches on different islands, we literally spent our whole 30 day visa on Koh Tao the first time and then Koh Phangan the 2nd time! It’s just something about India I guess…

    Apart for our one month roots in Thiland a couple of times, we tend to move on from places after 5 days or so when we’re backpacking.

    As for now, we’ve put down some more firm roots. We’re teaching English in China for a year before embarking on yet another long term trip. After a year of staying still, I think we’ll be more than ready to be uprooted! (http://goatsontheroad.com/teaching-english-in-china-inspiraton-for-change/)

    Cheers for the post!

    Reply

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