There comes a time in the life of many backpackers when they have to put the pack down and do a bit of settling. I know some of you out there argue with this. But, at some point, the majority of people decide that settling down a little — getting a mortgage, perhaps having children, etc. — is something they want to do, and they’re prepared to give up their globetrotting, wandering lifestyle in exchange for their new priorities.

But no matter how wonderful the new priorities are, settling down is never easy for people who are used to traveling. I don’t have to look further than myself for a good example. I spent a few years taking trips from my home in Perth, then six years living in three different countries and traveling constantly from these new bases. I didn’t even want to return to Australia just yet but circumstances kind of worked out that way. And now, two years into the “settling down” process, I still have extraordinarily itchy feet and regular moments of stress where I wish I could book a flight somewhere and get far away from this settled-down life.

Australians in particular — or so I’ve heard — are renowned for wandering the world, working overseas, or backpacking for years, but very often coming home to settle down. Many of my Aussie friends have done something similar. From their experiences as well as my own, I’ve learned a few ways to deal with this inevitable phase and learn that a life led not constantly on the road is alright too.

Here are some of my tips if you find yourself in the same situation:

#1: Keep Learning About the World

Read, surf the net, chat on online forums, and Facebook your long-lost travel friends to keep learning about what’s happening out there in the big wide world. When you’re in a more settled-down phase it’s easy to get caught up with conversations about the latest local reality TV show and the gossip of small-town politics. Make an effort to keep learning about the rest of the world.

I have a lovely example of this from a good friend of mine who’s a more vehemently independent traveler than me. Now that she’s put down the backpack to marry a guy who’s not so interested in travel, and she’s had a baby, she’s found a unique way to deal with her itchy feet. While she’s feeding her baby — those long hours that others might spend watching mindless TV — she keeps an atlas open in front of her, memorizing the geography of the continents where she’s traveled least. She can already draw an accurate map of all the countries of South America, and now she’s moved on to figuring out how those many nations of Africa fit together.

Girl staring up on Bucharest, staring up
Exploring Bucharest © Bogdan Suditu

#2: Do Some Micro-Traveling in Your Own Part of the World

Whether you’ve settled back in your hometown or somewhere new, it’s too easy to fall into the routine of driving to the same supermarket, meeting friends at the same pubs or restaurants, and spending weekends at home in front of the TV.

Remember that, to somebody else, visiting your hometown is traveling. Imagine their perspective and get out and really get to know your area.

Remember that, to somebody else, visiting your hometown is traveling. Try to imagine their perspective, get out, and really get to know your area.

I was lucky in this respect since I returned to Perth with a German husband who’d never been here before. So playing the tour guide was natural. I got to know all about my home city and discovered all kinds of places I never knew about before. I also try to keep in touch with the various local festivals and events that come our way, just like I’d do if I was still backpacking.

#3: Do the Pre-Trip Research You Always Wanted to Do

When I was traveling almost full-time, it was impossible to learn as much about my destinations as I wanted to before I arrived. I don’t mean planning a minute-by-minute itinerary, but rather reading and learning about the culture and people of a city or country. For a start, when I was on the road it wasn’t easy to source English language books that were related to the places I was hoping to visit. On top of that, I didn’t always have that much time between trips or location changes.

Now that I’ve settled down, I’m catching up on trip research from the past as well as researching more thoroughly for the future. I love to find novels set in the cities and places that I’ve visited, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting reads about the destinations I hope to visit someday.

#4: Stay in Contact With Foreigners

One of the saving graces of my settling down period has been my job as a teacher of English as a foreign language. That means that every day in my classroom I chat with people from at least three continents and get to continually learn about cultures and countries that interest me. But outside of work, I’ve made sure to keep in touch with a few foreign friends who also live in my city. That way I don’t feel totally absorbed back into my hometown culture. Plus, I can also do a bit of vicarious traveling through them as they visit their home countries and come back with gifts and stories.

I also keep in contact with the various people I’ve met along the way in my travels, whether they’re ex-colleagues or ex-students from my various teaching jobs, or friends, neighbors and traveling companions I’ve bumped into along the way. One nice side effect is that a number of my ex-colleagues are still traveling the world and teaching in far-flung corners of the globe and reading their emails about adventures in Cali, Colombia or Guangzhou, China is almost as good as being there myself.

Silhouettes playing at the beach, Maldives
Lost in Your Own World © notsogoodphotography

#5: Daydream About Future Trips

One of the best things I learned while traveling is that I have the skills and know-how to travel anywhere in the world, somehow. Knowing this, I can spend time on my commute to work or while cooking dinner to daydream about destinations I’ll get to sometime in the future.

Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating to know that my mortgage means I can’t take off to Bhutan tomorrow (that’s our latest interest — my husband wants to meet the happiest people in the world). But it’s all a matter of give-and-take.

I spent a decade traveling whenever and wherever I wanted, and now the trade-off is that I have a house I like and a family of my own. But that’s not the end of my traveling life, and opportunities can arise out of nowhere. I’ve always got ideas in my head about the places I’ll travel to when I have a chance in the future.

19 Responses

  1. Marco van de Kamp

    Great tips. I have another one. If you are not traveling sure you love it to meet other travelers, show them around your town, tell them where nice places are, let them cook a local dinner for you etc. You can sign up with sites like Travelers for Travelers, Couchsurfing or hospitalityclub to meet travelers at home.

    Reply
  2. Nora Dunn

    I second that – I’ve enjoyed the generous hospitality of many folks through the Hospitality Club in my own travels, that I can’t wait to eventually host some travelers myself. I see how it can keep the fire lit and passion for travel burning without having to leave your home town.

    Reply
  3. megan

    Some great tips :-) I’m not done travelling yet, but these are already some of the things I do to keep myself going in between being at home and being somewhere else.

    Reply
  4. reina

    The Traveller-Virus has turned out to be benign but incurable. Contacted at the tender age of three, haven’t stopped travelling since. Still mortageless at 53, I did manage to come up with a family! Planning to go completely nomad in a couple of years.

    Reply
  5. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Great tips, especially traveling close to home. It’s surprising how much stuff there is to see and do right near to where you live.

    You can also use you settled time to write your travel memoir or create a slideshow with all your photos:)

    Reply
  6. Barbara

    I guess I never got over the whole backpacking deal. Backpacking has become so much a part of my life that I decided to keep doing it and make some money at the same time- I opened up a backpacking tour business – iheartbackpackers.com You don’t have to “settle down” away from what you love to do…just find a way to turn it into something profitable. Become a travel writer (www.matador.com has great advice), Travel Agent, Tour operator, or something that enables you to do what you love. My philosophy has always been to live and love your work, not work to live.

    Reply
  7. Matthew Peters

    My wife and I love to travel-and we did a lot of that until recently. Now we have two toddlers and our traveling adventures have been put on pause for the moment. We take short trips (10 days to two weeks) or take the time to discover our hometown’s treasures as you wisely point out.

    To keep our flexibility to travel when we want to and keep our living costs down, we became resident managers of an apartment complex.

    A lot of people believe that you have to turn in your freedom or can no longer travel for weeks at a time when you are manager; but it isn’t always the case. We pay nothing for our home and work about one hour a week in exchange.

    It is a great happy medium for us. Since we had to have a place to live, we liked the idea of free rent and we both work for ourselves-so we really have the flexibility we want to do what we want when we want to do it.

    I’m glad that you wrote this article because when we had children, we felt that we wanted to provide a “home-base” and have some stability yet our hearts are in traveling and experiencing the world.

    Reply
  8. Marissa Simoes

    I really enjoyed this. I just came home from a few months of traveling right after graduating from college. I was offered a job back at home and now that I’m all settled in, working and such, I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to a sedentary life. It’s good to know that other people have dealt with it and have good suggestions. Thanks! -Marissa

    Reply
  9. LeslieTravel

    Great tips! I can relate to your experience. Since my RTW trip I’ve come back home and have been exploring the US. There’s always something new and exciting in my hometown, New York City. Your advice is spot-on… even if you aren’t backpacking overseas, you can continue to discover new cultures, traditions and attractions closer to home.

    Reply
  10. Kristiina

    Some excelent tips you have ! I was in australia two years and few months in asia&malaysia , and i miss australia, or the people i met in there(havent quite decided yet) soo much. been home for few months and life in here is so full of responsibilities and everyone is taking life seriously, im working in here,but its not the same. its so different to the life i lived the past years ! maybe its time to grow up,but im not quite sure if i want it.
    greetings from Estonia !

    Reply
  11. Dariece - Goats On The Road

    Great post! I definitely agree with keeping foreign friends and travel buddies close while at home. I do think that there are backpackers out there that don’t need to “settle down” on a mortgage permanent basis. Some of us found that our sole mates enjoy travelling as much as we do and we do it together. Sure you cant travel non-stop forever, but travelling for a lifetime is not unheard of. We’ve been going 3 years strong and taking 6 month or year long breaks in a country and calling it home has been enough for us. I’ll get back to you after 5 or 6 years but I’m pretty sure we’ll still be going strong. The pressures of society and western life bring the pressures of “settling down”, not our human nature. We can do it if we have the right person to do it with. Good for you though for keeping your personal dream alive. having a mortgage and doing 1-3 month trips isn’t so bad! It’s all TRAVEL!
    Cheers.

    Reply
  12. Clive Sinclair

    Great Post. It is very hard to do – giving up travelling. While in the military (20yrs), I travelled a lot. That in itself gave me an appetite to travel even more.

    I love nothing more than arriving at an airport for a long haul flight to some far part of the world. At 57 though my ‘places to visit’ is still long.

    I am lucky enough to have retired early and still be able to travel, although it is becoming less frequent. I do have an age in my head, when I think I shall stop. But I’m not telling anyone – it might change!

    Reply
  13. Andy

    What you say is very true. Not everyone can make traveling full-time. For those who can, it is wonderful, but those travelers with wandering feet have difficulty staying at home when they return. Interesting list, thanks for your thoughts!

    Reply
  14. Penelope

    It’s great to hear from others just like me! I traveled for about 7 years, then I was blessed with my babies and a Canadian husband, we’re all hauled up on the south coast of the UK, which is gorgeous. We take the kids everywhere!! Round the UK and further afield at least once a year. We also go by ourselves every year to a new European city, which is great. I”ll never lose my travel bug and am always up for the next trip, love to plan and execute them :) We are tied into a mortgage, which was important to us with the kids to have a stable base and committed to our businesses that we have set up. The tips from the article are great. I have one more…to help me readjust to settled life I went back to Uni which allowed me to travel during the long vacations, but help me get used to being home, it was tough but it worked :)

    Reply

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