It’s been a while since I last traded in my backpack for an apartment, a job, and a fairly stable existence in Canada. And it has been a struggle. I still have a lot of days where I all I want to do is sell everything I own and jump on a plane, but I’m learning to cope and understand why those feelings persist.
Long-term travel is a beautiful thing. You give up set routines in favour of doing and learning something new every day. Even a chill day on the road is exciting in its own regard. The weeks don’t blend together and instead moments stick out in your memory. While friends were getting married and buying homes, I was living a different life every year and forming unique memories of it all.
But it can be tough as you get older. At a certain point, you look at your life and realize that you are missing a plan. Starting over all the time isn’t for everyone. Not knowing how you’ll be supporting yourself in a year from now isn’t for everyone. It might be OK when you’re 21, but in your late 20s you can start to feel a bit of a time crunch. I’m not saying this is true for everyone, but it certainly reflects my own experience.
Getting comfortable with living a more “normal” life has been a challenge, but I’ve waded through it and am finding it slightly easier to settle in. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Go Deeper into your Hobbies
Travel in itself can be an all-consuming lifestyle. While you aren’t on your way somewhere or exploring new destinations and activities, you are researching where you are headed (well, for those of us who like to do some planning or prior research). A lot of hobbies are difficult to pursue with some consistency without a set routine or schedule.
That said, when the travel lifestyle is traded for a set routine, suddenly a lot of time spent on travel is freed up. The worst thing you can do for yourself at this point is get into the kind of routine that seems to only revolve around sleeping, eating, working, and decompressing from work. In order to be happy humans, we need to feel that we are constantly growing, evolving, levelling up our skills. Without a project or sense of purpose, depression can seep in. What’s more is that travel can become such a huge part of your identity that you don’t know how to define yourself anymore.
So, look at the hobbies you’ve experimented with over the years. Maybe you see yourself as having lots already. But what kind of dedication would it take for that hobby to become part of your identity? How can you get yourself to the level where you feel comfortable defining yourself as a runner, writer, photographer, climber, painter, etc., etc., etc.?
2. Be Picky About Where You Live
When I first headed back home, I was not picky about where I lived. I chose based on circumstances rather than choosing a city that offered a lifestyle that was appealing to me. It was a tough time.
It’s difficult to alter how you make this decision. Of course it feels like you should choose where you live based on where the best opportunities are for you, but choosing to live in a remote area for a high-paying job when you aren’t happy living in remote areas is not a good plan for most of us.
Living somewhere that is interesting to you can completely change everything. Maybe that means in a mountain town with lots of opportunities for getting outdoors or perhaps it’s a big city with a well-connected airport and large international community. Either way, being selective about where you live makes it a lot easier to hit the ground running and not immediately fall back into that longing to get away.
Treat being happy with where you live as a necessity rather than a perk. Seriously.
3. Get Used to the Idea of Planning Shorter Trips in Fewer Places
Make the most of the days you do get away from home. A weekend away might not sound like much but it can be a lot more satisfying than you might expect.
And a shorter trip does not have to mean you are restricted to a long weekend. Paid vacation is a beautiful thing, but if you’ve only got 2-3 weeks per year, maybe it’s time to consider taking an extra week or two unpaid.
Three weeks is not enough time to explore a continent, but it might be enough time in single province, region, or country (depending on where you go).
4. Change Your Attitude Toward Nostalgia
Nostalgia grips me hard sometimes. I look back and see myself in the mountains in Ecuador, on a beach in Australia, and eating so much food in Thailand, and I want that so bad. In these moments, it’s tough not to give in to the longing, but this really is when you need to adjust your attitude.
It’s a cliché, but gratitude can really change your mindset. Instead of lusting for the past, the carefree days of spending savings and not worrying about the future, remind yourself to be grateful that you had those experiences to begin with. That they shaped who you are today. That you even have them to long for now.
5. Know That You Can Always Get Back There
If leaving the lifestyle of long-term travel behind just doesn’t feel right, know that you have it within your abilities to get back there again. It all depends on how you prioritize your time, energy, and values, as well as how much effort you’re willing to put forward.
Maybe you change your path, or maybe you decide that simply knowing you have the choice is enough to finally embrace the life you’re living right now. And things like age and the things you “should” be doing at this point in life have no place in the decision unless you decide for yourself they are important.