Whenever I tell people my latest travel plans, I usually get the same response: “Oh, you’re so lucky – I wish I could do that.” What they don’t realize is that they can do that — I’ve made travel a priority and set my life up around it. I could have made a nice down payment on a house in my late twenties, but I chose to spend the money on a round-the-world-trip, for example. But despite the perceived glamor (or luckiness) of someone who leads a nomadic life, there are times when never being in one place for long can really suck. Here are five reasons:
1. It can be difficult to make deeper connections with people. When you’re just passing through, you’re just passing through. The older I get, the more I feel this — sure, I make friends easily, but the odds of ever meeting up with people again are slim. It makes me sad.
2. People at home go on with their lives, and you become less and less a part of them. With Facebook, I’m privy to all the fun I’m missing at home. I always reconnect easily with my best friends, but seeing the the photos of celebrations and reading the status updates of those having cozy holidays can intensify the loneliness that my solo travel occasionally leads to.
3. Sometimes it feels like your life is standing still. Everyone else is doing age-appropriate things like having babies and advancing their careers. Suddenly, most of my friends have decent salaries and guest rooms – weird. I’m still sleeping in budget hotels and living out of the same backpack I bought six years ago.
4. You can’t commit to any one thing, and so never experience anything fully. This is kind of related to #1, but it has more to it than just connecting to people. I’m only in Kunming for three months, for example, so I’m not going to buy a bike and get to know the city and its surrounds as well as I could. Equally, I’m not going to learn as much Mandarin as I would if I’d committed to a longer stay. I’ll just get a little sample of everything, and then move on.
5. You continually have experiences that you simply can’t convey to folks who aren’t with you. Just as everyone back home is moving on, you too are living a life no one else can relate to. That’s one reason why Kraig suggested that those who travel without their significant others experience a high rate of breakups. I’m constantly overwhelmed with the scents, sounds, and sights that are impossible to communicate fully. Can anyone really understand what it’s like to see entire hillsides terraced by hand, smell piss and oil and spices all at once, or feel air so humid it feels like you’re wearing it? You just have to be there.
Of course, I have to qualify that for all the reasons life on the road can be hard, there are many more reasons why it’s wonderful. I’m paraphrasing from memory here when I recall Elizabeth Gilbert’s passage in one of her early chapters of Eat, Pray, Love, but it’s one that really spoke to me: “I feel about travel the way a new mother feels about her restless, colicky, newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. It can barf all over me and I will still love it.”
Hence, I’m still on the road.
To read more about my life in China, click here.