As this post goes live I’m leaving on a jet plane from Frankfurt, Germany to my birthplace and all-around fantastic city Wrocław, Poland.
“I leave, and the leaving is so exhilarating I know I can never go back. But then what? Do I just keep leaving places, and leaving them, and leaving them, tramping a perpetual journey?” – John Green
Are you me John Green? I don’t remember changing my name.
For the past 3 years my life has mostly revolved around leaving someone, some place, somewhere, at some time. You might argue I’m running from something.
I’m comfortable with leaving. It’s the way life works in my head. That means not getting too comfortable with staying.
I was chatting with Nicky about this in Mexico a few months ago. There’s an art to leaving.
- If you stay in a place for just a couple days or a week you don’t have enough time to set strong enough roots for leaving to matter. Leaving almost isn’t an issue, except for logistics.
- If you stay somewhere for 1-3 months relationships may form and leaving is a bit more difficult. If you don’t leave now, you may never leave. That’s not an option, until it is. Usually the only real option is to tear the bandage from the wound before it has a chance to stick and leave an unnecessarily painful mess.
- If you stay for 6 months or more you’ve dug a hole that’s very difficult to climb out of. Routine has been established. Roots have firmly taken hold. If you’ve ever tried to uproot a tree you know how difficult it is, and the roots of routine are no different.
I’m always leaving.
It’s not that I don’t want to see you again. It’s not that I don’t enjoy your company. It’s not that you’re not good enough. It’s really as simple as I’m always leaving.
Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism, however, is something we use to protect ourselves from getting hurt.
I want to hurt. I want to feel pain. I’m not running away. I’m running towards that possibility.
I’m always leaving.
I didn’t think I was finished with that yet (I’mma let you finish!), but a funny thing happened as I was writing.
It hit me that long term travel isn’t what I want anymore. I was trying to convince myself otherwise with the words above.
When people used to ask, “how long do you plan on traveling?” I’d respond with, “for as long as I can see into the future.” It was true at the time. It’s not anymore.
I periodically ask myself the question, “Am I having fun?” If the answer is “no” I ask myself, “is it temporary?” The answer to that had never been “no” before.
But as I write this, the answer to both questions is generally “no.” In other words, it’s time to pivot.
If I think about it I could’ve seen this coming. Maybe I didn’t want to believe it before.
There is no particular geographical location that’s pulling me right now. No bucket list* of places or things I must see or do before I die.
*Bucket lists are for bragging rights and boosting the egos of the insecure. “Hey! Look at me! This is what I’ve done! Please, please, please care about it!” I don’t care for that. (As I hypocritically make one of these.)
My most recent international plans (Panama City, Panama and Costa Rica) were plan-less. And, maybe consequently, my least favorite places I’ve visited. (I particularly think Costa Rica’s tourism board does a fantastic job of selling something that’s not there.)
I knew nothing about either country and I didn’t choose visiting them for any particular reason. I knew I’d be working most of the time and I figured any place would be fine for that. I was wrong.
This is in contrast to most of my past travels.
- Going to Australia/New Zealand for 100 days was my first experiment in long term solo travel. Everything was a new experience.
- The 16,000 mile road trip around the US had a point. Go on every roller coaster. (Actually, if I’m being honest, the point was to do something press-worthy, which it semi-was until I blacked out and cut it short.)
- Visiting India was based on an experience. Learn how to build a guitar by hand.
- Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a month was on purpose. It was named one of the most vegetarian friendly cities in the world and I wanted to experience what that would be like.
- Moving to Poland for 5 months in 2010 was so I could re-learn the language and experience my birthplace in a way I hadn’t before.
For a short term stay nearly anywhere can be fine. A weekend here. A week there. But for a longer term stay (e.g. a month or more) I feel like it has to be coupled with something else.
I think what this boils down to is I’m tired. I know I’m exceptionally privileged to have this freedom of choice and I fully understand these are “First World Problems.” I’m OK with that.
I’m tired of moving every day, week, or few months. I’m tired of wasting energy thinking about the next location instead of what I can do for my life and my business. Travel planning is not enjoyable. The rewards (the actual travel) used to make up for that. They don’t anymore.
I’m also tired of seemingly little things. I’m tired of not having a chef’s knife that actually does its intended job. I miss riding a bike every day. I miss making breakfast smoothies.
I’m tired of not having a guitar and not being able to make music. I built a guitar in India and traveled with it for a while, but being that it was my first guitar build it wasn’t exactly a piece of artisanal craftsmanship. In other words, it was difficult to play and didn’t sound good as time went on (and the neck started warping due to temperature changes). It fell off the luggage rack on the night train (bottoms up) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and the truss rod broke, which means I can’t fix the warping from all those temperature changes. (Damn!)
I’m tired of dealing with the stresses of establishing new friendships. I’m as far from an extrovert as may be possible, and I don’t mind having few friends. But I do mind having to recreate those few friends everywhere I go. I enjoy mostly going solo, but I also like to hang out with people I connect with.
Note re: going out and pickup. It’s still very enjoyable although I did take a ~5 day break recently.
What I love about traveling is it has helped me recognize again and again what makes me happy. It’s not very much and I don’t plan on buying a whole bunch of garbage I don’t need.
I’ll likely still live out of a figurative, if not literal, backpack. I will never again understand $5 DVD bins or getting a new car because “it’s time,” or owning 7 pairs of shoes. I won’t be buying a TV or subscribing to mind-numbing cable programming. I’ll be perpetually lost when people talk about funny commercials. (Although that’s what YouTube is for!)
Traveling has forced me into trying things I wouldn’t normally try and doing things I normally wouldn’t do. I don’t have any relevant examples I want to share.
Traveling has taught me to be more patient. Standing in line for hours (and hours and hours … and hours) to buy a SIM card in India, or waiting for a Blue Line train at 3am in Chicago when it’s below freezing (without a winter coat), or waiting to be served food in countries where there is no tipping culture so there is no incentive to be efficient. Travel is patience. You either learn to be patient or you hate your life. Learning to be patient is a lot more enjoyable. You big city folks might know this already, but I ain’t no city slicker.
Traveling has made me appreciate walking. Too many of us are in too much of a hurry for no reason. For about 6 months now my main mode of transportation has been my feet and it has been glorious. My rule is, “if it’s 3 miles or less I walk.”
Which brings us to moving to a more permanent residence. What does that look like?
The biggest issue with moving permanently is that when I first started traveling one of my ancillary goals was to find a city I liked more than Austin, TX. I never really found that city. Wrocław, Poland comes very close. In actuality, I like it more than Austin, but it’s cold for ~8 months and that’s too much. I can handle a month of misery (hell, I could just leave for the month), but more? Nope.
I also love NYC, but I’m not going to deal with their Winters either.
I’d like to live in San Francisco because of all the great things going on there, but again, weather is a deal breaker. (You people who think SF is warm are insane.)
I think, of all things, weather is my only real deal breaker. I can deal with a lot of things, but I can’t deal with being cold. I don’t like wearing socks or shirts or pants or underwear or coats or hats. Cold is misery.
Which brings us to the obvious: Why not move to Austin? I can’t see the future, but that’s likely what I’ll do if I leave Poland. For now, I’m going to enjoy Wrocław.
If you happen to live in Poland (I know there’s quite a few of you, I check my stats!) get in touch. I’ll be visiting a few cities this Summer.
This was written some time in February and edited to reflect the present. The “underwear” thing was a joke meant to illicit a double-take. Hope it worked!
Update (June ’12): I’ve really been enjoying Wrocław and may just stay in Poland for a longer while. Wrote about that here.
Update 2: Staying in Poland for the foreseeable future.