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.
Update 3 (Feb 6, 2017): I got married in Poland! And now we live in the US. :)
Wow, I totally relate on every level. I have been through these phases across my life. Long periods of extended travel (6 months tenting across the US; year through Europe/Asia, etc) where I thought I loved the leaving, the excitement of possibility – I even questioned if I had become addicted to the excitement of possibility (much the way some people become addicted to falling love – isn’t that the same thing? it is all about possibility! I mean – look at my email address even lol).
Anyhow, then I would go through long periods of settling in. My son once said I am like a bear – I go through hibernation periods where I settle in for a long time, but then, eventually, I start to feel the itch of the travel bug again.
During my hibernation periods, I consume more – I begin accumulating. Not a lot, I am still largely a minimalist, but I will possess far more than I do when travel is my life. I know the travel bug is starting to claw at me when I find myself suddenly decluttering TOO MUCH – you know, to the point where someone about to move overseas would de-clutter.
And…I am there now. I feel it, the call to travel, to embrace the possibility of the unknown. But the thing is, for one of the first times in my life, the timing is all wrong. My business has suddenly become a largely (though not totally) location based one. And it is in the first 18 months of its existence, and it is doubling monthly. I COULD shut it down, change the business model, and travel.
I have been struggling with this – why did I create this model to begin with, rather than a location independent one? Was it temporary insanity? But I think it was intentional (albeit possibly subconsciously so). I think I needed to put down more secure roots to avoid doing what I feel like doing now – picking up and taking off.
The truth is, I think I need stronger and more permanent roots. So now, instead of re-inventing my business model to be more location independent friendly, I am looking to reinvent both my business and personal life to allow me more variety. I have put in place a director of operations, which will allow me to make myself unavailable for up to a week here and there. And in the future, to hopefully allow me to travel for a month (like when the weather is too cold!), while still working at some of the more location independent elements from another location.
So it is I am realizing that it isn’t just one model vs another – just as it isn’t about being constantly traveling or settling down. THere are always more possibilities – and we are creatures designed to create. This means we possess the possibility to create ANY vision we can dream up. Of course, there is always trial and error in this. We experiment, we check our results ,and we adjust course if need be.
May I ask you: What will leaving be like with or without the contrast of ‘coming home’? Is there such a thing for you? I don’t necessarily mean a geographical location, for some people ‘home’ is a ‘set-up’ of sorts, or to a group of people or a group of circumstances.
And btw, as a New Yorker (more frequently than not), I can say that we had the mildest winter in memory, and with so many airports here, it is simple to take off when it gets too cold.
Oh, and aren’t we lucky to be dealing with first world problems? It is easy to forget how fortunate we are.
Loving the new blog. Always loving the nakedness of your truth (press-worthy …so glad you admitted that, it makes it all so much more real, honest, and fresh).
Create an amazing day for yourself!
Your words are pure light:)
I underwent a midlife crisis at age 25 and my then wife shared your name.
Since 2009 I have traveled extensively in Canada with Oilfield work and then Live Theater work. I love seeing the country and for a time it was pleasure to travel. The thrill of unpredictable events sharpened my interpersonal skills and I will always keep a birds eye view of my country in mind. This airplane vision gives me freedom when I need to get away and leads my imagination to higher elevation pondering. However, after covering many miles I have found absolute peace and warmth here in my home province of Alberta. Our new shopping malls and live theaters are second to none in the world, with regard to air conditioning and sound quality etc.
I keep my imagination close as it fuels my daily activities. Though my work now is less adventurous, I feel calm in knowing that I’ve seen more ground than many of the people I interact with professionally.
You are clever and bright eyed. I like your dedicated position on developing personal security. I say think of a place far away. Take a weekend to travel as far as possible with this place as one of the stops. Then come home and enjoy combing through the sights and sounds, flavors and scents of the journey.
Always in good thought
Thank you. I too had what I came to call a “Quarter Life Crisis” – for me it hit when I was 29. I think it was sourced in the fact that I was about to turn 30 and looking back over where I had been, and ahead to where I was going. For me, it too pushed me to travel more, to put myself out there more. It was very useful, actually. You are right, of course, that I should continue to build personal security and then travel far away.
I have come to love speed – small airplanes, racing cars (rented, not owned, too much money, ties, maintenance). I think the love of speed is perhaps the sense of freedom they give, when one IS more tied down.
Too, though, while I enjoy the comforts of this point of settled-ness, I also know that if I ever truly wanted, I could pull up and go too. Will I? I do not know, but it helps me enjoy what I have now to acknowledge that I have it by choice. And you are right – knowing you have done and seen what you have is an amazing gift. For a long while, that is how I chose things: Is this something most people never see or experience? MUST DO IT! It has led me to many an interesting place :-)
Thanks for the thoughts,
“And it is in the first 18 months of its existence, and it is doubling monthly.” I would like to know more about this. I will e-mail you.
I like the bear hibernating metaphor. Although I guess a bear hibernating is a bit opposite. They accumulate (fat) then hibernate and “downsize”. :)
“I am looking to reinvent both my business and personal life to allow me more variety.” I like this a lot. It’s a sort of Stoic “be happy with what you have” way of life that, I think, makes living more pleasant.
“What will leaving be like with or without the contrast of ‘coming home’? Is there such a thing for you?” I don’t know. I don’t see myself ever living anywhere for an incredibly extended period of time, but 1 year sounds good to me right now. Maybe instead of moving every few months I’ll move once per year. Who knows?
Thanks for writing.
:-) When I replied to your email, I hadn’t seen this. You are right on the correction regarding the bear. And I think that one year is a good start – just so long as you are not stuck with ‘crabs in a bucket’ ;-)
Thanks, great post. I can relate. ‘Bucket lists are for bragging rights and boosting the egos of the insecure.’ Hear hear. That’s all the rage now.
Beautiful Karol…it is my belief that life is about experience, not labels…sometimes I get stuck in the labels I’ve applied or let stick (to my self and to others) and feel the ‘should’s instead of the pleasure. What you shared here is affirmative on many levels. Thank you :)
Thank you Joy. Isn’t it funny how we create labels that end up not only defining, but constraining us?
While I sit here mad at myself for not taking the year to travel around the world when I could, I can appreciate you wanting to be done for awhile.
I hear great things about Austin and it sounds like a good place for you to be.
Enjoy summer in Poland and keep us posted. I’ve not seen much of eastern Europe.
As the great John Fogerty once said, “someday never comes.” I was treading water for years, nearly drowning in self-pity and despair. Traveling saved me from the undertow. It wasn’t a perfect time – it never is – but it was the right time.
Awesome revelation Karol!
You’ve got the Blue Ever Beyond under control and now you’d like to take in some of the good stuff; like morning smoothies, without going American Overdrive with uber spending. Cheers!
I have traveled extensively in Canada for work on Drilling Rigs. I have worked from coast to coast in Live Theater. Now I live well with a good woman in a nice house and things are cool. The turning point for me happened after reading ‘Ten Years Living in Cars and Loving It!’
There was a time when functional living had strict appeal. Then I saw that people have and are doing it well. So the mystery was satisfied and I live the way I want to live now. No more rebelling against society and no more feeling stress over material ownership competition.
Cheers bro, love your essays.
Ciao for now
“No more rebelling against society and no more feeling stress over material ownership competition.”
I’m still a fan of the former, and of course, a big fan of the latter. :)
“…and now you’d like to take in some of the good stuff” Oh, I think it’s all good stuff. Just a different kind of good. And it really depends on mindset more than anything.
Thanks for writing Clayton. I’m glad this sparked some thoughts for you.
Thank you for the post; I completely see your point.
And just a quick thought, it may help you beginning to consider the Mediterranean zone, even Morocco ;)
I would like to visit Morocco, but I don’t think I’m in the proper frame of mind to enjoy it right now.
I wondered if you had ever considered some sort of mobile dwelling? I currently am living in my SUV and traveling, which gives me the ability to follow the good weather around! Now I know that you’re not going to fit in an SUV very well but perhaps a customized van/step van/delivery van? I made some modifications to my SUV so I have power with a couple of deep cycle batteries, a small sink with grey water storage, a portable toilet, cooler for food storage, and even a small kitchen counter. Someone with your resources could make a really cool pad pretty easily.
For me this is the best of both worlds, I have my chef’s knife in a drawer in the “kitchen,” I can go 10 days between doing laundry, and most importantly to me I get to travel with my dog.
My family is in northern NY so I can spend the summers with them and then spend the winters with my friends in California. I have a feeling of being “home” no matter where I am. (Except when the car is in the shop, that sucks!)
Just occurred to me that it might be a good stepping stone back to a more “rooted” existence. You could rent a lot/backyard/driveway in Austin for the majority of the time and still have the freedom to get outta dodge should the wanderlust bug hit you, all without having to break out the good ole backpack again!
No. Mobile dwellings are not for me. Modifying a van I could stand up in (I’m 6’5″) is more work than I’m interested in. (More specifically, it’s not the type of work I’m interested in.) And beyond that, I don’t enjoy driving and would rather not own an automobile.
I would like to say that there’s “no place like home, Dorothy” but this, too, changes, as does the weather, as do our phases and moods, so I won’t (oops).
As usual, your essays are riveting. Thanks for putting PayPal on your ‘OnlyIndie’ booksite, and for the links.
I once had a friend who told me that it was difficult being my friend because she would never know when I would leave town (again, or forever) – before email and internet was virulent (am now definitely infected, and will also change this one day – because it will be another thing that I do). She died. Ironic, huh!
I really appreciated reading – whether it was you or a link to someone else that you gave – that oneself as well as others will try to hold one back into the comfort of routine and living routinely. . . appropriate for me at present as I take longer and longer trips away, have chucked in my work, am about to sell or rent out my place, and …..jump
Thanks for the stimulation Karol – your wordsmithery and insights always delight me.
Enjoy Wroclaw – I know you will :)
Michelle (Australian) currently at home and can hardly wait to get going again
“I once had a friend who told me that it was difficult being my friend because she would never know when I would leave town.” Interesting!
When I read the word “jump” it reminded me of my friend Nick. He talks about business and life like cliff-jumping. Basically (I’m gonna mess this up from his definition), this is how we build courage. First, jump a small cliff. 3m. You hit the water and you’re fine. So you jump from a higher cliff. 10m. OK, that was scary, but I lived! Now 15m. Whoa! It’s getting intense. So on and so on.
Thanks for writing Michelle.
I too knew a woman who was afraid to be my friend because she would never know when I would leave…and ironically, she too died – within a year of that in fact. It just goes to show how important it is to live and love in the moment, rather than worrying about what will or won’t be there tomorrow. It helped create for me a sense of how precious life here right now is.
We are so different… you’re always leaving, and I’ve never left “home.” I would love for you to come visit sometime; I don’t know that York is anywhere you’d want to live (though we haven’t had snow in, like, 4 years, which is hot) but I’d love to show you what it’s like to have that kind of hometowny life.
I am perhaps wrong, but I get the feeling, too, that most of your travels in the US have been to “cities” or their outskirts… which obviously have their advantages, but I don’t know how that would ever feel like home to me! :)
Thanks Joan! If I’m ever in that area you better believe I’ll give you a shout. :)
I grew up in a “small town.” A suburb (of Detroit) anyway. Grew up on 17 Mile Road, just 9 miles from 8 Mile, made famous by the movie. heh. Not my style. I like to spend a lot of time alone, but I like options and bigger cities have interesting things going on daily. That is definitely one of the best aspects of NYC. So much going on there.
I’ve definitely traveled to dozens of small towns. I enjoy visiting, but they’re not places I see myself living. (Says the guy who would escape to the woods with a nice lady and shun technology/the world in a heartbeat.)
Forgive my presumptuousness – I intuited this (your last comment), & didn’t want to mention it – as I recalled reading something you said about not wanting this. I didn’t think it appropriate to mention it – ‘cos as I tell my daughter when she reminds me of things I’ve said.. It is not a crime to change one’s mind :)
I was on a retreat last week (ref: N. Sri Nam, “Seeking Wisdom”) – something came up about how there is part of the opposite in everything that we feel passionately about, & ‘we’ will move towards that (extreme) also. I gave a talk about finding ‘The Middle Road’ after visiting extremes (relating to my own personal overreactions – heh, I did a ‘truth, no consequences’ gig and it was appreciated.
. . . I know that you know how to make things happen, Karol . . . I guess you just haven’t refined things, like – ‘when’ . . . or perhaps now I am being presumptuous?
When I don’t get what (I think) I want..community work is also a meaningful sensation for me – for some reason I’m laughing as I write this,
PS: just had a very kewl thought.. ie: how delighted I would be if my daughter met someone like you (truth, no consequences).
I’m not sure exactly how you’re being presumptuous because I don’t really understand what you’re referring to.
I do know how to make things happen, but sometimes the “when” isn’t in our control. And again, I don’t know what you’re referring to.
Poland is great thus far. I’ve gotten a total of ~8 hours of sleep since I’ve been here though so I’m running on fumes.
Apologies Karol . . (must learn now to make phone on internet copy & paste).
I was referring to your comment about escaping to the woods with a nice lady, shunning technology/the world in a heartbeat . . .
Oh, that. It’s one of those things that sounds great in theory, but I actually don’t think I would like. I’d have to try it to know for sure.
As you may know from my other writing, I would likely not last long were I to abscond to the woods with a significant other – but the fantasy is there for me too. I am very inspired by Diana from innermosthouse.com and the purely intellectual life she and her partner have in their electricity free home in the woods, where they lose themselves entirely in books, thoughts, ideas, and conversation. Much as I know it would likely drive me nuts in the end, this is a fantasy that returns often – and the pictures attached are a particular kind of ‘porn’ attached to that fantasy, lol, because somehow this little house just seems SO PERFECT for it! Check ’em out: http://www.innermosthouse.com/photo.php?pageID=96
I think that’s true man, going somewhere for a purpose, at least to stay for a long time. If I’m just travelling around staying each place a day or 2 then it’s fine, but any longer than that and I’m going ‘what the hell am I doing here?’.
How did you like Chiang Mai? Is it true it’s “the best vegan city” I’m currently living in Thailand, but in the South. It’s not as much vegan food here so it’s difficult sometimes. I’ve never been to the North but I’ve read about ‘the best vegan place’ and I’m considering moving to the North at the end of the year.
I loved Chiang Mai and would go back in a heartbeat. I don’t know if it’s the “best” veg*n city in the world, but it is most certainly easy to eat veg there.