Becoming a Backpacker All Over Again

backpacking nomadicmattDespite my low-budget hostel travels, it’s been a long time since I’ve really felt like a backpacker. Sure, I travel like one (most of the time). I stay in hostels. I eat cheap. I do backpacker-style tours. I hang out with other backpackers. But I haven’t felt like a backpacker in a long time.

In part, it’s because I don’t travel with a budget like other travelers do. I have a job and thus can be a bit more free-spending with my money. I eat out at nicer places more often. I don’t always stay in dorms. I take more tours. I sometimes stay in hotels. I don’t have to travel like a budget-conscious backpacker because I don’t have a finite budget for my trip. When I travel on a budget, it is because I want to. I don’t like luxury travel. I think it’s a waste to spend money on a fancy room you only see for a few hours.

And unlike the backpackers I hang out with in hostels, I have responsibilities and deadlines to worry about. I have this website to run. I have stories to write. I have emails to respond to and questions to answer. I can’t just wake up and do nothing.

I often envy the other travelers I meet for their ability to be so carefree.

I promised myself at the beginning of this year that I would spend less time working and more time traveling. I’ve curtailed a number of side projects, I hired a few people to help me, and I outsourced more work. Yet, I still don’t feel completely worry-free.

At least not until last week.

Losing my passport caused me a lot of problems, but it kept me stuck in Amsterdam, a city I always go to for a “vacation.” It’s a place I hardly do any work. And spending extended time there with the same people in the same hostel, I learned to relax. I kept the computer closed and did very little work. And the world didn’t end when I slowed down.

And though it took me some time to “relax,” by the time I flew to Greece last week, I was feeling back to my old self. Back to the unburdened, carefree traveler. The one that went away in 2006 to travel, not work. It felt good to just hang out and just be.

happy just in new zealandOften, blogging feels like a giant albatross around my neck. On the one hand, I really love what I do, and I especially love the emails I get from people telling me my site has helped them travel or become inspired to travel. I love being able to share what I love. I love being able to help others. I love meeting people through this site. (Case in point: I am currently in Ios with two readers who happened to be in Athens the same time as me.) For all these reasons and more, I would never give up this website or change what I do.

But on the other hand, I sometimes hate what I do. I don’t take press trips that much, I don’t go to many conferences, and I don’t do a lot of “business networking stuff” because I simply want to travel. I like to do my own thing. This website was built in part to simply help me find a way to travel more. That’s really all I want. I do this because it’s something I can do from anywhere in the world. Yet some days I just look at my computer and want to throw it out the window, nuke my site, and run off to the next stop on my travel list. I don’t want to worry about the post that needs to be written, or the emails that need to be answered.

My life is a constant pull between these two emotions. And it is often why I never tell people what I do. I’m not ashamed of it. But at the end of the day, I just want to be another traveler. I dislike the comments and questions that come with telling people what I do. We end up talking about me and how awesome my job is for 15 minutes, and from then on, I’m the travel writer, not the traveler. I’m very grateful for being able to have the life I lead. I am very fortunate. But I hate talking about myself and I hate talking about my “job.” And sometimes I feel like this “job” creates a wall between me and a carefree existence.

Which brings me back to Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam, my computer was closed. In Amsterdam, I was just the traveler for many days. I dodged the “what do you do back home?” question as often as I could but eventually, I just let it spill out. However, I owned the answer in a way I hadn’t before. I said what I did, I answered a few questions and then I just moved on. By not letting the conversation become 20 minutes about how awesome of a job I have , I was able to not build it up.

After that, I was just a backpacker with a really cool blog.

I often say that the responsibilities that keep us from the road are illusionary. Once we put them down, they are gone. Your bills, job, car, and house are gone once you just push them out of the way. In Amsterdam, I laid down my own burden. In my mind, I had this job that kept me from being a carefree traveler. It kept me from being the traveler I want – the one that just enjoys the moment, not worries about email. Yet it was all in my mind. The only thing holding me back was me, not some illusionary responsibility. By owning my burden, I released it. I stopped letting it own me. I stop letting it hold me back.

And in doing so, I’ve again became the backpacker I always wanted to be.

  1. Good job. Well, “un-job”?

    It’s really hard to let go and actually just relax, feels like I’m always going full tilt regardless, and I don’t have to deal with lots of very curious travellers I meet on the road like you do.

    Well deserved down time I say.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’m a big workaholic so it’s very, very hard for me to relax. I feel weird if I’m not going 24/7. It takes me days to unwind.

  2. Matt,
    I think you have a cool job though. If it were me, I would just spill it out and watch others get envy with green. :-).
    I was trying out something recently “home office.” I worked from ‘home’ that is not showing up at work and visited a friend in another country. Work during the day and go out in the evening and weekend. Quite a change. But I felt what you said a ‘burden’ for having some obligation to work. not as free.
    I need some quick advise on a cheap return flight ticket from central europe to California. Any tips? I’m literate only in European travel.

  3. I’ve been only 8 months blogging. I started my blog after a year travelling and once I was living in Thailand working as a Spanish teacher. And I kind of understand what you say. I’ve been a really short time blogging compared with you, but sometimes I sort of feel the same you do. Feeling too much stress out, and mine still it’s so small.

    You can always take a free week every month or something like that! 😉

  4. So great to hear that I’m not the only one that Looks at my site and wants to simply nuke it and move on to more carefree days. My job is totally different than yours, but it’s still web related.

    And I know how it feels, to simply not be plugged in! It can be a drainer beyond words!

  5. Blogging, like any other job has its ups and downs I guess…Im currently in a job I hate just to fund my savings til I take off in a year, which by then my online stuff will be able to take the place of my current income.

    Just be thankful you get to run your own show and answer to no one!

  6. Tim

    Great post. I know what you’re talking about. I am currently producing a new travel show that I also host, film, and edit. When I go places, it takes a lot of work to get the show done, and sometimes I think, “WOW, it would really be nice to come back here on a vacation.”

  7. I couldn’t agree more on the “carefree” part and having your freedom in writing. I have a banking job in London which allows me a fair amount of travel and the time to maintain a blog. Many of my friends say I should drop banking and dedicate my life to blogging full-time.

    But I never will. I am not a professional traveller with reporting obligations. I am just a banker with a really cool blog.

    Ok, it is not even that cool. But I like it : ) Good luck, Matt!

  8. Know what you mean about it being an albatross around your neck. I’ve been a travel writer for about five years (blogs, newspaper articles, online articles etc), and sometimes I’d just love to take a trip and not have to write about it. Never happens though :)

    Love your blog by the way and the new design (well, new to me, haven’t been here for a few months) is wonderful. Nice job!

  9. The grass is always greener on the other side.

    We’ve been travelling for 18 months and are not “digital nomads”, we stop to work in small towns as we go. I really enjoy this as it means we get to know the locals. That said, I’d love to have an online income source so we didn’t have to stop as often.

  10. I appreciate your honesty, Matt. And I don’t think you’re the only travel blogger with a love-hate relationship to their blog/what they do.

  11. You could try to queue your posts and tell people not to send you frivolous e-mails (say your going on a sabbatical or something, they’ll totally understand. I wouldn’t have recommended that at the beginning of your career, but now you have such a large following that I doubt it would really matter. Instead of interacting with you, your visitors can interact with each other.

    Internet is awesome, yes?

    • NomadicMatt

      Ya know I put a disclaimer on my contact form letting people know which emails I don’t reply to (i.e. press releases and beta testing) and I still get them!!! There’s just no hope…..

  12. Brian

    Know the feeling somewhat: I used to tell people that I am a mainframe programmer, but that always led to “can you fix my computer” questions. So now I just tell them operations analyst which tends to hush up the questions since they don’t know what that means.

    I think “carefree traveler” is an awesome title for you to use from now on, but taking a week or two away from blogging is a great idea. Even if it might be something that others think they would love doing, it’s still work. You gotta put it to the side for several weeks out of the year to recharge a bit.

  13. Sounds great – you should do it more often! Have you ever thought about doing what the rest of us do to get away from our jobs? Take holidays! I reckon you should schedule yourself a few weeks a year where you stop working altogether and just get back to travelling for a week or too like you have in Amsterdam

  14. Great post Matt. Sad reminder of the lost passport though :-(

    My Dad is sending me my old high school back pack in the mail for Ireland. Going to back pack through the “Emerald Isles” I guess.

  15. I feel you. I am a writer at my day job, and I do freelance writing. And then there’s my travel blog on top of that. Some days I think I’m insane for having a blog, as I often struggle to keep up with it. I definitely also have moments when I want to nuke it. But then I realize how much I enjoy having a place where I can write whatever I want about travel and whenever I want. I like the traditional publication model for many reasons, but it really is nice having that freedom on tap. As a workaholic myself, I also have trouble letting go. But when I went home for a few days for Labor Day, I forced myself to keep the computer shut. I allowed myself to check mail on my phone, but only respond if something was crucial. It felt SO nice, and it was a little sad going back to the fast-paced world of Twitter, etc.

    I’m surprised that more backpackers you encounter aren’t doing any work since so many people can do online work these days. Are those carefree backpackers you encounter people who have jobs and are just on short-term vacation? Or RTW folks who saved up for a long time and aren’t working at all? Just curious.

    Anyway–good for you for stepping back and deciding to enjoy travel more as a traveler than a blogger. It can definitely be easy to get those mixed up sometimes.

    • NomadicMatt

      Most of the people I met are simply travelers who have saved up X amount of money and are going until it runs out. Some have blogs but it’s usually just to tell friends and family what they are doing.

  16. I hear u! Feel the same useless if I don’t do anything just for a day, I just can’t relax, it’s so difficult!
    Anyway, keep on doing what u love, that’s important.. and we all love what u do, too!

  17. I enjoyed this post. I like your statement that the responsibilities that keep us from the road are illusionary. Glad you were able to get back to what you enjoy the most about traveling.

  18. Ayesha

    We work to live the lifestyle that we want. It’s just about finding that work/life balance. You’re in an incredibly fortunate position. I am sure you can find a happy medium that works best for you. Good luck!

    I understand not wanting to share your job with new people. As soon as I tell anyone what I do, the dynamics of the conversation shifts, and results normally, in them telling me what I work on is crap!, whilst I have to smile nicely and suggest they don’t watch.

    I will try your approah next time.

  19. Good post, Matt. I know how you feel. After I finished my last Lonely Planet guide I had a month in Belize with a house-sitting gig, and I almost went nuts once the realization set in that I had no deadlines to meet & no urgent copy to write. I wound up doing a couple of stories, but for the most part I just went out and experienced stuff as a traveler that I’d really only been able to experience as a travel writer. It was a good change of pace.

    Enjoying the blog – keep up the good work. I’d be doing what you’re doing if I weren’t past my vagabond prime!


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