Can You Travel For Too Long?

Nomadic MattI was talking to Nicole from More is Better a few days ago about life plans as I was pushing her to travel the world like I push everyone to travel the world. While talking to her I realized that I didn’t know what I would do after I stopped traveling. In fact, I’ve been moving so long that I can’t picture life any other way. Travel has become a lifestyle for me. Always moving, always on the road, always somewhere different.

I still have a bunch of destinations to visit before I become “Semi-Nomadic Matt.” Eventually, though, I’ll slow down. It’s inevitable. But that scares me. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in one place for more than 6 months.

All of which makes me wonder — can you travel for too long? When travel becomes a lifestyle, are you really better off? Most travelers who take a long-term trip do it as a career break or take the infamous gap year that lasts for a year to a year and a half. Then it’s back home and to the real world. (Not fully, of course, because most people come back from trips like this with a new set of work/life priorities. But they still go back.) There are the digital nomads out there who work from the road and move from place to place slowly. Then there are the real long-term travelers like myself who have been going for many years, with no end in sight.

That’s when travel becomes a lifestyle. And, like any lifestyle, it’s hard and scary to give up. As much courage as it takes tostep away from the cubicle and head out on the road, it takes just as much courage to step away from the road and go back to a more routine lifestyle. Travel eventually becomes all you know. It’s all I know. After about 4-5 months in one spot, I get anxious and antsy and I need to move again. I think of all the destinations worth seeing and think about how I should get there soon. I formulate plans with friends and plan holidays to far-off places. I am constantly changing where I am going and making new plans. This summer, I’m off to Europe, then Australia and New Zealand. I want to see Africa and South America. All of that means I still have years on the road ahead of me, and that I’ll be even more entrenched in this lifestyle of constant motion.

Nomadic MattBut eventually, we all need a fixed address. We can take multi-month trips to far-flung destinations, but everyone needs a place to call home. You can’t spend your whole life moving from one place to the next — it’s unrealistic. It becomes a lonely lifestyle always saying good bye to friends, never being in one place long enough to form a real relationship, never getting to know a place. Everyone needs roots at some point. Even the long, long term travelers I know eventually get a home base.

So can you travel for too long? Yes, I think you can. When travel becomes a lifestyle, I think it’s a sign you have been on the road too long. At that point, travel is your life — it’s what you do, and there is nothing else. You have no home or fixed location, and friendships are always ephemeral because, in about 5 months, you’ll be gone again. It’s a great way to live but not a great way to live forever.

I sometimes think I’ve been on the road too long. But am I ready to give up this lifestyle yet? No. Not yet. Because, when I think I might be ready, I remember I still haven’t climbed Kilimanjaro, dived in the South Pacific, or sailed down the Amazon yet, and then I realize that I still have a bit more to go with this life I lead right now.

  1. I’m becoming sort of a celebrity on this site, huh? Which is pretty awesome. Now that I AM going to travel, you can brag about how you’ve had such a big influence on my life :)

    Also, to address the post more specifically: I think that only you can know what’s too long and too much for you. If you’re still happy doing what you’re doing (whether that’s travel or something else entirely), then keep on doing it.

    Oh, and you can’t stop traveling yet. Because, hello? MY LIFE LIST!

  2. Matt, i think what you describe is a Nomadic Lifestyle, which is bit different to traveling imho. sure, you could describe it as very slow traveling, but i think there is one significant difference. Working. I found myself quite fast bored from pure traveling, which is this one-the surface floating through different places. i found working and traveling almost unlimited in duration cause you still have the feeling of being productive in some way. Be it harvesting melons in Australia or blogging from Thailand. I think there is a deep rooted need of doing something, at least for me.
    so for me nomadic work-traveling has no limits, as long as you don’t have a need for long term relationships and traditional company centered careers. but for the do-nothing-floating-around-travel lifestyle i can not do that for too long. probably a question of character.

  3. Yeah, I know what you mean…I traveled Europe for two years (I mean, I was technically changing my address every six months-ish, where I would leave my stuff, but traveling to a different country every week or so), and I got sick of having to pare down my belongings, relocate, get visas, etc. Then I decided to find a career where I still could travel frequently but have a permanent zip code, and while there are times I definitely envy your nomadic state, I do like having the stability of a semi-permanent mailing address!

  4. From MN

    To be honest, I envy you and other people who are able to travel long term. I am not quite at a point financially where I can just drop everything and leave. I am getting there and I have my retirement from corporate life (or at least a 12-18 month leave of absence planned). I have been to many places like NZ, India, Russia, England, and France, but only for 3-4 weeks at a time. This year I am doing 2 weeks in China, but its way too short. That being said, I think eventually you have to settle on a place or city that you are truly happy living in and make it work.

    Thanks for your perspective.

  5. Matt, I think the only way you’ll settle at one place long enough is when you have a family!!!! But you are young, you are creative, and you don’t really have to answer to anyone (except maybe yourself). So travel far, travel as long as you can. For someone like you, “home” might just be a tad too boring, so I won’t be surprised if in a few months, you’d be itching to go somewhere again! Your life list is pretty long…many people would be disappointed if you stopped now! So don’t even wonder…

  6. I agree with Nicole (go figure ;-)), that only you know when it’s time to take the next step whether it’s diving in the South Pacific or planting roots somewhere finally. How long have you been traveling? You realize that we’re going to be friends now, right?

  7. Only you know if you’ve been on the road too long. And from the sound of it you seem happy. Besides the U.S. is all gloom and doom right now. Who needs that if you can avoid it.

  8. I agree with Jan. If you can be productive while traveling, you could travel indefinitely. Well, maybe not indefinitely, but for a really, really, really long time. Every time I spent 4-6 months living in France I eventually became antsy for lack of something to do other than be on permanent vacation. Yes, I was a student or an English teacher each time, but those activities took up relatively little time. If I had had a job or some way to be fully productive I could have stayed much longer.

  9. Hey Matt,

    I have a question for ya. I’m going to be pretty much moving down to Mexico for a few months starting mid May and I’m in search for some kind of health insurance plan that is good for international travel and such. Have any good suggestions or what do you do? Thanks!

  10. You’ve been away from home/travelling or whatever when you simply want to have a more permanent home. That amount of time is different for everyone including some who travel their entire life. Those who are never more than a week or two anywhere but still going after several years impress me as they have been really itinerant.

  11. I would have pinned you as more of a digital nomad than a “real long term traveler” by your definition. You work wherever you go, and at least some of your income is earned online.

    Does it make a difference, though? Life is still lived on the road, moving from place to place and fancy to fancy. Most people aren’t independently wealthy, so we have to work around the world at some point. Like Jan says, pure travel gets old pretty quickly anyway.

    And sure, travel as a lifestyle may not be a forever thing, but since you are traveling slowly (like me), living somewhere for months at a time, you’d be surprised how long you can keep at it.

  12. I always thought that travelling was a way of life..but I cannot live like you do..I have a home to come back to..a husband as well and all I can manage is travel around my country whenever I get time that Im on a sabbatical, I dont have bosses to answer to..

  13. i’m on the other side of things. torn on being settled or being nomadic. i’ve been in baltimore for nearly 5 years now (longer than i’ve been anywhere). i travel an impressive amount considering i only have 10 vacation days a year at my day job. but realizing i will never be fulfilled at my job until i have a job that involves travel – maybe even finding a way to encourage others to travel…

    good luck!

  14. I think you can carry on travelling all your life in one form or another if you want to. My grandfather was born in the US, moved to England as a child then as an adult lived in Paris, Venice, Rome, Kenya and England. In between he travelled a lot too. My father also travelled constantly as a child (see above), then settled down for a while in England when he had me and my brother, (although he made sure he had plenty of travel for work), and now takes at least six trips a year, some for a few days, some for a month. He has a home in London, which he always comes back to, but he’s in his sixties now, and always planning his next trip. I know that what he does is different to what you are currently doing, but I guess what I am trying to say is that you can always have travel in your life, without necessarily having to stay on the road.

  15. NomadicMatt

    With this post, I was sort of thinking out loud and reading the comments I am amazed at the variety and depth of opinions. Good showing y’all! Camels and Chocolate hit it right with me- the idea of a semi-permanent address is probably what I will move to in the end but where that is I don’t know yet. And it’s not for awhile. Too many dreams in my head.

    Jan also hit on the button too- travel eventually gets stale

    and Nora- I’m not a full digital nomad yet!

    Thank you for all your interesting perspectives

  16. I’d like to know what that career is Cames and Chocolate! Sounds great. I too struggle with this. I haven’t traveled straight for months and months, but I have taken the route of marina villatoro…be an expat for a few years at a time and travel from there. But, this can also be a crazy existence, because I split my free time into travel and going home to reconnect with family and friends. I’m torn between sticking close to home and adventuring out to far away places. Hard decisions…but good ones!

  17. Sometimes I envy your lifestyle other times I am glad I have a permanent home. I need something in between two week’s vacation and constant travel.

    Like most people have been saying, you’re young- so go with it.

  18. Setting off for the first time for extended travel has been full of excitement for us. It’s an interesting test to see how it suits us. We have lived in a major metropolis for 8 years, and were “done” with it after 5. It’s not easy to disentangle oneself. Now that we are free, it’s exciting to see all the potential. I’d like to try living in another place, and leave my country for something new, but I imagine that would never feel truly “permanent,” more of an itch to go and find something new. Once an expat, always an expat, I feel.

  19. I think the thing I look forward to most when I travel is a home-cooked meal, prepared by moi. Otherwise, I could travel for a very long time without feeling too out of sorts. But my hubby would need to be there. And my iPod. And, my books. And my favorite sandals. And…. and…. and…

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Matt!

  20. No, it’s not realistic to keep on traveling forever. Everyone does need to build some roots eventually.

    But, as a chunk in your life, why not?? I think it takes real courage to live as a nomad for years on end.

    You will eventually settle down in one place, that’s for sure. And I can bet that you’ll look back on your years as Nomadic Matt as some of the very best years of your life!!

  21. interesting – and i don’t think it is an either/or situation. you can still be settled and travel a lot. you just aren’t constantly traveling. for instance, you could decide to be somewhere for 4-5 months each year – ONE place, to call home, and then travel the rest of the time, if you’d like.

    i tell you, travel gets a lot more difficult with disabilities, and kids. but it is still do-able! you’ll find your way. that said, there’s something about a place to come home TO that makes travel all the better.

  22. the nomadic lifestyle is not for every one I’d even say it is not for many, I traveled for many years & like others eventually found a place i wanted to stay in. I expect that in the next few years i will start hitting the road again i decided some time back that i could have my cake & eat it no need to sell all & not maintain a base a little patience and planning & 2-3 months here then else where is a easily attainable..

  23. em

    I really agree with all your single words… I feel exactly the same and I m still wondering if I will be able to go back to a fix point on day…

  24. I think it TOTALLY depends on how you do it, and who you do it with – travel of course 😉

    I totally relate to what you mean by needing a “home” eventually but I feel like you can make a home wherever it is you are – its all about what you make of it. How we’ve personally done it is by basing ourselves in a certain place (this year it was Montreal for 3 months and then Toronto for 7) and then making 1 to 2 week trips to other destinations from there. It’s allowed us to have the best of both worlds, a fantastic place to live (that’s still technically “traveling” so its awesome) whilst simultaneously making trips to fulfill our travel niggles that seem to arise every 6 weeks or so!

    I’m super lucky to have my boyfriend as my travel partner which definitely makes the whole experience far more “homely” – wherever we set up together is basically home to me anyway! I’m sure if I was traveling alone I’d feel the pangs for a stable “home” environment far more strongly!

    WOW I chattered on, anyway awesome post! :-) :-) :-)

  25. Forest

    I think you cannot travel forever, but I had been thinking that you could live for a few months at a time and “travel slowly” but I haven’t been in that situation before. My longest amount of traveling was 2 months, so I am not sure how I would feel after 3 years of traveling. Like you said Matt, after being in one place for 6 months, you are itching to travel. What makes you think in 15 years that you’ll feel so much different? Love, a child, something like that might change the equation I suppose. But people with wives and children also do it. Look at He has a child, a wife, and they travel full-time. I think it can be done!

  26. Hey Matt,

    This post is pretty poignant for us right now…we just finished up a trip that has kept us from home for over 2 years and now we are in a very weird place. Normal life seems appealing and terrifying all at the same time. I want some stability at this point but then I worry that in 6 months I will be sitting on the couch at home wondering what happened to our free lifestyle.

    I think that Soultravelers3 has it right when she says everyone needs a base and, if you are travelling “base-less” as we have been for the past 2 years, you feel a bit lost at times however if we had spent more than 5 weeks in a certain place during the past few years maybe things would feel different.

    I think too that all of us who love travelling do need to re-charge and that is different for each us. Also, as we get older (the big 3-0 is looming) we have come to realize that as much as we love to travel we do have other goals as well related to careers, home, family etc.

    So for us I guess we need to take a deep breath and look at returning to non-traveling for a bit as a way to re-charge ourselves for the next big adventure.

    Great article!

    • NomadicMatt

      I agree, eventually we all need a base to move from. I plan on becoming semi-nomadic to have that base soon enough. Well, if a year is soon enough…

  27. It’s funny that I came across this because I was having a discussion with my mom today who told me “You have to settle down eventually.” Do you? And why? I agree that the roving lifestyle at some point gets old. You don’t have the comforts that come with being settled and it’s tough having friends turn over rather quickly. A semi-nomadic lifestyle though let’s you have the best of both worlds- a place to call home and the freedom to leave when you want!

  28. Annoyingly I was going to write a similar post on my website about this. I’ve found myself getting bored of travels and the one day events that I book way in advance seem to pip my interest a lot more. E.g. Music concerts.

    Although you haven’t really revealed it here I guess you spend a lot of time on the internet whilst travelling Matt, and with all the niche sites being done it makes you feel the productivity previously mentioned. Maybe this is a key point and really we do need to be doing something productive rather than just pleasure (i.e. just travel).

    I’ve met people at different stages of travel, when people are nearing the end (financially or planned) a good percentage of them seem relieved and keen to go home. (This is more true with people who don’t keep blogs etc online, hence an online opinion is slightly biased – maybe its the keeping busy thing again).

    Long term travel certainly isn’t for everyone (anyone?). I am actually looking forward to going home in a few months time, of which I plan to do the whole internet work thing, and continue in a job abroad (in Japan!) come October time, this excites me more than knowing I’ve got another year of sight seeing.

  29. Hey Matt, a good post and thoughtful comments. Yes, I think you can travel for too long. Like you, I spent a good many years travelling … but then realised it was time for a break when, deep in the middle of Borneo when some Penan indian’s took us under their collective wing, the experience just became one of many from that time instead of an experience of a lifetime.

    Sometimes you need a little perspective to retain the wonders of the world. I’d somehow assumed I’d have to do it all before I was 30 and then hang up those travel boots … but somehow life doesn’t work that way and we’ve had many great adventures since then.

    Happy travelling and retain that sense of wonder!


  30. Another Great Article! Thanks Matt! It is very inspiring to read your thoughts. We quit our jobs, sold everything and left Australia for our overseas trip and although at times I think of home and get a little tear, this article was a great reminder of the wonders of travel and the amazing journey we are on!
    Thanks for the boost up!
    Elise (one half of Positive World Travel!)

  31. We’ve been on the road full-time for about a year straight, and so far the thought that I could do this for “too long” hasn’t even occurred to me yet. Prior to disembarking, we had a fixed address for 20 years. We very much liked the neighborhood and our apartment, but we were there mostly because it is where we worked. Once we were no longer tied to a job at a fixed address, the attractiveness of a fixed location diminished considerably.
    There are plenty of ways to travel that can provide the feel of a fixed address without actually having to commit to one place. Short-term apartment rentals are one way to have a semi-fixed address for a limited amount of time, which is a good way to really get to know an area. An RV or “campervan” is another good way to get around land-locked locations where you get to bring your bed, kitchen and bathroom with you wherever you go. Having that stuff with you gives some feeling of ‘home.’
    I imagine at some point in my life, I’ll want to “settle down” again, but right now I can’t imagine what would draw me to that, other than physical exhaustion and age. But for now, there is a big wide world out there that can’t possibly be explored in a single lifetime. I’m going to try to see as much of it as I can.

  32. this is interesting mate cos i think about it quite a lot, during the last 5 years on the road i do semi-settle, working for a few months in one country and that gives me the steady fix i need. I know i could never go ‘home’ and stop moving, it’s my biggest fear – live your personal dream and never look back, all we can do it what we feel is right

  33. Vicky

    It depends on the person – I lived in Australia for a year but felt the time was right to leave when I left. In saying that, there was a time when I figured I’d be on the road for at least 5 years. Things change.

  34. There are different definitions of “travel”. If you hop from one tourist attraction to another (even when they are “off the path”), from one party to another, and from one hotel to another, I think you get tired of it. In fact I can’t imagine me doing that for more than a few weeks in a row. But if you take things slowly, it’s actually more like living in different places rather than travelling. As some of the other commenters said, working on the way is effective to prevent you from getting bored.
    In my case, after I have travelled to several destinations, I liked some of them so much that I return (or plan to return) again for extended periods of time. And knowing local people is also a big factor.
    And yes I agree that you need a permanent base.

  35. I don´t think you ever “stop” travelling once you have the bug, sure you may go home for a month or a year, but you always end up with itchy feet. The world is too small to miss out on that kind of opportunity.

    • NomadicMatt

      I agree. I don’t think once you get the bug, you ever stop traveling. I do believe that you can travel too long in the sense that the amount of time you spend on the road can eventually wear on you.

  36. For the nomadic lifestyle – you may find that you have traded diversity for intimacy. This is what I mean. Any resident of a town will have a deeper understanding of that town than a visitor – regardless of how long you stay. Even 6 month in a place will leave one with misconceptions of the place. You also don’t allow yourself to become transformed by a culture – you instead create a Nomadic culture. Hopefully, you will at some point allow yourself to embrace (and be changed by) a specific culture and place and the weight of years.

  37. Michael Churm

    I think the variety of opinion has a running theme to be honest, I’m not criticising opinions as that’s what makes us all unique and the world the way it is, but the theme I’m seeing is that those who are in favour of the permanent location and stability, are those who don’t seem to have experienced long term travel themselves. I think until one has lived an experience of long term travel it’s impossible to decide whether you’re better off with or without a permanent location to return to.

    I never imagined I’d be able to fulfill a life of permanent travel, I’d barely left my home town with the odd exception of lads holidays, which consisted of drinking, lounging by the pool and eating. Long term travel isn’t about these things, it’s the building of small (albeit temporary) communities and relationships, attempting to live as locals do in each location and absorb the beautiful world that surrounds us.

    On my first RTW trip I was away for 2 years and there were moments where I felt tired, but don’t we also have those moments in every day life? Anyway, I eventually came home rather than basing myself elsewhere for a while, and it’s now something I now regret.

    I’m due to head off again in around 8 months time for a hopefully even longer trip and a possibly semi permanent life of travel a la NomandicMatt. Yes I know there WILL come a time when I’ll decide enough is enough and it’s time to settle down somewhere, but for the time being I’d definitely choose a life of permanent travel over the current life of stability I lead.

  38. Peter

    This is a great post Matt, I’ll definitely be bookmarking and reading a lot more on here. I think your point about the friends you make are always very shortlived is completely right, if you’re travelling around all the time, there’s plenty of opportunity to make new friends, but not to carve out real relationships.

  39. Ken

    I think you can travel for too long. I am 75 and have traveled most of my life. I have lived in 13 different countries and been to many more. Along the way, I have met many people, and worked with many people. Now that I am retired, I find that I am alone. I live alone, I have no friends as all of the friends I made along the way, live in different countries or different parts of this country, and in trying to meet people, you are never understood. The older people already have their groups, clubs and do not want outsiders. They think you are boasting when you talk of the world as being part of your life. Give up travel early and make real relationships, then go traveling again.

  40. Colleen

    I remember the day I reached a certain saturation point on my year long RTW adventure with our teenage sons. We’d been on the road for about 10 months, seriously loving every day (not that there weren’t hard moments or days but there was an overall excitement for the next discovery, the next country, the next meal.) We arrived at a sight I’d longed to see since 6th grade, Pompei. We got there and after about an hour I was done. It was the first sight in over 10 months that I didn’t fully immerse myself in. I had a several hours at a cafe to mull this over while my sons did the whole nine yards. Thankfully, they hadn’t lost their enthusiasm. What I realized is that I had lost my sense of wonder. We had seen so many amazing sites that being amazed had become my status quo.

    Thankfully, my sense of wonder did return and we traveled with a lot of excitement and the joy of discovery until we returned home after 12 months. But I will always remember that day and the short shrift I gave to Pompei. As wonderful as travel is, there are many worthwhile pursuits available in this life. The journey of my faith, my marriage, being a mom and learning how to be a good friend are all ‘journeys’ that have meant even more to me than the luxury and privilege of 12 months of total cultural immersion, as fantastic as that was.

  41. Ruby

    Hey Matt, I think everyone should experience the world…life’s a journey, when you have travelled a lot i think it is easier to make new friends as you have stories to share and you have life experience. Those friends you make along the way usually become friends for life!! I say do what makes you happy, life is way too short to live a “normal life”

  42. Jad

    absolute inspiration… im only 15 and i can’t to be able to travel like you… the only things that bothers me is not being able to get married or settle down (which i hate, but i’ll admit that it has to be done) but i just need to get over the insane idea of traveling and just do it i guess… I dont wanna stay in Southern Cali my whole life, I wanna go to Europe and Latin America and get a taste of the different culutres and people and the only way i think that that’s possible is by traveling long term ( not a few weeks a year) so i need to commit to traveling and have a ready plan to carry on this project… I cant wait

  43. I think it can be nice to take breaks from traveling, come back to “normal life”, work, save, save, visit friends and family, but only long enough so that you miss traveling and are kind of sick of reality. For me I have taken a break from long term traveling, come home to work and get a Masters degree, but looking to travel right after the degree. Luckily you can get a work visa in Australia until the age of 31! I’m cutting it close!

  44. I’ve travelled to India by myself for long periods of time over the years and it can feel quite lonely after a while, i think to not get too bored about 3 months at a time would be good, i’ve found after that it gets a bit boring, but hey each to their own.

  45. I love the idea mentioned in other comments of slow travel. I’ve been living in Barcelona for the last year and plan to stick around for a while. Yes, I love seeing new countries and cities but to really get under the skin of a place you have to commit to it for a reasonable length of time. I’d rather know somewhere thoroughly than do fleeting trips all over the globe.

  46. I would really like to have a home base to come to and regenerate from time to time. Maybe with a garden somewhere in the states or on a beach in west africa. The problem and the reason I haven’t settled even partially anywhere yet is: as great as the idea of settling in that perfect place is, I still haven’t found it. It might not even be on this planet.

    I know there is no perfect and I love many places, but none enough to want to commit.

  47. jsteez

    My wife and I lived and traveled for a few years in Asia. We are taking a break in a U.S. city that is not our birthplace. We are establishing a homebase, studying for our graduate degrees in a travel related field, and feeling what it is like in our home culture (which becomes mundane and blasé after a while). The challenge that comes from traveling or living overseas for extended periods of time is that one’s perception about the world changes. After seeing naked children finding food in garbage, people begging, hawkers, scammers, beautiful scenery, and vibrant cultures in various countries (among many other aspects of travel), you can never go back to your pre-travel mindset. Travel changes people. The excitement and thrills of exotic places give you a natural high. It is nice to have a homebase. However, wanderlust never leaves your mind.

  48. Traveling is unbeatable. Nothing compares and its lifestyle rocks! But your right, the hardest thing is not being able to form proper relationships with people and it can become quite lonely. But that gives me motivation to keep visiting people, to go see more places and meet up with friends I have made. Friends who will always be my mates no matter where I am or how long I am gone.

  49. You can’t travel endlessly without taking a rest, at least.
    I never felt bored of traveling. I guess I could never have enough of it, but I do get tired after long exhausting trips.

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