When I meet people and tell them about what I do or how long I have been traveling, their response is usually something like, “Wow! That is so awesome! You’re so lucky! I wish I could do something like that!” To most people, my job is the best job in the world. Essentially, I get paid to travel. And who wouldn’t want to get paid to travel the world? But people only think of the good side. After a while, I get tired of explaining what I do. Now, I rarely ever mention it when I meet people. My lifestyle is not all glitter and gold and I hate the gushing. The grass is always greener on the other side.
When I started my blog, my goal was to become a travel writer. I wanted my name in guidebooks. But then I interviewed guidebook authors and quickly realized that their jobs were not the idealized professions I had in my head. They work long hours, have to travel quickly, and are under tight deadlines.
The same can be said about long-term travel. There are many great things about traveling forever. But long-term travel presents you with a lonely existence sometimes. Like everything there are many downsides.
I once asked if you could travel for too long. Two or three years of constant, always-on-the-move travel can wear a person down. It’s not that you can only travel for two years and never again – it’s that you can only be on the move for so long before you long for something like roots. Travel offers people the chance to see new places, experience new cultures, make new friends, and learn about themselves. But whether you are on a 6-month, 1-year, 2-year, or open-ended trip, there are also downsides.
For starters, relationships are ephemeral. I have said more goodbyes in three years than anyone should say in their lifetime. I recently traveled with a Canadian girl who said to me, “You must be used to goodbyes by now huh?” The way she said it was very sad but she was right. I do have to say goodbye too much. One of the best things about traveling is all the people you meet. But one of the worst things about traveling is also all the people you meet. After years of hellos and goodbyes, you can become numb to it all. Sometimes, I just don’t want to meet anyone. You develop a sense of detachment. Why should you open yourself up again just to say another goodbye? It makes you more guarded. Not all the time but sometimes too often. Because, despite the best intentions and Facebook, you know that 90% of the people you say goodbye to, you’ll never see again. Your life is filled with 24-hour friends who made that brief time great, but are soon gone. Who wants a life filled with that?
Secondly, it makes having a relationship with the opposite sex extremely hard. It’s hard to find love on the road. It does happen, but relationships tend to last as long as you are both traveling together, or as long as you are both staying in the same city. I haven’t had a girlfriend for longer than three months in years. I’d love to have one for longer, but I’m always on the move. Moreover, most girls don’t want to get into a relationship with you if they know there is no hope of you settling down. It’s hard to make a commitment when you already know there is no future. The reality is, just like with friendships, relationships are hard – and harder when you know you are leaving in just a short time.
Finally, you get tired. Really tired. Of traveling. Of everything. After a while, everything becomes just another “one of.” That 100th church, 100th waterfall, 40th hostel, 800th bus ride, 600th bar… it’s not the same after a while. It loses its charm and luster. Travel becomes unexciting. Ask any traveler – at some point, they hit that point where they are sick of traveling. They just need a few days or weeks to recharge their batteries. After three years, I move a lot slower than I used to. I’m in no rush now. If I want to spend 12 hours out sightseeing, I can, but I tend to be out for a few hours and just relax the rest of the time. After all, I’ll be wherever I am for a while. Slow travel is better travel, and it fights the “just another” syndrome. But even still, travel can become exhausting, and there are times you never want to see anything with the word “historic” in front of it ever again. Some days I just want to spend a week in front of my computer watching movies and TV.
Long-term travel takes a certain type of person to enjoy. You need to be independent, you need to be able to spend lots of time alone, you need to be flexible, and you need to be able to deal with constant change. After all, how many goodbyes can you say? How often can you have 24-hour friends? How long can you go without a steady relationship? How long can you move without having a home? These are questions I wonder about. Eventually, I’ll find the answers. I don’t think people can move forever unless they are trying to escape something.
Me, I’m just trying to see things. I have another two years of travel planned before I become Semi-Nomadic Matt. Two years is a long time away to really know anything.
But I do know that these negatives are like snowballs. They start out small, but get bigger and bigger the longer you travel. And, I think eventually, they roll over us all.