How I Finally Came to Terms with the Homebody Inside Me

Black and white town homes on the streets of NYCAfter a few exhausting months on the road, I’m finally back in New York City. I’ve spent the last three months on the move, leading tours, attending conferences, and giving talks. It was draining, and I’m happy to finally be back home with no plans other than to enjoy spring’s return to the city.

A few weeks ago, while checking my email somewhere over America (I love in-flight Wi-Fi), I opened a question about my article, “Home: The Death of a Nomad.” The woman wanted to know if I was able to kill the nomad inside me. Was I able to settle down? Did I turn out OK? Did I still feel the same way? She was worried that she would go travel and never want to come back home or settle down. The thought of being a permanent nomad frightened her as much as it enticed her.

So I told her the truth: you never stop being a nomad. You can only ignore the nomad inside you for so long, but once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, it’s with you forever and you’ll always be dreaming of far-off destinations.

Eventually, the road beckons you, for as Jack Kerouac said, the road is life and we can only be off it for so long.

But I could relate to her concern. It was all about balance, I said as I ended the email. We just have to find the right one. Ever since I decided to “slow down” and reign in my nomadic ways, I’ve been struggling to strike the right balance.

As much as I want to slow down and carve out a life for myself in NYC, I can’t help but dream of all the places in the world I’d like to visit and the lack of time I have to see them all.

And then I book a ticket and am gone again.

It’s a constant tug of war.

But as I relaxed on my couch and watched this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, I realized my balance is actually frenetic unbalance: months of travel punctuated by months in NYC, punctuated by short weekend domestic travel trips. It’s chaotic, stressful, and definitely going to make ever finding a girlfriend hard (sorry, mom!), but it’s the only way I can satisfy my two main desires.

The pendulum must swing both ways.

I don’t think there’s a universal balance between work, travel, and living. You need to find the balance that works for you. There are ways to make your life more efficient, but in the end, you need do what you feel is right.

Being all over the place and staying hyper busy is what works for me. Over the next six weeks in NYC, I have to write a new edition of my book, explore every walking tour in the city for an upcoming post, finally get moving on some projects for the website, and learn Swedish. There’s no rest for the weary, but I’m getting better at using my time more wisely (bye, Facebook during the day!), and I think that’s making a big difference.

There’s a lot of time in the day if you use it right.

I might be back in a few months with a new theory on work/life balance, but for now I think I’ve hit my sweet spot. I never thought I’d be so happy to come home, but as Lin Yutang said, “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”

Being home definitely gives me an appreciation for travel, and travel gives me an appreciation for all I have back home.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out.

The road beckons me for sure, but right now, it’s going to have to wait.

P.S. – I’m hosting a meet-up on April 22nd in NYC. If you’re in town, please join.

  1. For some reason this really hit home with me.

    I always want to travel. Then I log in on Facebook and miss my friends. Then I have a fun night and don’t want to leave.

    Even if I go months without a trip, I’ll eventually snap and go on a local road trip!

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more, Matt! I love both my time at home and on the road, and I’m okay with that. I just do what feels right for me — and in the end, both types of experiences make me appreciate the other more!

  3. Kate L.

    So you get to practice one of the quotes you’ve posted:

    “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

    It’s been awhile since I got to visit NYC, so I’m looking forward to the results of your exploration of walking tours!

  4. Hi Matt!I feel ya!!I’ve been struggling with the same question recently. After travelling to 42 countries and living in 7, I thought I’d never be able to live at home (Ireland) again especially as I enjoy living in Sydney so much. I want to settle, but then how long before I miss the adventure and excitement travel brings. So on Tuesday I chose to not get on my flight back to Sydney (expensive decision) and I think I’m moving to Barcelona (or will I end up staying in Ireland!) so good luck with your decision!! Enjoy Spring :))

  5. Kim

    I’m on the road for work – 2 weeks/mn. Friends/family wonder if I’m gone for work a lot why I wouldn’t want to just relax and be home? And while I’m always happy to be home with my pup, laying in my own bed, relaxing out back by the fire, enjoying the life offered here where I call home, I long to be gone, to explore new parts of the country, the world. And so the pup and I take numerous long weekend road trips throughout the year, camping & backpacking through our beautiful land to feed my need to explore & see. All the while, I’m planning my next BIG LONG trip overseas. That’s my balance for now. It’s taken me awhile to figure it out. Most important lesson I’m learning is to honor myself well by asking myself what my spirit needs – being home or being gone – then nurturing it so that regardless of how fast or slow life is going at that moment, I’ve loved myself well and made the best choice at present. Be well everyone.

  6. Aaahhh the elusive balance. Just when I think I’ve got it, something new and exciting (or maybe new and challenging) comes into play and I have to redistribute everything in order to keep the scales from tipping too far one way. For me it’s like a game and it’s one that I love because it keeps me rediscovering myself and the world around me. I think I’d be bored if it was any other way.

  7. “Being home definitely gives me an appreciation for travel and travel gives me an appreciation for all I have back home.” Couldn’t have said it better myself! I need to bookmark this one. As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Enjoy your time back home. I’m looking forward to that walking tour post!

    Happy travels :)

  8. Beto

    I don’t find this strange at all Matt. Granted, you may have a different perspective on this than most of us do for the simple reason that, to put it bluntly, travel *is* your job – you actually make a living off this, and hitting the road frequently is where you gather your knowledge from. So I guess staying home is for you kind of what taking vacations is for the rest of us :)

    Over the last three years I’ve been combining my remote, flexible work schedules and overseas travel to varying degrees of success during 2-3 months at a time (enough for me, I guess) and now I can’t think of letting a year pass by without heading somewhere new (Yeah, I can relate to the girlfriend issue as well). Anyway, I’ve found exposing myself to different cultures and scenarios around the world not only stimulating, but necessary. In turn, I’ve learned to appreciate my hometown for what it is even more. That’s a benefit of knowing on your own how it is out there.

    In short, preserving life balance is always important. Values of that balance can and do vary from person to person. As much as I like being excited and amazed while traveling, I couldn’t possibly live on a perpetual state of excitement – I wouldn’t get anything done! 😀

  9. Hi Matt, I can so relate. I’ve always had itchy feet and when I was younger, I was everywhere and when I didn’t have the time for long haul, I was in a different European country or city pretty much every weekend. Now, I’m an expat, I’m married and have a pre-teenager.

    Did the wanderlust go away? Nope! We either do some of the travelling together or I get a couple of long weekends that I use to travel solo and it works rather well.
    Will I ever live in my home-country Britain again? Again, Nope! I love visiting of course, but my dream had always been to live abroad, and so I do!

    “You never stop being a nomad. You can only ignore the nomad inside you for so long, but once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, it’s with you forever and you’ll always be dreaming of far-off destinations”.

  10. I live in Stockholm, Sweden half of the year (spring to summer) and half of the year in the Philippines (fall to winter). While I (and most of the people I meet) think that’s an awesome set up, I feel temporary, listless. I would want to settle somewhere and I’m constantly searching for it. I don’t feel at home anywhere.

    Like you, I have bursts of periods of traveling. In 2012 I was in a different European country for each month. I love living like a local, so I rented apartments through AirBnb and stayed for about a month in each city. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Then in 2013 I hardly went anywhere (mostly just around Scandinavia, weekend trips or a midsummer getaway) as I felt like I was still catching up from rest from all that traveling in 2012. It IS exhausting, but you don’t feel it when you are fuelled by wanderlust. It only catches up on you after a while and I was just too happy to cuddle up on the couch and watched GoT.

    This year, I’m still switching between the two continents, 5-6 months each time. I’m grateful that my work allows me to be anywhere I want. I’m thinking Barcelona or Vancouver in the summer.

  11. You’ll end up back in the US permanently and settle down to an average middle-class life. Most Americans do, and I think it’s something to do with Americans thinking the US is better than anywhere else (it’s not!)

    Personally, I’ve never understood it as, after 25 years living in the US, I’ve found 100 countries that are better. Couldn’t pay me to live there again :)

  12. Hi Matt,
    This is a very thought provoking post about how as individuals we find balance in our lives. I think it is very different for everyone. Everyone has to find their own freedom in their own way, don’t they. But it can take a long time to figure that out.

    I’ve just written about finding transcendence through travel, because that is what it allowed me to do-transcend myself and I find the psychological process and changes we go through as relevant as the physical journey a person can go on.

    I wonder, is it only on reflection that we are able to realise ourselves?

    All of our lives are full of wonder, what ever and where ever they may be. We all just need to find the beauty in them I think.
    Happy Easter

  13. Hi Matt, another interesting article. Everybody who travels has to decide what they really want from time to time. And having a short change; time travelling or time back home, give’s you time to think of whats important and what makes you happy. I have arranged my life at home to be able to travel for long periods within a short period of deciding to go! Of course I have to make many sacrifices for this to happen. But the more I travel the more I realise the less things I need to make me happy. What I am missing is girlfriend/family life, but when I travel now, I stay with families in out of the tourist areas and get involved with the local life, in fact I am travelling back to Colombia with my daughter, as now I have a Colombian family I have stayed with many times and is where I feel at home. The family is so big that 5 of the family members live in my home town in the UK!
    The world is changing as people move/live/work around the world, as everybody has their reasons of whats important to them.

  14. Janis Myers

    Our first travels in the 1960’s were with Fromer’s “5$ a Day” specials. Hauling small children was made easier with organizations welcoming travelers. This experience has made my kids inveterate travelers all their lives.

    Now alone nearing 85, I’ve covered 52 countries alone in the same manner…on the cheap and meeting more people than I would with a mate. That wander lust has never left but my last inquiry to take the tour in Jordon got an “ugh!” response. It has always seemed a uniquely young American traveler’s response: “ugh” old people! I can ignore it!

    After all these years of travel, I’ve chosen Thailand to settle. It’s great for Asian travels and have .been here on the beach 18 years. Have finally become a partial home body…living months at a time before I get the itch to travel alone again

  15. I love the quote in here, ‘There’s a lot of time in the day if you use it right.’ Traveling or at home, there is no rest for the weary and I think this article describes the constant struggle to push ourselves yet also find time to relax. I hope you have a productive and satisfying time this next chunk in NYC.

  16. This post really resonated with me, Matt. I’ve lived abroad as an expat, taken both short (1-week) to medium-length (6 weeks) trips and have yet to figure out what the balance is in my life. I’m at a fork in the road and my options are, continue with what I’m doing and incorporate a few 3 week trips over the next year into my life, or pick up and go for 9 months. I realize the travel bug won’t go away, but I’m finding difficulty understanding which will be best for me. I’m planning on the 9 month adventure, but that’s not sustainable, or what I want, long-term. Finding the balance is the key, but definitely requires taking some risks and taking action to figure out what works! Love the post.

  17. Oh boy. I know that feeling, I love travelling but I sure need to have some down time. Today was my first day off in 2 weeks and I spent it doing laundry, catching up with blog posts and watching box sets of embarrassing tv program’s and you know what? that’s okay. because everyone needs some down time. even a nomad named matt :)

  18. I totally agree with you Matt. It is great to be home…but then the happy feet just can’t sit still! I crewed on a private yacht for a week in the Bahamas and now I am returning to the same yacht. We will be cruising from the Bahamas up to Nantucket. The plan is to be in NYC for the 4th of July. Maybe you would like to hang on a yacht and watch the fireworks with us! I have to say I am liking the yacht thing…you get to travel and take your house with you :)

  19. Just stumbled upon this latest post on you blog. You are a fantastic writer. Even though I haven’t started traveling yet, posts like these make me want drop everything, not show up for work tomorrow and get on an airplane tonight.

    I totally hear you about trying to come to terms with coming home. I spent 2 years in Northern Peru, and it was fantastic. I was incredibly sad to leave the people behind, the memories, and especially the food! 4 years later I returned to visit and it was just as glorious as ever. I’m on the eve of planning for a summer stint in Asia, and this post completely echoes the thoughts I am having right now. Hope everything goes well in NYC!

  20. Well said Matt although I’m not quite there yet. I’ve been home for 18 months and still feel the pull nearly everyday. What gets me through is living through the adventures of others like you and all the other great travel bloggers out there.

  21. Good luck Matt! I don’t think that a traveler ever settles, and with your upcoming group tours etc., I think technically you are still a nomad, but you have a home! 😀

  22. Hi Matt!

    This post really resonates with me. I call myself a *Nesting Nomad* as I love travel as much as I love having a sanctuary to return to. Lately, I have been in nest-mode more that travel-mode. Does that stop me from thinking about the next place I’ll go? No, definitely not–but it has changed my sense of urgency about travel.

    The older I get, the more appealing the idea of slow travel is to me. I’ve never been one to roll into a town and blitz it in a day or two, anyway. My personal travel mantra: Only one major site, museum, or other high-stimuli event/place every other day.

    I get so easily overloaded by visual/aural/mental input that I need to take my travel, like life, in chunks with sufficient downtime built in. For me, sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by is way more satisfying than queuing up for the latest blockbuster museum exhibition :)

  23. I hear you, I hear you!

    At the end of my last trip I remember thinking how much I wished I had a nice, permanent, home to come home to rather than somewhere temporary to stay while
    I was killing time before venturing off again.

    So I’m trying staying put for a bit. And actually really liking it. And I’m not seeing the world as a massive ‘to do list of countries’ I want to visit. Sure, I’ll go off again, but for now being home is just fine. :)

  24. Great Post! I struggle with the same thing. I’m always on United or dreaming of far away places. Dreaming of a place where everyone wants to know where you are from. Trying different foods and meeting different people. The travel bug have create a new me. A me who wants to be, do, and have more out of life

  25. Great post, I can especially relate to the quote you put at the end. I’m currently living in Brazil and for 2 weeks in February I went on a trip home. It felt so good to sleep in my own bed, and I had the best sleep in months. Although I’m enjoying my time here and have several plans to travel in the future, I always take advantage of actually being home. I love your blog and can’t wait to read more!

  26. Diana

    I’d like to share our story about ‘home’, again another story because they’re all personal. My partner Tom and I are looking for a new home… Sold everything in the Netherlands, it didn’t feel like ‘home’ anymore (or maybe never did…), and have been travelling for 14 months now. Haven’t missed what used to be home for a single minute. Have never been this happy and cheerful. Haven’t had a grumpy day in all those months! :) I still love being ‘on the road’, exploring, staying in places as long as it feels good, no time pressure, a lot of dreams and plans but without a clear schedule… To have some rest every now and then, have a feeling of ‘home’, we do housesits, take care of somebody’s pets, make it our home for a period of time (like watching movies on a proper couch :)). And after that period of time it feels good to leave again. Don’t know if we will ever settle again, as in having our own house, with our own stuff… Tom is doing a course at the moment to become kitesurfinstructor, I’m planning a course to become an English teacher. Two jobs to keep on travelling. Probably the best thing of all this: I don’t have to do it on my own. Tom and I are in this together (have been together for 18 years now, happily unmarried :)). If you have to do it on your own, you get my respect. I can imagine it can be lonely every now and then, as long as you meet likeminded people that understand the choices you make and relate to it. That’s something else: not everybody ‘at home’, living their ‘all work – no play’ life, understand the life of being a nomad. “Places to go, and people to meet”. Happy travels to you all! And thanks Matt for sharing your advice and personal stories as well! You’re doing a GREAT job! Enjoy the spring, enjoy NY, enjoy being home!

  27. Well analyzed. I’ve found that my ‘perfect balance’ when it comes to travel and living is really a hub and spoke model. I move countries and set up base for a few months upwards.

    I get to stay and really live in my adopted countries but also pick up and travel out for a little bit to neighboring countries when I start feeling restless.

    I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I’m the type of person who cannot not work as well which means on top of understanding the general culture and sites of a country, I get to also enjoy different types of jobs on the go.

  28. Well articulated. I’ve been travelling on and off for 7 years and I’m starting to find myself looking for long-term prospects in almost every place I visit now. Although our current trip is a strictly overland expedition from SE Asia to South Africa which could take upwards of three years, I pause in each new destination. I am excited about our adventure, but also curious as to what starting a real life in an exotic location would be like.

    While part of me wants to settle down, the other part longs to learn what is over the horizon. It is a constant struggle which is hard to come to terms with.

    Thanks for writing yet another thought-provoking post that many long-term travellers can relate to. I’m sure you are making the right decision. Good luck!

  29. Hey Matt!

    I’m so with you on this one. I used to dream of constant movement, always somewhere new, something exciting going on. But over time, my outlook has changed, I’ve changed and I’ll probably keep on changing! Now, I’m glad to just travel occasionally. I’m sure I could manage a bit more travel, but I’m happy with how it is now. That’s not to say in a couple of years I’ll think diffrently, but I guess that’s life.

    I love what you say there ‘Being home definitely gives me an appreciation for travel and travel gives me an appreciation for all I have back home.’ – exactly how I feel.

    What’s great, is that you have created a life where you can do both, which is amazing! You have the choice and you should be so proud of yourself for that!

    Glad you’ve found your happy place!

    Helen x

  30. I am a circus performer so I am always on the road. I spent about five years “homeless” travelling from contract to contract without a real home of my own (and I loved it). When I met my husband he already had a house and coming back to the same place inbetween contracts was a real strange thing to me. Over time I have really grown to love both places, I think one would get real dull without the other constantly on the horizion. I love travelling and I can’t imagine ever stopping, but when you are on the road it’s amazing the things you miss that most people would take for granted like cooking or easily doing the laundry.

  31. I definitely feel you. I haven’t done as much traveling as you have but I’ve done a bit of traveling and done some pretty big jumps moving wise. I’ve lived in San Francisco, NYC, Amsterdam, and now South Korea. I’m originally from Cleveland. For a long time I didn’t want to go home but around 26 I guess things changed in me and I realized that family was actually important. I’d actually like to have a place to call home but no one place has my heart as of now. And I guess since I don’t have anything tying me down, I have no reason to stay. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll always be living in a different city, but in the end I don’t think it even really matters.

  32. Dave

    I think it’s kind of ironic how most travelers are “environmentalists” yet fail to recognize the fact that flying all over the world is arguably the worst thing you can do for the planet. Yes, you may recycle your beer cans and maybe you even don’t use shampoo for fear of polluting the water supply, but the simple fact is flying all over the place like a rock star is pretty much the most unsustainable way to live you life. And the thing is , most people don’t know this.
    I know that sometimes flying is inevitable, but there are a lot of alternatives that are usually way more enriching anyway. Take your time, learn to hitchhike, use rideshares, or start cycle touring. As far as crossing oceans, look into crewing on sailboats. The website is basically like workaway for sailboats and you can go anywhere for free! Plus, it’s a lot more exciting than just sitting in a seat for 7 hours, shitting out a ton of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and then walking out of the airport in a jet-lagged daze.

    TL/DR: Fuck flying! Get creative, have unique experiences, save money, and respect the planet.

  33. Balance is so hard. As an expat instead of feeling like I have two homes, sometimes I feel like I don’t really have either country. And when it comes time to decide whether to stay (and keep traveling at a crazy pace) or go home and move on with life I have no idea what I’ll do. Good luck with your adjustments!

Leave a Comment