How a Harsh Reality Destroyed My Dreams and Why I’m OK with That

reality checkI had a dream once. It was a damn good dream too. It began last November. I would land in Asia, the last stop on my nomadic journey, explore everything I hadn’t seen, and re-see all my favorites. I’d visit Hong Kong, finally get to Laos, relax on the islands off Cambodia, trek the jungles of Malaysia, show my friends Thailand, and volunteer at an elephant park. It would be a great finale to an amazing journey.

And as November rolled into December, I was well on my way to achieving my dream.

Yet at the same time I had another dream. In this dream, I’d be able to run a blog, write my book, travel the region, meet new people, and party like a carefree backpacker one last time.

But alas, neither of those dreams came true. Reality got in the way.

I can’t say I’m always the most productive person. Despite doing this for years, I still have trouble balancing work and travel. I’ve gotten a lot better at time management lately, but throw in more balls for me to juggle and I just can’t do it. (Shhh! Don’t tell Problogger Darren Rowse, since I was just featured in his new productivity book!)

And this time, there were too balls to juggle for me to keep up.

I’d planned to spend the last two months of my trip heading into northern Thailand, then Cambodia, back into Bangkok, and up into Laos before my flight home.

Instead, I only got as far Sihanoukville, Cambodia—my third stop in the country. I’ve been here a full month now as of today.

I guess I was just naïve. I thought I could do it all. I underestimated how much work a book takes. It’s once thing to write some blog posts. It’s another to put together a print-quality reference guide to world travel. As my friend and mentor Jason Cochran said, I just needed to lock myself in a room and write the book.

And he was right.

The stress and anxiety of trying to manage everything caused me to get considerable insomnia. I was up late—too tired to work but too awake to sleep. So the book progressed slower than I would have liked, and there was simply no way I could fit everything in. I could barely keep up keep up with the book and the small amount of work I did! Spending three days in the jungle just wasn’t going to happen.

jungles in Thailand Khao Yai

Now there are only three more weeks left before I go home. I won’t be heading to Laos, I didn’t get to the northern part of Cambodia, and Malaysia never happened.

Maybe I’m just being too hard on myself. That book was a lot of work. I really underestimated how much work it would be. I’m unsure that anything would have allowed me to juggle all the balls I wanted.

I look back on the last few months and wonder if I simply wasted them. What if I’d tried harder? What if I’d worked better? What if I’d powered through the insomnia and written anyway? I’m riddled with what ifs.

I’d like to say at least I tried. But I don’t think I did. I moped. I slacked. I got stuck in Sihanoukville, and as the days ticked closer to the end, I lost my desire to be productive and leave. “Now, there’s even less time for Laos. Might as well stay another day and work.” It was a vicious cycle.

However, last night I had an epiphany of sorts. I came to a sort of peace with it all. As I sat talking to my friend at the bar, watching the backpackers in front of me partying, I realized just how ready I was for the next step of my life. And when I realized that, it reinvigorated me. I’m ready to get off my butt and run to the finish line.

sunset in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I’m going to spend the next few days on the islands off the coast of Cambodia, visit Siem Reap to re-photograph Angkor Wat, and then with the rest of my time, I’m off to Macau and Hong Kong. After that, the timer buzzes, and it’s back to Bangkok and home to the United States.

I’ve already missed a lot. I’ve already wasted too much time.

But there’s no reason to waste anymore.

I’m going to end this with a bang, not a whimper.

      • Chris

        Kinda scared me there for a second, sir. I thought you were saying goodbye to sweden and going back to the states for good. Been following your blog and using your site as resource as I plan for my adventure. I’m new to long tern traveling and have been inspired by you and all the others I read about on here. I thought you were quitting as I was starting! Congrats on the book and all your success!!!

  1. Hi Matt,

    I know how you feel. I sometimes get bogged down in tasks and procrastinate, then with the finishing line in sight rally to the cause.

    Full steam ahead!

  2. Hi Matt, I really enjoyed your post. I often feel the same way trying to travel, blog, social network, photograph, process, upload, respond to comments and write newsletters and ebooks. It is a lot of work. But it’s the work that you love so that makes it all worth while. Really, it does.

    There’s just no way you are wasting your time. Even when you don’t accomplish exactly what you set out to accomplish in a specific period of time, that’s just how it goes sometimes, you’re not wasting it. But I totally understand how you feel. I have asked myself too if I am wasting time on my trip trying to write so much instead of just enjoying it. But I have to remember that writing so much is part of enjoying it. I really feel I get more out of my travels because I am writing about it and sharing it with others. And I am no where near as far along the path as you are.

    I’m glad I came across your post today because it makes me feel like my own feelings are normal! And maybe one day I will be as accomplished as you.

  3. It’s all part of the journey Matt, and this would be a great tie-in with your book. Not everything plans out how you want it to, and your journey takes on new turns and unexpected experiences (both good and bad). Congrats on moving towards the next step in life, this was quite the experience!

  4. Bassam Tarazi

    You done good, my friend. Congrats to you and thanks for sharing your struggles and how you pushed through. Enjoy the rest of your time. Breathe. Relish in it. Tomorrow will start anew.

    Rock on.

    Bassam and the NoFF Boys

  5. I can absolutely empathize, I am going through the same process right now, just in Latin America. Books are easy as ideas in your mind, but pulling the whole thing together and wrapping it up is hard word. And I am usually known as a very disciplined person, but it’s still hard. Enjoy your trip!

  6. I understund completely, same problem with me, difficult to fond the balance!
    Many project, but not a lot of time. And that’s a time of travel…

  7. Oh honey (I’m from the South so it’s ok to call you honey and not creepy) you are so young and you have so much time left on this Earth, just enjoy those lovely islands and Snookie. Everything happens for a reason and I can’t think of a better place to regroup and re-assess what’s meaningful to you than where you sit now!

  8. Why the big deadline? You don’t have a job to go back to – why not hang out in SEA for another few months? I must say I liked this post – I feel the same quite often. I’m a terrible procrastinator, and I’d probably make a whole lot more money if I just had 10% of the focus that some online entrepreneurs have. I haven’t – its something I need to live with.

    I totally hear you about writing a book -its waaay different from writing a blog post or 10. As I travel with a partner I basically don’t do that much work on the road, and very little writing – that’s what the cold weather of home is for!

    • NomadicMatt

      See link “the end of my nomadic ways.”

      I’m going home on March 27th and remember, I’m moving to Sweden!

  9. I feel your pain. Though I can’t imagine adding a book onto blogging and traveling. At least you were ambitious in your endeavors. But it doesn’t mean that’s it. Enjoy the time you have left in Asia and I hope you find time to write your book soon.

  10. Lauren

    I really appreciate your honesty here, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the next step in your life!! (also like the TS Eliot reference)

  11. Don’t worry too much, we all know that you’ll be back in SE Asia before too long, even if you don’t know it yet!

    Sometimes its hard to go out and explore new places when there are so many favourites to go back to and spend time in. The more I travel, the more I enjoy getting to know familiar places better – its a bit like developing friendships, they get better the more time you spend with them.

  12. Sounds like a lesson in ‘going with the flow’. Enjoy your weekend of relaxation. I’m sure this is still an amazing time in your life.

  13. With your intense love of travel, I doubt this will be your last foray into Asia. Instead of thinking about how you are “giving up” going to certain places, you should look forward to the time in the future when you will get there! I know I get panicky when I think of all the places I want to see, I have to remind myself there is no deadline by which I need to have seen everything in the world. Good luck on your adventures in Sweden, and remember, Asia will be there when you are ready to come back!

  14. Hey Matt,

    Don’t think this was all a waste of time. It wasn’t. Traveling is the best education ever. You’ve accomplished a lot. And you’ve inspired a lot of people. And who knows… this may not be the end, but actually the beginning.

  15. I think at least you enjoyed staying in Cambodia, especially in Sihanoukville. It always happen to us when we go there, we don’t want to leave.

    I also bought the book from Problogger but not yet have time to read your part, I am happy to learn that you are now in Cambodia.

    Continue your trip and wish you all the best back home!

  16. Nomadic Matt,
    Today was a big reality check for me too. I’ve been holed up in Chiang Mai trying to sell any skill I can think of to be able to afford continued travel here in Asia too. Editors aren’t responding, readers are down, can’t get the hang of “alexa” or web-building or any of the projects I’m throwing myself at.
    But then I remind myself that travel is life.
    If you want something, you have to work for it, just like in that “real world” my friends tell me about.
    Thanks for reminding us all about that kick we have to give ourselves from time to time.

  17. Great post… Time to time I see myself in the same situation when it comes to my blog article strategy. I have everything in mind all planned but sometimes I have to struggle to finish it….. And ultimately not meeting my dates of writing. Oh well, I think that’s life …that reminds me …. “Expect Unexpected”…kind of situation.

    Good work Matt, I have been following your blog since last few days… thanks to Your blog has helped me change my writing ideas.

    Well, We bloggers in USA are waiting for you to return….:)

  18. I know how it feels when you have to give up a dream to do something of much priority. Hurtful, but when the final goal is reached (in ur case, your book is done) you will be glad it all happened the way it did. No worries :) Just enjoy whatever life throws at you

    Goodluck, and hopefully see you in Sweden next year :) (you better wish me luck on getting accepted at a university there with a scholarship:P)

  19. Love the end– end with a bang not a whimper.

    In the end, it is just about doing what you feel like doing. Too much self-imposed pressure can make one screwy. But, I too find that to get stuff done I have to lock myself up and throw away the key. Too many distractions (and facebook) can really make that productivity take a nose dive.

  20. Sagar

    1. My book is longer than what I thought it would be.

    2. I should have worked even when I had Insomnia

    3. I should have traveled more even though I have been on the road for the last 6 years.

    You aren’t a procrastinator, you are a perfectionist.

  21. Good to see the hard work that you are putting into your book. Would surely check out that productivity book from Problogger.

    Just one question, i see that you are traveling asia quite a lot, why don’t you come to India?

  22. Hey Matt,
    I interpret your longer stay there as you letting go, and stopping rushing, and just being. Even if it felt like you were hammering your way through your book – or not! Sometimes you just have to listen to your body, and your spirit, and slow down. Glad you had some of those final revelations. And, don’t worry, I am sure you will travel again. Good luck transitioning to your “new” life. Go with the flow. Enjoy.

  23. Tony Padua

    Hi Matt, sounds to me like you’re trying to multi-task in the wrong part of the world. I took your advice and looked into teaching English in Cebu, Philippines. My wife and I have been retired here for seven years now, not having to live by some organization’s rules, exercising every day, eating smarter, and getting healthier in my late sixties.

    I could use the extra money for nice things, traveling like you, but more and more corporatists from the U.S. are intruding upon Cebu, with their dumb ass ideas of what work should be. Do I want to stay healthy? You bet.

    Sounds like you made the right choice for you.

  24. Colleen

    Thanks for being real and humble. It’s easy to imagine that the life you live is perfect, but everybody has to negotiate the tension of the good vs the best, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

    Looking forward to your book. = )

  25. Don’t be hard on yourself Matt – you’ve done loads in the last few months so concentrate on what you’ve achieved, not what you think you should’ve! Have fun instead!

  26. Things obvious and appropriate at one stage of our life lose their interest as we go on. It’s good to catch a glimpse of what comes next. It’s a good trip when, at the end of it, you are ready to go home.

    Or to Sweden.

    Do deep travel in your new place. It may not produce much usable in a guide book, but can be very nourishing to the soul. Travel for yourself, not for others. There is more to be written about travel than in guide books.

  27. Kellye

    Procrasination is my middle name! Okay, well actually it’s Marie, but totally understand this post and I really look forward to your book! All the best is future travels! Thanks to you, I’m heading out solo for Europe this summer.

  28. Caitie Avery

    I love this article, getting lost in a place is part of the magic, maybe if you would have rushed to do it all you would have missed out on what you experienced in Sihanoukville. And besides everyone gets stuck there ahah, myself included. It’s just a great, cheap, place to chill. I loved Monkey Republic and am so sad it burned down a couple months ago.

    Well thanks as always for the great article!

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