The Life of a Traveler

Last night, I watched the movie “A Map for Saturday.” It was amazing. Utterly and totally amazing. The movie was recommended to me by a fellow traveler, and chronicles a man’s round-the-world trip in 2005. It is filled with interviews from other backpackers, and very accurately captures the highs and lows of travel.

It’s the best travel movie I’ve ever seen. For anyone who has ever backpacked or traveled for a long time, it’s an easy movie to relate to.

It gets all the travel highs and lows:

  • Instant friends. People always ask the same question of solo travelers – “don’t you get lonely?” The truth is, you are never alone. On the road, you constantly meet people. You get into hostels, and you find instant friends. It’s as though you’ve known each other for years because you are each there for many of the same reasons. Moreover, you each fill a lonely void in the other’s life. And for that day, week, or month, you and your fellow travelers are best friends.
  • Why we do it. The movie nailed it on the head. Why do we travel? Interviews with all the travelers echoed one theme – “We don’t want to look back and have regrets.” All these travelers felt that there was more to life than just the cubicle, and they could see the trajectory of their lives –- wives, homes, children. There were no surprises. None of them wanted to be 50 and say “I wish…” Many people feel that way, but these travelers took the plunge. It’s hard to motivate yourself to travel, but they did. Why? Because we only live once, and no one wants to look back and say what if.
  • Turning into a lifelong traveler. Brook, the main character, says at the end of the movie that he took this trip to get travel out of his system. He’d come back, get a job, and live the life society wanted, but he found that instead of getting it out of his system, he just got more addicted to travel. Now he can’t go back to the way things were. He’s different. He can’t picture life without travel. When you talk to travelers, you hear the same thing: they are now travelers forever.A Map For Saturday
  • Saying Goodbye. It’s the hardest thing to do. In the beginning, it is tough and you make promises to always stay in touch. But, as you travel, you get used to goodbyes. You say them every day and become numb to them after a while. Finally, you realize that while you shared perfect moments with your instant friends, you will never be able to recapture those moments, and you probably won’t see those friends again. The advent of social networking sites has made it easier to stay in touch, but the reality is that we move away and move on to different lives. As Brook says, the longer he was home, the less frequently the e-mails came. I’ve always found it hard to say goodbye, but in the end you realize that the memory is the important part.
  • The “impending doom of home.” All good things must come to an end. As your trip comes to an end, all you can think of is, “I’m going home,” and it scares you. All you’ve known for a year or more is the traveling lifestyle. It becomes a way of life. Hostels, trains, buses, hassles, instant friends. Then as quickly as it started, it’s over. As one woman described it in the movie, there is a sense of impending doom and anxiety about going home. We want to go home, but deep down, we don’t. Maybe it’s because we realize there’s more to life than we knew before. I’m not sure, but whatever it may be, no one ever wants to go.
  • Burning out. After a while, you become numb to it all. “Ohh another waterfall?” “Another historic building?” After seeing so many beautiful things in the world, things lose their wonder. You should be impressed, but you’re not. You get sick of meeting new people and having the same conversations over and over again. Saying goodbye. Making promises to see each other. At the end of my trip, all I wanted to do was go home. I couldn’t be bothered to meet new people; I had already met so many. I was burnt out. After 18 months, I’d seen so much that being in Australia wasn’t exciting. It should have been, but it wasn’t. All travelers go through it, and I liked how Brook talked about it.
  • Being home. The hardest part is coming home. It’s weird being back. Few people can relate to your experiences, and most don’t want to hear about them. The world stayed the same while you were gone, but you changed. And that’s the hardest part – realizing that nothing is different. You expect that life changed while you were away. A year is a long time, and then you come home and realize your world never moved forward. It was shocking to me. In the movie, you hear from travelers about how once the honeymoon of catching up was over, all they wanted to do was get back out there. Home was suffocating. It feels as though you aren’t moving. After a week home, all I wanted to do was leave again. Being home is sometimes a lot harder than being away.

If you ever want to understand why travelers do what they do and what it feels like to be out there, then watch this movie. It explains it all.

  1. “He’d come back get a job and live the life society wanted him but he found that instead of getting it out of his system, he just got more addicted. Now he couldn’t go back to the way things were. He was different. Now he couldn’t picture life without travel.”

    That line really resonates with me. It’s entirely possible to build a life of travel instead of a life around 2 weeks of vacation days.

  2. Gurran

    I saw Brooke’s movie about a year ago and I’ve shared it with some of my friends and the only one’s who “get it” are the one’s who’ve spend over a month on the road. I like his movie. It definitely describes the life i lived on the road as well.

    Good review.

    Do try not to watch his movie too often as it becomes hard to settle back into life beyond travel…

  3. Thanks for the tip. We will definitely check out that movie. And you’re definitely right about traveler burnout. I remember being in Berlin and not going to a single museum because I was so sick of museums; now of course I feel a tinge of regret…

  4. Theresa

    Sounds like we’ll have to check out this movie. From having lived abroad for a year at a time on two separate occasions, I can relate to some of it already. Personally, we’ve decided to combat the “home is the same” issue by not returning to where we live now and settling somewhere completely different. I have no idea where, and I have no idea if that will help or for how long, but it should be interesting if nothing else. It at least, won’t be exactly the same.

  5. NomadicMatt

    @theresa: That’s my plan too!

    @ Julie: The whole movie resonated with me!!!

    @anthony: I watched it twice too!!

    @elizabeth: I got burnt out too with all the history of europe. I ended up in Amsterdam and did not visit one thing for a whole week….felt very refreshed

    @steve: this one might be hard!

    @greg: Great to see you dropping by greg!! It’s been too long!! I was getting misty eyed at the movie too. It made me sad to be back but happy to be leaving.

  6. Anthony

    I found out about this movie on When I bought it and watched it with my friends, they all had their heads in the clouds, so I can relate with Gurran. I enjoy it very much, as I was watching it yet again yesterday.

  7. Cuckoo

    Hmmm sounds like a good movie. Must watch it.

    And you are so much right about that ‘burning out’. Happens so many times especially if it is something I don’t admire very much like museums or paintings.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful tip on movie with us.

  8. I am going to watch that movie, sure thing.

    I watched the movie: Into the wild. It is an impressive story about a traveler.

    After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life. IMDB

  9. NomadicMatt

    @marco: I have heard of into the wild. it’s supposed to be amazing. I do plan on seeing it one day.

  10. Erica Johansson

    I hadn’t heard about this documentary before. Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to watch the DVD.

  11. so glad that you watched it!! i’ve never seen a movie capture the backpacking lifestyle so well!! for those that want to buy it, i know you can get it from its website.

    thanks for sharing your reflection matt!!

  12. Must check netflix for this. Into the Wild was good. It was based on a book written by Jon Krakauer of Into Thin Air fame, an excellent read although I hear the movie was awful.

  13. NomadicMatt

    @sherrie: we’ll i’m giving a copy away if you enjoy my contest!

    @turner: I plan too!

    @wendy: Not sure if there is a copy there but you could enter my writing contest and win a copy!

  14. Amanda

    Hey Matt! The site is looking great! This is the second time I’ve heard about A Map for Saturday – I will definitely check it out. Into the Wild is great, as well. Chok dee on your new adventure!!!!!

  15. You know those times when you take an awesome photo of a landmark and you think to yourself ‘that is so original, I’m gonna sell that and fund my travels with it…’ then you post it on Flickr or your blog or whatever and then you realise four billion people have taken the same shot.


    Thats what I felt like when I read your review. They’re MY THOUGHTS! How has he stolen my entire philosophy on travel and its contestants, and then managed to spin them into a DVD and sell it to a distributor!? haha, I haven’t seen A Map for Saturday, though I’ve heard of it before through The Lost Globe last year. It’s the DVD all backpacker say they’ll make, but this guy did it. Is there room for another one? No seriously, do you think there is a market for this kind of thing; factual documentaries? Because I’m sure as hell there’s enough creative kinds on the road to make it happen.

  16. NomadicMatt

    @ant: you could make another one but you would need a different angle. Maybe more focused on the adventures? I don’t know. I’m not very good at film but I think another would work though I doubt it would reach the same success as this one did. The first is always the most successful.

    Thanks for the link to the review. It was very good.

  17. Wow, this is the first that I’ve heard of this movie and I am excited to watch it – I’m in the home transition period and it’s exactly right, the rest of the world here has stayed close to static…and so it’s back out on the road again as soon as possible. I really look forward to hunting this down, should get me out of the post-travel blues for some time! :-)

  18. Aaah! I want a copy. It sounds like a good film to show your friends who don’t ‘get it’ like some people said here.
    It’s going to answer the big question a lot of people ask me ‘How do you do it?’

  19. Hethir

    I will check it out. I wish Netflix carried it. Not able to find another option besides buying the DVD.

    • Trang

      Does anyone know where the movie can be rented? Its on netflix but the queue is veryyyy long. Ive been waiting for a couple of months!

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