This Non-Nomadic Life

me over in tongiraro national parkI picture my addiction meeting to go something like this:

“Hello, my name is Matt and it’s been 50 days since I last traveled somewhere. Every day gets a little harder than the last. I’ve almost booked a flight three times this week. I think next time I’ll hit the buy button.” Around me, the other travel addicts in the room nod knowingly. They feel my pain. And then, at the mention of flights, they all take out their iPhone and check prices to their favorite destination. They almost hit buy too. We all sigh. We former nomads aren’t going anywhere, at least not right now.

I’ve been back in the states for 7 weeks now. During that time, I’ve been fulfilling my dream of spending a summer in New York City. It’s not permanent. In September, I leave for Boston and then to Canada where my nomadic life begins anew. In a sense, I guess I’m still nomadic. If a nomad is one without permanent roots, then I am still a nomad. New York is only my temporary oasis – the place where I restock supplies for my next journey.

Yet every morning, I wake up in my sublet apartment, cook breakfast in my kitchen, and then take a shower in a bathroom not shared with other strangers. My fridge is stocked with food. I belong to the gym. I am taking French classes (and using Benny’s language guide too!). I have a routine. I’m a regular at the cafe down the street. I’m settled. I feel settled. And that unsettles me.

I’m having a great time in New York City. It’s been amazing. It’s been productive. It’s been a dream. I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones. Yet I’m not used to being in one place for so long and I’m not coping well with it.

new york central parkGoing from being always on the move to staying put has been a harder adjustment than I thought. True, I’ve discovered something new every day here in the city. New York has a lot to see and do. My days are full. But when you are used to changing locations every few days or weeks, suddenly putting the brakes on that can send you through the proverbial windshield.

I don’t know what it’s like to be still. For me, moving is living. The longer I’m here the worse my itchy feet get. My feet….my soul…desires movement. I like the thrill of the road. What everyone hates about travel, I love. I love airports, and finding my way, and hotels, buses, packing and unpacking. In a way, I’m getting bored. Not bored of New York but bored of being in one place. I remember when I first came back from my trip in 2008. I was ready to leave within weeks. Life in one place felt stagnant. New York is never stagnant. But I miss the act of travel.

Being here, in one place, has been a hard adjustment. When you are always on the move, you get used to it. It becomes comforting. Your lifestyle. I’m at ease in hostels. I love making my way through the airport. That life is what I know. Now, I feel out of my element. I think about how I’m still in one place. I dream of moving from place to place. I think of how I can get my travel fix. What if I just fly to Bermuda for a few days? It’s not that far. Jetblue has cheap flights.

Coming home requires a lot of adjustment. Changing your lifestyle? Even more. That’s what 7 weeks feels to me- a lifestyle adjustment. Now I’m sitting in my apartment, waiting for my dinner to cook, and I begin to wonder, if I ever do settle down, if I ever do become only semi-nomadic, how will I cope then? If being in one place for 7 weeks is difficult, what about moving somewhere? If I balk at the idea of a sublet, what about when it’s my name on the lease? But in these thoughts, I realize I’m not done with the road yet. Or maybe, it’s the road that is not done with me.

  1. Hey Matt. I’m a new reader and am having a blast reading through your adventures. You’re coming to Canada, eh? Anything you want to know, give me a shout. I haven’t travelled everywhere (I’m based in Vancouver), but the majority of my assignments take me to someone new in the country. You’ll love it here :)

  2. Go to Bermuda!!!!!! :)

    Well, honestly I agree with everything you said. But, even though I traveled like crazy when I lived in NYC (I once left 15X in 1 yr), I never felt restless when I was there. To me living in NYC is like constantly traveling. There are always new adventures to be had and anything can happen!

    Now that I live in Charlotte, however, I’m definitely feeling the urge to travel daily. I got such a high when I booked intl tix last week.

  3. Hey Matt-

    I feel ya. I haven’t traveled near as extensively as you, but I’m hoping to very soon. I just turned in my 6-months notice at work, and I’m saving up for a few new adventures. Hopefully another sailboat is in my future…the water’s calling :)

  4. Greetings from Palawan.

    This is a tough one, it is very strange going back to a non-travelling state. I coped by returning to university, and then living long term in three different countries (Germany 4 years, USA 2 years; Turkey 1 year); now not lived in the UK for 9 years.

    Yet here I am back on the road for the last 17 months. All the time I was not travelling the thought of travelling was in my mind.

    Strange thing is I often think how nice it would be to have a nice apartment, cook my own food, and generally to have a settled life. But when I settle anywhere long termish (on this trip I have often spent two or three months in one city/town) I get the urge to travel.

    This morning after 1 month in the Philippines, I just booked a flight to Thailand :-O

  5. I hear ya, brother. For the five weeks leading up to our wedding, I only left for four days on an assignment to LA. I was SO happy when we left for our honeymoon in Borneo, as I was honestly getting the shakes!

  6. I think it’s a bit like the song, “To everything there is a season”. For me, having kids and emgirating was a turning point. They had to go to school once they were a certain age. At least I was discovering a new lifestyle, having emigrated at that point. Once my nest emptied it was my signal to set off again. Then I had a series of financiall problems which grounded me, now THAT drove me crazy, the enforced staying put. Then I resolved to try to live as if I was new to this island, to see things through different eyes. It’s working up to a point, but I can’t wait until everything is sorted so I can set off again I must admit!

    I have a question, though. Put this together with your post “Chasing Ghosts”, which fascinated me, and don’t you think that the constant moving never really allows you to get to know a place or people properly?

    • NomadicMatt

      No, I return to place often. I’ve been to Thailand more times than I can count, I’m about to do a 4th trip to Australia. I don’t like being in one specific spot for a long time. I don’t mind being in one country for awhile if I move around. Chasing Ghosts wasn’t about how you shouldn’t return to places, it was about how sometimes we return to places in hopes of chasing the excitement of the first time.

      • Yes, I understood what you were saying in Chasing Ghosts. Sorry if it came across as if I didn’t. I’m trying to explain some things to myself, and looking at all the angles, and others’ perspectives.

        I wonder, do you ever see yourself settling down? I never did, but when it was necessary it was just obvious that it was right (i.e. when kids needed schooling). Something happened to me in 2006 too, which rooted me firmly here for a while, and I found myself constantly questioning whether this was where I wanted to be, and the answer was alwlays yes. For a couple of years there I was doing something so rewarding and satisfying I wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world, and it was a good feeling, but, then, it wasn’t as if I’d lived all my life and not seen something of the world. But, when that phase ended all the old feelings of claustrophobia came back!

  7. matt…Ydon’t you come to Dokdo in korea. have you ever heard about Dokdo? if you live in NYC, then you might be seen the outdooor AD in madison SQ.about Dokdo…

  8. Hi Matt, I also share the same feeling although I’m not living in NYC and I’m not traveling like a person who wants to see the world. I travel to meet with people at the same places over and over again, but I’m not bored.

    OK, let me explain: I’m a national tour guide in Iran who loves to learn about the people from different parts of the world. I’m so much enjoying it that staying at home in Tehran becomes boring to me after a few weeks of staying there. Although I’ve got my own stuff to do like online marketing and so on, I have the feeling that I should start going on the road again.

    I almost get the feeling of what you New Yorkers are talking about. Some of my ex-clients and now-friends have been from your city. Almost all of them are big fans of traveling and interested in some sort of sports. I hope I get to see more people from NYC.

    Rahman Mehraby
    Destination Iran

  9. I know that feeling my nomadic brother! I’ve been home about 8 weeks now. I booked my flight out last week. I guess it’s a 7 week itch :-) A bit like the 7 year itch in relationships, just for the mentally unstable/travelers.

  10. Matt, great post. It struck a chord with me because I’m adjusting to the non-nomadic life after returning 7 weeks ago from our RTW family journey. (The recent post at my site, “What a Long, Strange Homecoming It’s Been,” details the surreal experience and profound mixed feelings of coming home again.) But like islandmomma states above, there is a season or time for everything, and now my kids need and want to return to school after a year of roadschooling. The challenge, which I confront daily in myriad mundane ways, is not to forget or abandon the positive ways that long-term travel changed us individually and as a family; e.g., more frugal, more flexible and adaptable, more open minded, closer as a family, more adventurous, etc etc. But I really feel your itchy feet; in fact, I gotta get offline and get ready for a road trip to Yosemite and Colorado that we’re shoehorning in before school starts! Screw the planning, we’re just getting in the car and going!

  11. I agree, I think you’re in a season of life, maybe it will never end. Or maybe you’ll meet the woman of your dreams and decide to settle down and have kids. But the adventure doesn’t need to end if you do that. Maybe you wont be a nomad, but you’ll still find ways to travel around, you don’t have to stay where you are for 7 weeks at a time. But you’ll know when you’re ready to change, you might not recognize it at first, but you’ll know. But I guess as a nomad there are different things that are home – like airports.

    I’ve sometimes thought of what fun it would be to be a nomad, but then I realize that as much as I love to travel, there’s a lot of homebody in me too. I need a home and then to take trips, long trips are ok, but there’s something about coming home at the end that feels warm and cuddly.

  12. I completely understand that feeling! We’ve been in Salta, Argentina for nearly two months now so that my partner Simon can get some work done before we head up to Bolivia (and its terrible internet). At first it was great to have our own comfortable apartment and be able to cook for ourselves, but now my itchy feet are really kicking in. I also find it hard to stay in one place for long.

    The good thing is it means you’ll have a renewed enthusiasm for travel when you get back on the road.

  13. “For me, moving is living. The longer I’m here the worse my itchy feet get. My feet….my soul…desires movement. I like the thrill of the road. What everyone hates about travel, I love. I love airports, and finding my way, and hotels, buses, packing and unpacking.”

    I recognize myself so much in that! Staying put in one place too long is not easy. Guess that’s why I’ve always made a habit of discovering as much of cities (I’ve lived in) as possible. In that way, finding new places and neighborhoods in your city, almost feels like traveling “for real”.

  14. Hahaha, love comparing this to an addiction. I always want a home to return to, even if I do love travel.

    You must hit up St. John’s when you’re in Canada!

  15. I have a mixed relationship with being still. When we’ve been moving around a lot, I long for being still and being able to make my own coffee each morning and halfway unpack my backpack. But after a couple of weeks itchy feet starts to sneak in. When we were in Buenos Aires, we had the option of leaving after 4 weeks and we were starting to feel restless. But, we decided to stay an additional month and I’m glad we did – the friendships we solidified in that second month were great. Then it was time to hit the road again.

  16. Hey Matt, I can totally relate to this. We find that we go through cycles. We’ll travel for a few months and then our respective projects begin calling us so we’ll settle down for a few weeks or months and do a bit of work. Inevitably the feet get itchy again and we’re off! I think it’s just a natural cycle. I don’t even particularly prefer one over the other – I love what I do so I even look forward to the “work” stage.

    This is the problem with having a job – no matter how much you don’t feel like doing it 48 weeks of the year (for Aussies), too bad, you gotta do it – how productive can that be? It’s such a simple thing but the privilege of simply doing what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it is the greatest thing I’ve gained from this whole vagabonding adventure.

  17. Any chance you’ll be able to make it up north? It’s definitely not budget-friendly, but if there’s any way to save up for it, Canada’s arctic is life changing. I promise.

  18. Hmm we moved into our new place just over a month ago – at the time I was pleased not to have to move after basically over 6 months of being on the point of moving, moving or getting ready to move again. Yesterday I spent most of the day planning 2 months on the road at the end of the year LOL The boxes aren’t even unpacked yet!

  19. Dusty

    Oh, how do I know how this feels!

    I’ve only ever gone overseas once in my life. Until I was 16, I’d never been overseas. The furtherest away from home I’d been was an hour flight up Australia’s eastern coast. Then I went to California for three weeks and that changed everything.

    Within a couple of weeks of coming back home I was yearning to leave again. It’s over a year and a half later and I still miss it terribly.

    I can’t wait to be gone!

  20. There is definitely a novelty in settling down for a bit- like people have said to be able to cook your own food and crawl into your own bed. And to actually hang your clothes up and not live out of a suitcase. However, I’m already getting nervous for heading back home in November after my RTW trip. I think I’m getting pre-itchy feet syndrome.

  21. I know the feeling, from coming back to the States the last two summers to spend time with family. I also wonder how I’ll handle it when it becomes long-term. I’ve got one more year of traveling, then settle down in New Orleans for 4 years to go back to school. While I love the city and am excited about spending serious time there, I also worry about being idle for that long and unable to travel extensively!

  22. Haha all the things you like about traveling that other people hate, I actually like too – I love being in airports, packing and unpacking—I got used to it going back and forth between Florida & New York for the past 4 years. And now I’m really looking forward to trying the whole hostel thing in Ireland and figuring my way out on the buses. I guess I’m going to do the solo thing and not the guided tour thing when I go….

    And if you move to New York next year, I’ll totally help you cope with the settled life!

  23. Dillon

    Hey Matt,

    I plan to start living the nomadic life after I graduate from college. I figure this gives me time to save up some money to kick start my adventures. My big question however, which I can’t seem to find an answer to on your blog or others, is how to you make money to keep your travels going? I understand that traveling isn’t nearly as expensive as people make it out to be, but it still costs money. After a while you have to run out of money right?

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