The pandemic being at the center of our lives this year has been a harsh blow for the travel industry. I know many people who meant to set out into the world for the trip of their lifetime.
Having just returned to Germany from my ten years abroad, I’d have to lie if I were to say I had a problem with the lack of travel options this year. I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted from the constant moving and am happy to have a temporary home. With a lot of time on hand, I’ve been thinking about the travel lifestyle a lot. It had been my desired way of life for so many years, yet I have started to feel a little shift in my thinking.
Traveling and living abroad is always portrayed as a life in paradise. Digital nomad, working from a little beach hut? Van life, your home always with you? A backpack, a tent, you. Working at many international locations. Doesn’t that sound like a dream?
I would’ve highly agreed to all of that, and a part of me still does. However, I think there are some aspects that most people don’t talk about.
I’m mainly referring to the perpetual expats here who continuously change locations.
Having been one myself, I have noticed some of the darker sides of traveling long-term.
- You lose a sense of belonging.
Where is my home? Where do I belong to? These are such fundamental questions in life, and most people will ponder this question at one or more points in life. Perpetual travelers will top the list for sure. Bumping from country to country every few months of years, going through the whole motions of adapting to a new culture through the highs and lows, you eventually wonder which place is the one that you really are ‘a part of’.
2. ‘I am traveling to find myself’ (or not?)
The number one statement I’ve heard (and said myself). Without a doubt, through this constant moving, you will grow in many ways. But let me suggest that your growth will also stunt in others. Every new place you move to, you will start from scratch again. You will hustle to find a place to live, a job to make a living, friends to make life worth living, and simply make sense of life in the country as it is. This process always starts from zero. No matter how often you’ve moved, you’ll still have to run through the same motions all over again. And there comes the time when you decide that this is not the country you want to spend the rest of your life at and you move on to start this process all over again.. Having the chance for a new start can be rejuvenating, but you never cross a certain threshold of depth and commitment in your life.
3. Your career might suffer
Depending on what career path you’re in, being abroad for too long might backfire on your resume. International experience can really set you apart from other candidates, both in a positive and a negative way. Your language skills might be through the roof, but your employment history might look quite jumbled up. You most likely lack depth in any work field, which can play a greater importance the older you get. Employers might doubt your commitment to a position, knowing that, on average, you stayed at a job for just a year or two.
4. Your perception of achievement and experiencing new things might be skewed
I remember how ‘accomplished’ I felt in traveling. Checking off endless places, thousands of kilometers on your back, all the new people you met, cultures you’ve experienced… life felt moving fast. Being in the same place, with life not moving quite at that pace can feel dull and uninspiring. Learning to focus on the small things and appreciating the steadiness in which life can move can feel like a massive challenge upon returning to the ‘normal word’.
This also applies to going on short trips or vacations after long-term traveling.
Having seen some of the world’s top sights, you’re subconsciously raising the bar for what is worth seeing and can’t help but be underwhelmed by many places that might be worth seeing to people in the local area. You might feel underwhelmed by the options that present yourself back home. The one way to get around this is to focus on the people you’re with or on the relaxation/exercise factor that this trip gives you rather than the destination itself.
5. You’ll find it difficult to have long conversations that do not involve your life abroad and traveling
My sister had to tell me to shut up starting every sentence with ‘In Japan’ or ‘At Rupanco’ (a volunteering placement). You will feel so into this topic that you won’t notice that after a certain time, you’re annoying people by this. There are for sure moments where you can shine (tip: become a teacher and go off-topic sometimes – your students will love you for it), but after having heard what life is like in XYZ country for the 50th time, you will reach a limit in most people.
On the opposite end, you might have completely missed what’s been going on ‘at home,’ regarding the news, politics, cultural changes etc and find it hard to hold conversations about current issues. I’ve found that as a visitor to a foreign country, people don’t expect you to know what’s happening right now, but in your home country, this ‘rule’ does not apply. Most people will expect you to be somewhat up-to-date (and really, you can completely miss out on this information if you’re not actively keeping up with it from a distance). The way I currently perceive Germany is the way I remember it from 11 years ago when I left. Whatever has changed in society in those years has completely passed by me.
6. You are missing out on years in the lives of those close to you
I was always aware of this one, but once you’re back for a while, it still hits you. It starts with seeing your friends at a different stage in life than when you had left them. Many will be married with kids by the time you finish yet another round-the-world-trip. Your parents will age. Other people will move on in life, not having space for you anymore. People might not even be alive anymore by the time you return. I would book this under the category ‘compromise you know you’re taking,’ yet it is one not to overlook
Do I regret the years I’ve spent abroad? Absolutely not! All I’m hoping was to add to the rosy image of long-term traveling and show a side that’s not talked about very much. I’m not sure how this world will be affected by the pandemic’s long-term effects, but I’m hoping that people can see that every lifestyle has its pros and cons and is also not for everyone forever. I, for once, am grateful not to be traveling in these times, and I am trying to make the most of being in my home country.