The Long-Term Travel Narrative
I was 23 when I began reading travel blogs. And I was enthralled with the stories of people leaving their 9-5 jobs, giving their bosses the bird, and walking into a life of full-time travel and adventure.
The narrative that is all too common in the travel blogging world and on social media: Beautiful girl or beautiful boy or beautiful couple or beautiful family quits their job and travels the world full time.
You have to travel full time to have a fulfilled life.
You have to travel full time to really experience another culture.
Traveling full time is the only way to be truly happy.
Traveling full time will make you free.
It was a dream.
A dream to live abroad, to travel full-time, to become a digital nomad in some exotic country outside of the United States. To feel truly happy, like I was truly living and experiencing everything possible.
And for a long time I believed the narrative. Believed that I had to quit my job and travel the world to be happy.
Years later, I’m here to tell you that none of these statements (and the dozens of others that I’ve seen) are true.
You can have a happy, fulfilled, amazing life, full of your passions (including traveling) without quitting your job and being a full-time nomad, or packing up your life and living abroad.
My Experience with Living Abroad
I was so wrapped up in these narratives that I did quit my job at 24. Well, I just didn’t return back the following school year-extending my summer vacation by about 3 months. I became an au pair in Rome, taking care of two adorable boys, living in a house between the city center and the sea.
And it was glorious. I got the study abroad/living abroad experience that I never got in college but always wanted.
I went to aperitivo with my friends, walked alone through the city drinking bacardi breezers and listening to the fountains and street players, ate pizza on the Spanish steps, and sunbathed on the beach surrounded by Romans. I took weekend trips to Florence, Naples, and Brugges.
I had fun. But, there was another side to the whole experience.
Living Abroad Isn’t For Me
I discovered something working in Rome for a few months: I wasn’t sure if living abroad was for me.
Sure, I loved exploring, meeting new people, hearing a different language, eating amazing food; but I also missed my family terribly, missed my friends;
I felt isolated and other.
After a few months in Rome, I came back to the US, got a job, and worked.
The dream of quitting my job and traveling full time plagued me for the next 6 years. I felt like I was missing out, that I wasn’t doing something right.
I needed to teach English abroad, become a digital nomad, become a successful travel blogger, get out of the United States. Then I’ll be a real traveler.
Then, I would think about what it was like living in Rome, and began asking myself if that’s what I really wanted.
I didn’t want to live abroad, even though I felt like that’s what I should want.
So, I began crafting a life in the United States that featured my family, my job, and traveling as often as I could, which for me, meant traveling for about a month every summer.
Full-Time Travel, Digital Nomading, and Living Abroad Isn’t for Everyone, and That’s Okay
Full-time travel, digital nomading, and living abroad just isn’t for me. And it may not be for you either, and you know what? That’s okay.
There are so many reasons why I’ve chosen to craft my life as a full-time teacher, with a part time job, who travels during my vacation time.
Being Home is Awesome
Of course I love traveling, but I also love my little home in Florida.
I love being home, lighting incense and reading a good book.
And I want to tell you that it’s okay to love your community, going to your favorite yoga studio, book store, or coffee shop. The little joys in my life are so important to me.
I like being able to stay in shape and eat a healthy diet and do my work from a comfortable desk-all things that become increasingly difficult when you choose a life on the road.
It’s okay to love your routine and your partner and your family and friends and want to stay where you are.
Being with my family brings me true joy. I can’t imagine being separated from them for months on end with only FaceTime and phone calls to stay connected.
Loving your home and loving travel are not mutually exclusive.
Digital Work Isn’t for Everyone
There are tons of opportunities for digital work in 2020. However, the work that I do (writing) pays very little.
Yes, I may be able to support myself in an affordable, low-cost living country and scrape by writing for 8 hours a day. But, I don’t want to.
I don’t want to be cooped up in my room, or struggling to deal with sun glare, or noisy people at a cute cafe somewhere halfway across the world.
I don’t want to be so busy working in paradise that I can’t enjoy paradise.
I don’t want to wonder if someone is going to pay me, or if I’m going to make ends meet, don’t want to worry if I don’t get enough gigs.
I enjoy knowing what I’m going to be doing everyday. I also like getting a regular paycheck.
Long-Term Travel and ‘Living Like a Local’ Isn’t Fun
Have you ever heard that expression, “travel like a local?”
I’ve always been really confused by that statement.
Because when you’re a local, you work.
Most of your time is spent working, making dinner, maybe going to restaurants, hanging out with your friends and family, ect.
When you’re a local you’re busy with your life.
I’m embarrassed by how little I’ve done in St. Petersburg, Florida (where I live). Because I have two jobs, a boyfriend, dogs, I go to a yoga studio, go grocery shopping, and meet up with friends. I read and go to the beach and occasionally go out to eat or to a concert.
When I was living in Rome, my life started to look surprisingly like what it looked like at home, minus the family and friend time. Of course I still explored the city, and it was amazing, but the feeling that I usually got when traveling for a few weeks or a month wasn’t there.
When you only travel somewhere for a few weeks, there is magic. At least for me. Everything is new and exciting, I don’t have to work, I can drink in a new place and lose myself in a different culture.
Long-Term Travel Takes a Lot of Energy
Traveling is exhausting. Constantly experiencing new things is amazing, but it’s also really, really tiring.
I joke that the sleep I get abroad is the best sleep of my life.
Because I’m always on alert, I’m always absorbing new sites and sounds and smells. And I love it.
But after a month of traveling, I’m exhausted. I begin slowing down, spending more time in my hotel, and less time exploring. I start craving a netflix binge and rest.
It’s okay to have an amazing time traveling, and then wanting to come home.
There are Responsibilities at Home
Full-time travel isn’t for me because I own a home. I have two dogs. I have renters.
I have a family that needs me, until recently I had my grandparents. I’m fulfilled when I help my family.
I also have an amazing job at an airport that allows me to travel for pennies. To give up this job would be…crazy. Full-time travel is not worth it to me to quit this job.
I mean, people have kids, elderly parents, jobs they love, partners who can’t travel, etc. To say that full-time travel is the only way to travel and the only way to live a fulfilled life is preposterous.
Short-Term Travel is Just Better
Full-time travel will never replace short-term travel for me. When I travel I don’t have to worry about working or about responsibilities, because I am on ‘vacation.’
I get to experience the best of every place that I go. I have the energy and the money to really live it up.
I don’t have time to really see the bad things about a certain country (and yea, there are negative things about every place you visit), I don’t have the resentment and homesickness that comes from being away from home and living somewhere else for long periods of time.
Everywhere I go retains some magic in my mind because I am free to wander and adventure to my heart’s content. I still get to experience the people and culture and food, but I don’t stay long enough to start ‘living like a local.’
I get to have an amazing time, and then come home.
You Don’t Need Full Time Travel to have a Fulfilled, Happy, and Awesome Life
I adore my life. Sure, I struggle sometimes with mental health and falling into routine, and I struggle with being content and constantly wanting more. But I love this life I’ve crafted for myself.
There are so many other things that can make you feel fulfilled: a good morning routine, volunteering, religion, friendship, your job, your family, the list goes on and on.
People find fulfilment in all sorts of things. It’s cruel and incorrect to say that until you live abroad or work abroad or travel full time you haven’t really lived.
Wake up people, you’re living now.
Traveling full time is not some magic pill that is going to give your life meaning and purpose. You can have purpose without ever leaving your community.
That being said, I do believe that travel opens people’s minds and hearts and it has been my greatest teacher. But that is MY experience. You have to find what works for you.
So, How Can you Travel without Quitting your Job?
Find a Job that Offers More Vacation Time
I’m a teacher-I get about 12 weeks off every year (I also make no money so don’t be too jealous). Find a job that offers time off, even only a couple of weeks and USE YOUR DAYS!
More and more jobs are realizing how important travel and rest is and will encourage you to take a vacation. Other jobs, especially non-profits, offer unlimited vacation. Which is awesome!
Find a job that allows you to do what you’re passionate about. If you’re unable to change jobs, use the time off that you are given. You can even ask your employer if you can take unpaid days if you do more work ahead of time and when you return.
Double up on Days
Most people get holidays like MLK day, Veterans Day, and Labor Day off. Consider planning your trip around already built in holidays so you can travel for longer and further.
If you get Christmas Eve and Day off-you can take 3 more days and get a whole week for the price of 3.
Find a Job that You can do Remotely
Travel agent, English teacher, data entry, the list goes on and on. Work from home and then take your job on the road sometimes. You may still have to work while you travel, but at least you will get to travel.
That kind of flexibility is awesome.
Consider a Job in the Aviation or Travel Industry
You’ll get lots of perks with these kinds of jobs including free or low-cost travel. You’re also surrounded by other people who share your same passion, and companies know and respect love of travel.
Consider being a flight attendant, ramp agent, travel agent, etc.
Consider a Job with Built in Travel
My mind goes immediately to event planners, corporate or otherwise. These people get to travel as part of their job. Same with traveling nurses or flight attendants.
Take Vacations Close to Home on the Weekends
Don’t think you need to take a 12 hour flight to travel. You can travel to a neighboring city, get away for a long weekend, or take a mini road trip to explore something new. Most of us have a couple days off in a row and can take some mini trips.
Final Thoughts on Long-Term Travel and Me
There are tons of people who love long-term travel, it has changed their lives for the better.
And that is awesome. It’s just not for me.
Long-term travel may be for you, it may be something you’ve always wanted to do, it may make you happy, it may fulfil you, and that is awesome.
But, if long-term travel isn’t for you, do not feel bad. Do not feel like you can’t have an amazing, successful life. Don’t feel like you’re not a ‘real’ traveler.
This is your life, make it exactly like you want, and ignore everyone else.
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