I always want to be on the opposite side of the world from where I am.
I’ve read some interesting posts lately, from Adventurous Kate’s musings “On Living in Perpetual Motion“, to the equally as eloquent “Why the Nomadic Lifestyle Can’t Last” by the Mochilera Diaries. Posts that have greatly resonated with me as I too, experienced these feelings when I was abroad for several years. Posts about how the nomadic lifestyle isn’t always glamorous and fun-it’s lonely, exhausting, frustrating. The lack of community and belonging takes its toll on a traveler. Eventually, Skype just doesn’t make up for the distance between you and the ones you love. You want to settle down.
I spent my first 13 months abroad teaching English in South Korea. I had fun, lots of fun sometimes, but I had a lot of low points and I took myself too seriously and thought my job was silly and not meaningful (Oh how stupid I was! That was the best job I’ve ever had, I just didn’t know it yet.) Things were better anywhere but Korea. Such brown grass, I thought at the time. Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Even though I (foolishly) wanted to leave Korea, I was not done with living overseas. I came home for a few months over the holidays, had a long distance relationship with a guy still in Korea, met with him in Spain, and still stayed home long enough for him to break up with me 2 days before Valentine’s Day. No matter, I was going to Australia, over to that green, green Aussie grass!
I visited Australia once before, on winter holiday from Korea, and it felt like home. I knew I had to live there. I would probably stay forever. Or so I though until I got there. I had my fun, yes, sometimes way over the legal limit of fun, but fun I had. I went out with friends, dated, saw kangaroos, and felt like a local when I realized I didn’t look at the Opera House anymore as my bus to work crossed the Harbour Bridge. But I felt empty. I was tired, irritated, depressed, and lonely. My friends were getting married, having babies, advancing in careers, and here I was working temp jobs and coming home to my room in the Northern Suburbs to eat Indiome ramen noodles and go to bed alone. Why? Why was I doing this to myself when I was so miserably lonely and so far away from where I wanted to be? Home.
Yes, it was finally time to go home. Travel had lost its luster. I no longer felt anything when I was in temples in Thailand or driving down Great Ocean Road or exploring the medinas of Marrakech or the speldors of Dubai.. I was tired of being an outsider, a tourist, just passing through, saying hi and bye to friends in the span of less than a week. I needed to go home, where life was better. I could settle down, be near my family, see my friends, make new ones, find a rewarding career. America, land of the free and the greenest grass I ever saw.
I came home and was immediately antsy. I needed to go back abroad! Home is boring, Americans were boring, I wasn’t meant to stay in one place for too long. Reverse culture shock is real, and it’s super rough to go through. I didn’t think I could handle it.
Then, an incident happened. Or, rather, it happened on my last night in Australia and I found out about it several weeks later back home. My friendship with one of my closest friends was over and I was left shattered. I couldn’t think about travel. I needed my family and friends around as I picked up the pieces of my heart and tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do next.
And so I decided to stay for good. Not at first, as I planned to save money and maybe go to New Zealand, or learn Spanish in Argentina, or volunteer in Africa. But then I met a guy and I liked this guy very much. I met him while I was working as a temp. The company offered me a full time position. I wanted to turn them down because, well, Argentina, but I needed to see how this relationship would play out. So I accepted the job, I acquired a husband and a cat, and we have a condo and souvenirs from the trips we’ve taken together. It’s what I wanted so badly when I was in Australia. I had roots. Roots!
I’m so thankful for the life that I have. I truly have everything I’ve ever wanted on a personal level. I came home because I craved stability, love, family and a cat. But I still want more. I want to have a home and travel whenever I want. And that’s the problem.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, a superstar blogger, or have an awesome job that lets you work remotely, you can’t have it both ways. You cannot have roots and wings. You cannot have a home base and still travel the world at a moment’s notice whenever you feel like it.
If you’re living on the road, you have no stability. Every simple task is a struggle with a language barrier, with people trying to take advantage of you, and it’s frustrating always getting easily lost in an unfamiliar city. If you have a home base, you start to feel stuck in a rut of routine and monotony and the daily grind. You long for the open road, the struggles of life abroad that makes every day interesting, for the freedom to do what you want when you want.
So why can’t the nomadic heart ever really be satisfied? Because we know what it’s like on the other side of where we are. We know that we want the adventure that comes with the nomadic lifestyle. And we also know that we want to be near our loved ones and feel accepted and comfortable, to have a place to call our own. The heart wants what the heart wants, even when it’s two very opposite things.
Being a traveler, a perpetual foreigner, became my identity. When I came home I felt I lost that identity. But I didn’t. Not really. I still travel as much as possible. I also know that I could easily slip back into that rootless lifestyle. Will I? I’m not sure. But I know that if I do, I’ll dream of routine Target runs to buy shampoo, and sitting in my red armchair in front of my TV, writing blog posts with my cat next to me. If home is where the heart is, no wonder we travelers want what we don’t have. Our hearts belong to too many homes, and it’s impossible to be in all of them at the same time.