Why is it so hard for some travelers to settle down? What drives some people to be permanent nomads?
When I recently read Mad Travelers, a new book by Dave Seminara about people who just can’t quit the road (and the psychology behind that), I thought a lot about those questions. I saw myself not only in the main characters but also in the analysis of what makes these people tick.
When Seminara described perpetual travelers as having a psychological need to figure the earth out like it’s a puzzle that must be solved, I nodded. “That’s me,” I thought. I view the world as a puzzle, and every adventure helps put it all together. I am driven by this insatiable desire to learn as much as I can about how the world works.
The folks featured in this book — the ones who aim to be atop of every “most traveled” list — are mostly older, single, and unable to quit. And that addiction stifles many of their personal and romantic relationships. Their love of travel trumps everything.
And, as I kept reading, I wondered: Is this my destiny?
Have I just been fighting the urge to keep traveling all these years, because, well, I’m supposed to grow up, settle down, get a house, and make babies? Well-adjusted adults don’t roam the world alone forever, right?
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I am always going back and forth between settling down and traveling.
Back in 2016, I stopped being a permanent nomad, got an apartment, and traveled a lot less.
Before COVID hit, I was truly ready in my bones to settle down: I had planned to spend six continuous months in Austin (which is a record for me), join social clubs to make new friends, take cooking classes, pick up some hobbies, and start volunteering. I was going to build a life, date (I had joined every dating app before I got home), and intended to buy a house toward the end of 2020. It was time.
Now, eighteen months later — and on the road again — I find myself again reveling in the nomadic way of life. I’m in no rush to return to Austin. Travel is a battery that requires constant recharging, and, after so long at home, mine is supercharged. After over four months of constant movement, my travel battery is still at full strength.
Sure, that old demon anxiety has returned as I struggle to remember how to balance work and travel. But, since I’ve started journaling again, I’ve become better at managing that.
Now, with no desire to settle down and many more months of travel ahead of me, that book made me wonder: Am I just another mad traveler bound to this lifestyle forever?
Pre-pandemic, my travel battery ran like clockwork. After four or five weeks on the road, I longed for my own bed and a stable routine. I’ve cut many trips short because I hit that wall — and have never once regretted those decisions.
On this trip, though, that length of time has long come and gone. Sure, there are days where I decide to just chill, write, and relax, but I haven’t felt the desire to stop being a nomad again.
Maybe it’s because travel feels new again. The thing that drove me — that desire to solve the puzzle we call the world — was forcibly put on hold by COVID. And, now, like a kid who is given back his toy after being punished, all I want to do is play with Travel as much as possible.
When your passion and career are taken away from you, the chance to do it again reinvigorates you. You can’t even imagine that one day you will get tired and want to rest.
Reading Mad Travelers engendered a lot of introspection. I think my true struggle has been a lack of balance. Balance between the life I live in my mind and the one I live in real life, between my twin desires to own a house and be on the road. (Someone invent cloning, please!)
In the life I imagine, I have work/life/travel all balanced. Everything gets the time it deserves and nothing suffers.
Over the last month, I’ve made real progress in creating a work-life balance (including by hiring new people). A big revelation for me was that I always balance as a sort of separateness. Travel and home. There was a life in Austin and a life on the road and each part deserved 50% of my time.
But that’s not the case when travel is work. Home, work, travel – they are all inexplicitly intertwined in my life. I can’t separate them. You can’t compartmentalize who you are. What I need to work towards is balancing all three each day. Every day, I need to find the balance between the three in a way that allows them all to thrive. There’s no “travel matt” and “home matt” — there’s just Matt.
So, one thing I’ve started doing — and this is kind of a big deal — is stopped being cheap with my accommodation. Before, it was always “find me the cheapest room.” But I’ve come to realize that I’d rather stay in a hotel and be comfortable and get work done. Spending more money on accommodation has increased the quality of my days, because not only do I sleep better but, since I work while traveling, I really need a productive environment. A good night of sleep changes everything and hostel common areas without AC just don’t cut it when I need to get work done.
But what about bigger changes?
Will I ever be able to change my nomadic ways? Or was I just born to be a nomad? Even when I’m home, I’m always out doing something. I love being social and active. And travel is the ultimate social activity. Is there a balance to be struck?
Years ago, I wrote that people think “forever nomads” are just running away from life. Over a decade later, I still think they are wrong. We are just marching to the beat of our own drum.
In a way, I have to thank the pandemic for this realization. It forced me to go from one extreme to another, and now that I am back on the road, I see that trying to separate my two selves was not “balance” at all. It was just a pendulum, bouncing between extremes. Real balance is learning to seamlessly intertwine all my various “identities” into one cohesive me.
So, yes, I am a mad traveler…but that doesn’t mean I only have to be a mad traveler.