Traveling The World To Find Myself Only Made Me Feel More Lost
Five years ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia, and I never looked back. Until now, that is.
The recession had just hit, and without even one full year in the workforce after college, I was wary and, more importantly, I was bored, discontent and frustrated. I knew exactly where my life was going, and I didn't like it.
I was working IT contract after IT contract, linked together in a seemingly endless chain of unfulfilling jobs. I was chasing a dream I had no vested interest in for some other dude who only showed his face at the office once every financial quarter.
I decided to call bullsh*t on the entire American workforce.
With $4,000 in my savings account, I hopped on a plane with an 80L backpack that could have served me in the Amazonian jungle, and I landed on Sydney sidewalks at a youth hostel. I had never been backpacking before, and the only thing I knew about hostels was what I had taken away from that infamous film of the same name.
“Don't get killed,” my friends told me.
What I found at that Sydney hostel changed my life. I found other like-minded people who were fed up with school, work, relationships, etc. and were looking for something more fulfilling, more challenging and more exciting.
The answer, we had all decided, was to travel, to explore, to find ourselves and to discover what it was that we really wanted out of life. This was our vision quest.
For the next three and a half years, I was an expat in Australia, New Zealand and China. I worked my way through each country as a bartender and traveled as much as I could.
I hiked glaciers, scuba dived with sharks, leaped out of airplanes, jumped naked off bridges and partied my ass off. I hiked mountain ranges on the border of Tibet, explored the ancient temples of Angkor, bathed elephants in a river and trekked the hills of northern Vietnam at sunrise.
I had the time of my life, and I never once thought about returning home. I found exactly what it was that I was looking for, and that was freedom. I was excited about life, and I was brimming with passion.
“I'm going to do this forever,” I swore.
Two more years and another 20 countries flew by. I had started a reasonably popular travel blog that allowed me to sustain myself and work online from anywhere in the world.
I had built a life for myself where anything I wanted was entirely within the realm of my possibility. I could go anywhere, do anything and meet anybody. I didn't have to answer to anyone except myself.
I lived in New York City, hiked a volcano in Ecuador, went Jeeping in the desert of Jordan, crawled through the ancient Pyramids of Giza, island-hopped in Greece and partied until sunrise on the Adriatic Sea. I fell in and out of love time and time again.
Well, more than five years have passed since I first left my mother's suburban home, and a lot has changed since then.
For the first few years, I was in awe of the world. For the last two, something's been missing. Something's been eating away at me.
I ignored all the signs and kept on doing what I was doing because according to everybody, freedom is the ultimate key to happiness. Let me tell you, I found that freedom, and I've never been so lost in my life.
There's this big idea that the more we travel, the better people we become. We grow wiser and more cultured.
Our perspective broadens and our priorities shift. We become citizens of the world. We become the best versions of ourselves.
And maybe that's true, or it is true until a certain time. But there comes a point where we all face an existential crisis, and for me that time is now.
Now that I have seen so much of the world, there are so many more questions to ask. In fact, travel doesn't answer our questions; it makes us second-guess everything we've ever known. And these questions literally haunt me.
They are questions that delve into the deepest parts of our identities and make us challenge every native thought and emotion we have. What is all of this for? What's the purpose?
Does a traveling life really give us something more valuable than a settled life? I've lived eight lifetimes in the past five years, and I've been blowing in the wind for so long, I don't know which direction I'm supposed to be facing.
With no home base and no one to answer to, how (and where) am I supposed to sit still when I could, quite literally, go anywhere? And if I were to sit still, who would I be?
I am a traveler. That's all I've known for the past five years.
I don't fit a mold, and I didn't follow a path. I have bounced between cultures so effortlessly, that sometimes I no longer know which one I belong to.
Don't get me wrong; I know that I am incredibly privileged and lucky to have seen as much of the world as I have. I do not take it for granted.
I am blessed to have been born into a family that could provide me with the educational tools to create this type of life for myself. Yes, I worked hard for what I've done, but not everyone who works hard accomplishes his or her goals. Sometimes life and circumstances get in the way.
But now that I have built this life, I find myself lacking a community. Where are my close friends, the ones I call for a beer when I need support? Where is the one I love?
They've come and gone. They've been won and lost. They're scattered in various corners of the globe.
And it's sad to make deep, intense connections with unique, interesting, beautiful people, only to say goodbye, over and over again. What's worse is when you say goodbye because of the person you've become, and because of the ways travel has changed you.
You see, all this traveling and all this freedom allows us to have almost anything that we want. But I realize now that this lifestyle has afforded me almost none of the things I need.
Purpose, structure, community, and love are all key elements of a happy, healthy, sustainable life. And you know what the funny part is? I had those things five years ago.
But despite that, I would stay up all night reading travel blogs that would tout the benefits of traveling. They said I would become a more wise, insightful and compassionate person. Traveling was supposed to be the ultimate life experience.
Everybody wanted to take off and never return, but only a few actually could. Everybody wanted that job that would let you travel on a whim.
Well, I have that job, and now I write those articles. And to be honest, it's pretty unbelievable sometimes. The good times are the best times, and the bad times are really f*cking bad.
When people ask me what I do and I tell them I travel, they look at me and say, “I envy you,” or “Wow, you're living the dream, my friend.” Five years later, the only thing I know how to say back is, “We all make sacrifices.”
Honestly, I don't know if what I'm doing is right or wrong. Travel has enriched my life in so many ways, but there's a crux.
I've realized that — at least in my case — full-time travel cannot be done forever. It sounds like the dream, but it's not. It's a phase.
Buy a one-way ticket and go travel, dream, discover and love the world deeply. It will change your life at its very core.
Travel is part of your journey, but remember that it's only a single part. Travel will not solve your problems.
Transformation takes place within, and part of that transformation involves coming to terms with who you are and where you come from. Ultimately, we all have to return home at some point, wherever that may be.