Wanderlust Withdrawal: What It's Like To Be A Recovering Travelholic

by John Haltiwanger
John Haltiwanger

I've never been very good at sitting still.

I'm calmest when I'm moving, or in the immediate period thereafter. It's safe to say I'm terrified of immobility; it might be my biggest phobia.

There's nothing I value more than the freedom and power of movement. It's amazing how often we take for granted the simple joy of being able to get up and walk around.

This is why I've always loved travel -- it's incredible we have technology that allows us to move from one corner of the world to another with such ease and comfort.

It's strange, but I almost never feel more at home than when I'm in an airport or train station. When I'm in these types of places, my senses are acutely aware they're about to be propelled into an entirely new environment, and I find that absolutely intoxicating.

There's a John Steinbeck quote that's continued to haunt me because it perfectly captures my permanent state,

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever. …Nothing has worked. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable.

Wanderlust is indeed an incurable disease, and there is only one temporary respite from this perpetual sickness: adventure.

Travel is my drug.

Nothing makes me feel more alive than travel.

I would trade waking up in the comfort of my own bed for a strange place almost any day of the week.

I'm a rambler at heart, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Not long after I graduated from college, I was very fortunate to be able to quench this thirst for constant movement. I had the privilege to live, teach, study and work abroad for about three years.

It was easily one of the happiest periods of my life so far.

During this time, my passport was my prized possession and I carried everything I needed in a backpack so durable and reliable it began to feel like a close friend.

I hitchhiked across Eurasia, drank like a fish with complete strangers, trekked through rain and snow in the Scottish highlands, fell in love with a girl from a country I'd never been to (but eventually visited), earned a master's degree, got a tattoo from a random Russian guy near the Black Sea and generally just reveled in this incredible existence we call life.

But eventually it all came to an end and, with tears in my eyes, I boarded a plane back to the US.

I'd decided it was finally time for me to start a career and try out this thing people call "adulthood."

This is not to say that "adults" don't or can't travel, but a person's professional goals often severely limit his or her freedom of mobility -- this unfortunate truth had finally hit me.

I was at a point where I knew I had to find a way to balance my wanderlust with building a life in one place, so I abandoned my nomadic ways and adopted a (relatively) sedentary lifestyle.

Overall, I don't regret making this decision. I love my job. I live in New York City. I still get to travel via work sometimes and have avenues to explore in other ways here and there. I'm hardly in a tough position in life, and I don't have any legitimate reasons to complain.

But there's also a part of my mind that's still walking down a random road thousands of miles away, where I'm sticking my thumb out and hoping some kind stranger will pick me up and take me to the next town (without murdering me along the way, ideally).

The journey is my home.

Every couple of weeks, I look up prices for flights to places I've always wanted to visit: Peru, Iceland, Thailand, New Zealand, South Africa -- if I haven't been there yet, I want to go.

I stare longingly into the computer screen and try to come up with justifications for why the money I need to pay off rent, utilities and student loans (among other expenses) should go to a plane ticket.

The adventurer inside of me tells me to do it. "F*ck it," he says. "You'll figure it out. Life's short, just go!"

But the responsible adult inside of me (who continues to have a louder voice, to my great dismay), tells me I have to save up and then I can go. He reminds me, "You have a full-time job you love. You have bills to pay. You can't risk it, and you've already had your adventures, don't be selfish or reckless. It's time to settle down for awhile."

I've been having this inner battle for quite some time now, and it's derived from the fact home is no longer just a location to me, it's evolved into a feeling.

Wanderlust is really nothing more than the most complicated form of homesickness.

The only cure for homesickness is to return home. But when the proverbial road becomes your home, when you become homesick for places you've never been, when the itch to get out and explore consumes you, returning home means starting a new journey.

This is the price you pay for becoming a citizen of the world: You feel a more profound sense of solidarity with the globe's diverse array of beautiful people, but you're plagued with a constant desire for movement and novelty.

In the end, it's completely worth it. The perspective travel grants you is indispensable, and to feel as if the entire world is your community is priceless.

There's also the fact many never get the chance to travel before they die, and I wake up every day knowing I'm fortunate to have traversed multiple corners of this amazing planet.

If you've never traveled but have the means to, my advice is to get out -- and to go sooner rather than later.

Life's not meant to be lived in just one place, and it goes by pretty fast. Explore while you still have the energy.

If you've had the chance to go on your fair share of adventures but you're also suffering from wanderlust withdrawal, remember that the key to a happy and successful life is finding balance in all you do.

None of us can stay on the road forever, but it's always there for us to return to here and there.

Life, in and of itself, is an adventure. Act accordingly and ramble on, my friends.