Why Perpetual Travel is Unrealistic (and It’s OK to Go Home)


Above: Everything I owned in the sidewalk waiting for the bus to the airport

After being abroad for six years, moving home was scarier than leaving in the first place.

When I say ‘home’ I mean returning to North America, where people speak English, the culture feels less exotic, and food and housing are incredibly expensive compared to Asia and Central America, where I’d been living.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to earn enough money as a travel writer to get by. I was worried about running into tax problems after having an international  bank account for so long. And, more than anything, I was afraid that I’d get sucked into the North American rat race that had consumed so many of my friends, and somehow forget about the freedom of travel.

Basically, I was afraid of becoming broke and boring.

So, you’re probably wondering, why would I move home?

I had to. There were so many reasons. My father’s health has been slowly getting worse and, although he’s not in imminent danger, it’s apparent that he’s not going to be around forever. As amazing as travel is, it’s certainly not more important than making the most of the dwindling time that I have with my father.

Also, my sister is having a baby. In fact, as I write this, she’s 8 days overdue and ready to bring my parents’ first grandchild into the world at any moment. I was always close with my aunts, uncles, and cousins growing up. I don’t want to be a distant uncle.

And, my girlfriend Emilie also had to be near her family because a close family member  became ill.

A lot of travel bloggers write about perpetual travel. They talk about breaking free and living some overly-idealized life on the road. They tell you that you can gain financial independence, leave your job, and travel forever.

But, for most people, that’s not realistic.

Long-term travel is great for a lot of people at certain times in their lives. However, after a certain age many of us want a place we can call home. We want to spend time with the people we love while we still can. We want to explore our relationships with our families and friends which, in its own way, is just as challenging, frightening, and rewarding, as exploring the jungles of Borneo or the swimming among whale sharks in the Philippines.

Many of the best-known travel bloggers have decided to spend more of their time settled in one place. Last year Nomadic Matt announced that he was choosing a home over life on the road.  My good friend Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic had many of the same concerns I did when she moved home last year. This story is a familiar one. The traveler returns home to find that the life there had gone on without them and they no longer fit in

There’s not getting around it. Moving home is hard, But, I’m here to tell you that, although it’s frightening and depressing, it’s OK to move home.

There are a lot of upsides to my new life in Utah.

First, I can be healthy — which is extremely hard to do on the road. I can go to the gym and cook for myself (I don’t care much for restaurant food) as much as I want to. I love that.

Second, like a lot of people, I never explored as much near my home as I should have. When you live in a place, you tend to forget that it deserves as much exploration as a foreign one.

Third, I can finally, after years of blistering sun, annoying sand, and swimming in warm ocean waters, enjoy a full season of freezing my ass off on the ski hill.

Last, having a home doesn’t mean you can’t travel. I still get out a fair bit. Here’s what I’ve done at home and abroad since I’ve been back:

Emilie and I camping in Zion National Park
Emilie and I camping in Zion National Park

And best of all, I’ve gotten to know Emilie’s wonderful family, and spent time catching up with my own.

If you’re tired of travel, you’re not alone, and it’s OK to go home. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Adventure is not an activity, it’s a state of mind.

Never forget, there’s treasure everywhere.

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51 thoughts on “Why Perpetual Travel is Unrealistic (and It’s OK to Go Home)”

  1. Cool that you moved home and that you’re liking it so far! 🙂

    I’m moving home to Toronto next month after 18 months abroad. I haven’t been away as long as you but I certainly understand the feelings you highlight here.

    I have mixed feelings about going home (happy to go but sad to leave) but the way I see it, I can always come back to Europe in the future.

    Good luck with everything and it seems you’re still travelling a lot anyway. 😀

  2. Thee’s no place like home 🙂

    To be honest, Family is the reason why I cannot pursue longterm backpacking. I have to at least visit my grandparents in the Philippines or my mom and brother in the UK every once in a while. I’m hoping your dad gets better soon 🙂

    • I totally agree! When I was in the Philippines I found the people to be very warm and happy — and I think that’s partly because family is very important there. I think it’s great!

  3. Hmm. While I agree with so much in this article, and glad that you are finding your feet again at home, the word “unrealistic” strikes me as harsh. “They tell you that you can gain financial independence, leave your job, and travel forever.” – that IS realistic. That CAN happen – people (outside our wee travel blogging circle) have done it and continue to do so. I’ve met a couple that has been traveling for over 20+ years, with no plans to stop.

    Just as it is OK for you to go home (because, of course it is), it is OK for people to keep the travel dream alive too. Everyone has their own reasons for doing so, just as you do for returning home. That is reality for some.

    • I think you may have taken that a bit more literally than I had intended. I didn’t say it’s impossible. I meant that it’s not realistic for most people.

      And, I don’t believe that traveling forever is realistic for most people.

      There are some people who don’t have families, or don’t like their families, or who simply don’t mind being away from their families. But, for most people, I think that it’s the desire to be around family that ends up taking priority over travel. That does make perpetual travel unrealistic. It did for me.

      I also think that jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and expecting to live is unrealistic. That doesn’t mean it nobody’s ever done it. It just means it’s probably not going to work for most people.

    • I did read it several times, trying to find a part to attach to that referenced “most people” and not meaning it as a blanket for all. But, in the absence of that, and when it is boldly in the title, I don’t know how to take it but literally.

      Thanks for explaining it further – I do agree with you that it is not for most, that is definite. And I’m not even saying it is for me, even though I currently have no end in sight, I imagine there will be at some point.

    • I feel that the idea of “for most people” is implicit in the meaning of “unrealistic”.

      For example, if your child says that they’re going to win the lottery and get rich, and you tell them that’s unrealistic, you’re not saying that nobody ever wins the lottery, or that it’s impossible. Some people do win the lottery, but most don’t. That’s what makes it unrealistic.

      So, I didn’t feel the need to qualify the statement with “for most people”. But, I added it today to avoid any further confusion.

  4. This is a sentiment Kent and I share. Of course there are people for whom perpetual travel works, but I think it is important that people who are just building their dream know that even the most enthusiastic travelers often find that having a home-base is important. Perhaps more people will be able to find a more sustainable model from the get-go without feeling like they aren’t “really traveling.”

    Kent and I could choose to forgo having our home here in Seattle; we have built a life that would support that and, with as much as we travel, it would probably make more sense. But we need this place to recharge. We need a place were we can more easily metabolize all of the amazing things we see and learn, so that those things can better inform our actions. That and the PNW is just so darn beautiful that we would keep coming back anyway! 🙂

    I like having a sense of place. The fact that we leave it so frequently makes me appreciate it even more.

    • I totally agree. I love having a home, family, and good friends to return to after my travels. And, the opportunity to be away from home often does help me to appreciate it that much more.

    • Caanan,
      Your comment “I like having a sense of place. The fact that we leave it so frequently makes me appreciate it even more.” really struck me. I feel the exact same way about traveling.

      As much as I like packing up for months at a time, it’s always great to have something to return to. I don’t believe there’s any one “right” way to travel – whether it’s long-term or short-term, I really think it still adds perspective and colour to one’s life. Not everyone needs to leave it all behind to experience the world. It works for some, it doesn’t work for others.

      I agree with Matt here too: I personally love having a home and being close to my family and friends while still being able to travel on a short-term basis.

  5. Good post, Matt! I personally feel that not only perpetual travel may not be sustainable, but does it truly yield a good travel story? Even if you make one trip a year, it needs to yield a good/great story; otherwise it’s just traveling to tell tales told before. And who needs that? 🙂

  6. Matt,

    Your adaptation to return from full-time travel is admirable. I grew up my first 30 years either living abroad or living part of the year in the U.S. and traveling abroad in the summer. As a consultant, I was able to travel thereafter, therefore having the possibility of having a “home base” in NYC while looking forward to going abroad every year for as extended time as possible.

    Someone needs to write a book on the various stages of travel and travel modes that most go through in one’s life as they grow older (with very, very rare exceptions). Not all are single, bohemian couples, and without responsibilities to family, friends, etc. And not all can make a living overseas — especially with so many visa barriers abroad in countries I favor such as France, Italy and the EU in general.

    Bravo for your maturity, responsibility and attitude! Much great travel writing also comes when one is away from the places one is traveling or living in at the time. That is just how the mind works very often — the imagination is like a fine old wine which just gets more refined over time…

    My best wishes to your family and their health. My father,, who was a remarkable man, was the center of the universe for me and when he fell ill with cancer he could not travel incessantly as he once did in order to receive care. To be away from him when he needed me would have been the greatest regret of my life.

    That is not to say I would not like to be in other places — even when in New York — at least once every day… That is human nature for many who have the travel bug — which I caught at 1 year of age…

    • Thank you very much for the thoughtful comment Greg! Travel style does definitely change with age. I think that in the future, I’d rather live in different places more than visit them. I like a slower more deliberate type of lifestyle these days. Despite that, I always feel like I’m itching to go somewhere. Right now, even while planning a winter of ski touring around the western US, I feel like I should be visiting more exotic places. The grass is always greener, right?

  7. Great post Matt. I don’t have the same experience as you but I know what it’s like to stay at home indefinitely. It’s actually what my blog is about. I write about my hometown of Toronto while still managing to get out on the road through a career in the travel industry and through freelance writing. It doesn’t mean I’m boring. It just means that I make the most of where I am. I’ve got great friends, a plethora of activities here and work to keep me busy until I can save and am ready for some long term travel.

    I think the universe gives us signs all of the time. You’ll treasure the time you spend with your family and other loved ones. Plus, you get to stand still for a little bit. I think you have a great attitude about it all.

  8. I moved “home” to the USA after two years in France, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia. Originally from California, I’ve decided to live and work in New York City for a while–and while there are lots of familiar conveniences, it’s also a brand-new city to explore! I’m enjoying the chance to visit more of the East Coast, catch up with friends and be closer to my family–and stock up the bank a bit more for my next adventure. Really good points on why moving home isn’t all bad.

    • The Big Apple, eh? Why did you choose to move there? I can understand the attraction of the city for sure. But, after coming back from abroad, the price of NYC would definitely make me think twice about living there. Did you move there for work? Or just ’cause it’s awesome?

  9. Great stuff! I tend to agree that perpetual travel forever and ever is not realistic for most people. I’m also a terrible commitmentphobe so it’s hard for me to even imagine what I’ll want 2, 5, 10 years from now. For now Mike and I are settling down and saving up money, but I think within the year we’ll be on the move again. I think that everyone just has to figure out what works for them.

    • Where are you and Mike settling? Maybe I’ll stop by sometime 😉

      These days I am pretty focussed on money and finding ways to make more and save. Seeing our parents generation struggling to retire because their retirement funds were decimated by the housing bubble makes me a bit concerned about figuring out how I’m going to eventually do it.

  10. It’s been a year since I made the decision not to be nomadic. Here are my original thoughts:


    In the last 10 months I have still done an incredible amount of traveling but keeping a base in Toronto was absolutely right for me.

    I think it would be much easier for couples to go longer, if I look at how Pete and Dalene do it, or Dani and Jess I can see how it works for them. They usually stay in one place for a very long time and they have each other for support. I didn’t have anyone and I really needed an anchor.

    I haven’t ruled it out completely in the future. I am contemplating heading back down to South America for the winter but not past Spring, I really miss having my life in Toronto. Somehow I’ll figure it out.

    But I do think this post is important because I felt very alone when I decided I no longer wanted to be nomadic. Everyone talks about how great it is but never the downside and honestly the community is so supportive when you decide you want to be a part of it, and sometimes not so great when you don’t.

    My biggest learning from all of it was 1) not everything works for everyone and 2) just because you make a decision now doesn’t mean you have to stick to it for life. Such simple things but I had forgotten them.

    • I think that it would be much easier to travel longer as a couple for the simple reason that you’re less susceptible to loneliness. That’s definitely my achilles heel when I travel solo.

      I think that as our generation of travel bloggers ages, you’ll see a lot of people making similar decisions and supporting each other in them.

      What we really need is a tribe of wandering bloggers who move together to a new city once every year or so for a new homebase.

  11. This post could not have come at a better time for me. After being away from “home” and “family” since 2002, we are moving back. Mostly because of aging parents and a sibling’s illness. It’s been a challenge to deal with the emotions attached to coming back but your post has helped me to realize that a home base isn’t a bad thing and you can still do tons of traveling 🙂

  12. I completely agree. While I do think there are a few people who can be nomadic their entire lives, it’s not realistic for most people. It seems many travel bloggers these days are all about traveling perpetually. That’s great if it works for them, but I really enjoy having the best of both worlds and I would miss my friends, family, cat and home too much to travel for long periods of time. Like Ayngelina, we have been able to travel more than I could have hoped for this year, but it’s great coming home and sharing those experiences with loved ones and a place to reflect on all of our travels.

    • I fully believe that everything exists in contrast to other things. You can see black best when in contrast to white, feel heat best in contrast to cold, and taste sweetness in contrast to sour.

      Travel is experienced best against the contrast of your home life. It makes travel feel richer when you get to experience it, and frequent trips make home feel all the more welcoming. Definitely the best of both worlds!

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  14. This post is really quite inspiring and an absolutely joyous read.

    I especially enjoyed your finishing thoughts, and its wonderful to see that you’ve continued to do sporadic travelling when presented with the opportunity. As someone currently at home I’ll try and keep your wise words in mind.

  15. Great post. I live abroad, and have just been reflecting on the importance of identifying a “home” and having some roots. It’s hard to do even when living in another country, let alone when perpetually traveling. Good luck in your transition back!

  16. From the beginning of our journey when people asked Dan and me whether we would travel forever as nomads, our answer was always, “No. But, travel will always be part of our lives.”

    And that’s the stage where we are now. I think the most important thing is to recognize what is important in the moment – be it family, stability, a place to reflect, etc. – and be honest about what you need and take action.

    Glad you’re enjoying your time back home.

  17. This is a very well written and thought-provoking post!
    I tend to think of my life as a series of chapters and when I am leading a particular lifestyle I am usually pretty certain that I will not be living that way forever.
    Right now Lee and I live out of our backpacks and we are making our way around the world. This is the chapter in our lives that we are in right now and it is incredibly amazing and exactly what we want to do.
    However, I’m sure that at some point this chapter of our lives will turn the page and a different story will begin, perhaps one involving children, houses, family, furniture and a kitchen sink. That chapter will be totally different, yet interesting and rewarding in its own way. However, I’m not at that point of the book yet!
    There might even be chapters before and after that which are different yet again. Lee and I believe in always making sure that our lifestyle reflects what we want and since what we want is subject to change, this means that our lifestyle is certain to change as we grow and evolve.
    However, just like any good book there are a few core “themes” which will be woven through the story from beginning to end and I think travel is definitely one of these themes.

    Oooh I just got all poetic on you! Sorry! 🙂

  18. One really must be open to changing plans when it feels right. People evolve. I can’t imagine traveling today according to a plan I formed, say, five or ten years ago. While my plans evolve all the time, I enjoy having a home base that I can stuff full of books (that I need and refer to all the time) and bits of art collected in my travels. Staying ‘home’ is energizing, too, when you renew and maintain contacts and relationships that refuel you. One can miss a lot of opportunities by not considering options that fall outside the parameters of a rigid travel or life plan.

  19. I always thought it is ok to go home! Ha ha ha Not like after 6 years, as I go home very 3 months or even more often sometimes, depending what is cooking back there, weddings etc etc
    I love travel but I as well love my family and friends! After all home is not that bad 🙂 ha ha ha

  20. You talked about how perpetual travel can be a bit of a fantasy or might not be suitable for everyone. Can you please elaborate on who you think is made for it? the personality traits and skills needed. Thank you.

  21. I completely agree with you, Matt. Another thing… miss concerts and band gigs in SE Asia. Are they still putting on the Twilight Concert Series in SLC? Those are so fun.

  22. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to earn enough money as a travel writer to get by. I was worried about running into tax problems after having an international bank account for so long.

  23. I personally feel that not only perpetual travel may not be sustainable, but does it truly yield a good travel story? Even if you make one trip a year, it needs to yield a good/great story; otherwise it’s just traveling to tell tales told before. And who needs that? ?

  24. I fully believe that everything exists in contrast to other things. You can see black best when in contrast to white, feel heat best in contrast to cold, and taste sweetness in contrast to sour.


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