How do you define a traveler?

Am I still a traveler? My panniers are packed away. My tent and sleeping bag are rolled up and stashed. I’m in the process of buying a house and plan to stay in it for the foreseeable future. Does that change my status?

I’ve been thinking about my identity lately – who am I? When we lived overseas, I was an expat. When we were cycling, I was a bike tourist. And now? I’m nothing. And yet I’m everything.

The dictionary defines a traveler as one who travels or has traveled. I guess that means me. I’ve certainly traveled, and I may travel again some day. But for now – I dunno. It seems so strange to refer to myself as a traveler.

I’ve heard a lot of comments lately about living in Boise. Many people predict that we won’t last long here. Other travelers have encouraged us to head out again to escape the “meaningless American lifestyle.”

I can’t say the American lifestyle is meaningless. Yes, there are some people who are totally caught up in “stuff,” but not everyone. There are good things about life in America too – they may be harder to find than when life was reduced to simplest terms on the road, but they’re here.

I think sometimes we get swept away by the “exotic-ness” of life in “other” countries, and forget that our own country is just as exotic. I’ve traveled pretty much constantly for nearly thirty years now and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve loved my time on the road, but that time has given me a new appreciation for my own home.

D & D with an Ethiopian priest

At this point, we want to give our sons the chance to be part of a larger community – a more stable community than they’ve been in for quite a while. In other words, we want to have a “home base” – we may go out and travel for a few months, but we’ll come back “home.” Boise is as good a home base as any other place in the world.

Yes, we could choose anywhere for that base. We could choose Thailand or Spain or Argentina or Mexico or Ethiopia. But what would be the advantage? In Boise, we have a lot that those places don’t offer – an excellent school district that will allow us to continue homeschooling while picking and choosing individual classes, Boy Scouts, YMCA, Boise Bike Week, Toastmasters Club, etc… If we were to go to another country, we would be giving all that up – and realistically, what would we gain?

Yes, we would gain “exotic-ness.” It sounds more exotic to say you’re “wintering in Spain” than to “winter in Boise, Idaho.”

Maybe that’s what I’m struggling with? Maybe this is all in my own head and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that Idaho can be just as exciting and exotic as Ethiopia?

And yet – I suspect most people would disagree with me on that. Most people would argue that Argentina is more exotic than Idaho. Bali, New Delhi, or Rangoon would provide new and different and exotic, whereas Idaho provides ho-hum.

When we taught overseas, we lived in “exotic” locales – Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Malaysia… And yet, our lives were far from glamorous and exotic. We still had to cook dinner and clean the kitchen.  We still had to wash our underwear. Life wasn’t all that different from life in Boise – except when we walked outside our gate we came face-to-face with beggars crippled by polio.

Daryl on our kitchen cabinent

And so I’ve come full circle.  There was a time in my life when I couldn’t wait to hit the road. I packed up my mother’s car and drove to the Navajo reservation to live in “exotic.” I spent twelve years teaching in international schools in four countries where I could see and hear and smell and taste the exotic. I’ve traveled many thousands of miles through dozens of countries and seen and done a lot.

And I’ve seen that we’re more the same than different.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what wrapper someone comes in. Their skin color or what language they speak or what currency they spend or how much of that currency have – all those things don’t matter.  They’re just people. Just like me. They’re not different and exotic and exciting.

In the end, we’re all more the same than we are different. Exotic is in the mind of the beholder – and I choose to see the exotic in Boise. Am I a traveler? I suppose – but really, does it matter? I’ve come full circle and have come back to where I grew up. And that’s a good thing.

Davy in Taiwan

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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12 Responses to How do you define a traveler?

  1. Jessica May 12, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    My father in law, who has been a missionary in west africa most of the last 20 years – says the same thing. People are all basically the same. 🙂

  2. Orlene May 12, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Who are you? I have never met you, but I can tell by reading your blog for a long time that you are:
    A wonderful mother, a great teacher, a very interesting writer, someone that loves adventure, you that never gives up, a lover of people of all race and creed, a role model to many, and the list can go on and on.

  3. Kathy May 12, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    You’ve covered a lot of issues in this post!

    As Orlene said above, you are many (amazing) things. Including a traveler. In re-establishing your home base in Idaho, have you had to fill out a lot of forms that have a short space for you to list your “occupation”? For those who live outside the box, who we are and what we do can’t really be captured in 35 (or so) alphabet letters.

    The United States is really an amazing country. Life here can be “meaningless” if you make it so, just as it could be anywhere else in the world. I love to venture to new places around the world, but I also love coming home (to the small community of Aptos, California, along the Pacific Coast). Our family has contemplated moving to a different country, but the reality is that we love the rhythm of our life here. It is far from boring. Being in a different location may sound “exotic”, but (as you stated), we would still be doing many of the same things in our daily life, just in a different place. I love the saying, “No matter where you go, there you are!”

    People travel for many different reasons. And sometimes being at home, and being able to look at your familiar environment with a new perspective, is just what we need. Your heart will tell you when it is time to move on.

    We’re off to Alaska for two months this summer, and we’ll be traveling through Boise on the way home. Perhaps you will be there, and our families can share a meal together!

  4. nancy May 12, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Thank you all. My identity has been one with my travels for so long, I’m having a hard time figuring out who I am without that – not an easy process for sure!

    Kathy – If you come through Boise we MUST get together!

  5. Barb May 12, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Traveling has offered you and your family many opportunities to learn things that the rest of us will never get the chance to experience. But there’s alot to be said for learning the basic everyday “normal” things too. You mentioned that one of your boys didn’t know what a livingroom was . And another blog said that one of them didn’t know what a binder was. As smart as they are , they’ll both catch up with all that quickly, but I wonder about the people who are taking toddlers on these long bike trips. What learning experiences are these children missing out on by being stuck in their little carriages all day instead of using that time to interact with other children and learning what all the other 3 yr olds are learning.

  6. nancy May 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Oh gosh, Barb – I’m not even sure where to begin on that one. I wrote about travel helping kids learn in this blog post: The first part of it is more tailored for older kids, but the last part talking about brain development works for kids of all ages.

    Basically, what it comes down to is that our brains grow dendrites (physical connections between brain cells) in response to being in stimulating, challenging environments. All dendrites are good – the more connections between cells we have, the easier it is to find a “hook” to hang new information on.

    One of my pet peeves is when somebody says, “Don’t bother with travel until the kids can remember it” – that makes no sense to me! When kids are young is when we are laying the foundation for their older years. Having them in challenging, stimulating environments where they have new exciting things to explore every day is so beneficial to them.

    And besides – no parent would ever have their young children on the bike or in the trailer for hours and hours and hours every single day – ain’t gonna happen!

    How many hours per day are many kids strapped into car seats going to daycare, grocery shopping, running errands, etc? I bet many kids are in that seat a LOT of hours – and then I see them in their car seats at doctor’s offices and in houses too. Mom needs to cook dinner? Put the kid in the car seat. Take a shower? The car seat holds the kid safely. Even kids that are not out traveling on a bike spend many hours strapped in to a car seat – we just tend to forget about those hours.

    Are biking kids learning the same things as kids that aren’t biking? No. But do kids raised on a farm learn the same things as kids in the projects? An Ethiopian kid versus a Taiwanese kid? Is one better than the other or are they simply different?

  7. Deborah May 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    …”escape the meaningless American lifestyle”…what a strange sort of comment to come from people who live in “the land of opportunity (with all its flaws)”… Home is where your brain is. I’m so glad that I have medical care here in the US for my two insulin dependent kids, that we can school our children as we choose, have jobs that we love, live as we like (within our financial limits), live in a place we adore (the desert southwest), and come and go as we please. Most people in the world could do these things as easily as a cow could do calculus. I’ve lived a total of 2.5 years in Mexico, where my class once attended the wake of a classmate’s little sibling. It wasn’t uncommon to see foot processions accompanying small coffins. Many of my classmates lived without adequate sanitation and food. I loved living there, but we were filthy rich compared to our Mexican friends, although we were just lower middle class in the US. Maybe “exotic” is just another word for “a place where life is hard, so hard that you’d never choose it if you knew that you’d have to live there always in conditions similar to those of the ‘average’ inhabitant of that place”.

  8. Roger May 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Your post brings to mind T.S. Eliot:
    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”

  9. Robyn December 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    (I’m still immersed in your wonderful blog.) Last year I taught in China (then finished backpacking the Appalachian Trail, but that’s another story) and one of my Chinese students is now an exchange student in Craigmont, ID – not sure how close that is to you. But for her, living in ID is exotic and she is having the time of her life! I just love the idea of “exotic” when looked at from different perspectives. I appreciate the way you have to wrap your mind around the ok-ness of living a “regular” life in the states. You’ve traveled way more than me, but I also think about the sameness of living here after having lived/traveled in China and Nepal and backpacked on U.S. trails. There more I go and do the less I feel inclined toward a “normal” lifestyle. But then I do appreciate what life here offers. I think that is the struggle of the traveler. I wrote an article a couple years ago for Matador Travel about this topic: if you’re interested.

  10. Nancy December 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    Craigmont is about 6 or 7 hours from us – a long ways! I am so glad she’s enjoying living in Idaho – I’m sure it’s a huge change for her.

    I went through a very difficult transition period when we got back here. The whole mental struggle of “is it OK to not travel?” stuff was killing me. I wanted so badly to stay in Idaho and put down roots and pull out my beads, but I couldn’t accept that. It was like I had worked so hard to live life outside the box and now I wanted to jump right back in. I am so glad I finally accepted that I can jump back in if I want to!

    How was the Appalachian Trail? We were going to hike part of it this summer, but decided to do the Colorado Trail instead.


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