Do you have an exit strategy from your long term travels?

There are many wonderful aspects of being a long term perpetual traveler. There are dozens of names for them – digital nomad, lifestyle design, location independent, world wanderer – but they are all basically names for the same thing: a person who travels the world with no plans to ever settle down in one place. It’s a wonderful lifestyle with many benefits.

It’s also extremely difficult to break out of when it’s no longer meeting your needs.

Many of us head out to travel long term without considering an exit strategy. As we plan our world travels it’s all pie in the sky, glamor, and sheer exoticism every night. It’s fun, fun, fun in new and exciting places. Our thoughts are filled with dreams of the wonderful adventures we’ll have in remote, far-flung corners of the world.

Once we hit the road, we quickly discover the reality of travel isn’t glamorous at all. It’s long hours battling headwinds on hot, dusty roads or being crammed in a bus built for little people. It’s sleeping on uncomfortable mattresses in noisy hostels. It’s craving Grandma’s Cranberry Salad, but not being able to find the ingredients to make it.

Even so, we’re willing to endure the distinctly un-glamorous for the intoxicating excitement of the bits in between.

But we rarely think about how to stop.

A friend of mine recently said, “I’m tired of travel, but I’ve been on the road so long I don’t know how to stop.”

There is no set path. Just follow your heart.It’s important that we take time to think about when it’s time to call it quits; to develop an exit strategy for our travels. When has the travel fulfilled our needs and we would be better served by another lifestyle? How do we know when it’s time to move on, so to speak – to leave the traveling behind and explore other avenues in life?

One way to define that is to think about what you hope to gain through your travels – whether you are just starting out or have been on the road for years. What do you want to learn from traveling and how will you know you’ve learned it? If you aren’t sure where you’re going, how will you know you’ve gotten there?

I am a strong proponent of setting a particular goal, and when you reach that goal, take time to reevaluate. For us, it was a physical goal – reaching Ushuaia. When we ushuaia sign el fin del mundoreached that goal after three years on the road, it forced us to take a good long look at what we wanted to do next. Would continued travel on bikes be of the most benefit to all four of us? Or should we travel another way? Or should we stay in one place?

The goal, however, doesn’t have to be a physical goal. It can be a certain amount of time or when you’ve reached a certain level of comfort in your new lifestyle. The goal can be anything you want it to be – but define the goal carefully so you will know when you’ve reached it. Once you are at your goal, take a good hard look at your lifestyle and see if it is still meeting your needs and wants.

Give yourself permission to change gears if it isn’t.

go out there and do amazing thingsAs we travel through life on this planet, our needs, wants, and desires change and develop. It’s important that we are receptive to those changes and willing to respond to them. Don’t fall into the trap of just another rat race – albeit a rat race around the world.

Just as you can spin on the hamster wheel in your hometown, you can quite easily take the hamster wheel with you.

Don’t be afraid to jump off.

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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16 Responses to Do you have an exit strategy from your long term travels?

  1. Artur Sowinski January 27, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Umm… why not downsize your traveling ( pun intended ) and build yourself a tumbleweed-home that you can take with you wherever you chose to settle?

    That way you have your own base to operate from everywhere you go :)

    Many people do this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZ2uaXGFtg

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Artur Sowinski,
    I love the tiny houses! I still don’t understand the rationale behind the tiny houses versus an RV though. Do you know of any links where I can find out why people build the tiny house rather than get an RV?

    [Reply]

    Artur Sowinski Reply:

    @Nancy, sure:

    http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/2011/09/02/tiny-house-vs-camping-trailer/

    Major reason is that trailers are not built for fulltime use. Or so few people who lived in them said so in comments in above link.

    Other than that, there is also the fact that trailers are bulit for profit using toxic materials, while tumbleweed homes you can have built as healthy as you want.

    I am actually thinking on getting piece of land in spain and building a cob house on top of wheeled base. It wont move much but will keep lawyers happy that my house would be a movable thing rather a piece of static property :) Laws seem to work like that in vicinity of Barcelona: http://www.faircompanies.com/videos/view/a-modular-marine-inspired-12v-tiny-space/ :)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Artur Sowinski,
    Thanks for that link! It’s interesting for sure.

  2. Justin January 27, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Hold On – I have to refresh my coffee for this one!

    Ok. I have to say that lately I have been reading sooo much about people being tired of travel, and I don’t get it. I feel like that is so similar to me a few years ago saying, “I’m tired of my job.” Fine – Ok Justin, let’s do something about it.

    I am reading your book. Heidi finished it and loved it, but I am slow. Anyway, what it is teaching me is that you don’t have to have a goal. You can change. You can go with it. It doesn’t have to be all travel or all stay at home. As you said, you can change whenever you want.

    Go live in Mexico for a year. If you’re tired – REST! Take it easy!

    I am learning that today’s traveler is a planner. And planning can often set you up for diaster and disappointment.

    You know – when I was 22 I knew nothing about nothing. I got married, moved to California, and did fine. The best times in my life have been when I didn’t plan. I just got wrapped up in what I was doing and worked hard and all turned out well. Once I started planning for a house and retirement and all that – that is when I dug myself a hole and had to figure out how to get out.

    Sometimes you need a plan, but mostly you just need to be flexible as you said. Take it as it comes. And keep your eyes open.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Justin,
    I can’t even tell you how many long term travelers I’ve talked to who were tired of traveling, but they didn’t know how to stop. (Yes, I include myself in that category.) We had worked so hard to make the dream happen and were “living the dream”. People write to us daily to say they wish they had our life and we’re finally living it!

    But at some point you get to the point where it’s no longer meeting your needs. Yes, you can continue to travel, but do you want to? Is it the best thing for you?

    I am really grateful that we had a solid destination that forced us to reevaluate our wants and desires. If we hadn’t had that, I’m not sure that we would have had the guts to say enough.

    It’s like the travel had become our 9-5. After so many years on the road, you’ve simply switched your 9-5 to the travel and it’s comfortable. It’s routine. And it’s just as hard to break out of as the 9-5 at home.

    [Reply]

  3. Shannon January 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    while I haven’t been on the backpacker scene/trail or long term travel just yet either; you are right a lot of travel bloggers seem to send up an “I am tired of traveling” alarm, what??!!! You do all this and then now you’re tired? C’mon it makes no sense, but it actually it does.

    One thing I have learned about planning for travel and having traveled to some places I never thought I would go on my own to YET I had the mobility experience based on my disability to do it :) is that you have to go at a pace that is reasonable; going faster than your mind is willing to let you because you need to hurry up and put content on your blog will tire you out quick.

    I found that travel with a start and end date are more stressful for me than an open ended plan where I have no end date so to speak (well I have a date I have to be home by, but that is negligible compared to a specific time frame of 4-8 days). The blogger “The Art of Slow travel” is probably the BEST person IMO who does it well, mind you she lived in Switzerland for almost 2 years and made a base in Zurich (which comes next the tumbleweed experience).

    IMO having a base is probably much easier even for short term as well as long term, what’s the difference between RVing? Well you can’t quite take it everywhere you go depending on SIZE (I had a 35ft toyhauler 5th wheel at one time). Getting your RV in Mexico or even Central/South America IS possible, but difficult. Which is easier to maintain? I’m going to guess a tumbleweed house.

    Remember RVing, long term stays and tumbleweed houses aren’t for everybody, heck I know of people who don’t even bother with all that and just throw a tarp over for shelter! (none that I read about though)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Shannon,
    It really does make sense that there will be traveler burnout – just as people burn out on their jobs at home. I traveled for 28 years – many of which were living as an expat in various countries. We stayed 7 years in Ethiopia and a few years in four other countries.

    That life was fabulous and I truly enjoyed it. I really did like my time on the road and can’t imagine having lived any other way.

    That said, I was VERY surprised when the idea of moving back to Idaho started settling into my heart. My heart was telling me I wanted to come back “home” but my brain was telling me that wasn’t OK. I had worked too hard to get out of Idaho, I couldn’t go back. I felt like a traitor to who I had become.

    It’s very, very difficult to put these thoughts and feelings into words, but it’s real. I know a lot of long-term travelers feel the same way – they really want to change gears, but they aren’t sure how. It’s just like the process of breaking out of the 9-5 and getting into a life on the road is hard; breaking out of it is even harder.

    As expats living overseas we always said, “Getting overseas in the first place is easy. Getting back home is the hard part.” That’s very true.

    [Reply]

  4. The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) January 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Great post — I’d rather have the problem of how to stop than to not be able to get past “how to start … “

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen),
    In some ways, it’s nice to be on the other side. In other ways, it’s really, really hard.

    [Reply]

  5. Yvette January 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Good post- it always annoys me when you see the snake oil salesmen of the travel blogosphere peddling the “travel forever is awesome and only suckers don’t want to!” mantra. People do like to think that breaking whatever shackles they have will automatically solve all their problems and life will forever be rainbows and unicorns, but people get used to everything and life does get a little unsatisfying no matter where and how you do it.

    I think goals are a big part of it, as you said, because it’s very easy when doing ANYTHING in life to be aimless about it and not realize that until it’s too late. It’s a trap way too many people fall into.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Yvette,
    The key is to make conscious decisions always. Those decisions may take you around the world, they may take you back home. As long as you are conscious about what your choices are, then it’s all good!

    [Reply]

  6. Josh February 3, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    I’ve been nomadic since the 90s and it can be very difficult to stop. I consider “living abroad” to be different than living out of a backpack. I think that living abroad can be done permanently, while living out of a backpack is more of an uncertain lifestyle and shouldn’t be done for more than a year or two. Maybe the lifestyle is easier with a family — I don’t know.

    I think the ideal scenario is to have a home base, and maybe even work for a travel company. I’m settling down in Vienna at the moment. It’s a short ride or flight to many countries. I keep thinking about palm trees on a daily basis, but I’m resisting it. :)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Josh,
    I think you are right Josh, the idea of living out of a backpack is wonderful but I don’t think it will continue to meet our needs on a permanent basis. We traveled on our bike for one year, then went back home for a year to plan and prepare to take off again, then hit the road for three years. Although I am so glad we did that and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, I’m equally as glad to stay stationary for a little while now.

    Each person needs to figure out the balance for him/herself and it’ll be different for all of us.

    [Reply]

  7. OCDemon May 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    This is all definitely true. Once you set up a travel lifestyle, it’s tough to settle in. All of a sudden you need a couch, pots and pans, and a job, and the only skill set you have is wandering around the world pointlessly. Digital nomadism has made the transition easier, especially for those who spent their vacation working, but it’s a big deal for those who were going along indefinitely without a plan. Set up a future, boys and girls.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @OCDemon, Any major transition has its downsides. With travel, however, a lot of people don’t consider the downside. They just think, “Travel! Excitement! Fun!” and then when it isn’t all exotic and exciting they aren’t sure how to handle it.

    [Reply]

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