Something was making me sick in the apartment I just moved into in Xiamen, so I left. This is the security of the perpetual travel lifestyle.
Perpetual travel isn’t just a mechanism for going to new places, but is also a vehicle for keeping yourself unstruck to the more onerous, unhealthy, or worrisome aspects of life. The art of going means that you can directly access your intrigues around the world; the art of leaving means that you have the power to escape from places the moment things to belly up or become unhealthy.
I put my philosophy of travel to a new test of endurance recently when I moved into an apartment in Xiamen. This was not one of our ordinary temp apartment stays, I was planning on it being our base for next 12 months — somewhere solid for my wife and kid to stay while I travel around China finishing up the book I’m working on.
The additional twist to this endeavor was that renting apartments in Xiamen is so expensive that we could only afford a shit hole that required a massive amount of fixing up. I tried to flip this fact positive, and took it to be a novel change of pace — a sort of reliving of a part of my childhood where my family was always mobilized in some kind of home improvement project. This would be something new for me as an adult, and something my daughter had yet to experience.
But ultimately, we’re travelers — we don’t paint apartment walls — and I found out why the hard way: doing so takes time, effort, and money that could better be put towards enjoying life, engaging, exploring. The advantages of living a life where you can pick and chose your place to live on a whim, have little or no responsibility for its upkeep, and then being able to leave as soon as you feel like it is the security and empowerment of travel.
Eventually the house came together — the walls were painted, new doors were installed, tapestries were hung on the walls, bed covers were purchased, cacti somehow appeared on bookshelves, and that’s when the problem started:
Something in that apartment was making me sick. All of a sudden I lost the ability to process thought cleanly and quickly, I found myself struggling for words (sometimes saying the wrong ones), I couldn’t keep a train of thought, and my brain felt as if it was being blown up by an air pump a dozen PSI beyond my cranial capacity. It was like I was crawling through a thick fog to do even the simplest of cognitive tasks. My memory began faltering. I was also experiencing severe auditory sensitivity, muscle aches, joint pain, an unusual amount of fatigue, and a very strange tingling numbness in my toes. Then something began happening that I made me understand once and for all that I was screwed up: my equilibrium became maladjusted and my vision went vertigo. It was like a minor dose of the spins from being drunk all the time. Something was wrong with me.
I felt as if I was either being poisoned or was having an allergic reaction to something.
Some of these symptoms were difficult to make tangible or bring into focus — it wasn’t like the cause and effect of cutting yourself and then looking at the sharp object that did it. I laughed at the thought of going to a doctor and pathetically trying to explain how I’m cloudy headed and have tingling toes. Western medicine is an incredible system, but it has major cracks: namely the fact that doctors are only as good as the tests they administer, without positive results they’re lost. Allopathic doctors are also notorious for their inability to properly diagnose and treat environmentally derived illnesses. In point, before going in for the allopathic medicine runaround I sought to first solve my problem the traveler’s way: I vet my diet and environment, change locations, and see if I feel better.
Gas leak? No.
Freon leak? No.
Pesticides sprayed on the stagnant putrid thing they call a pond outside my windows? No.
Drinking water? I switch to bottle water. No describable positive effect.
Mycotoxins in coffee? I research the matter. Nope.
The mold that grows all over the interior of the apartment?
Possibly. Though we cleaned, the mold kept growing. It was on the floors beneath beds and all over the refrigerator, between the tiles of our bathroom walls, on the ceiling, covering door frames, and probably a couple dozen other places we had not yet discovered. Now I understand that mold grows everywhere, it’s generally benign, and no matter what a human does they are not going to live in an environment without it. Now add to this the fact that I’m living in a sub-tropical climate on an island and mold becomes even a more normal part of life.
I realized that I may have developed an allergy or the mold in that Xiamen apartment may have been especially toxic. If this was the case it would mean moving out of the apartment — moving out of the apartment immediately after we invested huge amounts of time, work, and money into fixing it up. This was almost comical.
I took a two week trip away from Xiamen. All symptoms disappeared within a day or two. I felt sharp again, like my brain was jacked up with a shot of adrenaline. I got back to normal, and forgot about the problem entirely. I then returned to Xiamen and the full range of symptoms that I was previously experiencing also returned. I determined, with only the slightest doubt, that what was making me sick was in that apartment.
Though I did not have it tested and I did not go to a doctor, my symptoms were very much inline with mycotoxin poisoning or allergy. Mycotoxins are non-living secretions produced by some kinds of mold which act as ammunition in it’s primordial fight against bacteria. Humans and other animals often become innocent bystanders in the crossfire, and if ingested or absorbed in high enough quantities mycotoxins can do real damage to pretty much any organ in the body. While these mycotoxins are pretty much everywhere and are naturally on many foods, they are generally not consumed in high enough concentrations to cause acute injury – but being in a toxic mold laden apartment is another story. As far as I was concerned correlation had just turned into causation:
A) I could see mold all over the house.
B) My problems would become aggravated after consuming foods with higher mycotoxin counts, such as coffee, mushrooms, and beer (which was probably why I initially felt that my problems could have been caused by coffee, which I drink massive quantities of).
C) I was experiencing text book symptoms of toxic mold poisoning or an allergy.
I read the symptoms of toxic mold poisoning off to my wife, and from the way her face fell into a deep scowl I knew that she got it: this wasn’t something that I was fabricating, there was a reasonable chance that my condition was mold related, and we would need to leave this apartment.
Though we did sign a year long rental agreement, this really wasn’t that big of a problem. It would cost some money, it would take some time, it would mean going through the annoyance of finding another place to rent in a ridiculously expensive city, and it could mean losing some money on the previous place, but it all could be done.
The moment I find myself stuck in my life, chained to the tracks, is the moment I will liquidate everything and leave. If I want to up and move, I move — this is how I stay stimulated, employed, happy, and safe. Without this ability to switch locations on demand I know I would be inviting a posse of more complex difficulties into my life.
Some people may look at the perpetual travel lifestyle and find it rife with insecurity and trepidation, but after 14+ years I find it to be the exact opposite. Perpetual travel is my security plan, it’s my way of mitigating loss and increasing the gains of life. The guy who dumps his life savings into a house just to find it sprouting toxic mold is an insecure circumstance, not me.
I just move. I have no idea what the poor sucker who sold himself to his home would do. Dump thousands of dollars into fighting a battle he may not win, all the while living in a place that’s making him sick? A frightening proposition.
I shudder with insecurity at the thought of not being able to leave somewhere in 24 hours, of having deep roots in a location that I can not pull out at will, of being stuck in the mud, unable to run from the oncoming tidal wave. I shake with trepidation when I entertain the thought of investing so deeply in a singular location that I lose the ability to move my family away from impending danger, a lack of happiness, or deficient opportunity.
Now that’s some scary shit.
The Leviathan of security — the house, the car, the things that come with myriad bills, the permanent job, the wife/ husband, schooling for children, daycare, a half dozen types of insurance, the savings account, the investments, on and on — seems to often have the exact opposite effect. You now have something to lose, so you worry about it: what if you can’t pay your house payments/ mortgage? What if you can’t afford to send your kind to a good, safe school? What if your car fails to start? What if your wife/ husband leaves you? What if the economy nose dives? What if your company downsizes and you get the laid off? What if you can’t find another job in the city you’ve planted roots in?
Build the tower of life too high and supporting it becomes a full time obsession.
When a traveler or someone living location independent has something go awry in the place they’re staying in they just pack up and leave. It’s easy. They invest next to nothing in the geographic realms they exist in, they tread lightly, and, relatively speaking, have very little to ever lose. If work, happiness, the weather, social scene goes belly up in one place they move on and try out another.
I’m a traveler, I don’t fight, I leave.
What do I stand to lose from changing apartments in Xiamen? A few hundred bucks, an annoying week of looking for a new place to set up camp, and a half dozen fights with my wife. Ultimately, that’s nothing.
Travel isn’t a gambler’s game, it’s the safest bet I know. There is a sense of security found in being able to move at will. I am not the guy hunkering down in the doorway of his home, holding down the fort as it gets swept away by the floods. Setting up permanent shop somewhere, investing something to lose, wasting time and energy worrying about money/ possessions/ work, literally living a crap shoot is too risky a game for me to play. I roll the dice like everybody else, but what I’ve wagered is the bare minimum.
A long time ago I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, it’s a far better bet to keep life portable, going to where the springs are overflowing and leaving before they run dry. Like this, travel is not just a way of seeing the world, or of gaining experience, or of learning about life, but is also a way of using mobility to engineer a lower stress, healthy, fulfilling existence.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
October 14, 2013, 2:30 pm
Well said! I’ve been struggling to make sense of those thoughts, as I fell very sick in Peru, the ESL job I came for turned out to be incredibly poor, and my housing is constantly under construction. Although I might have been willing to “tough it out” years ago, now I just don’t see the point of wasting time in unpleasant circumstances.
October 14, 2013, 2:42 pm
Very well said! I’ve held for ages the idea that ultimately my nomadic tendencies were bad and that I was continually running away from problems I could instead face, when instead of fighting, my (much wiser) inner sense was saying “why bother when there’s greener pastures just around the bend?” And so I’ve moved – and haven’t truly regretted it once, despite wishing I’d bent reality to my whims. But we all know how well that works….
October 28, 2013, 6:35 am
Greetings from Malawi (Mozambique tomorrow). Sorry to hear about the apt crap and health issues … but right-on about about a movable, wandering life.
Power to you !
Regards – MRP
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