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The Odyssey of Perpetual Travel

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- Petra came down with a fever a couple nights ago. It was a stressful night and morning for the Shepard camp — doctor visits are generally pretty gruesome ordeals, much more so when it is your baby that needs to go. The situation has now stabilized, Petra’s fever is now gone, she [...]

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- Petra came down with a fever a couple nights ago. It was a stressful night and morning for the Shepard camp — doctor visits are generally pretty gruesome ordeals, much more so when it is your baby that needs to go. The situation has now stabilized, Petra’s fever is now gone, she is back to smiling, we are again a troupe of happy rolling cowboys.

Though the event made Chaya want to go home.

She felt as if traveling may not be the best thing for our baby, that she could be happier and healthier at her parent’s home in Maine. The road got rough, the path ahead seemed uncertain, and having a child demands an internal reaction to scout out the best routes possible. In this case, Chaya felt the best route was back the way we had come. She got scared.

This was the confirmation of one of our biggest fears before leaving the USA, read What if Baby Gets Sick While Traveling

It made sense.

Babies get sick, I tell my wife, it does not mean that you are a bad mother, it just a normal occurrence. Petra will get sick in El Salvador, Indonesia, Xingjiang, Uzbekistan, and Ethiopia just as she will in Bangor, Maine. But this was little consolation.


Home is big plates of pot roast potatoes and smiles.
The ideal of home is of a safe place, a place where there are hot pots of soup on the stove, old rugs, mom, dad, pies, and dill pickles in the refrigerator. Home is a safe place, a place that is cleaner than anywhere else, a place where even if you do get sick you will soon get better. A place where there is mom and chicken noodle soup and ginger ale. The image of home can easily become tinted with the fire side glow of comfort and layers of warmth proportional to how far you are away from it.

Home is never better than when you are far away from it. This is the Odyssey of perpetual travel.

When out on the Road long term it is often easy to forget they reasons why you left home to begin with. Giving this, it is my impression that it is easy for travelers to want to turn heal and go home at the first sign of trial, as soon as the road becomes unenjoyable challenging, at the first hint of loneliness, seclusion, when the sharp knife of travel becomes dulled with experience, or when the traveling routine leaves you feeling overtely under-productive.

I thought that I was going to like traveling, now I am not so sure.

Who would want to be slugging through the muck of challenges in a foreign land when they can take the easy road home? Or, conversely, what do you do when traveling becomes routine? What do you seek when the exotic becomes ordinary?

The farther away a person travels from home the more the siren songs of their homeland chime. It is normal for a home bound, would be traveler to only dream of days abroad in unfamiliar places, of adventure — “adventure only happens when things go wrong” — and excitement, but when they taste these desires the contrast makes them realize how good home is. Thoughts of Home becomes bright, illuminated, the hindsight makes you see the joyous moments you missed when you were there. A feeling of regret creeps in for leaving, for all the shitty things you did to the people who live there, for all of the time that you have spent away from your family, friends, for dreaming of lands afar when you should have been enjoying what you had directly in front of you.

The lure of home is often easy to bite onto for a fresh faced traveler. When all that you are missing is just a couple mouse clicks and a flight away, it takes determiation not to take it. It is easy to leave home, but it is far easier to return.

It is easy for a traveler to turn heel mid journey and go home. It is very difficult to keep going once the idea of going home actualizes itself into a viable option, as soon as the sweet memories of home manifests themselves. “Home” is a perceived cure all for every problem, things will be better if you just went home. This is an illusion that the long term traveler needs to face — it is difficult to realize that there is no real safety net, that there is no quick fix found in changing location, that you must face what is in front of you all the time, wherever you are.

Changing location changes little. It is perhaps a difficult realization when it becomes apparent that travel is real life too.

Or maybe it isn’t.

Not everything is perfect about traveling — it is a lifestyle that often works against a human’s basic urges for companionship, love, family, people that know you and can keep you in place. The prevailing ideal of travel is that it is an escape — an escape from daily existence that is thought to be mudane — but sometimes it is too much of an escape to be a viable option for an extended amount of time. Traveling can easily become suspended animation.

And sometimes you begin to crave the bounds that once held you down, sometimes you begin to crave your “place.”

When travel becomes an escape from your life — a vacation — it has the tendency to become a cankerous growth, something additional, excessive, removed from the substance of root existence. If the building blocks of your life are left at home, then the urge to return to them can become a harking call when on the road. It is my impression that humans crave productivity, that we need to see the tangible accumulation of our daily work to almost justify the time it took to complete. When travel is removed from this building, then it can easily become a way of living devoid of substance, like a hollowed out catacomb whose treasures have been looted long ago.

There is no surer way to feel empty than to travel.

I do not know of how many travelers that I have met who hit a spot in their journey where they realize that they are going to many places, seeing many things, having fun times, but lacking any real substance to their days. These travelers go home.

It is my impression that the long term traveler must continue building their life while traveling to keep going. Not building memories — memories are only valuable if taken with years of retrospect — but the building of life: projects, work, hobbies, activities to work on throughout the day to almost justify the day. Otherwise the leisure of the traveling life can become a dragging anchor which invariably turns homeward bound.

The winds of retrospect blow strong — strong enough to erode bad memories into pleasant ones, strong enough to chisel the beautiful moments into monuments. Home can seem very appealing when abroad, the call to return can ring almost as loudly as the urge to leave did long ago, before your journey began. But when a traveler goes home it often becomes all too easy to hear the call to leave again.

It is my impression that all too often homesickness is the result of a traveler failing to meet their basic needs out on the road. Food, shelter, and entertainment are the easy needs to meet while traveling — love, companionship, sex, work, purpose, and a sense of place are the more difficult ones. I believe strongly that the emotional and psychological needs of a person are nearly as important as physical needs.

The trick of travel is to identify these basic emotional and psychological needs and to fill them on the Road — figure out how to live a balanced, full life while traveling. The game of long term travel is not to get to unknown locations, climb the unclimbable mountains, or even to travel to travel cheaper than anybody else — the game of long term travel is to know how to make yourself happy, to be strong in your mind, and learning to solve the problems that lay in front of you rather than making another drastic shift in geographic location in a bid for happiness.

This takes practice. I have had many years of learning how to be happy traveling, but, believe me, it was not always this smooth.

Though I have learned that travel is perhaps a cure all for nothing, while going home may just be an invitation for the familiar restlessness to return.

The Wanderlust will keep you moving — it has no regard for if you go forward or backward — it is the task of the traveler to set their route with strong bearings, and to adjust their sails to meet the direction of the wind.

How to enjoy long term travel | Travel and projects

Filed under: Adventure, Central America, El Salvador, Perpetual Travel, Travel Lifestyle, Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 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. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

7 comments… add one

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  • g April 23, 2010, 11:55 am

    The sweetest joy in life may be meaningful work. It matters little if you find such work in your hometown or Timbuctu. Years ago a well-known french dignitary died. Attending the funeral was a top ranking military General. The general asked the dignitary’s brother what the cause of death was, and the brother replied he died of boredom, nothing to do. “Ah, the general nodded, that would kill even the strongest of men.” g.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 23, 2010, 3:19 pm

      Boredom can do funny things to a person — too much time under stimulated really can kill a person.

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  • dad April 23, 2010, 9:37 pm

    pretty deep,. and true to the heart. You have a great gift of expressing your thoughts through your fingers.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 23, 2010, 9:53 pm

      Think I picked that up from you, story teller.

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  • Bob L April 23, 2010, 11:08 pm

    *She felt as if traveling may not be the best thing for our baby, that she could be happier and healthier at her parent’s home in Maine. *

    It seems to me that Petra is VERY happy traveling. Lots of commotion, lots of people, being held and talked to and played with, lots of scenery changes. And I know Chaya would be happier at home, maybe. For a while anyway. Then she would miss traveling, and home would seem too ordinary, and daily work would seem like drudgery. The baby would not get to play as much. Life would become ordinary. Ordinary life is good for ordinary people like me, but not for extraordinary people like you two (three).

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 24, 2010, 9:10 am

      I agreee with you 100%. I really do.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 24, 2010, 10:50 pm

      Though I would not say that you are ordinary, Bob. You seem happy with your life, and, even more than that, you seem to know it. Best of all it is my impression that you know that you have the power to change anything if you wanted. There is nothing ordinary about this.

      Perhaps know how to make yourself happy is one of the most extraordinary feats a person can accomplish.

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