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What Happens When Travelers Get Stuck In A Place

I found a really special kind of place but it may be time to be moving on.

Astoria, NYC
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ASTORIA, NYC- I never imagined a time when my biggest problem would be the result of a very good decision. No, life just doesn’t usually work this way. Or does it?

At the age of 16 when I came to the realization that what I wanted to do with my life was to travel the world, I would occasionally feel a significant amount of apprehension about the prospect of getting stuck somewhere. If looking at where I came from — a small village full of adults that seemed stuck and miserable — I suppose my apprehension was warranted. I would sometimes just lay in bed looking at the National Geographic maps that I had stapled all over my walls asking myself the following questions:

What if I find myself in a place that I can’t leave?

What if I get wrapped up in obligations — family, work — and can’t just go wherever I want?

What if I don’t have the resources to move on?

I ran these questions over and over in my head for years and devised well-developed strategies for each of them.

My entire life plan was predicated upon not getting stuck.

I even left my family when my first daughter was two weeks old for an archaeology job in Arizona to send the message that there was no way that I was getting stuck in Maine (and also to make the money to travel internationally). When my daughter was six weeks old my wife flew out with her to join me because it was clear that I wasn’t going back. Then a month or so later we were in the Dominican Republic, having officially started our international family travels.

Some time later during a visit to Maine that was going on for too long, I split to go ride a bicycle around Iceland. A month or so later we were in Mexico.

When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter we decided to leave China after being based there for a few years. We went back to Maine and it was looking like it could have been the end of the road for me. So I did what I’ve always done: I signed on to a new book project and traveled the expanse of Eurasia for the next three years.

This is all to say that I got good at not getting stuck.

But what I never asked was this:

What if I find myself in a place that is so good that I don’t want to leave?

This question would have been preposterous to me, as I simply never fathomed that such a place could exist. But this is the situation that I now find myself in. In an odd way, Astoria has become my Beach — a place where travelers turn in their club cards because it’s too good to leave.

I first came to Astoria in the summer of 2019 with the intention of staying for one year. My wife had just earned her AMI Montessori certification in Prague and wanted to get some work experience in at a respectable school in the US as kind of a springboard for future opportunities in Asia or wherever else we wanted to go.

At the time, a year in New York City sounded good to me and it didn’t seem to deviate much from how I was living before that. From 1999 to 2019 I basically lived on the road, but also regularly engaged in the spokes of the wheel travel method where you have a hub in a region that you use to travel out of. This allowed me to have a life and travel too — a combination that’s rather elusive if you solely travel linearly.

My street in Astoria.

My street in Astoria.

I figured I would use NYC as a jumping off point to explore the Caribbean, various parts of Mexico, Western Europe — basically anywhere there were cheap flights to. I was doing a lot of public speaking then and also thought it would be a good business move to be more geographically available.

I also really enjoyed doing my final semester of university in NYC in 2008 and always wanted to come back to dive into the place a little deeper.

So we went for it and it worked out.

At first.

Then 2020 happened and, well … we don’t need to go here yet again as that shit sucked for everybody — even those who believed in it.

Basically, I found myself stuck in NYC for the next three years. It wasn’t in my DNA to jump through the Covid hoops to travel. I had an irrational fear of being Trevor’d — i.e. administratively detained / locked down in a place — and with all the nonsensical social distancing and masking and snake oil restrictions I wouldn’t have been able to carry out my work very effectively anyway. So I decided to hunker down and bide my time. I made eight trips to Mexico, enjoyed hanging out with my family, and basically just waited around for the world to open back up again.

And by the time that happened I had grown use to my life in NYC — so much so that I didn’t want to leave.

!!!

My neighborhood in Astoria is probably the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world. Seriously. This isn’t hyperbole.

It started out as a Greek neighborhood.

Then the Italians moved in.

Then people from the former Yugoslav states arrived.

Then came Latinos from Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico.

There’s an entire Middle Eastern district called Little Egypt that runs to the north up Steinway.

There’s another Middle Eastern area to the south of Broadway around 31st Street.

The Chinese are here (of course).

There’s a sizable Tibetan contingent.

The Japanese have a community here too, and have their own convenience stores to prove it.

Then there’s the Indian zone.

There’s a big Brazilian population.

There’s even relatively large and visible contingents from Africa.

And everyone is all mashed in together — getting along because everyone is different.

According to census data, people from over 100 countries live in Astoria. But what’s most significant is that no one group dominates.

But people usually just come here to stuff their faces with food that is made by people who are actually from the country the cuisine is labeled as.

Astoria

Walking down the streets of Astoria is like being sucked through a portal into a living Rosetta Stone. Everyday you hear languages from everywhere. You can walk from group to group and listen in to what they’re saying — chances are, they’re not speaking English.

In 2019, Time Out named Astoria the 8th coolest neighborhood in the world.

We did not know that Astoria was a thing until after we moved here. Honestly, we had never heard of the place before. We selected it based on its proximity to major transit corridors. It is right next to LGA, only a short ride from JFK, my apartment is a few blocks from Interstate 278, and the N, W, F, R, and sometimes E trains stop nearby. It’s just over the river from the Upper East Side and it’s easy to get anywhere in Manhattan.

I also applied what I learned about urban design from doing projects about new cities in Asia to the decision. All over the world, countries are striving to develop eco-friendly cites where you can get everything you need within a fifteen minute walk. These new cities have a population density that’s enough to support a vibrant ecosystem of local businesses but not too high where it’s crowded.

What this often translates to is a recreation of the cities of old. Basically, urban areas like Astoria.

In many ways, this neighborhood is like a flashback to another time … where there’s shopkeepers and butchers and tailors and barbers and bakers and beekeepers and fabric sellers and kitchenware venders … and in nearly all instances the people working in the shops also own them.

Community

Each lifestyle is at the expense of every other lifestyle. If you live one way then you can’t live another way. There are just these mutually exclusive elements inherent to each way of life. In other words, you can’t have it all.

If you want to live in a hut in the mountains then you’re going to miss the excitement of the city.

If you want to travel the world then you’re going to sacrifice being part of a community and miss out on time with family and having friends.

Having a community was something that I was starting to miss as my Silk Road travels wore on. I remember spending multiple days sitting in an American style restaurant in Athens listening to Bills podcasts and thinking of the place where I grew up. I was becoming aware that I was missing out on something vital in life by traveling all the time. While I didn’t necessarily plan to waver from my course, I was becoming aware of its deficiencies.

So when I found myself stuck in NYC, somewhere deep down I knew there was a bright side: I would get to experience an integral aspect of life that I never could while traveling.

I know my neighbors here in Astoria. When we see each other we do a stop and chat and give updates on our lives.

I know the names of the people who own the shops near me.

I’m a half day’s drive away from my parents and those of my wife.

I get to hang out with old friends at Bills games.

I get to go to Bills bars and there’s even an Astoria Bills Backers club.

My wife and I are able to dive deep into the lifestyle communities that we enjoy.

Big cities are like onions. They are made up of layers. When you’re just traveling through a big city you’re only seeing the outer peel. Maybe if you stay for a little while and really dig in you can get down to the start of the pearly white pulp, but you really don’t get any deeper.

I’ve stayed in NYC long enough that I’ve been able to peel off those outer layers and get into the meat of the onion. The places where we hang out don’t have signs on the door. We’re members of social clubs that don’t advertise their existence. The communities that were a part of were cultivated slowly over time.

My experience in NYC has transformed the way that I view traveling in urban areas. I now think of all those cities that I’ve traveled through that I thought I was seeing for what the were … No, I really didn’t understand or experience anything.

There is a fundamental need to want to be a part of a community, to have friends, to share common interests. Having a role within a tribe is what humans were built for. I didn’t have this for the twenty years that I was traveling perpetually — for the entirety of my adult life prior to NYC. It was the one thing that was missing in my life, it was something that I wanted to experience …

But it’s also a vacancy that I’m starting to realize that I’ve filled.

I’ve done that. I’ve had that experience. Do I need to keep having it?

“I want to be nothing and do everything.”

This is how I described by future ambitions in my late teens and, honestly, it’s how I still feel today.

So much of life is about checking boxes — about living different ways and experiencing different universes so that one day you can ultimately declare, “I’ve done that.”

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Filed under: New York City, Travel Diary

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 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

8 comments… add one

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  • Jack March 29, 2024, 6:47 pm

    Ha! You are getting old. With age comes the need to settle down but I also think it’s a phase. At least it is for me, I slowed down and stopped but now at 51 I’m anxious to travel again with the family. I realized there is not a lot of time left in my life to see enough.

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    • rob March 29, 2024, 7:41 pm

      Jack is right, things change as you get older, even your view points change….that’s life.

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      • VBJ April 1, 2024, 9:28 am

        That’s true … and probably part of what’s most interesting about this thing called life.

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    • VBJ April 1, 2024, 9:27 am

      Yes, I also think that life is about phases — it has to be if you want to experience as much of life as you can. Not sure if I’m settling down — life here can be pretty epic sometimes (one of the reasons why I’ve stayed for so long) and I just started a new book project that will keep me on the road almost as much as I was pre-pandemic. I think the traveler mindset is really what’s important. Just so you maintain your curiosity and are exploring it doesn’t really matter where you are physically.

      Looking forward to find out where you’re going next!

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  • Trevor Warman March 29, 2024, 7:30 pm

    Travel writing at its finest!!

    Yeah we wanna forget that Trevor’d period but we always wanna reference it. Haha.

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    • VBJ April 1, 2024, 9:28 am

      Thank you!

      Yes, we can never forget what happened … as much as we want to haha.

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  • Tim Britt March 31, 2024, 12:41 am

    Dear Wade,
    I am your next door neighbor and live in Jackson Heights. Northwest Queens is a goldmine for learning about other cultures. All you need is a metrocard. No passport required. ” There is no better than “here”. When your “there” has become “here”, you will simply obtain another “there” that will, again, look better than “here”. Peace out player.

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    • VBJ April 1, 2024, 9:30 am

      Hello Tim,

      Right on, man, very right on. I made the mistake of finding a “here” that still looks a little too good. It really raised the bar for the other “theres.” Haha. We’re getting ready to move on though.

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