There’s something special about your first real trip. It changes you in ways no other journey seems to touch.
All travellers agree that no trip has the same soul-shaking impact as that first time you set out alone on the road.
You’ll always hold a soft spot in your heart for that place because it was there, for the first time, that you looked intelligently upon yourself. It was there you first saw yourself unencumbered by the filters of the social boxes and mental constructs of your structured life back home. That’s what I wrote about in my book Vagabond Dreams. The nature of that first journey, and the process of how it changes you.
And when that trip was over, I did what everyone else does when I got back. I started saving for another journey.
There’s no turning back once the travel bug bites. It is indeed a lifelong affliction.
But does the high last? Do you have that same euphoric feeling as the road years roll on? Does it shake your life up again in the same way each time, and does everything look different when you get back?
Well, I moved to Japan when I returned from Central America. And I saved up my pennies for a year and a half, and then quit my job and went to Mongolia. I spent months roaming the vast empty places there, and then moved on to Tibet and China’s far western province of Xinjiang.
I expected the same sort of profound revelations I’d found on my Central American Vagabond Dreams journey. And I was confused and disappointed when travel didn’t keep turning my entire world upside down. I didn’t know it at the time but that trip was different, so of course the lessons would be different too.
It’s the same with Expat Life. You’ll always hold a soft spot in your heart for the first place you lived abroad.
Your memories will be more deeply layered there, because time really does thicken on the road. You’ll cram years of experiences into a few weeks or months or a year, while back home life plods along and nothing changes. You’ll live a lifetime in a moment and come back changed.
Living abroad in one place will also spark your curiosity about other places, and maybe you’ll decide to move there next. But it won’t have the same impact on you as the first place did. When you live as an expat, you’ll have periods of excitement when the world feels magical and your curiosity sparks like flint. And you’ll have periods of stagnancy, when the honeymoon ends and you get into ruts and wonder why you keep doing it.
The same thing happens with travel. We go on the road to break out of routine, to make life fresh again, and to make those small details leap out. But if I spend too long on the road, I find that new routines and areas of stagnancy start to set in—the very same sort of routines I went out there to break in the first place. The solution for those travel ruts is a settled period spent in one place. And for me, that means a period of withdrawing, reading and charging my mental batteries. But if you made the big leap and became an expat, your life’s a bit more complicated and you don’t have the luxury of just ending your trip.
Here are a few things that help keep the spark alive for me:
1) Short Trips
Changing locations or cultures really helps. When the slowness of Mediterranean life starts to frustrate me, I hop on a plane to Berlin or Tokyo where I’ll get a dose of life sped up, and a thorough immersion in art and culture.
Or, if I find myself losing sight of the vast differences and cultural opportunities here in Europe, I know it’s time to go to the desert or plan an African trip.
A geographical substitution is all it takes to make those small details leap out again. And when I come back, I start seeing them in my home region again, too.
2) Having a Goal or Purpose
As a writer, I usually travel in order to write about it. Even if I have no intention of pitching an article, I’ll always share something on my blog.
If expat life is losing its shine, I’ll do a little research and find an unknown part of the island to explore, or a new era of its history, and I’ll set out to create a short article or video.
If I’m contemplating a three day getaway in the region, I’ll have a plan for that too. I might be scouting out future expat bases. I might be travelling to attend a specific art exhibit or event. Or I might just be going there to walk through the scenes and stage sets where history has played out.
Whatever the plan, that sense of purpose orients my life again in the lead up to a trip. I start ordering books and doing online research, and all that new learning rekindles the fire of my curiosity.
Life feels most meaningless when we forget our purpose or goals.
3) Remembering Why I Came
I came to Malta to write an island book in the spirit of Lawrence Durrell. And when it comes to books like that, the negative experiences sometimes make the best stories.
I remind myself of this anytime stagnancy sets in. And then I take out my island notebook and see what I’ve accumulated so far.
There are times when we realize the way we are living is preventing us from truly living. Sometimes we have to leave home to acquire the necessary vision and experience to come to an understanding of what it is to live for living’s sake. It requires courage to take that first step, to follow your inner light when guilt, fear, habit, and other people are urging you to stay where you are. And sometimes it also takes a little stamina to stay the course. You need determination to live the Expat Life. That and imagination: the power to dream great dreams.
Do YOU have that same euphoric feeling as you continue to travel? Or do you find it more difficult to keep the spark alive as the years go by?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them.