You expect some changes when you plan on making full-time travel your lifestyle. For instance, it’s no surprise long-term travel has made me more fluid, more adaptable, and better able to deal with frustrations. Travel is a lot of fun, but it isn’t always easy. However, as I prepare to settle down into a more typical life, I’ve been pondering some of the things that have changed for me in ways I never expected.
I’ve never bought into “American exceptionalism.” The US is a great country, but as far as I’m concerned no country is the absolute best. They all have their pluses and minuses, things I love and things that make me crazy. Travel has definitely made me see some glaring holes in my native culture, as well as made me appreciate some parts of it I hadn’t recognized.
But that wasn’t a big surprise.
What did kind of surprise me was my shift in political ideology. Whenever I would take those online tests that show you where you fall on the political spectrum, I always landed very near the middle. I’ve identified as an independent my whole voting life so seeing the centrist label was no shock.
However, the more I’ve traveled, the more liberal my leanings have become and I now end up in the “solid liberal” side.
While I was never a very controlling or helicopter parent, I’ve moved even more solidly toward the “free range” side of things. I work even harder to foster my child’s independence and to support her when she moves out of my comfort zone, and I also help her move out of her own.
Living in Utila when she was 10 was probably the best thing that ever happened for both of us. Being on that small island meant she could have more freedom, and I felt more comfortable giving her more space to develop that free spirit. She definitely couldn’t have had that kind of freedom in most places.
The more I’ve seen parents focused on essentially raising a miniature version of themselves, the more I’ve pushed away from that and wanted Tigger to emerge more fully as her own person.
Sometimes that’s a double-edged sword, but for the most part it’s been amazing.
For most of my professional life, I’ve had my eye on the next rung up. As I prepare to possibly return to the workforce for at least a little bit, I’m really not interested in having a job with a ton of responsibility. I’m very content just being a worker bee. I’m no longer interested in having an impressive title.
Just give me work I enjoy, treat me respectfully, and pay me on time and we’re good.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
There was a time in my life when I worried like it was an Olympic competition, and dammit I was going to win the gold! By the time we left the US, I was much less of a worrier. And now, I mostly can’t be bothered with it. Sure, I have my moments when I’m driving myself crazy with worry, but those episodes are much fewer and don’t last nearly as long.
A big lesson long-term travel has taught me is that things always work out. It may not develop the way I had hoped, but they always work out for good. I’ve definitely seen the old adage “When one door closes another opens” in action.
For the most part, when something falls apart or doesn’t work out the way I hoped, I can shrug it off and say “Okay, so what’s next?” Yeah, I may bitch about it for a few minutes, but then I’m moving forward.
For most of my life, I’ve always had a plan B, C, D, etc. I’ve been in survival mode for all those years. Now, I rarely even ponder a plan B because if plan A doesn’t end up coming to fruition, I’m really not that worried about it.
This has really helped with our impending return to the US. While there are some things I’m concerned about, I’m not really dwelling on them. Normally, I would want answers to the several giant question marks I have, but now I’m really okay with leaving them as questions.
Because of it, I’m actually feeling kind of excited about returning the closer it gets.
Never thought I’d say that!
Getting Rid of “Negative Nelly”
I haven’t always been a positive person. By my 40s, I was definitely more positive, but I still was on the pessimist side of things. When you are constantly walking past people who have no idea when they’ll get their next meal, when you see people living in a house made from sheet metal, or when you’re sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying a sumptuous meal and a beggar comes up and hands your kid a coin while flashing a nearly toothless grin and simply keeps walking by, you’re forced to reclassify what the word “problem” means.
I’ve had so many interactions where people who have so little are so incredibly generous. It has really changed how I react to things and how I am in public. As part of that survival mode I mentioned above, I’ve always made sure to put on a certain “air” when in public. I wanted strangers to feel uncomfortable when they saw me because it meant they were far less likely to do anything bad to me. Now when I see someone who looks grumpy, I smile at them and greet them. When I see people that look like the “odd person out,” I make sure to look them in the eye and nod or say a greeting.
I want them to know that when others may not see them or look down at them, I see and value their worth.
I’ve come to a place where when someone asks if the glass is half empty or hall full I respond “F**k the glass and just hand me the bottle!”
I’ve definitely happily swung over to the optimist side of things, and it’s a place I enjoy being. It’s so much nicer viewing the world, people, and life through that lens.
Being More Comfortable with Myself
I have never been a person who likes to stand out. As someone who was abused as a child, I have always found it easier to meld into my surroundings. There is much more safety in the shadows.
Travel has often forced me out of that comfortable obscurity. In some places, my skin color alone makes me stand out loudly. It doesn’t matter how I dress, what hairstyle I have, how big or small my belly is, or how much attention a shirt’s fit brings to my moobs.
In many places I simply can’t camouflage no matter what I do or how much I want to.
This has helped me to “get over” myself quite a bit. I finally got my other ear pierced as I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve grown my hair out into a rather unusual style (for me at least). I’m wearing brighter colors. I’ve even found myself deciding against a piece of clothing because it looks too boring or dull.
I’ve found the beauty of the quote “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
Before we left, home was the place we lived. After all this moving around, home is wherever we’re together.
Having said that, I’ve also realized the value of having a physical home. A place where you can relax, where you can take refuge. I don’t care if my furniture matches as long as it’s comfortable. I want a place where I can hang our pictures and be surrounded by visual reminders of our various adventures.
How that place looks matters even less to me now.
When people ask where we live, I kind of look forward to being able to name a city instead of “Well, here for now.” Sure, that was really fun for the first few years but now the idea of having a base is much more enjoyable.
And I am SO ready to be able to live somewhere without having to have a notation in my calendar as to when our visa ends, to be able to sign a lease without thinking “Sure hope we get our residency so we can stay that long!” or having to make sure the time limit is within our allowed stay.
I never thought I’d be so excited to have a place to call “home.”
While contemplating potential jobs, I’ve pondered returning to work as a healthcare chaplain. I really enjoyed that work immensely.
However, the more I’ve lived in countries dominated by a single religion (the US is one of them) and the more I’ve seen various events unfold throughout the world, the less tolerance I have for religion. While religion has done some good—and is capable of doing much better—I see more and more damage from religious dogma.
Before, I had no problem biting my tongue as people shared their religious views with me. I’m not so sure I’m currently in the place where I can do that without it turning into internal anger. I respect they believe differently. That isn’t a problem for me. I just don’t know that I could be as patient with ideologies that I personally find to be harmful, and I find it even harder to clamp down when faced with religious hypocrisy.
As a friend or a random encounter, I can respectfully share my thoughts about those issues. When you’re acting as a chaplain, though, that kind of response isn’t appropriate. As a chaplain, I may need to challenge things via a delicate dance, and I’m not sure I can be that person right now.
When people start saying something religious, I have to restrain myself from putting my hand up and saying “Let me stop you right there.” It isn’t from a lack of respect or acceptance. I just don’t want to hear it.
The more I see, the more I want to scream “Show me your religion by how you treat others and save your breath!”
That’s not really the right place to be when you’re providing spiritual care.
I’ve also developed less tolerance for intolerance. Yes, I can appreciate the irony.
The more I travel, the more I see just how similar we all are. In reality, we all mostly want the same things. When I see racism, ageism, sexism, et al., I understand those ways of thinking less and less. I’m also much more likely to call out that bullshit, much to the disappointment of some of my former (and perhaps current) Facebook friends.
Although, I do try to not come off as a jerk.
Living “Nothing is Permanent”
We all get reminders from time to time that all things come to an end. But I choose to redefine that for myself, especially when it comes to our return to the US.
We aren’t ending our crazy adventure. It’s entering a new stage. We won’t stop traveling, we’ll just be doing it differently.
It isn’t a conclusion but another chapter.
How has travel affected you?