All the Ways Travel Screws You Up

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The biggest culture shock of my life happened when I was 8 years old. As far as experiences go, moving from the falling down shacks and hole-in-the-ground urinals of rural China to the skyscrapers and flushable toilets of Canada felt as alien to me as moving to the moon. 

My brain nearly exploded from all the new discoveries.

I touched snow for the first time. I tasted this smelly, bitter, yellow thing called “cheese”. I rode in a car with 4 wheels, no longer needing to be sandwiched between my cousin, my mom, and my aunt, while wobbling over the dirt roads on my uncle’s bike. I marvelled at showers, with their cascading hot water that doesn’t need to be heated over a coal-burning stove. And I learned that when your tooth hurts you go to someone called a “dentist”, instead of just waiting for it to turn black and fall out.

Since then, I’ve grown up in my adopted home, learned English, became an engineer, retired, and became a world-travelling book-writing nomad. My life has become a constant stream of upheavals.

But since my initial move to Canada, I haven’t quite felt that level of culture shock. Until now.

Oddly enough, it didn’t come from travelling the world and switching countries every few weeks. It happened when I returned home.

Once the pandemic hit, we decided, on the advice of our government, to return back to Canada to ride out the storm. Since then, flights around the world has been suspended and borders closed, with no end in sight. For the first time in 5 years, we’re no longer constantly on the way to somewhere else. For the first time in 5 years, we’ve been forced to stop travelling.

Just like the culture shock of moving from China to Canada, once again, I’m re-learning what it’s like to live in North America.

I had no idea that travelling the world would screw you up in ways you don’t expect.

Now, having been back for 2 months, here are all the ways that travel messes you up:


Reverse Culture Shock

Everyone’s heard of culture shock, the unfamiliarity of being in a new country, not speaking the language and not understanding the customs. But we rarely speak of reverse culture shock, the concept of having to re-adapting to your own culture after coming back home from your travels.

We think that just because we’ve spent the most time in our home country, we’d be the most comfortable there. But the truth is, no longer how much time you’ve spent back home, whenever you leave and come back, there will be the inevitable period of re-acclimatization.

I have to admit, I did not have an easy time reacclimatizing to Canada, coming back from South East Asia.

It’s kind of like when you’re in a new relationship and you can’t stop reminiscing about your ex and all their amazing qualities, which you are now viewing through rose-colored glasses.

In this case, our ex is Chiang Mai, and our new flame is Canada. The first few days we came back, it was snowing in March, and I couldn’t stop bitching about how cold and dry it is, how itchy my skin was, and how much I missed having eternal summer. And now that the weather is finally hot and sunny, I’m starting to get allergies and I can’t help but reminisce about how a running nose and itchy eyes were non-existent, no matter which time of year it was, when we were on the road. I also have daily cravings for Asian street food from the night markets and ridiculously cheap and good foot massages.

That’s reverse culture shock for you.


No one gives a shit about your travels

When you come back to your home country, you have this fantasy of meeting up with your friends and family and have this warm and fuzzy reunion. You’ll tell each other all about your adventures and remember how much you miss them.

Sorry to burst your bubble but that happy reunion never lasts for more than two weeks.

After that, your friends and family will go back to their day to day lives and all the excitement of seeing them again dissipates.

Travellers always want to tell everyone about all the places they’ve been to, exciting people they’ve met, everything they’ve learned, how they’ve changed, etc. But your friends and family back home have no way of relating to what you experienced, so they don’t understand what you’re talking about. They want to tell you about everything you missed—and for the most part everything on their side has stayed the same. Or they’ve reached milestones—like getting a promotion, having a kid, buying house—things that you can’t relate to at all. So, you end up not being able to speak each other’s life experience language and just stare at each other in silence.

Which leads me to my next point…


You are an Alien

You’ve changed but everyone else stayed the same.

Travel changes you. Just like parenting, travel shifts your priorities, perspective, and friendship circles. You no longer care about stuff (how can you when you live out of 2 backpacks?). You don’t let little things bother you (like waiting in traffic or in lines). You’re more open to meeting new people and new experiences, because you’ve seen how people live in other parts of the world and things that once seemed strange or crazy to you no longer seem odd. Travel opens your eyes to that fact that as humans, we are more similar than we are different. You also realize there are so many people in the world, and you are humbled by how infinitesimally small and insignificant you are in comparison.

Travelling is also like living multiple lifetimes. Every day is different, so it feels like time has been stretch out since you remember so many different adventures and people. Each day doesn’t end up blending into the next.

This is why when you come back and your friend bitches about their fight with a neighbour building their fence a few inches too far into their yard or how the raccoons are ruining their lives by tearing up their lawn, you couldn’t give two shits. You also have zero interest in the latest fancy gadget or designer purse they added to their already overflowing collection.


Your Values Are Different from Everyone Else’s

People with roots care about their houses, the stuff in those houses, and their surrounding community. Nomads care about freedom, adventure, and growing their international community. Their friends are all spread out all over the world and they stay connected online and via global meetups.

By living in one place for a long time, you end up accumulating a lot of things—sentimental things, gadgets that make your life easier, and conveniences like cars, garden tools, ergonomic furniture, etc.

But when you’re on the move, you don’t have the luxury of accumulating things. You don’t have the stress of maintaining these things, but you do end up living with less convenience. You end up being addicted to experiences and renting things instead of owning them. You don’t want the commitment of “being tied down” with stuff.

As a result, you feel very out of place when your friends and family are all talking about the mind-blowing efficiencies of their steam bake oven, SUV, or professional dough mixer. You end up nodding your head, plastering a fake smile on your face, silently daydreaming about the adorable elephants you petted in Thailand or the mountain hike you took in Switzerland, while they regale you with the food moisture preservation abilities of their kitchen gadgets.


Everything feels too Big (Wanderer’s note: “hee hee hee”)

Cars, buildings, portion sizes, people—

Compact living spaces, roads, and small portion sizes in Asia and Europe has become our norm. We can no longer finish a whole North American-sized meal by ourselves; we have to share.

We now feel much more comfortable in one bedroom condos than houses. Whenever we go back to Wanderer’s parents’ house, we have to carve out a small area in the massive guest bedroom to avoid stressing out about our stuff being swallowed by all the knickknacks in the house.

Travel makes you value tiny houses and minimalism over consumerism.


Relationships have moved on without you

You miss out on a lot of family-and-friend milestones when you’re abroad. Birthdays, Christmas, weddings all fly by in a blur. As a result, you don’t get to know your nephews and nieces as much as you’d like. You come back every summer to make sure they don’t completely forget who you are, but they definitely aren’t as close to you as they would be if you were here all year round.

Zoom and Skype helps you elevate some of that, but it’s not the same as constant human interaction.

On the plus side, you’ve made a ton of new friends on the road—some of them you lose touch with over time, but some of them you manage to keep (thankfully) because of the passion projects you work on together and weekly Skype catch up sessions.

Maintaining friendships and familial relationships are much harder when you are nomadic, so you have to put in more effort than if you were staying in one place.


You Get Ichy Feet

And no, I don’t mean the kind you get from not wearing flip flops in the showers at the gym.

Ichy Feet is what happens when you’re so used to moving around often or so that when you stop moving, you get anxious.

Travel breaks up your time into chunks of memorable experiences, so it feels like you are doing more in less time. But when you’re stuck in one place, your brain mashes the days together into a blur. That’s why travellers get anxious when they settle down. They get antsy to travel and discover new experiences. That’s why you need to teach your brain to stay in the present and not constantly be thinking about the next place you want to be in.


You’re Addicted to Novelty

One of the reasons why travel is so addicting is the novelty. New experiences cause our brain to release dopamine, and it’s the same effect as snorting cocaine. Travel should be used to enrich your perspective on life and open your mind. It shouldn’t be a crutch to escape reality.

That’s why it’s important to meditate regularly to stay in the present and not keep trying to strive for the next new experience. Constantly trying to satisfy our novelty urge can lead to unhappiness. Which is why we’ll be adapting a slow travel lifestyle after the shutdowns are lifted.


You Need to Balance Helping Family with Following Your Dreams

Our parents are getting older and frailer. This means we need to be there for them and take care of them going forward. So how do you balance filial devotion with living your dreams? We may need to change our travels to be more local going forward to be there for our parents, and we are totally ok with that. We are so grateful for everything our parents have done for us, and despite some challenges with familial relationships, we will be here for them whenever they need us.


So knowing all the ways that travel screwed us up, would I still continue travelling after this shut down is over? 

HELL YES! It might just be a slower, more local version of what we’re used to, but I believe travel has changed us for the better and I can’t imagine not living the nomadic life. 


What do you think? Has travel changed you? Do you think it changes people? How and why?

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78 thoughts on “All the Ways Travel Screws You Up”

  1. God this is ALL has been so true for us. I felt it especially when we returned from Nigeria last year and were home for 2 months. Dan and I were just talking yesterday that we are going absolutely crazy, because even When we lived in Nigeria, we traveled at least every 2 1/2 months max and we were never back in the US for more than 6 weeks at a time during the summer. Repatriating is HARD, but we had so much travel planned to help ease the “pain”, but all that’s been kicked out the window. Waaaaaaah!

    1. Amanda! So good to hear from you 🙂

      Yeah, it’s quite an adjustment to completely stop moving after travelling right? Our plans have all been blow to smithereens too—we were supposed to go the States for a google talk, financial conference, and a documentary. All cancelled. Oh well that’s life for you. The upside is that it’s an opportunity to slow down and reflect on life.

      Miss you guys! Hope you are well!

  2. As Heraclitus observed millennia ago one cannot step into the same river twice.

    What you’ve experienced is what I experienced the first time I returned to rural Ontario after I had been gone for seven years. In that time I had obtained two graduate degrees in the US, traveled extensively, made a host of new friends, and established a new life with someone my family barely knew. My horizons had grown prodigiously and my frame of reference was completely alien to those back home.

    Everyone else was pretty much the same as I left them. A big Friday night was not eating at a Michelin starred restaurant or a trendy gastro pub but a perch fry at the local Legion. Concerns were things like the state of one’s septic field and not how big this year’s bonus was going to be or how the investments are doing. The future for these fine folks, and they are fine folks, looks pretty much like today. No thoughts of retiring in Spain, renting a flat in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, but rather hoping to get that “good spot” for the fifth wheel in a Florida seasonal trailer park.

    So in the 20-some years since I left home forever I’ve learned to treasure my few, short visits home and fit myself into their world, my old world, as best I can and soak up the nostalgic atmosphere.

    1. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing your experience! Yeah, going back after travelling is like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Can’t do it. “Our old world” is the perfect way to describe it.

      Where do you live now? Are you nomadic or an expat in a new home country?

      1. I’m glad you found my thoughts worth reading.

        We got, as you two would put it, “house horny” and bought our personal Shangri La for cash at a bank auction at the tail end of the Great Recession. A few acres of paradise in southern Arizona on a PGA championship golf course five minutes from one of the world’s Top 100 destination resorts. We could not be happier with our beautiful oasis and the life we’ve built here.

        We still travel extensively but have come to enjoy an Anthony Bourdain style “layover.” We’ll fly out on a Wednesday or Thursday and go non-stop, flying home on Sunday morning. Our last pre-COVID trip was Seattle over Xmas to visit friends and it was epic.


  3. That’s a very interesting take. Thanks for sharing.
    It’s always a tough transition coming back from a big trip, but I can see it’s worse for nomads. You’re used to moving much more. Are you leaving again soon? It looks like things are starting to open up. Although, international travel will be sketchy for a while. I wanted to go see my parents this summer, but not sure if we can this year.
    Taking care of your parent is a big issue. You might have to put your nomadic life on hold for quite a while. Enjoy it while you can.

    1. Thanks, Joe. Hope the borders open in the future and we can meet again in Thailand when you go back to visit your parents. You’re right though, we may be restricted to only short trips to Mexico or other places in Canada if we have to take care of our parents going forward. That’s okay. The past 5 years have been the best of our entire lives.

      On the plus side, Azores is only a 5 hour flight from Toronto, so that’s always an option for shorter trips.

  4. I feel all of this deep in my bones! Now I’m grounded in my home country of Australia for a while after a couple of years abroad, I’m having to rediscover how to have fun without the easy dopamine hit of constant novelty while traveling. Good luck to you both!

    1. Gah, We were only a 2.5 hour flight from your home country in Bali before we had to return to Canada. So close! Not sure if we’ll ever be that close to Australia again. *sigh* Oh well. All things considered, Australia is not a bad place to come back to after world travelling 🙂 Your weather and beaches are amazing! (or so I’ve heard)

  5. My spouse and I are not travelers by any means but I could still relate to some of this just because of our unconventional lifestyle.

    A few years ago we moved to a rural area that was a lot cheaper to live. We minimized a lot of our belongings when we moved and are a lot more mindful about what we buy now because we don’t want to have to move a bunch of extra stuff when we leave this place.

    We went from living in the same city as our families to being about 5 hours away so we only see our families twice a year now. We don’t keep in touch very often but I do email my dad more than I used to when I lived in town. When it comes to family and relationships in general though, I prefer not to keep in touch/be too close with a lot of people because more people means more drama. When my mom was alive I used to like when she’d just fill me in on what everyone was up to because then I could hear about it without really getting involved.

    We don’t eat out at all and when we cook we often plan our portion sizes so we have leftovers so we have gotten used to eating less too. It’s always annoying when we have company because they tend to pig out especially because my spouse is such a good cook. It always feels like when we have even just one person visit for a few days that we’ve blown through 2 weeks worth of food during their visit.

    I find it can be hard to relate to people too because our priority is having lots of free time so we can work on our hobbies where a lot of people our age are having kids and working full time.

    1. Yes, we can relate to the similarities with an unconventional lifestyle! Didn’t move, but definitely don’t “fit” in certain ways with friends, family, neighbours & colleagues as we’ve kept our footprint small & finished our slow transition to early retirement last year.

    2. “When it comes to family and relationships in general though, I prefer not to keep in touch/be too close with a lot of people because more people means more drama.”

      Can 100% relate to this. My relationship with my mom only got better after I put an ocean between us. Now I will have to navigate the challenges since I’m much closer physically. Sometimes distance and boundaries are good.

  6. As someone who spent about a decade outside of my home country (the U.S.) as an adult, I can relate to all of this. And that different perspective never goes away. I relish it, but it does make you a bit of a square peg in a round whole.

    Thanks for writing this one. Cathartic.

    1. Square pegs in a round whole, that’s what we all are. And the FIRE part makes that even more true. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. OMG! Totally agree! Rolf Potts talks about this in his book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel and it helped prepare Amy and I for our reentry into “normal” life, have you read this book? Last year we decided to come off the road, build a house in rural Colorado as a home base, and travel a few months a year. The hardest part is finding friends that share your interests, we are hoping to find a local travel group on Meetup or something but for now we will work on just getting some activity friends. Beyond that, I think we will occasionally sign up for a CampFI and call it good.

    1. Yes, we did read that book. A long time along, even before we discovered FIRE because Wanderer and I were daydreaming about travelling after coming back from our first ever vacation. It’s great book and really stirs the wanderlust.

      And yes, finding friends with similar interests and continuing to stay in contact with them is the challenging part of being a nomad. CampFI, Chautauqua, FinCon, these are all great events to create community. Most of our friendship circle is from Chautauqua now and it’s been the best thing ever!

  8. Thanks for sharing, I have travelled enough to understand how you’re feeling but I have a question for you, have you travelled Canada? Have you had the opportunity to check out the coasts, the rockies, the prairie towns? You may be in Canada for awhile so why not buy the used camper van and get out there and experience the country or even the province? Things are slowly opening back up and I’m sure with a little thought and a few precautions you could experience the grandeur of this country while waiting to continue exploring the rest of the world. Take the backroads and enjoy!

    1. Great suggestion. We might just do that. We were originally saving the Canada-wide travel for when we get older in our 60s and can’t travel internationally as easily. But if we need to be there for our parents, that might be happening earlier rather than later.

      Open to any suggestions you have about where in Canada we should travel to.

      1. I’ve been to lots of parts of Canada, most of which don’t quite want visitors at the moment. No part of Canada is super cheap but some are nice. Away from the major centres and the ultra-touristed places (Banff), you might like the Okanagan, the Atlantic provinces (St. John’s and Halifax), various parts of Quebec (let’s say Charlevoix), and the north (e.g. Whitehorse). Mail me if you want more info.

  9. Long time reader, first time commenter here. Boy can I relate. I grew up in France but have spent the majority of my life in the US, and love to travel (especially slow travel). In general, people who don’t move have deeper roots and ties, but less experiences, just like you describe. They tend to be more timid towards anything/anyone unknown, and because their day-to-day lives are so different and unrelated to what you or I might experience, it’s very hard to find commonality. Plus, I think you have the added “hurdle” of following a lifestyle (FIRE) that is super alien to most everyone on earth! I hope you don’t feel too sad and I’m glad you have Bryce to commiserate with (and all your nomad friends, of course). I like to think of it as, “nobody has it all.” This is the price one pays in order to have the extremely rich and adventurous life you do have. Imho, it’s a small price 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing, and all the best with your parents!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Fille Frugale. Yes, you are absolutely right that FIRE exacerbates that feeling. But given that Bryce and I are unconventional people and are very comfortable with being “fringe” people, we are happy with this lifestyle. It would be pretty boring to be exactly like everyone else, so I don’t feel bad for not fitting in. We are lucky that we have each other. For a single person, I’d imagine it would be way harder not fitting in.

  10. Guys, I think this is my favourite post of yours. While we do not live nomadic lives, we have been to over 25 countries and love the saying “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”. There’s something incredible about the experiences you make, the people you meet, the food you try out, the cultures you’re exposed to, the mistakes you make along the way, etc. No price tag can be put on those events and reliving past travels is one of my favourite things to do. There’s definitely pros and cons to travel and I’m always so happy to be sleeping in my own bed once we return from a trip but that exposure to just how crazy consumerism, advertising, and marketing is engrained in our North American world is priceless. We all need to take a step back and really ask ourselves what it is that we value and makes us happy. Likely, it’s not the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years. If you decide to travel within Canada for a bit once things start to open up, let us know when you’re in the Calgary area 🙂

    1. “that exposure to just how crazy consumerism, advertising, and marketing is engrained in our North American world is priceless”.

      Totally agree with this. It’s so easy to be trapped in the bubble of North American consumerism and travel is one of the best way to pop that bubble.

      If we decided to travel across Canada and end up in Calgary, we will reach out!

  11. Welcome home!

    Yes, travel can change you, at least travel done outside the 1-2 week packaged bubble tour. Honestly, I experienced as much of the same kind of disconnect you described with the bubble traveller as the non traveller.

    On the bright side, assuming home is still T.O., it’s a big city made up lots of different people. Just perhaps harder to find those with commonalities, in part thanks to the pandemic.

    1. Thanks, luytterlinde! Yes, you are right that T.O is big and there are lots of different people. I also have FIRE friends here due to Chautauqua and ChooseFI meetups, so it’s definitely possible to find like-minded people. I was also thinking of looking for people in the minimalism community once the shutdown is lifted. I bet they have similar mindsets as the FIRE and nomad community.

  12. Amazingly succinct description of benefits derived from living an unconventional, nomadic type of lifestyle. Your example and work may help inspire others to go for it, for that I offer my genuine gratitude. Even if only for a moment in time, the life-long benefits of tasting this way of being have extraordinary value. Thank you for the wonderful reminder!!

  13. Mentally have been back and forth on the topic, but over the years landing more and more on: nomadism is flawed as a long term strategy for most humans, and causes damage you might of wanted to avoid. As you have found, human nature tends to write off people who aren’t rooted in their own community.

    Seemingly one of the most common issues brought up by full time travel RV-ers (who aren’t traditional retirees) and van lifers is connections made tend to be many but shallow. Makes sense when you’re skipping town in a few days/weeks – one night stands and campfire nights galore. In your early twenties that is rather attractive but as you enter those full age adult years I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling of ending up as an irrelevant vagabond floating through the wind. Its seems common in the YouTube nomad channels that most “fail” w/ nomadism long term – they tend to find some place to call home, typically after 5 years or less being on the road.

    There was a period in my twenties that I ended up out of work and some money saved up. Not wanting to jump right back into work, I rented a small place and went to local sports center during the day to play with whomever showed up. I ended up meeting alot of people, making connections, getting invited to bbqs and overall just actually “living” (stuff that wasn’t happening when slaving away for BigCorp). Not being FiRE, I made a move a few months later and almost immediately my availability to live that rather pleasant life dried up.

    Looking back now; FiRE to me means enabling more of that kind of “living” than it does living out of a suitcase. Should I travel, it would preferably on adventure or a good cause such as to help my friends find their home. The Hobbit put it well: “go back to your books, your armchair, plant your trees, and watch them grow…. If more people valued home above gold[novelty] this world would be a merrier place.”

    After a few years of lighter nomadism, I’m trying the small home base concept (fun observation; many locales in the US will only permit new detached construction w/ at least 1400sqft!). Im filling it with my books, my armchair, and just a quiet place to hang my cap. Its not a move made in a vacuum: Unless you can afford to go full nomad/international, many many government/insurance/services etc don’t formally/easily accept you being completely or 50/50 mobile, so having a home base makes that easier to navigate/fill paperwork. Then there is small hedge of real estate equity/growth vs pure financial markets. Im close to the local sports center here and I get to both share my experiences and learn from others. Disappearing for a few weeks/months seems to be handled fairly well (socially acceptable?), and there is something special about having things set up your way when you get back to your home base.

    Ultimately I think FiRE allows you guys to actually do nomadism “right”. Without FiRE, 10 years of travel sounds like a tough place to start back up at 30-40. I do appreciate the fun little travel things you guys post here (like finding out about Portugal is one that comes to mind, want to check that out myself one day). Cheers!

    1. It’s kind of like the snowbird thing for Canadians (especially Montrealers). There is a home base but then when it gets snowy people go to Florida. I mean, I wouldn’t go to Florida, but staying in Waterloo for the winter isn’t that appealing. It doesn’t even have enough proper snow or topography.

      Having a home base is kind of expensive (depending on where it is) but it is perhaps worth it. I wouldn’t have one in Toronto. But there are cities that are not Toronto.

    2. Thanks for your detailed and insightful perspective, Warbucks. As time goes on and we age, inevitably, our perspectives will change. Whether that means we end up settling down in one spot, having a home base and travelling periodically, or continue being nomadic remains unknown, but FIRE has given us the incredible ability to choose. I think that’s why FIRE nomads are different from regular nomads in that we don’t have to worry about trying to find a job when we come back, so it elevates a lot of the stress that comes with a nomadic lifestyle.

      Who knows what the future holds, but I’m so grateful to have had the priceless world-travelling experience that changed my perspective on life.

  14. When the Pandemic began, I decided against going to the US, and am very glad I stayed away. I continued my itinerary: New Zealand (where we heard the news that Wuhan was being quarantined), Chile and Mendoza Argentina, and then a planned long-stay in Bogota Colombia. Well, the long stay went from 2 months to 6 – 7 months.
    My solution to the enforced quarantine was to look over the things I had planned for this year, and see how I could use the extra desk time I have. The website needed to move by the end of the year, so I moved it early. Upgraded the backend code, and got a nicer interface. Then I went off the rails. I spent alot of time studying Dropshipping and affiliate marketing, and wasted a month trying to set up a shop, but generally making a hot mess. But I had the time, and learned a lot from the experience.
    I went through the financials and tidied some things up. Went over my will and will finish a quick update when I know I’m entering the US where it must be witnessed. I am working on Italian citizenship and just before lockdown, got a list of papers I’ll need and worked on sending requests out for the papers. PASSPORT: I realized that my primary passport expires May 2021. I’d planned to casually renew in December when I expect to visit the US. I looked into renewing it here, but the US embassy is closed for passport applications and renewal. It is now urgent to somehow renew my passport this fall, so I’m checking every day for an announcement about openings. Zoom meetings, house concerts online, some Netflix and Amazon Prime Videos, and Spanish lessons! I’m so busy I wish I could get back on the road for a break!

    1. “I’m so busy I wish I could get back on the road for a break!”

      Haha, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that during the pandemic. You are my hero, Laura. You win the most productive during a pandemic award 🙂

  15. Preach!!! This resonated with me. I recently returned to Australia after living and working in Cambodia, and before that, a year of hiking around the world. The transition was so difficult and people don’t seem to understand it. Thank you so much for writing this.

    1. Hiking around the world sounds amazing, Leigh! We’ve only do it in Switzerland, Thailand, and the Canary Islands, and after being cooped up now I’m really hankering for some hikes in nature.

      Glad this article was helpful. Yeah, it’s really hard to explain to our friends and family what it’s like unless they’ve been through it.

  16. haha I hope you haven’t alienated your at-home friends and family by announcing how boring and mundane you find their interests. I think you’re 100% accurate but it’s never fun to hear 🙂 You’ve just reminded me of all the reasons I love traveling. Thank you. I’ll revisit this when I need a push to buy that flight and get the heck out of my routine.
    — also, as an Ottawan, I feel you on these *&^%#$ seasonal allergies.

    1. Ha ha. Don’t worry, they think I’m nuts so they’ll probably be relieved to be thought of as boring by a nutjob 🙂

      I used to live in Ottawa and yeah, my allergies were even worse there. Need to get moving soon. *travel five*

  17. I can relate with this, we returned home to Nigeria after spending a few years working abroad, it felt like most people have moved on without us except that they were more of the same i.e. gotten married, more kids, changed jobs, changed houses and so on. We have been back for a while but we haven’t fully caught up with all our friends. We are however establishing a network of family and friends who we cherish and whose company we enjoy.

    1. “We are however establishing a network of family and friends who we cherish and whose company we enjoy.”

      Yup, that’s the key Provident. Close friends and family will always welcome you back with open arms no matter how long you’ve been gone. I’ve decided I don’t need a big circle of friends, just a cherished small circle.

      Welcome home to Nigeria! Enjoy establishing your cherished circle of family/friends.

  18. i totally relate .. people do seem SO boring when i come back ..

    but after 30 years of travel ( not nomad , but weeks and months on end mostly in SE Asia etc )

    i have found a happy medium . i am retired very young .. and sold the house and the car . now just rent for fun days out .

    i have become richer from Covid . which i have to hide of course .. as i invested well in March .; experience and luck … (lots of cash and 100% equities is my new )…

    love the freedom now .. renting is awesome

    so i am in the middle .. which i like … i like to have a home base . i got sick and tired of new beds , rooms ,restaurants etc .. ALL the time . and meeting so many people , that also waned .

    and i have hobbies etc and a cat …

    my happy medium is a base and lots of travel .. which hopefully will return

    1. So true, ever after. Happy medium is the key. My friend Clover says “balance is the key to a happy life” and I agree with her. Gotta have balance in everything, never too much or too little of anything. Glad you found your rhythm!

  19. I completely agree with the cultural shock when coming back to North America after almost any long travel (thank you for the post) – its nearly impossible to come back and not to question a lifestyle around. I am about 10 months away from FIRE which is helpful not only to question it but to get answers too ;). Over the last years we took 3-4 months sabbaticals to small unknown places in Europe and the most challenging part is the time to readjust after coming back. One would think that the living style is our choice no matter where we live; what I found for myself is that it is true but only partially – environment still does effect to some degree at least – mostly in the corporational world and before some sort of readjustment I feel like an alien.

    1. Congrats on being only 10 months from being FI! *alien five*. It feels weird not to fit in but I’m also happier so it’ll works out in the end.

  20. Best post in a while.Lots of good stuff ; minimalism, alienation, travel as an addiction. Looking foward to more posts on how you manage the new normal. Drop a line if you ever come back to waterloo.

  21. SARS -> MERS -> COVID-19. Roughly 8 years apart and each is more serious than the previous. I will find an isolated island somewhere once this is calmed down.

  22. You definitely nail a lot of this. I definitely think you could get a lot of joy out of exploring Canada. It’s a huge country with tons to offer. Get a used, reliable Prius, a tent, a cooler, and hit the road. Camp when you want, stay in hotels when you feel you need that. It’s such a big country you could easily explore it for years and not see all of it.

    1. Oh yes, Zach, I agree. We were originally saving Canada-wide travel for when we are in our 60s and can’t move around as easily but looks like that might happen sooner rather than later. Open to any suggestion you have of where to go once things open back up.

  23. People grow and change over an entire lifetime, and this post seems to be a reflection of your own growth over the last few months.

    Most nomads I’ve met tend to “settle down” after awhile. Maybe they don’t stop traveling entirely, but the novelty does begin to wear off from what I can tell.

    Life becomes more about building connections (with friends and family) and finding a place where you fit in this world. Maybe that’s you guys in 10 years. Maybe not.

    Just an observation.

    1. Yup. As we age our perspectives will inevitably change. I think the novelty of travel now for us isn’t so much about what we see in the different places but rather meeting up with Chautauqua friends all over the world. So in that sense, it’s kind of like the world is one city and we are visiting our friends in different neighbourhoods.

      Now that we need to be close to home for family and because of the travel restrictions, we may just find a place in between North America and Europe (like Azores, or maybe iceland) where we can periodically meet up with our international community.

  24. This is consistent with our experience both back home and being in NZ as well. We definitely have culture shock in Waterloo normally, although people we hang out with are perhaps more like travellers than the average person in Waterloo. We don’t really have a nomadic lifestyle but we get away on sabbatical every few years and otherwise get out of town as often as possible, but not for a super long time.

    NZ is surprisingly low on culture shock and in some sense has less culture shock than we experienced moving from Quebec (via the US in my case) to Ontario. We also share restaurant portions in NZ as well. Our living space is 600sqft (but, sadly, not cheap; the view is excellent though).

    “Every day is different”: this was definitely not true while NZ was on lockdown. It is becoming more true again now that the restrictions here have eased. And the itchy feet are going away. We went back to Tongariro (where Mount Doom is) last weekend.

    As I think I’ve mentioned before, renting things unfortunately doesn’t work great with specialized technical gear. And now I’m missing some of my gear that I didn’t intend to have to need. Like backcountry skis. We meant to miss the winter, but here we are.

    I also miss some of the things in my kitchen. It hasn’t been possible to buy things for a while but I guess it is now.

    Parents: Even Waterloo to Montreal is pretty far. In this case we figured that if COVID happened we wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway. That is not true for non-pandemic issues though.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, plam. Living in NZ sounds like a dream. We had plans to visit a friend there but that got all blown up by covid. *sigh*. One of these days we’ll make it to NZ, it’s on my bucket list of places to visit.

      On the parents perspective, yes, ours also thought that Ottawa to Toronto is also too far. Now that we’ve been all the way in Thailand, Ottawa to Toronto seems pretty close. It’s all relative. But you’re right during covid, even if you’re in the city, there’s nothing you can do except talk to them through a cell phone camera.

      1. Definitely highly recommend visiting NZ (or, heck, my spouse would like to move to NZ, but it’s expensive. Not sure how people do it).

        Ottawa to Toronto is a bit far but Montreal to Waterloo is further on both ends. At some point there was a plane from YKF-YUL but that’s not really economically sustainable. All these are closer than Thailand of course.

  25. Kristy you said about resuming travel: “HELL YES! It might just be a slower, more local version of what we’re used to, but I believe travel has changed us for the better and I can’t imagine not living the nomadic life.”

    As you know, Mrs. NN and I adopted slow travel v1.0 as we started traveling the world nomadically back in 2018. Now with the pandemic and the fact that we have been (lucky) stuck in Taiwan since March, we are considering upgrading our lifestyle to slow travel v2.0 which would basically be slowing down even further. For instance instead of staying in a place for an entire month (v1.0), we might pick a country to stay for 3 months (v2.0). Instead of flying 12 times a year (v1.0), we would only fly once a quarter (v2.0). Instead of making a couple of strong connections in each place, we visit (v1.0), we might make a few (v2.0) and so on… We will also save overhead on re-building our routine

    Another benefit would be that we won’t have to pay the “set up your routine” overhead as much as it’s a fixed cost per location.

    It would be interesting to see which adjustments you guys are gonna make once travel opens up (hopefully soon) and your resume your nomadic lifestyle. Until then, enjoy quality time with your family and friends that you have next to you 🙂

    1. I like your future travel plans, Mr. NN. As you know, I’m super jealous that you guys get to ride this whole thing out in Taiwan, where they didn’t even have to shut things down.

      Who knows what our travelling life is going to look like going forward, but the best thing is having options. We can chat about this and make more plans once the travel restrictions are lifted.

  26. I can’t agree more. I’m back to Ottawa early from a winter of house and pet sitting in Ecuador & Panama. My friends couldn’t be more UNINTERESTED in my travels.

    It’s stunning to hear them complaining about dandelions in the lawn, the same old “dramatic” family relationships and how bad the traffic has gotten in their small neighbourhood. Nothing has changed with them…. but every year when I return for the summer, I feel a deeper change in me.

    Sure, I miss a home base but to re- start up my old life just seems to be way too much energy that I would rather put into travel and seeing another country.

    Thinking about buying a SUV and car camping this is summer because most of my house sits have canceled. There’s something to be said for exploring your own backyard until Covid settles down.

    Living simply, not wanting much and the freedom make this vagabond lifestyle possible.

    1. “complaining about dandelions in the lawn…”

      ha ha. I have noticed that there are a TON of dandelions in Canada. There are carpets of them everywhere! I don’t remember ever seeing this many in other parts of the world. Probably why my allergies are acting up.

      I like your idea of car camping this summer. We might do that going forward for local travel if we need to be here for our family. You’re right that simplifying your life makes everything better and happier.

  27. This was left as a comment on the One Mile at a Time blog several years ago. I’ve saved it and read it often (especially now that I too am stuck back “home” after being gone for almost 20 years).

    The Curse of a Traveler

    “An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that’s perfect (we all know there’s no Shangri-La), but just for a place that’s “just right for you.” But the curse is that the odds of finding “just right” get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

    Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can’t travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you’ve seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

    None of this is to suggest that one should ever reduce travel. It’s just a warning to young Travelers, to expect, as part of the price, a rich life tinged with a bit of sadness and loneliness, and angst that’s like the same nostalgia everyone feels for special parts of their past, except multiplied by a thousand”

    1. This is beautiful, flybyFIRE! Very accurate. I think in our case, the only way to escape the “curse” is to connect with the circle of other FIRE nomad friends we have with weekly online chats and yearly global meetups. They are the only ones who truly get us. Those friendships are worth their weight in diamonds.

  28. Do you know what a third culture kid is?

    My mother is French, my father Canadian and I was born in Canada. I didn’t really live in Canada until I was a young adult, I grew up in the Middle East and moved a lot in the Middle East. I always though I was Canadian, that is what I identified as yet when I moved to Canada realized I knew nothing about it and it’s people/culture. Everyone placed expectations on me as they though I was Canadian, but then would get extremely mad at me for being lazy and doing everything wrong. I felt like an outsider, I couldn’t relate.
    I went out of my way to meet other like me who had similar backgrounds and we all had similar experiences to coming ‘home’.
    There’s a lot of article that have been written on third culture kid and how physiologically this affects our relationship to the notion of home. The newness aspect is a little similar too and the feeling of needing to move. The feeling of new becomes comfortable and the idea of settling scary as it is foreign.

    1. Huh, thanks for sharing that term, Mel. I might’ve heard of it before but I didn’t remember until you mentioned it. I think being born in China and immigrating to Canada, and then living in all those places in the world does have that effect. Do you relate to being Canada, French, or living in the Middle East most? And do you think it affects your friendship circles?

      1. I now feel a greater attachment to the Middle Eastern culture, yet because I do not look it I think it creates a complex situation where I feel I need to justify myself over and over again. Or remain in silence with a sort of hidden identity.
        It does affect my friend group, most being more international or with a history or moving. What I find interesting is that I have realized I was bought up to make friends really fast and enjoy the time we had together as you would never know how long it would last with other families moving as much as we were. But I never developed until adulthood how to stay friend maintain and built relationships while being in the same location. I keep contact with old friends online but it’s a very different situation then people who have known each other for years while living in the same town.

  29. What I find is that everything feels small even when you’ve only travelled a bit. Especially when you live like a local elsewhere. Even Toronto. People from Toronto say that Toronto is world class but it isn’t and when you ask them to explain what makes it world class, they can’t. Toronto feels like a hick town. Don’t get me wrong. Toronto is ok, it’s just not anything special.

    As for people being disinterested with your wordly travels, it’s not disinterest, it’s actually veiled envy.

    1. “Toronto is world class but it isn’t”

      Ha ha that phrase reminded me of this book I just read recently called “How to be a Canadian”. There’s a section about how to insult people from different part of Canada (tongue-in-cheek obviously ’cause the author is Canadian). For people from Toronto, it’s “not from a world class city” and for everyone else it’s “Torontonian”. That book cracks me up.

      There are some people who are dismissive because they are jealous when I tell them about our travels, but not everyone. Some people just don’t like travelling and that’s fine. Everyone has their own preferences. You gotta do you. It’s more about the fact that your old friends and you no longer “get” each other because your life experiences are so different. So in that case, some friendships just end up fizzling and you find a new circle of friends who get you.

  30. Super interesting insight.

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions that we won’t need to visit the U.S. for more than 2-4 weeks per year.

    The aging parents are certainly a concern, but will cross that bridge when we get to it.

    1. Yeah, aging parents are something that every travelling will have to worry about going forward, but we are grateful we got 5 years of nearly-uninterrupted travel. Priceless experience. Happy travels to you! (once the borders open back up of course)

  31. Everything becomes routine if you do it long enough, including travelling.

    I’ve travelled a lot less than many on here; aside from 5 months in Europe (where I mostly stayed in the same two countries), I’ve never been anywhere for longer than about 2 weeks, and oftentimes a lot less. Over the twenty-something countries I’ve been to, the routine mostly comes down to locating food and shelter and walking or otherwise finding transportation to see or do “worthwhile” things and hopefully meeting some new people. You look for things to do just to do them, and that’s not without its charms – certainly appreciating the differences and similarities between different places and cultures is enriching. But I’ve found that if I’m doing nothing else it starts feeling empty.

    These days I don’t yearn to take trips so much. Settling down and having “things” isn’t all empty consumerism – although you do have to be careful not to get sucked into that. I like forcing myself to get my hands dirty and learning how to set up a pool, repair, sand, and stain a deck, learning the basics of electricity, and maintaining a couple of cars – learning how to beautify, improve and make things last – while occasionally going to work and otherwise studying/training for something on the side. It makes me feel like I’m growing more than just being on an endless loop of meeting new travellers in new places over and over again. I’m ok with the fact that I now sometimes go for days without leaving my modest property in suburbia.

    I value travel and am grateful for the little corners of the world I’ve been lucky enough to see so far, but there’s more to life than just seeing new things all the time. When travelling, everything is temporary and at least a little superficial. For me there’s value in learning to build a certain amount of depth and permanence.

    After all, the things that we enjoy when we travel to new places were built by people who decided to stay in that place.

    1. “learning how to beautify, improve and make things last”. I like this idea. And it’s good for the environment too.

      Yes, travel for the sake of travel becomes meaningless after awhile. It’s important to take the lessons it gives you and use it to build your friendship circle rather than subtract from it.

      Glad you are happy with your lifestyle and it’s working out for ya 🙂

  32. Have been living in the Forbidden City 🙂 and Asia for 22 years now as an international school teacher… expat…married a descendant of the Chinese royal family…. so yes returning home to … visit … small town Canada to see friends and family is always a big reverse culture shock …. and we do feel like ALIENS IN A STRANGE LAND when back home …. expat families and my students all go through this all the time … and I do not look forward to resettling back home again …which is soon … I already have itchy feet to go somewhere else abroad … to retire…. like maybe Portugal, Hong Kong or Haikou etc … maybe after our daughter finishes school … which might be in Vancouver … 😀 etc etc etc God Bless

    1. Sounds like you are living the life, Michael! Coming back to Canada from Asia, the change is especially pronounced because the culture is SO different. I get less culture shock coming back from Europe–though it is still a change.

      I’m curious to know where you eventually end up settling down/retire to. No matter where we end up, my heart will always be in Chiang Mai.

  33. Hi there,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I can very much related to it. I am curious by nature and was always curious about different countries and cultures. I started reading travel books when I was 20 and also went to a lot of slide show presentations from people who have traveled for longer and to unusual places.
    When I was 24 I managed to be posted for a project for a year to Namibia, Africa. This has impacted my whole live. I was to scared to leave the company for a longer travel period, but managed to see a bit of the world with international assignments in Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe. When back in my home country Germany, I was also posted every time to a different city.
    For me it was a bit frustrating that friends and people in the village i come from never really asked about my experiences.
    Interesting enough, now during the lock down i became stuck by accident exactly at that village where I am born, which I was visiting to take care of my parents. I am there since 2,5 month, never having stayed for such a extended period at this place since I was 18. I started to rediscover the place and have seen places in the surroundings i have never seen before. I must say in a way I like it. It feels good that people know me here since childhood. And I can appreciate a lot of things, I guess especially because of the different places i lived in. Often these are very simple things like the smell of the grass or the forest.
    Coincidentally I also stopped work end of a March (in home office), with a lot of travel plans and even flights already booked. Now waiting for things to improve. Asia is also on my travel list, since part of the family lives in Singapore.
    Long message for a start…..;-))
    Wishing you well und looking forward to future adventures.

  34. Loooove this post – especially because you covered those ‘who gives a shit about your fence’ moments vs. the familial obligations, which pretty much sums up the internal battle I had last year in going from ‘corporate job/living in place I hate’ to ‘freelancer/moving across the country’! Also a great reminder to stay in the present – without that, I think any happiness is short-lived!

  35. We’ve done both the nomadic life and owning-a-suburban-home-and-all-the-gadgets life. Now we found a happy medium – a low-cost, minimalist life renting a suburban home. We travel a few times a year. It works well as we have daughter (age 6) now.

    As for being with family – we found that visits twice a year results in more quality family time than living close by when you still only see them for a few hours, say every 2 months. With older parents, we will be staying close to home for the foreseeable future.

    Culture shock – on a flight back to the US – we had an overnight layover in PHL. The packaged “breakfast” at the hotel tasted like a combination of chalk and cardboard. The only saving grace was I could finally eat my mom’s cooking again.

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