Confessions of a Lifestyle Traveller

Editor’s note: Sometimes we’re all guilty of being envious of another’s lifestyle. We want to take a RTW trip like our friend Matt. We yearn to be happy with our job like our cousin Patty. We dream of having a great family life like our brother Hector. The following story is written by Samantha, a “lifestyle traveler,” who discusses the ups and downs and internal struggles with her “weird” lifestyle, ultimately coming to terms with who she is and what her life looks like.    

As far back as I can remember, I always knew I would travel. Funnily enough it was Australia – a land so exotic that it made my stomach churn with excitement – that was my childhood dream. Yet I still haven’t made it to the land down under. I’m on my way though…just taking my time getting there.

I grew up abroad, and being a blonde, blue-eyed English child in Spain I was always going to be the foreigner. Yet I was a foreigner in England, too, when we visited the grandparents once a year. For the country wasn’t my home, the food was strange, and my mother used to dress me in so many clothes I could barely move my arms against an unfamiliar cold. I was happy and loved my childhood in Spain, spending weekends on the beach splashing in our swimming pool and summers sailing a little dinghy around clear blue waters. When, at the age of 13; however, my parents announced our move back to the UK, I was excited beyond belief. For the first time in my life I wouldn’t be the foreign one. I’d be just like everyone else.

For the first time in my life I wouldn’t be the foreign one. I’d be just like everyone else.

I was quick to realize; however, that this was not the case. My accent was “weird,” I dressed differently, and I had absolutely no idea of British popular culture – a major factor in life as a teenager. It dawned on me at that young and impressionable age that England wouldn’t be my home for life. It didn’t come to me as a thunder clap of realization; it was just always there in the back of my mind.

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I soon found my groove in England, and adapted as all children do. I spent many happy years at high school and made lifelong friends. Yet I headed off to university knowing deep down that I would never again live in my home town. I am close to my family, and I speak to them almost daily from wherever I am in the world. I wasn’t running from anything or anyone – I just knew there was so much more out there.

The seed is planted

At the age of 21 my best friend and I inter-railed around Europe, a trip that was to change my life forever. Never had I felt the freedom and thrill of waking up in one country and deciding which new one to go to that day. We had no plan, did very little research, and were naively fortunate that our aimless wanderings of southern and eastern Europe resulted in such a wonderful trip. But for me it was more than just seeing the Coliseum, partying on tiny Greek islands, getting stuck for four days on a train from Istanbul, or rowing across a lake in Slovenia. It was a realization that this was what I wanted from life.

After university I set off to South America for a four month trip. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and like many graduates felt a bit lost. I hoped four months in South America would give me time and distance from the “real” world, and that a big shining light of realization would appear before me at the top of Machu Pichu.

Of course it didn’t quite pan out in the dramatic fashion my young, naive mind had envisioned. In fact, it was to become so much more life-changing than I could ever have imagined. On that trip I traveled from Chile to Mexico, I swam with alligators in Brazil, learned to scuba dive, and hiked the Inca Trail. And I met my Israeli husband.

I hoped four months in South America would give me time and distance from the “real” world, and that a big shining light of realization would appear before me at the top of Machu Pichu.

One week before my scheduled flight back to the UK I met Niv in a hostel in sunny Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I changed my flight and spent the next two months earning enough pesos to eat, scuba dive, and have the time of my life. I will always remember that decsion as the Sliding Doors moment of my life – or for those that haven’t seen the movie, a fork in the path of life. What if I’d simply gotten on the plane?

After two months in Mexico I made the decision to give Israel a try. My family and friends were understandably concerned. “But isn’t it dangerous?” was the first question everyone asked. If I’m honest, I didn’t know anything about Israel – but that’s what made it so alluring.

Life on the road

It was at this point that my loved ones started to realize that maybe I wouldn’t be coming back to the UK, and for several years, during the time when friends were buying first houses and getting proper jobs, I was elsewhere. Holidays back to the UK were strange for those first couple of years, and once again I started feeling like a bit of a foreigner amongst family and friends. I missed the people back home, but I didn’t envy their lives, however happy they were. The idea of tying myself down to one place formed a knot of panic in the pit of my stomach. I loved my weird, exotic adventures – although I was aware they made me seem slightly eccentric at times.

It was during this time that I started travel writing. I had never dreamed of being a writer, nor did I feel I had much talent for such an endeavour. Yet Israel begged to be written about – and not from a political perspective, but from a traveler’s one. I first moved to Israel at a time of significant political instability, and guidebook publishers had stopped producing new editions as tourism waned. I approached Bradt Travel Guides, and together we decided that Israel deserved a new guidebook (today I still write guidebooks, a career I know I am hugely fortunate to have).

It was about about a week later that Niv asked if I’d like to move to Beijing. He’d been offered a job, and we had one week to decide. I always wonder how other people would have dealt with this proposition. Endless discussions of the pros and cons? Stress and sleepless nights mentally listing everything that would have to be arranged? Fear and apprehension about embarking on a new life knowing no-one? I had but one question: how do we get the cats there?

We did get the cats there – a feat which many people called me crazy for even attempting (in fact, we have taken a total of four cats on six flights between five countries since that day, and people still say we’re crazy…sometimes I might be inclined to agree).

Some new travel challenges arise

China was an experience. Never had I felt so out of my comfort zone, so entranced, stimulated, frustrated, or challenged. My two years in Beijing were wonderful and memorable – I wrote more guidebooks, traveled to incredible places, and learned to live with daily challenges. Yet I knew very early on that this wasn’t somewhere I could live for long. After a year I was ready to move on, but where to? Not the UK or Israel – we’d been there and done that. There was so much more to see, and despite living in an exotic, foreign land, I had itchy feet.

It was around this time that Facebook came into our lives. Online reunions with friends from school and university prompted the questions “Where do you live? What do you do?” It was at this point that I would begin to feel eccentric once again. To me, my life was normal. I went to the supermarket, I had dinner with friends, and went away for weekends in the country, just like everyone else. I just did it in Israel..or China.

One afternoon, we had another Sliding Doors moment: two propositions, two countries, two choices. Australia – my childhood dream – was one, but Niv hated his job, and we knew doing it in another country wouldn’t change that fact. The other was to spend six months working on a yacht. In one afternoon (actually in one hour) we opted for the latter, and within a month were on our way back to Europe.

There was so much more to see, and despite living in an exotic, foreign land, I had itchy feet.

My wanderlust was satiated for a while on the boat, from where I could write and wake up in a new port every morning, but once again we started planning for the next move. Why couldn’t we go “home” and settle down like everyone else? Why didn’t a home and a permanent job excite us the way it did others? We asked ourselves and each other this many times, and from time to time we’d even convince ourselves that we actually did want that. But we both knew it wasn’t true – deep down we were just bending to the rules of society, and what is deemed “normal.” Friends and family would ask less regularly, and eventually I stopped feeling eccentric. Until we moved to Utila…and then eccentricity became part of my every day life.

Utila – why I travel

Utila, a tiny island off the Honduran Coast, is known for its scuba diving, and we decided to go and further our diving education. We planned to go for three months and ended up staying three years. I think we even tried to leave a couple of times, but the lure of the quirky little island, with its friendly locals, warm, fish-laden waters, and relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere was too strong for us to fight. Utila was a world away from England, Israel, or China – the “real world” as it was known to those who lived on the island. As my friends lives got more complicated with mortgages, children, and careers, ours was getting simpler. It was impossible to describe our way of life, and hard as they tried, it was impossible for our families to understand. We are lucky to have always been supported in everything we do by our proud families, and while we are happy, so are they.

But slowly, over the three years, something strange happened to me: I got what I truly believed was homesick. I longed to go to the weddings I was missing, meet the babies I didn’t know, and have the comforts of the “real world.” Life on the island that could have been the set for Caribbean Eastenders started to stifle me, and I truly felt like I lived on a different planet. At the same time the prospect of life in the “real world” terrified me – I felt I needed a halfway-house for this kind of reverse culture shock.

But slowly, over the three years, something strange happened to me: I got what I truly believed was homesick.

Our last summer living in Utila we went back to Europe for a month and got married. Our closest family and friends from around the world converged on a small village in Spain for a week of merriment and happiness. But for Niv and I there was a much deeper realization. It didn’ matter where in the world we lived, how many months went by without seeing our loved ones, or how different all of our lives were. Along the way, together, we had all got past the weirdness, the eccentricity, and the distance. They will always be the people we love most.

We left Utila and went back in Spain. Yet by the time this is published that is probably not going to be true. I honestly believed that we wanted normality when we left the Caribbean. But only six months on and the wanderlust is creeping its way back into my heart. I decided to write this article now, as something quite momentous has finally dawned on me: my life is traveling. That doesn’t mean I throw a backpack over my shoulder and sleep in a different hostel every night (despite how wonderful that sounds), but more that I don’t really live anywhere. The phrase “At the moment we’re living in…” has become the norm to me, and perhaps it always will.

A “lifestyle traveler”

I feel I’ve been full circle, and perhaps it’s turning 30 and getting married that has made me so reflective. But through my journey this past decade – the ups, the downs, the decisions, and the adventures, I’ve finally realized a thing or two. I’ve realized I need to stop fighting the conflicting feelings I’ve had for so long inside my head and heart; those that compel me to keep going , to explore the next place, to go somewhere new, and those that tell me to settle down. A life abroad may at times be lonely, and getting to know a new place can be tiring and frustrating. I will miss the birthdays, the weddings, and the Christmases from time to time. Few people can say that their life is perfect – I just have different concerns and worries to people living more conventional lifestyles.

I’ve realized I need to stop fighting the conflicting feelings I’ve had for so long inside my head and heart; those that compel me to keep going , to explore the next place, to go somewhere new, and those that tell me to settle down.

But I am a lifestyle traveler – a term I stumbled across only recently, maybe created to define people just like me. I love the excitement of a new place, the joy of planning for a new destination, the unimaginable adventures that daily life offers. I don’t know why I am this way. Maybe because of my childhood, I’ll always be more confortable as the foreigner, just a little out of my comfort zone. And perhaps I’ll settle down one day…who knows, it might even be in Australia.

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

Photo credits:  Nabil Darwish, icelight, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission

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Leave a Comment

  • Paul Elverstone said at 2014-02-03T22:02:27+0000: Your article resonates a lot to where I was in 2009. Sitting in a coffee shop in Bangkok wondering if I still wanted to do this. Moving on, over and over again. Somewhere new and exciting but equally without foundation or security. Stuck it out for another couple of years before finally heading back to the UK. When it came down to brass tacks, I wanted to be around family and friends but surrounded by the things that I loved about travelling: simplicity, beauty, calm, intrigue, drama, peace. Between Spain and the UK I'm sure you can find everything that you want in one place. Sometimes it is something that you just grow into...
  • Dianne Baroudy said at 2014-02-08T19:04:35+0000: Story of my life :) thanks for writing this article, made me realize that other people are going through the same thing as I am and that it's okay to live differently from what is "conventional."
  • Lee Laurino said at 2014-02-04T02:56:48+0000: wonderful account of travel from the inside. finally after 40 years of work i can go and do as i like....but i have a questions that is important to me, do you think that it is easier or less complicated to travel the world 'freelance' as a couple than solo? i have just started www.maturesolotravel.com and plan to explore life around the world solo .......not as a gap year year or a 20 something without the baggage of life to drag around..
  • Kelly O'Laughlin said at 2014-02-03T19:13:38+0000: lovely article.
  • Joan McKniff said at 2012-07-09T23:23:30+0000: at age 65, I left France after almost 40 years of living and working on 5 continents, starting as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1963, with my cat from Madagascar days, and moved to Florida. Now, 6 years later, including too brief trip to Cuba, have lived at same place for longest time ever since being a child at my parents'. Thinking about painting the walls! What a wonderful, full life.
  • Mike Spells said at 2012-07-15T11:48:20+0000: Oh this is my life..Great Article!
  • Nikki Webb said at 2012-08-28T01:23:57+0000: Wow your article has really inspired me and struck a cord. I'm currently at the start of my adventure, having spent the last three months working in a Canadian summer camp. The plan is to visit Ecuador and then work in NZ, Aus and then travel SE Asia. However that's a detailed as the plan goes. How and when I get there don't matter. I'm living day by day and taking opportunities as they come. My friends and family don't get it, they don't understand how I can travel for so long without any plans. Your article helps explain this need to see the world and not settle. I love it and will be sharing it with my friends and family in the hope that they will understand a bit more.
  • Pardha Pothana said at 2012-08-30T17:12:56+0000: Excellent article. Could not stop till the end. Please keep writing. You have any blog?
  • Susan Feltoe said at 2012-08-30T08:14:25+0000: I admire your story. I admire your courage. Well done you!
  • Boomeresque said at 2012-07-09T19:04:07+0000: I'll be curious to know how having children (if they are in your future) works for you as a lifestyle traveler? We found that once the wee ones came along, we were very grateful to have family living close by. Please don't take this as a value judgment. I suspect children can grow up well-adjusted and happy as lifestyle travelers as long as they feel secure with their parents.
  • Rochelle Saracanlao said at 2012-08-24T10:13:13+0000: Hi, I'm 22 from the Philippines. I was really inspired by this read. I like what you did with your life. I am always restless when I'm not on the road. So far I have visited lot local places and had opportunity to visit a country abroad. God bless and thanks again for inspiring me. :) Right after med school I will pack my bags and wander around.