Why Do We Have to Go Back?

By Jennifer Miller on July 26th, 2016
BootsnAll
If you’ve ever traveled long-term (for weeks, months or years) and then tried to come home, you’re familiar with that feeling of conflict over leaving the exhilaration of life on the road for the perceived hum-drum of “real” life at home.

It’s not that life at home is hum-drum… quite the contrary. In fact, some of the best adventures happen in our own backyards. But travel changes our perspective, and with it, our expectations of self and others.

The Road and Our Truest Selves

It’s easy to feel, when we’re away, that we can be our truest selves, that we aren’t bound by the constraints of convention or societal expectations. We aren’t defined by who we’ve always been or the perceptions of those who have known us for years. It’s easy to throw off those chains, and hard to face taking them on again.

It’s easy to feel like we’re experiencing a truer life, a more vital version of ourselves, the world as it really exists instead of the world we left behind. And perhaps we do.

“There are people who return to the road again and again in search of that magic. They delay coming home because the road’s a drug they can’t give up.”

travel, roads, journey

Often we find ourselves wondering: What is that “something” magic about travel; why do we need to go back to recover it; why can’t that little bit of magic stay with us forever. We’re reticent to return because we know, we just know, that it’s going to come to an end. There are people who return to the road again and again in search of that magic. They delay coming home because the road’s a drug they can’t give up.

I have news for you.

The magic isn’t in the travel. It’s in you, and you don’t have to go back to the way things were before, not ever. Even if you return home and stay there.

Of course, we all go back eventually, in the physical sense, to “home.” Maybe we don’t go back to the place of our birth, or the place that we left, but eventually, virtually everyone stops moving forward, creates a stationary life, and builds everyday routines around that existence. Whether or not we actually go back to a version of how we lived before our big trip, or we use our return as an opportunity for progress and reinvention in light of things learned about ourselves and the world while we were traveling is another question entirely.

“Eventually virtually everyone stops moving forward, creates a stationary life, and builds everyday routines around that existence.”
It seems to me that the real issue at the core of this struggle with going back is the idea that there is more to life and the world than our previous inner construct accounted for; we’re all well aware of how hard it is to integrate that into a daily life that doesn’t force us to come face to face with things outside of our comfort zone.

When we’re traveling, we understand loneliness. We’re forced to work to make connections and build relationships and communities. We actively think about every little decision from where and what to eat to what we carry with us.

We’re acutely aware of our surroundings because they are unfamiliar. We’re actively watching the cultures and societal constructs we find ourselves in because we are, on the most basic level, trying to learn enough to get by and not offend our hosts.

We form connections with other travelers more easily, it seems, than we do with people at home because we share certain values that brought us here, and because there is an instant bond that somehow forms through shared hardship or adventure, and travel is both.

There is an undeniable siren song that the world sings to some of us, a song that draws us away in search of people and experiences beyond our original sphere. The concept of “going back” is one that we grapple with for as long as we travel, and often for the rest of our lives.

“We form connections with other travelers more easily, it seems, than we do with people at home because we share certain values that brought us here, and because there is an instant bond that somehow forms through shared hardship or adventure, and travel is both.”
I was talking about this with my Dad a while back. He was a vagabond in the days of the dharma bums but always went his own way. A friend recently asked him what his most recent trip had been.

“I had to think about it for a moment,” he said, “Until I realized that he meant this little journey we just took because I’ve never stopped traveling… we’re still on our first trip.”

And therein, I think, lies the secret and the answer.

Inherent in the concept of “going back” is the return to one thing in exchange for the other. What if we decided to look at it differently? What if we decided that The Hobbit poet was right when he sang:

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

Moving Forward vs. Going Back

What if we never went back, but instead continued to move forward even if that forward motion carried us right back to where we began? The choice to abandon the “magic” of life on the road is a choice, my friends. It has almost nothing to do with what’s happening in the world around us. After all, there are travelers passing through various hometowns all over the world on any given day.

Moving forward has everything to do with how we choose to live our inner lives and the core values that we build our character houses upon and little to do with location .

going home, fences, limits

“What if we never went back, but instead continued to move forward even if that forward motion carried us right back to where we began?”

If instead, we choose to continue our journey, for a lifetime, instead of chunking up our decades into “adventures” and “hum-drum,” then what we once saw as an ending becomes yet another beginning, and the doldrums an expected season during a very long voyage.

How can we do that?

What does it look like?

What are the core values that we shape through travel that we could be taking home and remaking life with?

These are all questions that beg serious, thoughtful consideration and discussion. There isn’t any one right answer.

For me and mine, at home or away, the core values we live by are:

  • Community
  • Hospitality
  • Generosity, and
  • Learning

We’ve had an especially good time experimenting with living those ideals out on the road over the better part of a decade. We actively build community everywhere we go through food and music, an open door policy, and a willingness to listen and give to those around us.

When we’re “back,” it’s the same. Our family mantra of, “Love people, not things,” is one that travels well and snuggles down into a long-term community equally well. For us, we’ve made a conscious choice to be travelers always, even when we aren’t on a RTW trip or traveling, part of that choice is a decision to be home always, even when there isn’t a familiar roof over head.

Want to get to know the world on a gap year?
“Take the lessons you’ve learned home with you. Let the values and passions you’ve developed take root in your soul.”
You don’t have to go back.

It’s your choice.
You can choose to go forward.

Take the lessons you’ve learned home with you. Let the values and passions you’ve developed take root in your soul.

Bring the convictions that make you (and sometimes others) uncomfortable but that have pushed you to grow and engage differently with this world home with you.

Let the trinkets that will decorate your house serve as a physical reminder of the souvenirs of the heart that have changed who you are.

And then carry on, traveling through this life, honoring all of your journey instead of setting it aside and picking it apart into sections. Take home what you’ve experienced and what you know, and use it to actively build the life you want to be living.

Don’t go back, go forward. You’re always traveling, even when the scenery doesn’t change much. Your core values can (and should) drive your lifestyle and decisions. They don’t need to be boxed and put on a shelf like an old sweater when the season changes.

“If we refuse to stop traveling, even when we arrive home, we don’t have to lose the sense of urgency and energy we went so far to acquire.”
It’s hard work. I know. But so is traveling. What makes traveling so difficult and life-changing is being pushed outside of our comfort zones, the continual struggle, the decisions that we must make in every moment and continue to make. Very little happens by default on the road. But that difficulty is also the source of the exhilaration. If we refuse to stop traveling, even when we arrive home, we don’t have to lose the sense of urgency and energy we went so far to acquire.

If we continue to greet every day as an opportunity to learn and grow and push our boundaries, then the same sense of wonder we had on the road will be in attendance. It’s not about where we are at, in the physical sense, it’s about how we are meeting the world each day. That doesn’t have to change when we go home.

Share your stories of “going back” with us. What was your experience like? What have you learned? Are you still traveling? If not, how has your trip impacted your stationary life?

Want to learn more about long-term travel? Check out the articles below:

  • 11 Skills to Learn on Your RTW Trip
  • A Practical Guide to Planning a Short RTW
  • How to Build Your RTW Route

    Photo credits: shutterstock.com, Phudis Chawakornwarajoti / shutterstock.com, Professional foto / shutterstock.com, Kiwi Innovation