Life After Backpacking: 5 Tips for Settling Down But Still Daydreaming
There comes a time in the life of many backpackers when they have to put the pack down and do a bit of settling. I know some of you out there argue with this. But, at some point, the majority of people decide that settling down a little — getting a mortgage, perhaps having children, etc. — is something they want to do, and they’re prepared to give up their globetrotting, wandering lifestyle in exchange for their new priorities.
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But no matter how wonderful the new priorities are, settling down is never easy for people who are used to traveling. I don’t have to look further than myself for a good example. I spent a few years taking trips from my home in Perth, then six years living in three different countries and traveling constantly from these new bases. I didn’t even want to return to Australia just yet but circumstances kind of worked out that way. And now, two years into the “settling down” process, I still have extraordinarily itchy feet and regular moments of stress where I wish I could book a flight somewhere and get far away from this settled-down life.
Australians in particular — or so I’ve heard — are renowned for wandering the world, working overseas, or backpacking for years, but very often coming home to settle down. Many of my Aussie friends have done something similar. From their experiences as well as my own, I’ve learned a few ways to deal with this inevitable phase and learn that a life led not constantly on the road is alright too.
Here are some of my tips if you find yourself in the same situation:
#1: Keep Learning About the World
Read, surf the net, chat on online forums, and Facebook your long-lost travel friends to keep learning about what’s happening out there in the big wide world. When you’re in a more settled-down phase it’s easy to get caught up with conversations about the latest local reality TV show and the gossip of small-town politics. Make an effort to keep learning about the rest of the world.
I have a lovely example of this from a good friend of mine who’s a more vehemently independent traveler than me. Now that she’s put down the backpack to marry a guy who’s not so interested in travel, and she’s had a baby, she’s found a unique way to deal with her itchy feet. While she’s feeding her baby — those long hours that others might spend watching mindless TV — she keeps an atlas open in front of her, memorizing the geography of the continents where she’s traveled least. She can already draw an accurate map of all the countries of South America, and now she’s moved on to figuring out how those many nations of Africa fit together.
#2: Do Some Micro-Traveling in Your Own Part of the World
Whether you’ve settled back in your hometown or somewhere new, it’s too easy to fall into the routine of driving to the same supermarket, meeting friends at the same pubs or restaurants, and spending weekends at home in front of the TV.
Remember that, to somebody else, visiting your hometown is traveling. Imagine their perspective and get out and really get to know your area.
I was lucky in this respect since I returned to Perth with a German husband who’d never been here before. So playing the tour guide was natural. I got to know all about my home city and discovered all kinds of places I never knew about before. I also try to keep in touch with the various local festivals and events that come our way, just like I’d do if I was still backpacking.
#3: Do the Pre-Trip Research You Always Wanted to Do
When I was traveling almost full-time, it was impossible to learn as much about my destinations as I wanted to before I arrived. I don’t mean planning a minute-by-minute itinerary, but rather reading and learning about the culture and people of a city or country. For a start, when I was on the road it wasn’t easy to source English language books that were related to the places I was hoping to visit. On top of that, I didn’t always have that much time between trips or location changes.
Now that I’ve settled down, I’m catching up on trip research from the past as well as researching more thoroughly for the future. I love to find novels set in the cities and places that I’ve visited, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting reads about the destinations I hope to visit someday.
#4: Stay in Contact With Foreigners
One of the saving graces of my settling down period has been my job as a teacher of English as a foreign language. That means that every day in my classroom I chat with people from at least three continents and get to continually learn about cultures and countries that interest me. But outside of work, I’ve made sure to keep in touch with a few foreign friends who also live in my city. That way I don’t feel totally absorbed back into my hometown culture. Plus, I can also do a bit of vicarious traveling through them as they visit their home countries and come back with gifts and stories.
I also keep in contact with the various people I’ve met along the way in my travels, whether they’re ex-colleagues or ex-students from my various teaching jobs, or friends, neighbors and traveling companions I’ve bumped into along the way. One nice side effect is that a number of my ex-colleagues are still traveling the world and teaching in far-flung corners of the globe and reading their emails about adventures in Cali, Colombia or Guangzhou, China is almost as good as being there myself.
One of the best things I learned while traveling is that I have the skills and know-how to travel anywhere in the world, somehow. Knowing this, I can spend time on my commute to work or while cooking dinner to daydream about destinations I’ll get to sometime in the future.
Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating to know that my mortgage means I can’t take off to Bhutan tomorrow (that’s our latest interest — my husband wants to meet the happiest people in the world). But it’s all a matter of give-and-take.
I spent a decade traveling whenever and wherever I wanted, and now the trade-off is that I have a house I like and a family of my own. But that’s not the end of my traveling life, and opportunities can arise out of nowhere. I’ve always got ideas in my head about the places I’ll travel to when I have a chance in the future.