I did it.
I quit my job, sold my stuff and took my wife on a journey across the world. It’s been a year and a half since we last saw our families, driven on the right side of the road, or tasted the sweet chocolaty goodness of a Wendy’s Frosty.
I did what everyone in our generation at least thinks about doing, in hopes that clarity, passion, dreams and transformation would shake my hand and smile at me.
And travel has been romantic, idealistic, freeing—and the most difficult year and a half of my life so far.
I left home in search of a better, more fulfilling life and a richer faith, but found out that it’s tricky to run from yourself. Travel hasn’t answered all of my questions. Satisfaction hasn’t landed in my lap because I went chasing after my dreams. Still, I was certain that somehow, somewhere in this seeming lostness we would find ourselves.
In some ways we have. But not in any of the ways I expected.
Traveling can be wonderful, but wanderlust has some downsides, too. Here are a few:
Traveling Doesn’t Solve Your Problems
The struggles and insecurities and imperfections I championed back home are the same ones I carted on my back these past 5,000 miles. In dreaming of a better, more fulfilling, more exciting life somewhere else, I forgot that most worthwhile change is a process.
God plants us in season, not as fully formed and blossoming fruit trees, but as seeds (Matthew 13). Travel, it turns out, does not mean an automatic tree transplant. I don’t immediately become someone else with fewer problems and an increased amount of awesomeness. I don’t suddenly discover the meaning and purpose of life. I don’t automatically have the answers I was looking for back home. Because God is patient, even when I’m not.
Travel is not the solution to our dissatisfaction. Only God satisfies. But perhaps travel can be the right soil for the right time.
Traveling Can Make You Feel Superior
I wouldn’t have said that a year and a half ago. Pick out any quote on the subject and it may seem like those who choose to follow priorities and commitments other than travel are narrow-minded, self-absorbed and obsessed with material possessions. But I’ve come to realize that my choice to travel is not superior to anyone else’s choice otherwise. I’m not better than anyone just because I’ve visited more countries than they have.
There is great value in creating a God-honoring life through the building of a family, career and home. Those accomplishments don’t come easy on the road, and it has taken my own lostness in order to recognize the beauty of a grounded foundness. I assure you, I have reason to envy your stable, routine life just as much as you may envy my vagabond one.
Travel Comes With Its Own Frustrations
At some point, the novelties wear off, all the ooh’s and ahh’s fade, and all the frustrations of living out of a backpack finally catch up to you.
I still wake up. Still go to work. Still fight with my wife. Still make mistakes. Still have bad days when nothing goes my way. Still choose my kindness or lack thereof. I still commit each day to following God’s way, or don’t make the time. And it’s important for me to realize that where I am, as great as it can be, pales compared to Who I am following. The same will be true when the now turns to a not-so-adrenaline-fueled later.
Traveling Often Comes at the Cost of Community
As the song goes, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,” and a life on the road doesn’t tend to lend itself to such an investment. You certainly can experience community while traveling, but hopping from one place to the next doesn’t really allow you to fully plug in.
Our desires to bring good into the world often piggyback on the influence of our presence. In the consistent showing up of everyday life, we get to know one another. Somewhere in that sharing of our lives, God transforms us into his image—as individuals, but maybe more importantly, as communities.
As I travel, I try to build community around me. I’m not interested in making this journey all about me. I want to serve and I’m trying my best to do just that. I hope I can be a breath of fresh air for the people I come across, but there is no doubt that the nourishing rains come from those who have settled into a community with a commitment to grow, flourish and produce lasting fruit through all seasons. That takes time. And some permanence.
While I cannot imagine my life without the global network of friends I now have, I look forward to finding a community where everybody knows more about me than just my name.
Traveling has taught me so much. It has opened my eyes to more of what God is up to, who He is, and who He is creating me to be. However, one of the big lessons I’ve learned is how important it is to be open to God’s leading on my life no matter where it takes me—whether that means traveling the globe or settling into a more predictable stable routine in one place.
Honestly, much of me is ready to find myself back home where my wife and I can incorporate all we’ve experienced on the road into an intentional caring for the world around us. But we’re not there yet. We’re here. And if I’ve learned anything at all over the last year and a half, it’s to be mindful of God in the present moment.
Otherwise, we forever run the risk of missing Him here with us now. And travel or not, that is the real tragedy.