After 2 years of travel around the world I’ve returned to the United States. It was unplanned, as most movements are with me, and the decision was made just a couple of days before. Why did I come back? Is this the end to the travels for now? What’s next? And why do I have a haunting feeling that this is the end and the future is unclear?
The end of travel?
I used to dread returning to the United States after extended travel. And that isn’t to say I didn’t feel a bit of dread when I boarded the plane in London this time. In truth, it was a feeling of impending doom that weighed in my stomach like a ball of lead.
Why did I feel this way?
For one reason or another I used to associate returning “home” to the end of everything. As if all travel and dreams and creativity and joy would vanish the moment I stepped foot back on US soil. For the most part it did.
Not that it drains all joy out of my life, seeing friends and family and people I care about is one of the only joys I do have about it. More so the joy of life on the road and freedom outside of reality that I feel sucked out of me. That phrase “time to return to the real world” always irked me when I hear people say it after a vacation ends or backpacking trip wraps up. Like all the events and moments were somehow false or figments of the imagination.
Then again, I’m guilty of that. Not saying it, but living it.
Every time I’ve returned to the United States, I subconsciously separate life abroad from life stateside. I write about the adventures and tell stories, but I don’t pursue opportunity like I do when on the road. I don’t often explore the United States, but halt everything and get into the work grind to make money fast.
Months spent doing jobs I loathe to get to that next adventure. And though it’s work that leads to something I love, there is a lot of trade -off in the space between trips. Trade-offs that hit you hard.
Back into the cycle…
I call it a crack-down period. But instead of cracking down and focusing on my passions however slow the income is, I stop doing things I love so I can make money fast. I’ve done that for years since I began traveling in 2011. A cycle I get caught in even when I tell myself I won’t.
Have you ever been caught in that cycle round and round?
My way off the carousel is to up and leave again. Yet, I always come back to it.
It’s gone down the same over 6 years: I run out of money abroad because I haven’t focused on using my passions and skills to find an income while traveling. After I arrive back “home” I declare I’ll get back to writing and the blog. That never happens. I get a job as a waiter and work 15+ hour days and let the creative things fall to the wayside.
After a while back in the cycle, I get bored and fidgety. I don’t use extra time productively, but go out with friends because of my lack of creative drive. I get caught up in the distraction game. Drinks, movies, dates, and whatever else. Then I get depressed and beat myself up for not doing anything fulfilling. It’s only in the remaining few months of my planned tenure in the USA that I snap out of it and have a freak out.
I have to get out of this place!
The road calls again!
Inspiration strikes finally!
An urgency and drive fill me. I work longer hours and save every penny. I write articles of travel inspiration and possible trips. I stop buying pumpkin spiced lattes twice daily however addicting and un-pumpkin like they are. I stop going out. At some point in this soulful renaissance period I buy a plane ticket. Even though my savings goal may have been a lofty $10,000, fuck it — $2,500 will suffice.
The wait is finally over.
I pack my bags and scramble to see friends and skedaddle out of the USA. I begin another journey and promise myself that I won’t return to Washington DC again to wait tables. I can’t, because it takes a piece of me away each time. Until the next time I return with no money and do the same thing.
How can I break this cycle?
It’s ironic because I’ve had conversations with other travel writers and tell them that the way I travel doesn’t provide much opportunity to focus on writing and videography. Yet I’m the first person to tell people travel will open up time and opportunity to focus on things you love to do.
Travel does allow for time to focus on passionate endeavors, and has helped present opportunities like my photography job on sailboats this past summer. Except, the way I travel doesn’t allow for serious focus to grow in the ways I desire to.
Hostel to hostel every few days.
Rooms filled with 8 people snoring.
Lack of sleep and personal space.
Long-haul uncomfortable transportation because it’s the cheapest option.
Not making plans ahead and going with the flow.
All of these provide for ample adventures and stories — those times riding on buses in India praying that you won’t die or getting stranded on a boat in the Caribbean. Looking back at certain situations that were stressful or hell at the time are hilarious now. Lack of experiences is never the issue. It’s time.
There’s a lack of free time when traveling?
No, but a lack of time to comfortably and freely focus without distraction. I know some bloggers that are organized and diligent with their writing, or travel power couples as I call them that can delegate things. Most successful writers, photographers, and videographers I know have a base to work from.
For myself, I haven’t had a base for years.
When I travel, I am so hungry to explore the places I go and eat up all the culture. The way I explore isn’t with points of interest, I wander for hours and get lost. Then I move to the next destination, probably on some 8-10 hour bus or train trading cost of a hostel with contortionist sleep on a seat.
I arrive and wait to check in. Go for lunch. Wander for hours. Have dinner and maybe some drinks. Lay down to sort through photos and videos from the day, but end up passing out from exhaustion. And repeat.
Whether in a hostel or in a cafe, getting truly into the zone doesn’t often happen because you have to pack everything up again when you need to go to the bathroom. You worry about your things being stolen. People interrupt you. There are distractions everywhere.
So you can see why, based on the way I travel, I struggle to be productive. Not that traveling on and off for the past 6 years trading experiences for productivity has been a bad thing, but it does reach a point where you get tired. At least for me. Not tired of travel, but tiring of the way I’ve always traveled.
I’m tried of shitty accommodation and discomfort to save a baht or riel or dinar. Eventually, you get fed up with super budget backpacking. And I’m so very tired of returning to wait tables once again after it all.
A creature of bad habit.
As the money runs lower when abroad, I freak out and turn to the fastest method of making money I know. When I return to the USA to a familiar environment and have a singular place to leave my bags and work from that should give me plenty of opportunity to get shit done, no? It should. Instead of focusing on those things, I again make a bad trade. I prioritize my hunger for more travel to excuse fast cash to do so.
A lack of confidence.
In the past I’ve figured I was a decent writer if people keep reading this blog. I believed my photography and videography was at least good enough to inspire a few wows. But besides the intermittent and often scarce paid opportunities, I’ve never made much money off of it.
I should try harder right?
Instead, my confidence has always taken a beating. I end up feeling somewhat like a failure. I’ve done this for so long and not made any headway. Time is money and I’m not making it here, so I need a faster way to make it. Always running in place.
Or so it seemed.
This trip was different.
Somehow, without realizing it, I traveled longer than ever before. I finally spent more than a year abroad. Hell, nearly 2 years traveling around the world at that.
What was the difference this time?
How did I manage to break through the 10 month wall I always hit?
A lot of chance.
A lot of living on a whim.
A lot of openness to opportunity.
And a lot of hugging zero until that point and trying to believe in myself. This would not only lead to 20+ months of adventure abroad, it would give me the confidence I’ve needed for years to pursue the creative passions as a viable income.
It gave me the confidence to finally say “I’m a photographer” and believe it. Not to say that I’m just a blogger taking photos when traveling and a wait tables for my job. It may seem like a small thing, but it was huge for me. That realization. I am a photographer. Though it took years to come to fruition, it was getting hired as a photographer on sail boats this summer to slap me in the face and realize it.
After we completed the harrowing journey on the Rickshaw Run early summer of 2015, I had under $1,000 remaining in my budget. I had no clue what to do. That’s isn’t much money anywhere you go when you factor in flights. I thought about heading back to the USA, but decided to signs from chance meetings that pointed me to Australia.
Within a week I was approved for a year-long work visa and spent the next 9 months living and exploring Victoria. I waited tables for income, but I got back into writing during the time as well. Mainly I waited tables though.
Lost when leaving Australia.
It was toward the end of my time in Melbourne that I found myself again not knowing what was next. I also hadn’t saved up much money at all living in Australia. In the back of my head I though it was time to go back home, back to the cycle, and back to waiting tables until my next escape. It was like an internal clock because it began happening just around that 10 month mark.
That’s when I got an email from MedSailors about the photography job.
The company found my Instagram and blog and loved it so much they invited me to come for a week to sail in Croatia and write about the experience. Then it was set — I’d do the week sailing, go into Eastern Europe on the cheap, then head back home. Soon after I came across adverts for summer photographer jobs with MedSailors, and after a quick interview they hired me for the entire season. That was one of the most exciting moments of the past few years. A company recognized me for my work and wanted to hire me to do something I love.
Chance was playing on my side.
For the first time in my life I was hired for something I am passionate about and not my ability to take orders. That changed everything. It was an odd turn of events that came about from an almost entirely unplanned period of travel. Just trusting my gut and going for it.
That led to 5 months as a photographer at sea even if at times it was challenging and forced me out of my comfort zone. It pushed me to learn a new type of photography. And that makes all the difference now that I’ve returned stateside. This time I didn’t return thinking that I have to go back to my old jobs.
Why did I return?
One being that I decided to return this time and I didn’t feel forced to because I was out of money. But even though I decided to, there was still that dread. Why did I still feel like this? Of course deep down I’d still feel some sort of sadness as my latest adventure came to an end. Just because it’s the end of one adventure, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the beginning of another
This time it will be different.
Though funds were running a little low there were other reason that called me back. It’s been nearly 2 years since I’ve seen family and friends. Given I always leave during the winter months, I also haven’t been stateside during the holidays for at least a few years.
It’s also to focus more on what I love to do.
Trust me, I love to travel. It’s the only reason I make money. Well, also to eat of course. As I noted before, my way of traveling isn’t the best way to focus on writing and photography. And I really want to start doing that more. I want to decide on a place best to base myself for a little while to work on this and to not have to move bags or beds every 2 days. I want a place to sit and focus. I want a little comfort.
Political issues also called me back.
Don’t worry, I won’t get too deep into politics ever on this blog. I do feel that it is more important than ever for me to return to the United States and use my passion to shed some positive light and get involved in important movements. I wouldn’t call myself an activist, but there’s a lot of conflicts coming to the surface in the USA and I want to get involved in combating the negative ones. The kind of things that directly and indirectly impact what I love or believe in.
As I travel more and more, I find myself less interest in seeing cities around the world and more drawn to the outdoors. I grew up in the USA but I’ve barely seen any of it. It is vast and diverse country filled with incredible national parks that, besides climate change, are now at risk of losing funding and protection.
I want to get out into the wilds of the United States, explore these captivating parks, share the majestic but fragile beauty of them, and use my abilities to help in some way. Whether that be sharing with you photos and videos and stories, or volunteering and helping protect them.
At the very least I think I’m ready to get to know the USA after years of running away from it.
Will it really be different this time?
I admit to a haunting feeling I always get when I come home. Even now as I write this. That somehow this is the end of everything. I could get caught back in the cycle. Only time will tell, but I’m determined this time to not let that happen. To focus on this blog and my other passionate endeavors. Even with that haunting feeling, I’m more excited than ever before at the prospect of exploring the USA.
Another change is that I’ve decided not to stay in Maryland. I don’t know when I’ll leave yet since I’ve been offered some writing opportunities here, but this will not be my base. It cannot be my base. Besides my family and friends being here, nothing else is fulfilling at all. Nothing here stirs my soul. I feel trapped every time I return to Maryland, and things of my past still affect me. I’m still haunted by the town and the house I grew up in.
Haunted by nostalgic memories.
Maryland is no longer home to me. Home exists in the people I care about here, but not in the location. I cannot stay. I don’t have a concrete plan as always, but my rough plan is to head west. To head out toward the pacific coast, maybe California, and base myself close to national parks surrounded by the vibrant creative community in the west coast. A community I hope to break into. To get my fill if nature and to focus on the things I want to at this moment. To spend maybe a half of a year putting all my energy into my passions and see where that leads. So I can travel independent of the worry about having to go back to doing something I dislike.
It isn’t the end, but the beginning. And I’m excited to see where this leads.
For now, get caught up with these to montage videos from the past 6 years of adventure!