Traveling constantly, without any semblance of a stable home, at some point leaves you breathless, fatigued. Even travelers who have been gone for just one month confess to feeling weary. The massive amount of energy that goes into being abroad each day has quite surprised me. On-the-go, dig-your-heels-in deep travel, for any extended period, proves to be seriously taxing and tiring.
We’ve been on the road for about two years now, and as we look ahead, we’re excited to continue. Yet, in preparing myself for a future of continued travel, I’m secretly amazed at those nomads (such as Sherry from Ottsworld.com) who have been circling the globe, without any place to call home, for eight years or more. Whoa. How do they do it?
I so often refer to Nomadic Matt’s book (How to Travel the World on $50 a Day) as the catalyst to our perpetual travels. That’s mainly because before that book we had not, and neither had anyone in our acquaintance, heard of backpacking. When my mom told her friends she would be backpacking Panama, they only asked, “What’s backpacking?”
Backpacking is often done by those scraping the barrel financially, such as students, or by anyone with the sense and desire to stretch each penny’s worth. Certainly you don’t have to be in a bad state of finances to backpack. This down-to-earth style of traveling does everything as locally as possible and, by it’s inherent virtues (and perhaps vices), surrounds the traveler with both locals and other travelers constantly. Locals are met on local (slower, albeit cheaper) trains, and travelers turn into traveling companions in hostels. Therefore backpacking is done by those who wish to interact with others, to fall deep into the place they are going to, to see the world up close, as it really is, no matter how dirty, smelly, and exhausted it leaves them.
Backpacking isn’t like vacation. It can be, but more often it’s simply hands-on education. Although you will find backpackers chilling on beaches with a piña colada, they didn’t take a limo there and they won’t be staying at an all inclusive resort. More likely, their local bus was an hour late leaving because the driver wanted to try and fit seven more people on than there were seats available. Surely there was no air conditioning, and between bumpy roads and break downs, the journey from the nearby town took about six hours. That backpacker, now on the beach, previously spent those six hours squished in the midst of locals, hearing the language, learning the culture. That snazzy traveler probably made a few local friends along the way and many more inside the $6/night hostel, whose spotty wifi drove all the guests to mingle.
Backpacking involves a lot of movement and tiring, demanding journeys. It requires patience, self-assertion, courage and discernment. You are always exerting yourself. Travel this way puts you constantly in situations that are unfamiliar and challenge your weaknesses. Getting lost is totally normal and sometimes you just have to laugh at the mistakes you make. Nomadic Matt has a great, short read about how travel changed his life in this exact way. This quote from the blog of another nomadic traveler really gets at the heart of it:
Long before air conditioning, ATMs, email and mobile phones travelling was a tricky, lonely, expensive business – it still can be. Indeed, we travellers tire of out-of-touch homebodies telling us how “lucky” we are to do so much travel. My reply is usually something like this: “Luck has nothing to do with it, Sunshine. I don’t have my own house as you do, I have no spouse or children. I’ve had to do most of my study by correspondence and I work like a slave on these treks: I sit on the back of trucks for days; arrive there to find my way through the jungles and fight off killer caterpillars, dodgy police officers, malaria, bar touts, sleazy men, pickpockets, heat stroke and/or cannibals. Where’s the luck?” However, I will admit that life is much easier for today’s traveller than it was even 20 years ago. One can email family and friends, there is usually access to phones and wifi and there is no need to stuff my socks full of traveller’s cheques when there is an ATM around the corner. To make the life on the dusty, long road easier, there are several stalwart traveller’s establishments that have always been there for us on our journeys. They were vital lifelines and these establishments have saved the skin of trekkers and international businessmen alike by offering a free phone call to worried parents from the office phone; a friendly ear; a book to exchange or jam on toast when we really needed it more than anything – usually when coming out of a desert with no clean clothes, infected cuts on our knees and no local currency.
– from Remarkabletravels.com
We’ve noticed, after switching several countries, at how much we don’t realize (at first) the temporary stress travel puts your mind and body under. In each new place and situation, your body is assailed by foreign senses. Your mind gathers information like a machine to get you where you need to go, to find you food before you die, and a place to sleep that’s within budget, but not infested with bedbugs, all before the sun goes down. I guess it is a little bit like the Cinderella story. We certainly left our glass slippers behind. In doing so, we gained all the charms that exploration and discovery supply.
Travel is addiction, once you get hooked on it. It’s like addiction to chocolate, too many bars necessitate the brief interlude of a hearty salad, a substantial break. Okay, that’s a terrible analogy. I should probably put off making those forever. But truly, every good thing should be taken in moderation. Even too much water will kill you and eating too many carrots will turn your skin orange (really! It happened to a friend of ours once.)
As probably anticipated, to stave off fatigue, we take breaks. After a very tough three weeks in Morocco, God opened the door to a miraculous, month-long Air BnB rental in the heart of Jerusalem. For the first time since leaving home, we had a kitchen, a bath, and a laundry machine to use at our disposal. We felt like queens and took time to lounge around and read or listen to programs.
Our longest break was a full month apartment stay in a local neighborhood in Hengchun, Taiwan.
We vary our surroundings to keep from over-exhaustion of either city or wilderness. After two sober months in two of the world’s poorest countries, Laos and Cambodia, we excitedly flew to the big, modern city of Bangkok, Thailand and, although a jarring, strange transition from poverty and desert, we were refreshed by Western conveniences.
As we move along and time marches forward, increasingly we realize the extensiveness of God’s grace in helping us as we go. I’ll be writing about this in more particulars as I get our experiences down in writing. I have been especially amazed at the working out of our accommodation and time spent in New Zealand. He does things only a sovereign God can do, and in this way, my faith grows. 🙂
I remember during my six and half weeks in South Africa at age 15, I could think back to who and what I had at home, and in missing any of it, could fancy myself homesick. I was not gone long, and thoroughly enjoyed the trip so that I was not homesick hardly at all, but there was still the exhaustion of “being away.”
I don’t get homesickness in my travels now because both my home and family are with me. I can be at rest wherever I am, can throw down my backpack and sincerely consider that place, for that moment, home. I am contented, filled and am encouraged and have fun reading in the Bible how the disciples went out two by two and were sojourners too. Even Jesus didn’t have a home.
After three months of camping and excessive moving about all the way around both islands of New Zealand, without wifi and feeling all the time totally remote, we are a little pooped out. You can be sure that our next location will provide wifi and solid lodging, people in excess to the number of sheep, and a slowness of pace in our movements.
Well, that’s what I think, but who knows! One of the charms of backpacking is unpredictability!