03 Mar One Year of Travel – Nomadic Life and Searching for Home
It’s been a year since we turned our lives upside down and left the UK. Those twelve short months have felt like a lifetime in which we’ve learnt, seen and achieved so much. It’s the first year out of thirty that we’ve spent away from the country we call home – a mere blink of the eye – yet throughout this year I’ve been unexpectedly struck by powerful waves of longing for home.
It’s often small, odd things from home that I miss. While recovering from a bout of food poisoning in Laos, for instance, a vivid memory of buttered wholemeal toast propped against a bowl of steaming Heinz tomato soup got stuck in my head. Some days, as I sweat under another unforgiving sun in a cloudless Asian sky I dream of being back on my sofa in London, tucked away in a flat that’s no longer mine, encased in a cocoon of blankets; safely protected from the dark rain pounding the window pane.
England. I’ve missed it in a way I never imagined I could.
What is Home?
During my cultural studies classes at University I decided that the notion of home and national identity is nothing but an imaginary construct but out here on the road it’s become more real to me than ever. I’ve come to understand that national identity, home, is the shared experience of life, the tenuous commonalities that tie you to the millions of people who live in the same piece of the world as you do. For me, it’s being as pissed off as thousands of other commuters when the tube brakes down during rush hour, it’s watching the 6’oclock news and knowing that people up and down the country are doing the exact same thing as me. It’s the way we Brits all curse the weather yet still flock to the parks and seaside on cloudy bank holidays, choking the motorways as we go. It’s in the bleak British cynicism; our grey, depressing soaps on TV, the Sunday dinners and trashy tabloid newspapers, the crowds of smokers gathered outside of pubs and the way the winter skies darken in the middle of the afternoon.
That is all home, all national identity is; a collection of memories and feelings, of familiar places, faces and routines. You can’t see it or touch it – but it sits inside of you, no matter where you go in the world. While travelling, for example, we’ve seen expats displaying totems of their origin in their new homes, unable to shake their roots; from the Australian with a crocodile warning sign on the wall to the US flag taped up in a hotel or pie, mash and the premier league on TV at an Irish pub.
Travelling, by contrast, is the exact antithesis of home. To travel is to permanently pass through unfamiliar cities, towns and villages; you drift through these places pausing long enough to observe how people live their lives in this particular corner of the world – you’re a bystander, an outsider, looking into lives that don’t belong to you. After a while, you begin to miss that sense of home.
The Side Effects of Nomadic Life
For me, living a nomadic life this year has been exhilarating and liberating; breaking free from the monotony and familiarity of life in England has completely changed my outlook in so many ways. In the simplest terms, travel has shown me how big the world actually is and rather than quench my wanderlust, it’s only inspired me to explore it further. Paradoxically, nomadic life has also made me long to have a home again. Over the last few months in particular I’ve begun to crave having a place of our own and a routine again, along with some of the comfort and familiarity we used to take for granted back in England.
This longing for home has been exasperated by the aspects of travel that we’ve become well and truly sick of after twelve months: having to smother our bodies in foul-smelling bug spray and put up with having permanently dirty, disgusting feet, for a start. Enduring endless journeys in cramped buses with blaring music and air con has now become a familiar torture as has trudging through unfamiliar streets looking for half-decent rooms. At this point in our journey we long for a kitchen where we can cook familiar food without running the risk of getting stomach ache and if we never have to squash our wrinkled clothes into our backpacks ever again it’ll be too soon.
If these things sound trivial, that’s because they are. Objectively, I know these annoyances are a small price to pay for getting to travel the world and at the beginning of our trip I put up with them gladly. After twelve months of it though we’re exhausted, not only have we realised how much we miss England, we’ve also realised that we cannot travel like this forever. We don’t want to give up seeing the world but we do need a break in England over the summer to transition into the next stage of our world exploration.
Transitioning from Constant Travel to Life as Expats
Given all this, the next stage in our life adventure is to try and create a balance between travel and home – but how is that possible? Before we create a more permanent base for ourselves in the UK, Andrew and I still have grand plans to road trip through America and Canada, take Spanish lessons in Mexico for a few months and backpack through South America. To achieve this we need some time to recover in one place and rebuild our travel fund; that’s why we’re moving back to Asia in September to teach for a year.
The plans aren’t finalised yet, we’ve still got to decide which country we want to move to, I need to complete a TEFL course and there’s the small matter of actually finding jobs, an apartment and building a whole new temporary life in an unfamiliar country. As someone who constantly second-guesses my abilities and over-analyses my decisions, I feel a lot of fear about entering this new stage of our lives. I have no idea if I’ll be any good at teaching, for a start.
I am certain however, that we need to stop moving and I’m sure that Asia is the place we need to be. When we first arrived in Indonesia all those months ago I remember being daunted by the prospect of spending an entire year in Asia. Now, I look forward to living in this part of the world, immersing myself in the culture not as a traveller, but as an expat, someone who lives and works in a local community. It doesn’t hurt that we can save a ton of money pretty quickly in Asia either.
There’s so much to plan and look forward to over the next few months but for now we move into the second year of our adventure as backpackers in Asia while looking forward to a brief homecoming in the summer and then building a new, temporary base half way around the world.