This time last year, that’s what I’d have said if you’d asked about life on the road. I was completely sick of it, and it was making me sick in return.
I’d been on the move for nearly five years, and the passion was gone. Where once lay a burning desire to see the world, the smallest flicker remained. I barely cared where I was going next, dragging my backpack from country to country in an indistinguishable blur of airports and Airbnb apartments.
The views and the food changed, but everything else stayed the same. Working all the time, I hardly saw any of the places I stayed in, even when I spent months there. What did I do in Oaxaca, or Taipei, or Madrid? I’ve no idea, but whatever it was, it was less than most visitors would have done in a long weekend.
So I was travelling terribly, but at least I was getting loads of work done and building my business, right? Nope. Hunched over a laptop at a wobbly table, perched on an uncomfortable chair while swearing at the flaky Wi-fi, isn’t a recipe for productivity. Neither is the mental and physical energy needed to figure out how a new city works every few weeks. I wasn’t getting much of substance done, and taking far too long to do even that.
Looking back at old blog posts, I’d apparently starting feeling this way at least a couple of years earlier. At that point, Lauren and I thought we’d end up building a tiny house in New Zealand to base ourselves in. That never eventuated, but by the time the start of last year rolled around, it was clear that things needed to change. We needed to stop. Right now.
I talked in depth about that change, and how Lisbon has ended up being the perfect place for us. For the rest of 2016, I never wanted to see the inside of an airport again. Other than a break to go sailing and hiking in September, I stayed put for months. I just didn’t want to travel at all, and didn’t see that changing soon, if ever. It really felt like that chapter of my life had finished, and I’d moved on to other things.
Still, the combination of cheap flights and an insistent girlfriend are hard to argue with, and so it was we ended up with two trips booked to southern Africa early this year. Both were for roughly two weeks, the first solely in Cape Town, the second a road trip around Namibia.
With plenty of time to prepare, and a better work environment to do it in, I decided to travel like a normal human for once. Whatever work needed to be done, whatever deadlines lay in store, were dealt with beforehand. My laptop – simultaneously my most important possession and the bane of my existence – stayed behind. There would be no working on these trips.
That extra time meant we could actually research the places we were going, too. In the past, continual movement (and endless working) meant I knew less about each new destination than most day trippers. I told myself it made for a more serendipitous experience, but really, that was bullshit. Not knowing where to go or what to do just gave a convenient excuse for – you guessed it – sitting inside working, instead of exploring with the limited free time I did have.
Lauren bought a guide book for Namibia – a real one, printed on paper and everything – and we pored over it, working out routes, distances, where to go and all the rest. For days we researched accommodation, and food, and the likelihood of destroying a Toyota Corolla on the country’s terrible roads at the end of rainy season. We probably put more effort into that trip than anywhere we’d gone in the previous five years. And, amazingly for someone who hates planning, I actually enjoyed it. Who knew?
We had a wonderful time in Cape Town. It’s a fantastic city, and without my laptop, there was no temptation to stay in the apartment answering just one more email. Instead, we were out exploring all day. We hiked Lions Head and Table Mountain, lay on the beach at Camps Bay, hung out with penguins at Boulders Beach. We drank great coffee, ate delicious burgers, had a Valentines Day picnic in the sun at a local vineyard.
We went to a concert in the gardens, and took a walking tour through the city, and when we were heading to the airport to catch our flight home, turned to each other and declared it to be the best trip we’d ever taken.
That distinction lasted exactly one month.
Namibia was, to put it bluntly, fucking amazing. The wildlife, the seafood, the sand dunes and deserts, the people… just all of it, really. I drove 4000km in two weeks, almost all of it on terrible dirt roads, and still loved it. Often waking up for sunrise, we packed a ridiculous amount into each day, and I fell into bed each night totally exhausted… but it was the good kind of exhausted.
The “man, that was an epic experience” kind, not the “damn, that was hard work” kind. The kind that’s inspired me to dust off this blog and start posting again, which may be the biggest surprise of all.
We left wanting more, but for once, hadn’t squandered the time we had. We couldn’t have done any more, gone anywhere else, and it was time to return to Lisbon. To go home.
Sleepless on the overnight flight, I thought about the last few months. How I’d wanted to cancel both trips a few days beforehand, and how happy I was to have taken them anyway. How freeing myself from my laptop, and planning a trip properly, made it so much better.
How having friends, and a gym membership, and favourite restaurants where the staff always find you a table, is just as important as airports and new countries, and how it’s the combination of both that gives the elusive balance I’d been searching for. There’s a bigger story there too, about the sustainability of long-term travel and “digital nomadism”… and not just for me, I suspect.
Squeezing my travels into a few weeks of vacation time was never enough, but doing it continually for years wasn’t the answer either. Much like Goldilocks, it’s somewhere in the middle that feels right. I’ve rediscovered my passion for travel, but it looks quite different. I don’t want to do it forever. Taking defined trips, with a home to return to in between, means I work better, travel better, live better than I did for a long time.
Apparently, less is more.