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On Stopping

July 18, 2016 | Portugal | 35 Comments

It’s official. I’m no longer a full-time traveller.

I’ve got a one year lease, a gym membership, and Portuguese bank account. Last week I went to the municipal offices here in Lisbon, and officially registered as a resident.

I have a desk, a chair, and a monitor, and more clothes than can fit in my backpack. My fridge is full of food, and my calendar is full of social events.

For the first time in nearly five years, when someone asks where I’ll be in a few months, I can answer their question with certainty.

I’ll be at home.

Why Stop?

Lauren in Madrid metro

Although the decision to stay in Lisbon is a recent one, we knew long ago it was time to stop somewhere. We were tired. In fact, to put it bluntly, we were fucking exhausted.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it wasn’t constant movement that wore us down. For the last couple of years, we’ve been travelling more and more slowly, spending weeks or months in each place. We were trying to find the elusive balance between work and travel, since doing both at the same time had meant doing neither well.

Work time was scattered and inefficient, fighting with slow Internet and uncomfortable surroundings in between rushing around a city, trying to experience a week’s worth of activities in a couple of days and not enjoying any of it.

Having defined periods of work and travel helped for a while, but turned out to not be enough. We were still exhausted most of the time, and it took a while to figure out why.

In the end, it was a bunch of things.


I’m an extrovert, and I need people around me regularly. Trying to find, and slot into, a new community every month or two was hard and, ultimately, unrewarding. Maybe some people can handle the continual highs and lows of making and farewelling friends every other week, but I can’t.

Saying goodbye has always been my least-favourite part of the travel experience, and after five years of it, I was done. I needed friends who’d be in the same city as me next week, next month, hell, even next year. Skype and WhatsApp just isn’t as good as grabbing an impromptu evening beer at a riverside cafe, and hanging out with people every day for a month doesn’t make up for not seeing them the rest of the year.


I was out of shape, and felt I couldn’t do much about it. Before starting out, I used to run several times a week — in fact, I ran my second half-marathon just a month before moving to Thailand.

Running Dave

Being in hot, humid climates sapped my energy, though, and the broken pavements, pollution and traffic of the South East Asian cities I spent much of my time in made it even harder, if not downright dangerous. While I could occasionally stay somewhere with a gym or get a membership for a few weeks, it wasn’t common, and I’d never really been a gym person anyway.

Couple that with rarely having a fully-equipped kitchen and eating out for almost every meal, and the end result was putting on at least 15 pounds of pure fat. Bleurgh. Poor diet and little exercise left me sluggish, prone to getting sick and did nothing for my mental state.


Much as I hate to say it, the joy of full-time travel had dwindled. I was finding it harder and harder to get those “wow” moments from things that would have blown my mind a few years ago. Like anything else, when something becomes your new normal, it stops being exciting. Working all the time and moving regularly also gave less time to research the next destination, which often meant missing out on the things that might have revitalised my travel spirit. It was a privileged problem to have (let’s face it, all of this is), but an increasing one regardless.

With the lessening of excitement came a little perspective. My life had become very one-dimensional, totally consumed by travel. Researching, booking, moving, exploring, writing about it… travel was all Lauren and I ever did, all we ever talked about. We hung out with travel bloggers in each new city, since that was our only community, and we talked about travel with them as well. The longer we spent on the road, the harder it was to have a conversation on any other topic, especially with the few people we met who weren’t travelling all the time.

We wanted hobbies and activities that weren’t related to travel. We wanted to try new things, many requiring equipment that wouldn’t fit in a backpack, and to be able to stick with them for months if not years. We wanted to spend less time in front of our laptops, but still needed to make enough money to live. That meant having a regular routine, reliable Internet and a comfortable workspace to get stuff done more effectively, none of which we could guarantee on the road.


When we sat down and talked about all of this, we knew what needed to happen. After several years of travel, it was time to try something different.

 

Why Lisbon?

Lisbon tram

That search for somewhere to stop took much longer than we expected. We came up with a short list of what we’d like from a new home — affordable cost of living, agreeable climate, good local and international food, a small group of friends, no visa hassles. That last point, in particular, cut the options down significantly. We both have UK passports and I’ve also got my New Zealand one, so we had more flexibility than many people, but several of our potential choices were still off the table.

There are a few cities in the US we’d definitely have considered, but the cost and effort to get a residence visa there are significant, with no guarantees. Nowhere in South East Asia has an appropriate visa for us other than Cambodia, and much and all as we love travelling there, we couldn’t envisage a long-term stay in the country.

Mexico and Taiwan were high on the list, and I’d happily live in both, but in the end we decided to go for somewhere that didn’t require applying for a residence visa. Many people just run the risk with back-to-back tourist visas, but we’ve done that for long enough. If we were going to set up a life somewhere new, we decided we needed some certainty about it. Ironic, given subsequent events.

Lauren could have easily got a working holiday visa for Australia and New Zealand, and something longer-term with a little more effort, but the cost of living in either country put them out of reach. The same applied for the UK, especially London where we’d most likely want to live, so almost by default, we settled on somewhere in Europe.

After spending months in Granada and Madrid last year, and visiting many other European cities for shorter periods before that, though, we still hadn’t found the spot that ticked all the boxes. Three weeks in Porto got me thinking about Portugal, however, and after glowing recommendations of Lisbon from a couple of friends, we decided to at least check it out for a month.

It took all of three days to realise the city was exactly what we were looking for… and the rest is history, a blur of apartment hunting, shopping, banks and government offices, eating, drinking, beaches, friends, and more walking uphill than I ever thought possible. More on that, undoubtedly, in a future post.

Sardines

We’ve been here since mid-April, and have barely left the city. A few days in Spain, a day trip or two, and that’s it. This is about as long as we’ve spent in one place since starting out, and in the past, we’d have been getting itchy feet and preparing to pack our bags for sure. Not now.

We’re loving our life here, and I couldn’t be happier doing very mundane things. Cooking at home. Going to the gym several times a week. Buying a third pair of shoes. Last week I symbolically put my house keys on the little souvenir key ring I’ve been carrying around since 2010, and it felt so damn right to do it.

Apparently, what I need at the moment isn’t travel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve realised that as long as I’ve still got the freedom to travel, I’m happy. Knowing I can still get on a plane for a week, a month or more at the drop of a hat means I don’t feel trapped, like I used to in corporate life. I can still go anywhere I like, whenever I like, without asking permission from anyone.

For the last three months, though? I haven’t wanted to go anywhere at all.

 

So What Next?

So far, so good. We’ve both lost loads of weight, are eating healthily, feel fantastic, and have found the work-life balance that seemed to continually elude us on the road. We’ve got a great little group of friends here, live in the perfect neighbourhood, and keep finding gorgeous new streets, buildings and viewpoints every time we leave the house. This is one seriously beautiful city.

Another Lisbon view

Apparently, though, even when we do finally find a place to live, there has to be more to the story. The baffling result of the Brexit referendum in the UK last month has thrown any certainty about our long-term future out the window.

While we’re remaining hopeful that (a) freedom of movement within the EU will ultimately continue, (b) anyone already living in a different country can remain there or (c) we could get a residence visa like non-EU citizens if we had to, nobody knows for sure. We’re banking on being able to stay at least a couple of years in Lisbon. After that? Anything could happen.

While that’s hardly ideal, it’s far enough in the future that I’m not losing any sleep over it. Let’s face it, up until now, I often didn’t know where I’d be even two months later. Two years in one place seems almost-unfathomably long. It’s like the endless summer holidays that stretched ahead after the last day of school, looking for all the world like they’d never end.

Speaking of summer holidays, we’ll finally drag ourselves away from Lisbon next month, for what feels like the first true vacation we’ve taken in half a decade. A couple of weeks with family in the UK beckons, followed by a few days in Corfu, then sailing with friends around the Ionian islands for a week. After that, I’m heading back to Portugal to start my second Camino de Santiago, from Porto in the north of country. This one is shorter than last year’s walk, somewhere between two and three weeks depending on where I feel like stopping.

After that? I’m going back to Lisbon, of course. Back to my neighbourhood, back to my little apartment, back to my terrace where I sit in the evenings with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down.

Back to my home.

Right now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
 



Reflections on the Camino
Why I Lost 30 Pounds When I Stopped Travelling
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35 Comments

  1. Reply

    Erik Smith

    July 18, 2016

    Congrats guys. Lisbon is great and I'm sure you guys will love it there.

  2. Reply

    Beth

    July 18, 2016

    Congrats! Just curious how you are able to live in Portugal without a residency permit or visa?

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 18, 2016

      As long as Britain remains part of the EU, UK passport holders can live and work in any of the other Schengen zone countries, including Portugal, without needing a visa. When and if it leaves, god only knows.

  3. Reply

    Colin

    July 18, 2016

    I've followed on and off for years now and you've had more than a few things to say that resonated with me. Quality post, thanks Dave.

  4. Reply

    Katie

    July 18, 2016

    I can definitely see the appeal of living in Lisbon. I'm still not sure where I would want to settle for a while but thinking perhaps Queenstown.

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 18, 2016

      Queenstown (and most of the rest of Central Otago) is fantastic. I'm a much bigger fan of the town these days than I used to be, and could happily spend a year or two there. If I had the cash, at least.

  5. Reply

    Diana Edelman

    July 18, 2016

    Obviously, I LOVE this post. I wish I would have loved Madrid and we could have all ended up living in the same neighborhood longer than a month or two, but so grateful we have been neighbors in so many places around the world. Congrats on having keys. And shoes. And a gym membership. Love you both!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 18, 2016

      Ahh, it just wasn't meant to be. It's the way things work out sometimes, but as you say, we've seen a remarkable amount of each other around the world, in all kinds of planned and unplanned ways!

      *goes and puts on shoes*

  6. Reply

    Alyson

    July 19, 2016

    Don't get me started on Brexit! All our hopes and dreams destroyed by the likes of my very elderly parents ( yes, them too!).We found our stopping place in Romania, but now...who knows. London is too expensive, none of us want to go back to our house in Australia, I think we're going back to the full time travel, we're thinking Chiang Mai, maybe Mexico for a few months here, a few there. But for now, we're in the UK. My husband is an Iron Man, he's doing Iron Man Wales soon, so yes, it is possible to train like a lunatic and travel. I, on the other hand, am getting fatter and fatter on European food and sitting at a computer all day. Planning on getting back to Everest soon to drop the pounds, yes, I plan travel around my weight and have done for a very long time, since I first discovered how effective a few weeks of trekking and Asian food was at taking me back to a size 8. Gotta laugh, otherwise you'd cry. Brexit has cost us financially and emotionally, but, we soldier on.

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 19, 2016

      Yeah, I reined in my desire to go on a Brexit rant in the post, since that wasn't the main purpose, but... wow. There's a lot to say about it, and for UK passport holders living elsewhere in Europe, none of it's positive.

  7. Reply

    miz

    July 19, 2016

    Congrats on your next "homely" adventure. I understand what you're saying! I haven't travelled around as much as you, but I've travelled a decent amount in the last 12 months. I've realised so much about myself and what is important to me. I've realised mostly that i need a "home" or a "base", and from there I have a more "normal" life (friends, work, health, I.e. Just the normal parts of life which one can argue are essentials). But from this "base", I know I can travel anywhere in the world. I live in London, and London is amazing but the UK weather is not for me and nor the prices haha. I hope to find another "home/base" elsewhere in the world. Like you, I just need to sort out my non-negotiables (weather, visa flexibility, cost of living, safety etc). I'm happy for you! And like you said, Lisbon doesn't mean "permanence", it just means "home". And home is where the heart is, right.

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 19, 2016

      Yep, totally agree. "Home" has become a bit of a fluid idea -- it's no longer the one particular place I grew up, but a succession of places that each have something special about them. For now, it's definitely Lisbon. It still could be in a few years, or it could be somewhere else entirely. Life's a mystery. :)

  8. Reply

    Mary Akis

    July 19, 2016

    Congrats to you both, I had the pleasure of spending a week in Lagos, a couple of years ago, and if you are able it truly is worth a couple of days of your time. Rest, enjoy and can't wait to read more from your new home base.

    Hey (Canada) is a cool place also :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 20, 2016

      Yeah, we've both enjoyed the parts of Canada we've seen (especially Montreal!), but unfortunately the visa situation isn't as easy as it should be for fellow Commonwealth folk, and it's not particularly affordable for us either. I think it'll need to stay as somewhere to visit rather than live for the forseeable future. :)

  9. Reply

    Hi Dave - I've followed your blog since before we started our own full-time travels in 2012 which began in MX,Central & South America, a couple of the island countries and now Europe. After 3 plus years of nomadic travel we also realized that it was getting harder and harder to move on and, with the necessity of carrying clothes for 2 climates in Europe, we just didn't want to drag everything along anymore. We wanted an equipped kitchen to cook in again and pillows that no one else had used! We're retired boomers from the US so a big priority for us was affordable healthcare, lower cost of living, a mild climate and a community where we could make friends. Europe pushed our buttons but the shorter term Schengen visa was a huge obstacle. A residency Visa turned out to be the solution and once we arrived in the Algarve Region of Portugal we were totally smitten. I can totally understand, as well why you picked Lisbon. It took us about 3 months to go through the hoops in the US required for a residency visa but it's totally been worth it. And, having a base has actually reignited our travel mojo again. So far this year we've driven all over our region as well as many areas in Spain, hopped the ferry to Morocco and just arrived back from Copenhagen. Travel, like living is an evolving process, needs and priorities change and a wise person searching for happiness will continue to move forward rather than getting mired in past choices and an identity that no longer fits. One of these days when you want to explore the Algarve, I'd love to meet you and Lauren. Feel free (and also invited) when you want to travel to Lagos and drop a note. And, welcome to Portugal!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 20, 2016

      Thanks Anita, and totally agree about moving forward rather than looking back to past choices and identities. I'm sure we'll make it down to the Algarve at some stage -- there's no excuse not to, really -- so I'll drop you a line when we do!

  10. Reply

    Tim UrbanDuniya

    July 22, 2016

    Good on you!! It takes a lot to admit that the joy of travel can dwindle... it took me a few years, but I finally got there too (not "settling down", but I got around to confronting that fact with myself!).

    Lisbon looks gorgeous, and it sounds like you're having a great time there - and the open road will always be there if you feel like it again in the future :)

  11. Reply

    Antonio

    July 25, 2016

    Hi Dave. I followed your Blog for years but I´m not a traveler like you, but i can understand that after all those wanderings the thrill of it disappeared (ate least a part). Well, I can only imagine the experiences you lived so far….
    But it was a (really nice) surprise when you said you’re moving to Lisbon! All your points of view are true (and of course there are another gorgeous cities to stay in Europe or else). Surely it´s a great time for people like you being here (and tourists in general), this city deserves to be discovered.
    Let´s see how the future implications of Brexit works and the free circulation in Europe.
    So, welcome, enjoy and explore the surroundings (without rush).
    And your next beer is on me!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 26, 2016

      See you for that beer soon! :)

  12. Reply

    Diego Torres Coló

    July 29, 2016

    This was a great article to read. It is not often that I read a full article (to be honest) but I read every word in yours. My fiancé and I have been travelling for 6 months and even though that is much less than 5 years, we sometimes feel tired as well. We do have a travel bug and want to see more of the world and we are working on that, but what we want now and can relate to you is "the freedom to travel" when we want...not necessarily just being on the road. Your experience has given us some much needed insight. Thank you and enjoy Lisbon!

    • Reply

      Dave

      July 31, 2016

      Thanks, and you're welcome! I think it's important to realise there's a time for everything, and just because you've done something for several months or years, it doesn't mean you're tied into doing it forever. That applies to most situations in life, whether it's travel, a job, living in a particular city or many other things. You can, and should, change when it stops being right for you.

  13. Reply

    Sharon

    August 15, 2016

    What a great read, I have been following both you and Lauren since I read her book.

    Brilliant that you have found somewhere to settle in Lisbon.

    I too have been looking at moving the Lisbon. But I really don't know where to start. Could you give me some starter tips please?

    • Reply

      Dave

      August 16, 2016

      Hi Sharon,

      Any answers I could give about moving to Lisbon depend so much on your situation that I can't really give generic advice. Things like your visa status for Portugal, the type of work you do (and want to do), how long you plan to move for and all kinds of other things play into it.

  14. Reply

    Ludo

    September 25, 2016

    What a surprise !
    This is inspiring and very nice to read. Lisbon seems a quiet good city to stay, and, yes, as you can explain it, you probably did the right choice at the right time.
    I didn't came on your blog since a long time, and I was expecting a lot of things, but not that. I felt a great pleasure in reading it, and hope you'll write more article about your new life, there's certainly a lot to say about this city and your "adaption" after five years travelling.
    Finally you'd find your way, and all we can wish to you and Lauren, is good luck and happy new life ! (and two weeks later, happy birthday !)

  15. Reply

    Aaron

    September 26, 2016

    I'm just coming off a 1 year pause to my travels in Canada ... sometime, you just got to take a break. Hitting the road again soon though, and can't wait!

  16. Reply

    Dave

    October 10, 2016

    It is good to take time out and out some roots down every so often. Lisbon seems like a great place to do so. I hope it works out well for you, and you enjoy having the additional creature comforts being stationary brings.

  17. Reply

    MIZ

    October 17, 2016

    Hi Dave! Hubby and I are off to Lisbon in a couple of days for a week. Is there anywhere you suggest we go/visit? We are a laid back couple who like history, but also love walking around and exploring. The odd (interesting) musuem or two is fine, but we love to stop off at little cafes/coffee shops to eat and drink on our walks, before finding the next little place to explore. We hope to jump on the train/metro/tram and explore nearby towns/cities, too, for a day trip. Any suggestions would be great! :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      October 18, 2016

      I don't really do much of the tourist stuff here, so can't offer many suggestions beyond the standard castle/beach/Sintra/Belem stuff you'll find on any Lisbon guide. What I would suggest, though, is exploring neighbourhoods beyond Alfama and Bairro Alto. There are some wonderful cafes and exceptional restaurants in areas like Campo de Orique and Principe Real that are still very walkable from the main tourist zone, but have quite a different feel. LX Factory apparently also has excellent restaurants and is well worth a look in its own right.

  18. Reply

    nick

    October 29, 2016

    thanx for your blogs; info from travel adapters etc.
    good luck in the future.
    doing the camino is quite a feat--congrats.
    r u learning portugese or is it necessary on a daily basis?
    hope to continue to hear from you.

    • Reply

      Dave

      October 31, 2016

      No problem! You don't need to know much beyond a few words of Portuguese if you're here as a tourist. I could function pretty well here even as an expat without knowing too much of the language, but I'm starting to learn, and plan to take lessons early next year.

  19. Reply

    Frank

    November 7, 2016

    Great post, I enjoyed reading it because we've been travelling full-time now for almost 3 years and we know it's just a matter of time before we NEED to have a base. We love to travel and will always travel - and we travel probably slower than most people spending a month or two somewhere (and signing up for gyms wherever we go) - but eventually we all need to have a place to call home for all the reasons you cite. In fact, over the last year we've built up a bit of a short list of places we could call home for a while...

    Anyway, I could write more but I'd just be repeating all the things you wrote.

    Frank (bbqboy)

  20. Reply

    Peggy

    January 23, 2017

    We are going to be embarking on full time travel soon, and this is exactly what I'm worried about! I love having a base to just nest and relax in, so I'm not sure how I'll take to incessantly being on the road. We are going to be travelling slow and taking say 3 months or so in each new country but even then I wonder if I'll eventually get tired of it and want to just settle somewhere. Let me know how you guys go!

    • Reply

      Dave

      January 24, 2017

      Three months in a place is definitely way better than a few days or weeks, but for us, in the end even that wasn't enough. Since many countries don't let you stay longer than three months on a tourist visa, that was a bit of an issue.

      It's been about 9 months here now, and we're still loving it, with no plans to move on yet. We'll be renewing our lease for another year, so looks like we're staying for a while longer. We've found the right mix of travel and staying still, I think, at least at this point in our lives. :)


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