Travel does not equal happiness

[Apologies for the delayed post.  A rogue drop of water on the trackpad of my MacBook has disabled the keyboard, so I had to locate and procure a bluetooth keyboard . . . a little clunky, but it’ll have to do until we can send the Mac machine in for repair!]

. . .

It seems to me that rather than being about opinion and insight, travel blogs are increasingly written as authoritative sources of information.  If you have a travel question there are likely ten blogs trying to convince you they have the answer.

Not this one.  The only authority I have is that we took the plunge, sold our stuff, and are out here in the world trying to make this family travel thing work.  But the truth is that traveling as a family does not automatically equal happiness.  Everyone reacts differently and I have a confession: I’ve been feeling uneasy for weeks.

Funny thing – just before posting this we just found out that another family who also sold everything to embark on their own adventure just after we did has decided to throw in the towel.  They now realize that the life they had is the life they want after all.  Fair enough.

I’m not writing this because I have it figured out like they have.  I’m writing this because I don’t.  I have more questions than answers but I’m putting this down now because I want this blog to be an honest reckoning of this experience.

In the beginning . . .

When we began everything was new and exciting.  We were out most days seeing the sights, jamming as much in as possible.  We knew it wasn’t sustainable, but we were busy and happy.  The novelty of it all was intoxicating.

After a few weeks of that, we started to slow down.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Rather than spending three days in a location, we would book a week.  We started sleeping better; buying ingredients we could keep and use for more than one meal; we went out less and stayed in more, reading, learning, playing games together.

But as things slowed down, I have felt more and more unsettled.  There is this strange queasiness in my stomach and it makes me question what we’re doing.  Before our departure we were so obsessed with just getting out here, there was just no way to know how being out here would actually work on a day to day basis.

To be fair, we did not assume it would be all rainbows and unicorns.  But it’s one thing to say we expect a difficult adjustment period and another thing to experience it and not know what to do.  Hence the uneasiness.

Perhaps we should start with what I know I don’t want.  I don’t want to go back to our old life.  At least that is settled.

So why am I feeling so uneasy

Am I insecure about not having a true home?  Maybe.

Am I bothered because I am not working?  I don’t think so.

Is it a sense of community that is missing?  I still feel connected (largely thanks to you).

Is it because I simply don’t have enough to do?  I’m never bored.

Is it that I am not feeling productive?  What am I trying to produce if not kind, intelligent and well-adjusted kids? – and they are doing just fine!

I think my knee-jerk reaction to such uneasiness in the past has been to make myself busier.  So I keep wondering if I would be happier writing more blog posts, making more videos, or even trying my hand at writing a book . . .  Maybe.  But the real reason we are out here is for the kids and that would take me away from them.  I genuinely love doing things with the boys and they are happy and learning.  This is good for them and they know it.  Ditto for Linds.  So, I’m the problem.

Perhaps rather than ask what’s wrong, I should be asking what’s right.  When have I been happiest on this trip?  Any time spent with the kids talking, learning, exercising, playing a game . . . Completing a good blog post or YouTube video . . . meeting and talking to new people, and hearing their stories . . . Hiking and exploring . . . pretty much any cultural or educational experience . . . sailing.  I think there are some themes there that might be helpful.

Part of me wonders if the endless tasks and projects that used to be my norm simply distracted me from this underlying unease.  Perhaps it was always there, simmering under layers of self-inflicted distraction, and now I am finally dealing with it.

Perhaps it’s all just a matter of perspective

Most people think we’re living the dream – and in a lot of ways we are.  But it’s not a simple dream.   Maybe that is what that other family discovered.  Happiness is not automatic.  It is the result of good decisions.  So I guess I have some decisions to make.

Of course, Linds and I are engaged in a huge ongoing conversation about all this.  Here is what we are going to try:

  1. We made a list of things we really want to do before this backpacking phase of our trip ends (whenever that is).  Things like another sailing course for me and taking cooking classes for Linds.  Rather than book our next destination based on cheapest flights, we need to plan our destinations based on things we want to do – or at least ensure we have a few exciting things planned for that destination once we get there.
  2. We’re going to slow down even more.  Settling into a place will allow more quality time with the kids and perhaps I will try blocking off a few hours a day to dedicate to writing and making videos.
  3. Make more of an effort to connect with other traveling families or make local connections.

Like I said, I don’t have this all figured out.  I wish I could tell you that the key to family bliss is full time travel, but of course it’s not that simple.  I do believe that for us traveling as a family is probably the best path we can take to discover and explore what is most important to us.  But that’s just it – traveling is a means, not an end.

As we explore the outside world the real work is done inside of ourselves – and it’s a lot more complicated than booking a plane ticket.


    1. Great point, Elaine. I’ve dabbled but am getting closer to making a concerted effort. My brain is often uncomfortably over-active.

  1. Thank you for being so honest. Whenever my husband and I go away we think…”hey this would be great to do this full time no?!?” But it’s nice to go home also. I love that you guys started out full force…seeing and doing everything you felt you needed to but I think when you slow down…spend more time in places you are visiting, the memories will last longer. Enjoy your trip and just know there are lots of us reading your blog and watching your YouTube videos living vicariously through your adventures. 😃😃😃

    1. Hi Lisa – thanks for the note! Sometimes I think traveling is like relationships. Visiting different places is like dating different people. We’re bound to get infatuated now and then (exciting and superficial) but the decision to settle down in one place is a big one. It’s a commitment. Slow travel vs. fast travel is like serial monogamy vs. promiscuity. Then there is the question of whether our “second marriage” will be to a place other than Canada . . .

  2. You know Matt sometimes I question this whole notion of striving for constant “happiness”. Is that really possible? I have to wonder if part of what you are feeling is just what it means to be alive. Experiencing a wide range of emotions….the elation, excitement, thrill, worry, fear, uneasiness is what it means to be alive. The thing is that in world we live in and you used to live in we fill so much of our time being busy we don’t embrace those feelings. We just avoid or deny them.

    1. I think we’re on the same wavelength here, Naz. A while ago I read an article by a full time traveler who said that what she’d never expected was for all her emotions to be amplified – the highs and the lows. It could very well be that I had insulated myself from myself by being so busy all the time.

      This whole “seeking happiness” pop-psychology, new-age thing is pretty much crap, if you ask me. We just aren’t wired that way. Most of our happiness is genetic, some is socioeconomic, and some is conditional, based on our decisions. At best, happiness is a side-effect of other factors – the minority of which are under our control. Those are the ones I’m trying to figure out but I won’t leave you hanging – follow up post is almost ready 🙂

  3. I had a very similar experience: retiring early, experiencing amazing travel with my kids. I realized a year in that my kids wanted to travel less and have more of the normal kid schedule. It is all about adapting to the needs of your family as the years go on. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Yes . . . adaptation. It is one of the greatest assets that we often forget how to use.

      In our situation, everyone else is doing great with traveling full time. Even at my lowest points (things seems to be improving now) I knew I would just keep on going as long as it was good for everyone else, but that’s just me. Not sure what we’d do if one or two of the kids lost their enthusiasm. Or Linds . . . I guess we’d go through a similar process of reflection, evaluation and, hopefully, adaptation. I’m curious how your family navigated that process. I will have to read more of your blog!

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Another great blog post!

    Happiness is elusive and transitional. I believe purpose and growth with all the emotions they create engender; pain, fear, joy, elation, satisfaction are what makes a life. Some of the hardest endured times of my life are some of my fondest because of the growth I gained from that experience.
    Travelling does amplify this, but it also opens us up to experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have within the bubble we previously lived.
    Lastly, this is probably the first time you’ve been alone with your “self” for a while. Sure as heck ER wouldn’t have given you enough alone time to ponder these meanings.
    That in of itself is worthy of further exploration in my opinion.

    1. There are always trade-offs. Living in the bubble of normal life is safe and familiar but limiting. Traveling opens up so many opportunities, but can be disorienting too. I’m definitely not finished exploring – in any sense of the word.

  5. A thought…

    One of the many unique things I have observed being a Mom of 4 is how different their operating speeds are. J is so lackadaisical at times that I have wished he had a fast-forward button. L, on the other hand, has never walked. He ran as soon as he got his footing and hasn’t stopped since. Even his energy buzzes.

    Have you considered the possibility that “busy” is just your personality’s speed, AND, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that? Further, if that is the case, that perhaps you just run with it? Maybe the key to your happiness IS busy.

    But, instead of it being a busy that is slowly eating away at your soul (i.e.; our maddening Western world lifestyles), you find a new busy, implementing things you love (i.e.; the list that you and that awesome wife of yours have started compiling above), and that work for your family.

    Whatever the answer…I am certain you will find it!

    1. Until I got to your third paragraph I thought I was going to have to disagree with you, Andrea! But you hit the nail on the head. I think it comes down to two things: I did need to slow down, but not quite so much, and I need to be engaged in a few things I’m really excited about, but not too many. I remember hearing this strange term used to describe such an ideal . . . I think it was “balance” .. .;)

  6. Just caught up on your blog posts…And I must admit that I wondered when you would recognize these feelings. Having retired 10 years ago, I find that the joy is in investing time in activities that truly matter to me. Each of you will very likely find yourselves wondering “what…another mountain (or castle, museum, etc)”. The trick will be recognizing and accepting the feeling as legitimate…No matter who it belongs to. Very glad you’ve chosen to slow things down! By the way, my husband and I met your folks on a Baltic cruise several years ago :-).

    1. Hi Judy, thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts. For a few weeks I just waited to see if the uneasiness would just fade on its own. When it didn’t I got even more uneasy about being uneasy!! But we’ve been talking a lot and are taking real steps now: slower travel, blocking time off to write, planning some good stuff so we always have something to look forward to. It has already made a huge difference and has solidified that this is the right path for us. At the same time, I realize I won’t be the only one with growing pains – just the first one.

  7. “We need to believe that there is something sacred waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.” Phil Cousineau, “The Art of Pilgrimmage”
    And sometimes that something sacred is our own True Self, often buried beneath normal life (as others have said). To me that is the gift of travel—we venture outward to go inward. In fact, it is what is motivating our slow travel next year. I want to finally create my blog/book on “Transformational Travel.” I contend that there are places in this world that when visited at the right moment in our lives can transform us (even subtly). They are both scrapbook memories and future road maps. It sounds like you are well on your way to finding both.
    And a note for Linds—as a past solo traveler and now Mom, that is the hardest part of traveling with kids (no matter how many). Our “normal life” doesn’t stop, it continues. So I also wish for her the time and solitude and “uneasiness” required to find her something sacred too.
    Namaste, new friends. (Hope that’s not too New Age-y Californian.) 😉

  8. This is a great post, refreshingly honest, and thought provoking. Yes, many travel blogs give the impression that everything goes right all the time and it’s all roses and sunshine. That’s a bunch of crap. Traveling gives you the opportunity to see new things and meet new people, but the most powerful aspect of it is the constant questioning and re-evaluation of your life and choices, which can be uncomfortable. But in our hectic lives, we rarely get a chance for honest introspection. It is good that you are getting a chance to do this.

    1. Yes, Kris, that pretty much sums it up. A life well lived is one that differentiates itself from the bunches of crap by engaging in the uncomfortable process of constant re-evaluation. But it’s easy to get so busy you don’t even realise you’re in the crap!

  9. I think when you spend a long, long time outside your home country – and on the road, at that! – that there is a necessary, sometimes alarming, adjustment period. You cannot and will not be the same people as you were at home. Your brain patterns and personalities will alter – hopefully, in ways that you can all still love and enjoy!

    One thing I was told repeatedly during my preparations for a year in South America was that the curve would go like this: First days – very confident & comfortable, then less and less so as time goes on…After six months: realize there is no hope of ever fitting into another culture 100%, feeling utterly homesick and ready to throw in the towel…Then, it slowly, slowly starts to get better…and better…and better…At the one-year mark, you feel just as confident and comfortable as the first week when you just got there, except, oops, your year is over and it’s time to go home! But, your plan doesn’t seem to have that set ending point, so that’s good! But every time you move from one country to another, you’ll restart that adjustment period, to some extent.

    So anyway, keep your chins up – don’t give up on your dreams! You made amazing sacrifices to get where you are, so now that you have what you want, fight for it! Don’t neglect all the basics, too: eat right, get enough sunshine to make your Vitamin D, take family time but also time alone to think/read/pray/decompress, have a purpose, have goals – I think that’s the sort of stuff that becomes hard to keep in focus when life becomes all about train schedules and plane tickets and hotel reservations. Great idea on staying a week instead of 3 days. If you find a great rate and a place you love, try 2 weeks or 3 maybe. Good luck!

    1. This is sage advice and I have thought about it repeatedly since you left the comment. Thank you for taking the time. I hadn’t heard of this pattern of adjustment but it rings true and I am encouraged knowing that some of my own conclusions align perfectly with yours. We are just finishing six weeks in Istanbul and it has been absolutely wonderful. Working on some of my own goals, sure, but more importantly spending more time with the kids, making local friends and really investing in those relationships.

      Anyway, thanks for the reminder to be patient with ourselves. Hope your own travels are fun and rewarding.

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