When travel no longer feels meaningful
Musings, Travel

When Travel No Longer Feels Meaningful

There may come a time in your life as a traveler when you realize you no longer have a firm grip on your “why.”

When we first begin a new journey, there is always an underlying “why”–in other words, a motivating factor behind our decision to leave the familiar behind.

This “why” is different for everyone–it’s complicated and nuanced and deeply personal–though for many of us, it can be boiled down to a deep-seated desire for personal growth.

Personal growth is an unavoidable consequence of travel; it happens whether the traveler intends it to or not.  This, in my opinion, is one of travel’s most beautiful gifts.

It imparts us with lessons we never even knew we needed to learn, often by throwing us into situations we never expected, forcing us to develop skills we never knew we had the capacity for.

For a long time, my “why” could be summed up the very same way–I wanted to learn about the world and understand my place within it.  I wanted to learn more about myself and really see what I was made of.

I wanted to experience adversity to see how I would come out the other side, what knowledge I would gain, and what I might discover about the inner workings of my mind.

I wanted to know how others lived so I could better understand my privileged position in this world.  I’ve always felt privileged, really, but travel revealed to me a new depth of privilege I hadn’t yet grasped.  It was horrifying.  Humbling.  And exactly what I needed.

Roughly eight years have elapsed between my first international flight and the present moment.  In those eight years, I have indeed come to understand myself on a level I never dreamed possible.

I’ve learned that I’m an introvert.

I’ve learned that I can’t travel forever.

I’ve learned that as much as I love travel, I never want it to be my job.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that I am indeed worthy of my own love.

I may have learned many of these same lessons about myself without living and traveling abroad for all those years; then again, perhaps not.

And surely if I were to continue traveling I would, in turn, continue learning meaningful lessons and confronting my most daunting demons.  As we’ve already discussed, travel teaches you things even when you’re convinced it won’t.

And yet…

What happens when travel no longer feels meaningful?

After five years of continuous travel, the experience began to fall flat.  On a warm summer evening in the Canary Islands, a fellow traveler posed to me what should have been the simplest question:

“What is your ‘why?'” she inquired.

As I gazed back at her, I fumbled for words; I could feel heat rushing to my face.  Did I really not know why I was traveling anymore?

It became quite clear to me that night that my “why” had become obfuscated over time.  I had no good explanation for my lifestyle at that point, the very same lifestyle I had been quite vocal about eventually putting an end to.

Slowly but surely, the realization settled in: I was traveling because I simply didn’t know what else to do.

Having spent most of my twenties bouncing from country to country, I knew no other way of life; and I can only assume that the word “traveler” had, at some point, become what felt like an inextricable part of my identity.

But this “why” (or lack thereof) didn’t sit well with me.  It didn’t feel good or justifiable or meaningful.  When I look back on that summer, I see that night so clearly as the moment I knew: My travel lifestyle had to come to an end.

For someone who had built an identity around travel, however, quitting cold turkey simply wasn’t going to happen.  It would take one more lapse in judgment, one more jaunt across borders, for me to finally come to my senses.

At the start of the year, I found myself once again in Mexico.  What began as a two-month trip quickly dwindled to a six-week trip and eventually ended after just five.  Those five weeks will be remembered as one of the more emotionally depleting periods of my life.

My “why” was tenuous at best.

The worst part of all of it was this horrible feeling I just couldn’t shake–that I was just going through the motions, wasting what by all accounts should have been a beautiful experience.

I learned more about myself in those five weeks than I had in the last year, to be sure.  Travel, ever the teacher, was not about to let me off easy this time around.

In this instance, it forced me to take a good hard look at my life and realize that my actions were not congruent with my heart’s wishes.  Travel simply didn’t feel meaningful to me in the way it had all those years prior, and my heart was seeking something more.

It was time to go home.  Time to put down roots.  Time to find my tribe.

These lessons, hard as they were to swallow, I will be forever grateful for.

It may have taken me a few years to come around to the idea of ‘settling down’, but I’m so glad I finally listened.

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21 Comments

  • Reply Zascha February 18, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    This is clearly something you’ve put a lot of thought into. It’s OK to be tired. It’s OK not wanting to travel forever. I can understand why you’ve made this decision. I hope you’re enjoying every minute of it 🙂

  • Reply Adrenaline Romance February 18, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    We haven’t reached to the point where travel has lost its meaning. Perhaps that’s because we don’t travel long term; we have full-time jobs. We travel during weekends or holidays, and we use up our vacation leaves. That’s why we are constantly excited on the next travel/adventure opportunity that comes to us.

    We do have friends who travel long-term and they have the same view as you.

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:25 am

      While I haven’t generally engaged in that type of travel (taking breaks to travel while working full time) I can imagine that it does save you from reaching a point of burnout. It’s important to find that balance and it seems like you’ve got a setup that works for you!
      Leah Davis recently posted…Los Pueblos Mancomunados: Hiking in Oaxaca StateMy Profile

  • Reply Chantell - Adoration 4 Adventure February 19, 2017 at 4:14 am

    Thank you for sharing such a brutally honest and refreshing post! Traveling is a privilege and an incredible experience that helps us to reflect, learn and grow. But I think you are totally right – sometimes we lose sight of the reason/s why we are traveling. I know that it makes me happier than anything else I’ve ever known, I also know that staying in one place makes me feel suffocated. My passion for sharing my story is to help others see the beauty of travel and the possibility to do it with less money. However I think this article has given me a lot to think about in terms of reflecting on a the deeper purpose of it. Thank you!

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Thanks for the kind words Chantell! I absolutely agree that travel is a privilege and I will never lose sight of that or take it for granted. That said, it’s important for me to take a step back right now and reevaluate my priorities and determine how travel will fit into my life going forward.
      Leah Davis recently posted…6 Simple Ways to Get Photos of Yourself When Traveling SoloMy Profile

  • Reply Vanessa February 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Sending you lots of love and encouragement as I’m going through a similar period of self reflection.

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Thank you so much Vanessa! Same to you <3

  • Reply Maddie February 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I totally agree. I am a travel nurse by trade, but since I took my first solo trip to Puerto Rico about a year and a half ago, I’ve been traveling on vacations nonstop. Everyone at work kept asking me, “where you off to next?” and I felt like I became known as “the girl who travels”.

    I’m going back to Puerto Rico this week, and while I still do travel nursing, I don’t have any long trips or vacations lined up… and I’m actually glad about it. Travel is exhausting. And expensive. At least I’ve always had a home base!

    And I enjoy travel nursing because it allows me to relocate somewhere for 13 weeks. And have time to truly enjoy and explore a new region of the US . I definitely think traveling for longer periods of time helps to decrease the exhaustion of constantly being on the go. Great post!

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Thanks Maddie! I plan to stay put for quite awhile myself, with the exception of one overseas trip that is already planned and local trips around the state. It’s a great feeling to feel somewhat rooted for a change!

  • Reply James February 23, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Understandable but why go home? Of all the places you have visited is Washington your number one choice? Seems odd to me. Perhaps this is less about a place and more about people/family.

    Tiring of travel happens. Discovering your favorite place in the whole world is Washington really does not seem right.

    …and you know full well that you can never really go home.

    OK, yes, I am being an ass but still…😄 curious.

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Hey James! You’re right about the people being more important than the place. Washington happens to be where a lot of my loved ones are and while I don’t see myself living here permanently necessarily, it makes the most sense for the time being. That’s probably one of the best lessons I’ve learned through all of this–the place itself isn’t what makes a home…people I love are what make a place feel like home!

  • Reply Steph February 23, 2017 at 7:32 am

    I completely get this. A year ago I was on a beautiful beach in Malaysia, wondering why I wasn’t enjoying myself. Bumming around on a nice beach didn’t feel like a good enough reason to be there.

    I’ve returned home to put down roots more than once. The difficulty is staying put once the itchy feet strike again. I still find it hard to spend money on things that aren’t related to travel. And his morning I woke up dreaming about Greek islands and Australian working holiday visas… uh oh. 🙂

    But it doesn’t have to be either/or. For the moment I’m happy splitting my time between home and travel. Being at home is great – less distractions, better wifi (sometimes), friends and family. It’s a privilege to have that to come home to. I read more, I exercise more, I feel more balanced.

    Good luck in Washington, I look forward to hearing about how your “why” is getting on.

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Thanks Steph! I definitely wonder if I’ll get itchy feet again myself, but I’ve just decided to cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m tired enough now that I can easily see myself staying put for a year at minimum and that’s a good place to start. I’ll most likely end up splitting my time like you have, traveling in some capacity while still having a place to call home.

  • Reply Krista February 23, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Thank you for writing this. I have been traveling nonstop for five months and was in Nepal he last two weeks. As I looked at the gorgeous Himalayan mountains all I could focus on were the comforts of home and it was really upsetting to me. How could there be something so beautiful in front of me but all I could think about is soaking in a hot bathtub and watching This is Us? It’s nice to know that travel burnout is real and it’s good to listen to it when it happens!

  • Reply Paul February 25, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    It is the scholar Tim Cresswell who suggests that we often see travel (and other movement across borders) through the opposing metaphysical lens of mobility and stasis. I love your honesty here, and I can see how much you are yearning for roots (stasis) after being so long on the road. I hope it all works out for you! Of course you may simply get itchy feet again in the midst of trying to settle. I just want to share my own experiences of trying to find some roots (in my case after a prolonged period of living overseas and then returning to my homeland). In my case it was a hard process – not easy to find ‘my tribe’ – I came back to finish a PhD, so its specific – there was a kind of ready made community there, but people quickly moved on, or left campus for the summer etc. The tribe, then, was a real movable feast! As I say, good luck with the next chapter, and its great to read both your honesty and the process of realisation in this.

    • Reply Leah Davis February 27, 2017 at 10:50 am

      I can’t say with any certainty that I won’t get itchy feet again but I do know how long I have wanted to slow down, so my hope is that I’m making the right decision for this moment and if something changes, well, I will adjust my path again that that time. It’s very accurate that a community can be something of a moving target no matter your stage in life, but a community at home is still much more reliable than a “community” of other travelers. Thanks for the kind words Paul!

  • Reply Kevin Reily February 27, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    After traveling for so long abroad, coming home can be an adventure in itself.

    I really love living as an expat in Asia and would not trade that for anything. But I also look foward to going home to California twice a year for at least a month.
    Best of both worlds.

  • Reply Kevin Reily February 27, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    The funny thing is that I have changed….but everybody at home is still the same as when I left. As if time stood still. Also with the internet, Skype and Viber you can stay in touch with people so easily nowadays.

  • Reply deys March 9, 2017 at 2:12 am

    You an introvert? Never would have thought.

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