Why is 'settling down' so terrifying?
Location Independence, Musings

Why is ‘settling down’ so terrifying?

I honestly never imagined that at the ripe old age of 29 ½ I’d be living such an ‘unsettled’ life.  Then again, I certainly wasn’t envisioning myself as a homeowner by this time, nor did I see miniature versions of myself entering the picture.

A dog, maybe, but kids?  Nah bro.  Not by the age of 30.

Part of me still wonders if I’ll ever have children at all, but that’s neither here nor there.  Having children is only one part of the ‘settling down’ equation, after all, and it’s far from the thing the scares me the most.

So, what exactly is it about this idea of ‘settling down’ that is so troubling?

Is it the possibility of losing my sense of identity as a world traveler?  Is it the fear that I’ll be giving up on my dream so early?  Is it the perpetual fear of missing out that I was so convinced I had outgrown?  Is it guilt for still not speaking any foreign languages fluently?  Or is it the idea of becoming too comfortable with my circumstances–the fear that boredom will eventually set in?

Perhaps I’ll never be able to pinpoint the exact cause of my trepidation.  And trust me, I realize that most of the reasons I just listed are total bullshit.

‘Settling down’ will not stop me from continuing to travel, thus sparing my world traveler status.

‘Settling down’ will not change the fact that I’m still living the location independent lifestyle I’ve worked so hard to build, thus sparing my dreams from an untimely death.

‘Settling down’ won’t really stoke my FOMO, because I realized years ago that I can’t possibly see the whole world in one lifetime anyway, and that’s okay–and the idea of traveling forever actually sounds pretty awful to me.

‘Settling down’ hardly means I can’t continue to study and improve my language skills.  Puh-leaze.

‘Settling down’ certainly doesn’t equate to boredom or a lack of personal growth and challenges.  Those things are my responsibility, anyway, and they can and should be pursued at all times.

I guess the one thing I am certain of at this point in time is that I’m equal parts drawn to and repulsed by the idea of ‘settling down.’  Whatever that even means.

When I try to imagine my place–you know, the city where I can see myself building a life that I’m excited by and proud of–my mind draws a blank.

My place doesn’t seem to exist yet–at least, not in my imagination.

The cities I know and love each have their merits and drawbacks.  I start to imagine a life in each one, but the image quickly becomes foggy and obscured.

This is generally the nature of the future–foggy and obscured–but suddenly it’s causing me to doubt myself in ways I’ve never doubted myself before.  My heart, which I have almost exclusively relied upon in the past to lead me to where I needed to be, doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants.

There is a lack of conviction, an unreliable intuition.

And while I’m fully aware that any decision I make will be impermanent, I still worry that I’ll somehow make the wrong choice.

I could just buckle down and make the damn decision, committing, for instance, to live in one city for a year’s time.

This is as close to ‘settling down’ as I get these days.

I would live with the consequences of my decision and do everything in my power to make the most of that time.  And then I remember that I tried such a strategy not all that long ago.

I tried with everything I had to feel ‘settled’ in Medellín, Colombia.  I had every intention of sticking it out for a full year, if not longer.  Of really making it my own.

Four months later, I was gone.

Granted, that was a time in my life that I’m not particularly fond of or proud to look back on.  There were plenty of underlying factors that contributed to my fleeing the city, and I do, at the very least, feel like I’m in a place of greater inner peace than I was then.

But.

There’s always a but.

Things change.  Opportunities arise.  And I fear that I will forever be pulled in the direction of elsewhere, no matter how firm I am in my conviction of ‘settling down.’

On top of all of this rests another unsettling dichotomy of desires: My attraction and simultaneous aversion to material things.

I own what I need to travel, and that, for many years, has been more than enough.  But now, and rather suddenly, I feel an urge to “nest,” if you will.  I want things.  I want to lay my head on a bed that’s my own.  I want to buy a nice mug that expresses my personality and matches my design aesthetic.  I want to create a space that’s mine.  I want succulents.

I do have a personality, you know.  And sometimes I think it’s bigger than what fits in a backpack.

On the other hand, having more stuff feels suffocating.  Anything I buy now will have to be relocated to wherever I ‘settle’ eventually.  It will have to be looked after in the meantime.  Stuff is a burden–that’s a fact.

And who needs to waste money on a storage unit every month?  Not this girl.  Especially not when there’s no clear end in sight.

So, ‘settling down’ feels terrifying for a lot of reasons, as it turns out.  Are they good ones?  Not really.  Life is uncertain by nature, and it always will be.  So why can’t I just embrace that, already?

Every philosopher and self-help guru warns against time traveling–that is, thinking too much about the past or future rather than living in the present moment.

And they’re right.  The only thing we can control is now.  Our thoughts and our actions in this very moment.

As I drift ‘unsettled,’ every day closer to the age of 30, I know things will work out the way they are supposed to.  Whether that means I’ll be ‘settling down’ or not is irrelevant.

Gentle reminders of this fact are usually all I need to come back down to earth, to the here and now.  Things are working in good time, and unfolding as they should.

The Universe is in control, and all is as it should be.

But did I mention…patience has never been my strong suit?

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32 Comments

  • Reply Emily Luxton November 20, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Girl, you’ve captured exactly everything I’ve been feeling lately! I’m also 29 1/2 and feeling torn between the idea of settling and the need to travel. Torn between my love of freedom and my desire to own nice things, to contain my personality in my own little space. I’m looking for somewhere to stop but I can’t help but feel that I’ll always eventually move on again. I’ve spent my whole like torn between contradicting sides of myself, and the multiple lives I’ve dreamed up for myself, and I used to think I had time to do them all. But now as I get older I start to realise there isn’t time – and that’s scary.

    Love this post. Everything will work out in the end, I truly believe that 🙂

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:04 pm

      Ugh, it is scary to realize how little time we really have isn’t it. But thank you for believing that everything will work out, I really do need to be reminded of that sometimes (and telling it to myself isn’t always convincing).

  • Reply Norm November 20, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Leah:

    As someone twice your age and then some, I can relate to what your wrote. And I am planning the move to Medellin myself and feeling fearful about it. Living there will be much different than my recent ten day visit.

    I must say it sounds like you are having a mid-life crisis around turning 30, I am in no position to offer advice. Nor do you need my advice or anyone else’s.

    I can tell you I enjoy reading what you write and admire your courage in being so vulnerable in sharing.

    Sending you a big hug. I feel your emotions coming through the page..

    Maybe you just need someone by your side who shares your dream and supports you in whatever you choose to do?

    Wherever you go, there you are.

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Ha, you might be right, Norm! I think I always imagined having more “figured out” at this point in my life. And the fact that I don’t is, well, frustrating, to say the least. I could definitely use a partner in crime to help me weather these moments of self-doubt, but I have yet to find that person 🙂

      • Reply Norm November 22, 2016 at 9:18 am

        Leah:

        I have always wondered why, with all the billions of people in the world, it is often so difficult for some of us to find a life partner . I have come to realize, yet not quite accept, that we are all prisoners of our own preferences and aversions. Not to mention time, age, and geography as added obstacles.

        It doesn’t seem possible to make finding a life partner a top priority in our lives. It just isn’t like other life goals that are accomplished through our own efforts and hard work. Want a great job? Travel? Start a business? Run for office? Become a writer? Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby? All seem possible if we put in enough time and effort.

        But we just can’t work our way to love. It finds us, we don’t find it.

        So it would seem that staying in one place isn’t any better of a strategy than moving around when it comes to finding love.

        As to “figuring things out”, a weekend doing The Landmark Forum might be a good investment. You will at least get the meaning of life and it will surprise and astonish you when you get it. It has been 4 years since I took the Forum and I am thinking of repeating the experience since my life has changed so much in that time. A refresher would help.

        As they say, there are things you know that you know. And there are things that you know you do not know. Both together are only a small sliver of life.

        The bigger part of the pie are the things you don’t know that you don’t know. Things that are hidden in plain sight. Blind spots. Sitting together in a room for three straight days with 100 other human beings of all ages and from all walks of life can be just the right opportunity to examine your life so far. And “figure it all out”.

        Thanks for being you and sharing yourself and your gifts with the world.

        • Reply Leah Davis November 24, 2016 at 10:56 am

          I have never heard of The Landmark Forum! But it certainly sounds like something that would be interesting to me, particularly at this stage of life. I love what you said about love finding us and not being something we can simply work harder to achieve. That’s such a hard thing to accept, because it means it’s totally outside of our control (and who doesn’t want to control and take responsibility for all aspects of their life? Okay, a lot of people probably, but you know what I mean).
          Leah Davis recently posted…Working from Anywhere as a Self-Taught E-Commerce Marketing SpecialistMy Profile

  • Reply Cassidy @ Jetplane Jean November 20, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I can definitely relate to this. I recently came to a crossroad where I couldn’t decide whether my recent dream of traveling for more months out of the year than not, or moving to NYC was more important. New York has always been a goal of mine, but now that I couldn’t get out of the mindset of equating everything I spent money on to flight tickets or nights in a hostel I wasn’t sure what was more important.

    A huge part of me has no regret with signing my strict, no subletting lease in NYC for a year, but the travel part nags at me constantly. Even when I was deciding to start looking at apartments, would I feel like I was missing out because I couldn’t pick up an go on a whim anymore? I think most of us have two conflicting sides, and it’s totally okay to listen to one that’s telling you to find a place to hold a few special mugs even if the other side starts to call to you once more in a few years. It really does all work out in the end, even if it’s in a way we didn’t quite expect.
    Cassidy @ Jetplane Jean recently posted…How To Quickly Sort Through Thousands Of PhotosMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      I think it would be good for me at this point to actually commit to living in one place for awhile, if for no other reason than to see how it makes me feel. If I settle into it and feel at peace, or if, like you, the urge to travel persists (or at least the urge to move around more freely). I’m sure you will always look back fondly on the time you spend in New York, and it will always be there for you to return to. If I knew so clearly what city I wanted to go to right now, I would be there in a heartbeat.

  • Reply Eva Casey November 20, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    YUP. Totally feeling this right now, too 😛 I am ‘settling down’ for TWO weeks in Bali at the moment and even that feels crazy to me. Two whole weeks? I’ve unpacked my things! It feels amazing, but at the same time scary. And I want so badly to have a community but to actually go out and form one or find one feels overwhelming. I can definitely relate to wanting to have a space that is just yours, but being so scared of occupying that space in case you want to pick up and leave. I lived in one apartment in NYC for two whole years without decorating because I thought at any point I might simply leave (which was only exacerbated by the fact that I had a month to month lease). Thanks for the reminder at the end that everything is always working out – it always is, even if we are too impatient to sit back and enjoy the ride! 🙂
    Eva Casey recently posted…Highs and Lows From One Year of TravelMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      Oh man, I know what you mean about trying to form a community feeling overwhelming. I think that’s why I’m drawn to San Francisco, where I already have tons of friends. I wouldn’t really have to do much work, my community is already there. Meeting people would be easy. Anywhere else? Not so much. And I love unpacking lately! I’m excited to do it in Oaxaca, but I’ll only be there for 2-3 months and I already KNOW it’s going to fly by 🙁

  • Reply Amanda - Lesson Plans & Layovers November 20, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Leah, I can totally relate! I too have recently needed to make a choice, but have had great fear in making a mistake or wrong decision. I know it’s cheesy and cliche, but following what your heart and gut tells you is still something I rely on as much as my own common sense. It’s never steered me wrong 🙂
    Amanda – Lesson Plans & Layovers recently posted…The Anatomy of a Quarter-Life-CrisisMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Aw thanks Amanda. I am trying to do what my heart wants, but it’s a little confused right now! 🙂 It doesn’t really help that I have travel plans in April, which makes it so I can’t stay in one place longer than a few months (when I go to Mexico in January).

  • Reply Stephanie November 21, 2016 at 9:41 am

    OMG I could have written this. That’s crazy, what you wrote is my life (except that I’m 30 1/2 y.o ahah)
    So to be honest I don’t know what to add, you said everything that’s in my head. That’s scary 😀

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Ha! We must be at the age when we feel a natural urge to settle. With all of these long-term travelers feeling the same way, I can’t believe it’s just a coincidence! 😉

  • Reply stephanie November 21, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Hi Leah! I am 28 and also have that ‘settling down’ fear I guess. After graduating uni I got stuck at a job. Ever since I quit that job, I have been floating through life…without knowing where to go.
    I love the freedom and independence of travelling. But yes I would also like my own apartment, a steady job, seeing friends each friday..but it is like you said “when i try to imagine my place…..my mind draws a blank.”
    I still do not know where I belong 🙂 but then….there is no rush, time will tell.
    x
    stephanie recently posted…Travel guide: Koh Rong, CambodiaMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis November 21, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      You are so right, there really is no rush to figure things out. I’ve been doing my best lately to just enjoy the ride and not stress about it! I’m excited to see what unfolds. 🙂

  • Reply Jaci November 22, 2016 at 8:09 am

    You definitely hit it on the head… I wanted a final answer as I continued to read till the very end! Which by the way, is mindfully captivating. I’m also 29 1/2 and have done short time travels for the past 6 years, but always end up “coming back.” Haven’t found a way to live a completely nomadic lifestyle, at a pace where it seems comfortable financially. SO many questions!!

    Keep doing your thing, it’s working for you 🙂

    • Reply Leah Davis November 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Thanks so much, Jaci! I hope you are able to create the nomadic lifestyle you’re after! I truly believe it’s achievable for anyone who’s willing to put in the work.

  • Reply Kat November 22, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I just stumbled upon your blog and can’t believe I’ve found someone who was able to put into words the exact feelings I’ve been having towards travel and self love so beautifully! Really what I needed today – thank you!

    • Reply Leah Davis November 24, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Aw, so glad you found me then Kat! Thank you for such kind words, I appreciate your comment 🙂

  • Reply Philip November 23, 2016 at 6:13 am

    If you were single I would marry you. But that would mean settling down…. I guess that might not work. But hey we can still hustle and travel. Lol.

    • Reply Leah Davis November 24, 2016 at 10:51 am

      You know, it’s not at all the idea of finding a partner. That doesn’t imply ‘settling down’ at all in my mind, because I would only choose to be with someone who was interested in traveling in the same capacity as me. This is not me accepting your proposal, for the record… 😉
      Leah Davis recently posted…Working from Anywhere as a Self-Taught E-Commerce Marketing SpecialistMy Profile

  • Reply Cris November 26, 2016 at 11:18 am

    I’m married (4+ years) but we don’t want kids. We do have a “home base” but we travel a lot. And we both have fully remote jobs. We spent time (weeks / months) in other countries. Did we settle? No. But we do have a place where we can always go back to and feel safe and call it home.
    We didn’t “grow up”. That’s for sure. I’m almost 36 and now I feel restless and want to explore even more than I have until now. “Settling down” is different for everyone.

    • Reply Leah Davis November 26, 2016 at 11:23 am

      That sounds almost exactly like what I want, Cris! I definitely see myself having a home base sooner than later, but still working 100% remote.

  • Reply Erica November 26, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    You are absolutely right! Settling down doesn’t mean you have to give up who you are as a person and your dreams you just have to settle down with someone that understands who you are and what you want from your life! I’m only 25, married and travel the world solo with my daughter. Nothing will get in my way of seeing the world!

  • Reply Laura Bronner November 26, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    ugh YES, Leah. I am totally in the same boat. I’ve pretty much moved to a new country every year for the last 6 years and it’s starting to get exhausting, the whole starting again. I guess I thought I’d find somewhere that called to me by now, but nowhere feels like THE place, ya know? I asked my boyfriend the other day, do you think anywhere will ever be “perfect” enough, good enough? Homey enough? I’m starting to worry I’ve actually ruined myself from ever feeling at home somewhere!

  • Reply Silvia November 26, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Seriously though, I really sort of hate owning lots of things, yet right now all I want to do is nest. What?? Haha glad it’s not just me though!

  • Reply Jennifer Schlueter November 27, 2016 at 2:28 am

    Wow, so much I can relate to. But I’m with your thoughts about rather living in the moment just because our future is unknown, it’s not something we should worry about. And us travelers will always find a way to travel, even if we’re “settled.”
    Also, maybe the settling fear will change once you have kids. Or you will just take your kids with you, why not?!

    • Reply Leah Davis November 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Ha, yes I’m sure a LOT of things would change if I were to have kids. I like the idea of “world schooling” but at the same time, I know that can be really hard on kids in terms of making friends and forming a community, which are two of my own biggest complaints about always being on the go!

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