On Travel, Anxiety, and Making Sense of Home

I haven’t slept in my own bed in almost seven months. Three months in Europe and now almost four back in the U.S. I’ve been a guest in someone else's home since the end of June last year — in Airbnbs and visiting family. It’s changed the way I view the idea of “home.”

What is home really? A place? Well, no. I think I could feel at home anywhere in the world. I’ve had to at least try. I’ve thrown out the idea that a geographic location is central to the feeling of home. You can see that in people who live in vans, cars, or RVs traveling full-time. Is home a group of people? That's a huge chunk of it, but I haven’t had that. I could write a whole other post on how much you miss out on the beauty of community when you’re traveling.

 
The Truth About Long-Term Travel
 

So what’s home? How I’ve learned to define it is a sense of belonging. It’s a sanctuary that you've created. It’s having ownership of your environment and your space. And for the past few months, every space I’ve been in has been borrowed from someone else.

I’ve learned that I love traveling. I love the adventure, the spontaneity, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures. I've created many unforgettable memories. I went to a jazz bar in London, spent quality time with my parents in Texas, watched the sun set at the Eiffel Tower, watched Keegan's sister marry the love of her life and got to know his family better in Missouri, ran a half marathon in Berlin, kicked it with my best friend every day in Nashville, walked through Versailles (truly a dream come true, where the photos in this post are from), read books all day on the beach in Portugal, and more.

It's been a season of growth and adventure and stepping out of my comfort zone. I've seen the rewards over and over again of embracing what I've called the "perpetual discomfort" of moving around so much. I'd do it a thousand times again. But the anxiety I've learned to manage over the years returned to kick my butt on this trip and wouldn't let me forget that I had no home.

It's not even the being "away" part that's been a challenge. It's that there's really nowhere I'm away from. I stored all my stuff at my parents' house in Texas and packed a backpack, flying out to San Francisco last June to kick off my adventure. I'm still living out of a suitcase today.

The Truth About Long-Term Travel

One of the hardest parts has been trying to talk to people about it.

Here’s how a typical conversation goes:

“So where are you from?”

“I’m from Texas, but I don’t live there anymore.”

“Oh, where do you live?”

“It’s ... complicated.”

“How?”

“I live here right now. I mean, sort of. I’m just visiting.”

“Oh OK, so you are here for a while. But where will you go back to when you’re done traveling?”

That’s the part. Right there. There’s no home to go back to. I’m just here, now. Sounds freeing, right? Well it turns out that’s just the aspect of traveling that I disliked.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a freshman in college, when for the first time I woke up in the middle of the night experiencing a panic attack that I thought I wouldn’t survive. If you've had a panic attack, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, trust that this isn't a dramatic description of how it feels.

I’ve learned to manage anxiety since then. It doesn’t ever go away really, but you figure out what works best for you. For me, exercise has been the greatest relief. Anxiety is always there threatening to hurt me, but it usually doesn’t because I've found ways to cope.

But boy oh boy, did last year throw me some challenges. It was constant adjustment. Any time I settled in to a place — as much as you can knowing you’re going to be leaving soon — it would be time to pack up again. Some people, like Keegan, thrive in that environment. He did this for a year all by himself (in fact, it was this post he wrote about his travels that brought us together almost four years ago). Keegan would live out of Airbnbs indefinitely. But I had a harder time. I’d never done this before. And I had some hard moments — some of the darkest places I’ve ever been before.

I had no idea anxiety would hit me like it did. I had no idea how much my environment, having a space to call MINE, mattered to me. But it does. And now I'm equipped. I know something about myself that I didn't know before I left. I know that having ownership of some corner of the world matters to me, which is why I am SO excited to be moving into my new apartment in Los Angeles this weekend. I'm going to make it mine. I'm going to make it my space, my sanctuary.

I'll have my bed. My dishes. My desk. My everything. 

My home.

Would I travel long-term again? YES. No doubt about it. No hesitation. I think everyone should take a trip longer than two weeks if they have the means and the flexibility. I feel really fortunate to have been able to take this trip — I know that most people never will be able to. There's so much to see and experience and simply not enough time (or money).

Keegan has been my constant through all of this. And I have some really great friends and family who ground me through all the adjustments. I've even made friends around the world — a new girlfriend of mine who lives in Berlin is visiting LA next weekend! Creating a routine has been a huge comfort, too, through all the instability.

I think it comes down to filling your life with healthy relationships and environments. There are certain things you can control, and you learn to adjust to everything else. For me, experiencing the anxiety and discomfort of long-term travel was entirely worth it because that was only a part of it. The rest of it wasn't highlighted in this post because you already know that travel is fun. You've taken trips before. You've seen in my photos and heard it in my stories — all the life-changing parts of travel full of beauty and adventure and saying "yes" to new things. But there's messy stuff. There are hard days. That's the stuff we should talk about, too, and we don't because it's uncomfortable. But that's life. All in all, this trip was the best time of my life. I grew, I learned, and I had priceless experiences with my favorite person. I would never, ever trade that for anything.