After the eurail pass, the white picket fence?
February 27, 2007 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Past and present world travelers, backpackers, and real-world avoiders: where are you now?

Answers to previous AskMe posts indicate that many of you have abandoned or postponed the "real world" to go on grand adventures around the world at some point in your lives. You decided to wander around Europe or Asia for a year after college, you joined the Peace Corps, you dropped out of corporate life to hike the Appalachian Trail, etc. Any time someone asks, "Should I go?" the majority of you answer with a resounding "Yes!"

My question is what you've done since your grand adventure, and how (or whether) you've adjusted to a more "normal" lifestyle. Did your extended travel experience get the wanderlust out of your system? Did you return to a nine-to-five cube-farm job that satisfies you, now that you've seen the world? Or did your post-college trip turn into 30 years of traveling around the world on the cheap? Or maybe you came home with the knowledge that you could never stand the rat race, and now you lead some kind of "alternative" lifestyle back home. Whatever it is that you're doing now, I want to hear about how you made the transition. Is it possible to build a satisfying life after an incredible vagabonding experience?
posted by vytae to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
After college a friend and I did some backpacking, spent some time in Paris, and about a year in Japan. He married a Japanese woman, lived there for a while before moving back to the UK and I ended up staying in San Francisco (10yrs now) after having visited someone there that I'd met in Paris (I arrived in 96 just in time for the dotcom goodness).
posted by zeoslap at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2007

Is it possible to build a satisfying life after an incredible vagabonding experience?

I'd think it was easier to build a satisfying life after doing fun things, rather than a life where you kept wondering, what if I'd only ... when I had the chance.

But really, for most people, travel (and even more intense experiences, like joining the Navy or the Peace Corps) aren't so transformative that they can't happily rejoin normal life. In fact, I'd suggest that "normal life" is made normal by a lot of people doing those things. A place where no one traveled for work, and no one served in the military, and no one went off to school would be a really weird and insular place. (Think here, perhaps, of some very unusual religious communities.)

I'm saying that although for the individual person involved, their travel or time in the army is hugely transforming and important. But for the community it is not transformative --- it is normal and good for the community.

And so you find people in every corporation and in every town that have been in the Peace Corps, been in the military, backpacked around Asia, etc. You don't do those things if you are totally happy where you are, but for almost everyone they are a short-term thing, after which they return to "real life."

I have trouble imagining myself ever having one job for decades and decades. But it wasn't traveling that made me that way. It was the opposite: I have repeatedly used travel as an excuse to not have to stay at a job that wasn't very interesting.
posted by Forktine at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2007

Good question, and I hope you'll get some interesting answers. I initially found it very hard to transition back into the 'real world' after two years traveling/working abroad. At first I was just in paralysis. I slept on a friend's couch, lived out of the trunk on my car and squandered the last of the money I had hanging out in bars. As fun as that was, it's not really a lifestyle that can be maintained indefinitely. I started to take temp and short-term jobs, telling myself it was just 'for a while' and that I would hit the road again soon. Eventually the couch thing got a little old, so I figured I had better get an apartment. I got a tiny little efficiency apartment and a 6-month lease, telling myself it was 'just for a while.'

And I don't think I need to tell you what happened from there. Retirement plans, mortgages, life insurance, these things have a way of creeping into your life as you grow older, unless you are 100 percent committed to a nomadic lifestyle. I don't perceive that as a negative thing necessarily. It seems like a natural progression of events. My traveling years are a big part of who I am, and I don't regret that time spent. I still tell myself that my office job is 'just for a while' though.
posted by Otis at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2007

Wow. This is one hell of great a question. I am definitely one of the people who pipes up to say "yes" whenever someone wants to leave the rat race.

I don't know quite where I fit into the scheme of your question. I'm USian. I studied in Seville, Spain, for a year as an undergrand, and traveled around Spain and Europe as much as I could while I was there. This was (gulp) 10 years ago.

This travel was transformative for me. It really fucked with my head, but in a good, mind-blowing sort of way. As soon as I got back to the States, I was scheming to go back to Spain -- first on vacations, then later on through an internship in grad school.

When I got out of grad school and was ready to get a job, I took a job that was completely Chicago-based and offered no chance for travel. But it paid well and did offer a decent amount of vacation. So I traveled back to Spain nearly every chance I got, and threw in a few trips to Argentina for good measure.

I realized after three years or so at my job in Chicago that it was not enough for me to be able to travel to these places even for three or four weeks at a time; I needed to find a way to live in one of these places.

I settled on Argentina, partly out of economics and partly because, as much as I love Spain, I did not want to relive my past, I wanted a new experience. I have been here for two years (with a three-month hiatus to sell fruit in the States, but that's a long story).

I don't know exactly what the future holds. I expect I will return to Chicago to work at the farmers markets June-Oct. and then, as you can see from my question here, I will likely return to Spain for at least a little while.

After that, it may be time for me to rejoin the rat race in some form or another. Keep in mind I've already done the rat race thing for five years and I wasn't content with it. I fled the country. It's hard for me to say whether this time will be different. Nearly all of my friends are settling down. It may be that I will too. Or it may be that I will be the one who never does. I may get a job for another five years and then flee the country again. It is essentially the central question of my life.

I look forward to reading the answers to this question, and I can only hope they are more cogent than mine.
posted by veggieboy at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2007

Australian girl, still travelling. Graduated, spent eighteen months in grad school in Ireland, went back to Sydney for a couple of years, met future husband, we moved to San Francisco together. Nine years later, still in SF, with two kids and an apartment, holidays in Mexico and Turkey. Like all Australians, we're planning to go back to Australia... eventually.
posted by rdc at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2007

I traveled abroad in high school and college, and I did PC after college. Since then I've worked, done law school (including lots of overseas work), and am now an atty in a job with a lot of overseas travel (and subject matter is int'l). I travel every chance I get - hording miles and vacation time to do so. I still have wanderlust and I never feel as alive as when I am traveling. But I don't want to live abroad right now because I want to be close to my family and friends. Also, it would be hard (considering law school debt & the fact that I'm trained in US law) to find viable work overseas for myself and my s.o. (same situation). I've thought about something like the foreign service, but I want more stability than moving around every 3 years or so, and this life seems like a decent compromise between that desire for roots and stability and my urge to experience the world.

Since I started traveling I feel like almost every place I go I leave a bit of myself and I come away with a bit of longing for the people and place and the experience. For the places I stayed a long time, it can be sad to miss that place/people so much, but overall it has been incredibly enriching to travel so much. And sometimes I feel like I'm wishing my life away, always dreaming of the next trip, but I can't seem to help that, so I don't worry about it too much.

My s.o. has a very similar background (except instead of PC he bummed around the world for a couple of years). Like me, he loves to travel still, and travels as much as he can. I think he is happy with his choice as well, but if he gets the opportunity to do extended travel again, he will do it.
posted by Amizu at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't think it's necessarily impossible to build a satisfying life after an incredible vagabonding experience - I just think that people who tend towards vagabonding experiences are less likely to be satisfied with normal lives. I've lived overseas twice, and had several extensive "vacations" (five months in South America, multiple longish trips to Mexico). I've spent a lot of my life putting off things like getting a dog, or buying a house, just so that I'd have the freedom to take off whenever I wanted to.

Now I'm recently back from my second stint of living abroad, and I have a good job that I like, a lease on an apartment, and a car payment for the first time ever. But I'll admit that I'm dissatisfied - there's something about living abroad that just makes me happy. I hope to settle down some, and try harder to create some life for myself here, but I do wonder if it will ever happen.
posted by saratravels at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2007

Forktine: "I'd think it was easier to build a satisfying life after doing fun things, rather than a life where you kept wondering, what if I'd only ... when I had the chance."

I tend to agree. Still, I think there's a risk of trading your "what if I'd only" question for an equally-unsatisfying "those were the days" attitude if you do actually follow the dream for a while. I'm wondering how people avoid the Glory Days syndrome. It sounds like you and many of the responders so far have done it by continuing to go on adventures, to varying degrees. It seems like a good solution to me. :)

These answers are exactly what I was looking for, thank you all. Keep 'em coming.
posted by vytae at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2007

I ditched my accidental career to go travel the world, and now after being back on this continent for a few years and working to establish myself in a new career, I'm definitely scheming to leave again even though some people I know think I basically ruined my life.

...but for me this isn't a consequence of travel, it's a consequence of the personality traits that made me want to go travel in the first place. Because travel is reasonably accessible, I can avoid the "glory days" syndrome by simply being always in the mode of determining where to go next.

I prefer to think of it as collecting experiences, but it's probably more akin to an addiction. Hopefully a harmless one.
posted by aramaic at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2007

Many of them end up in grad school. Here's to avoiding the working world for another five or six years!
posted by chrisamiller at 3:49 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cheers to that, chrisamiller.
The great thing about academia is if you play your cards right, you can have a successful career, be well respected, be reasonably well-paid, and still avoid the real world for the rest of your life!
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:21 PM on February 27, 2007

I did my semester abroad in London, backpacked solo thru Europe, graduated, went back to London for a year to work, came back to the USA determined to somehow find a way to live in either London or Ireland permanently. Spent a year trying to keep a long-distance relationship going - lots of weekend trips to London from the east coast (ah, those $99 flights!), paid for by lots of credit cards and insufferable temp jobs. I'm sure I was an insufferable bitch to my friends and family at home when I returned - the fake accent, slang, everything American sucked. I remember not telling anyone when I was coming home except for my twin sister. She picked me up at the airport and I spent 3 days at her place in hiding, weepy, miserable, paralyzed, terrified of adapting back to the American culture.

Just when I thought I was going to make the leap, I lucked out and got a fabulous job at a nonprofit combining use of my English degree and getting to travel all over the world for free. I made no money at this job, but it fed my wanderlust.

Fast forward nearly 20 years later and I have ended up in a career that I love. It has allowed me to explore all 7 continents and to more than 60 countries. And no, I'm not a travel agent. And no, I'm not a tour guide.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:23 PM on February 27, 2007

After getting a degree in Australia I did 5 years of working outside Australia and then came back. Quite a bit of travel with work.

The only regret, which is unfortunately a big one, is not being in on the real estate jump that happened. Other than that it was worthwhile.

It may be worth trying to travel and work. It isn't impossible. It shouldn't have to be a choice between career and travel. Work out a way to wangle both.
posted by sien at 5:11 PM on February 27, 2007

Having neglected to apply for college during High School, I took off to a kibbutz in Israel, and then travelled through Egypt and Europe for six months. Tried University back in California for a year, decided it wasn't for me. Showed up on my dad's doorstep (who was living in Paris at the time), stayed with him a couple of months until he presented me with a gift of a one-way ticket to Calcutta. Travelled around India, Nepal and Bangladesh for six months. Made detour to Vietnam on way back home. Stayed in Saigon for seven years. Finally made it back to San Francisco just as the dot com bubble was bursting. Worked for a corporate branding company that went from sixty employees to six in three years. Went to work for a publishing company. Three years later, jumped at the chance to run their Hong Kong office at the start of this year. Guess I have a hard time staying put for more than six or seven years at a time...
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 5:25 PM on February 27, 2007

Did a semester in London, went back after graduation and got a job for two years, met a nice Aussie boy and moved with him to Australia... where I've been for 5+ years. Sometimes you do things expecting them to only be temporary... and then they become your real life. We still travel as much as we can.
posted by web-goddess at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2007

I started off in the Northeast U.S., went to Jerusalem for a year after college, spent two years in grad school in Canada, and then went to New Zealand for a year. I tried to find a way to stay in NZ or go back to Canada, but that didn't happen. So I got on the plane back to my hometown, and started applying for jobs (mostly faraway ones) to rejuvenate the bank balance. I finally got a job - in said hometown. So I stayed, in the last place I wanted to be; and gradually felt ok about it. I met the love of my life, and I got another job here that I like much better. I try to travel and try new things in my paltry spare/vacation time, and I sometimes dream of going off and guiding kayak tours or something for a few years. Realistically, though, I'll probably stay in this kind of mainstream-ish life and travel when I can. I still want to try living in different places - I can't stand the thought of staying in the same city and state for too long. I still have wanderlust, which I try to satisfy within the structure of a life that I'm generally happy with.
posted by bassjump at 7:42 PM on February 27, 2007

I've told the Tale of My Wanderings before, here and elsewhere. Except for a couple of years in Whistler (which I reckon doesn't really count as 'normal life') I've been outside of Canada all but about 3 years since late 1988, so we're coming up on two decades now.

I never went back, is my short answer. Following my first near-decade of globetrotting, I've lived in Korea 7 of the last 10 years, with the other 3 in Australia. I guess I'm as settled-in as I've ever been since I was a child, oddly enough.

I don't know if I'll ever go back to Canada (with my wife, who I met here in Korea), but if I do, it'll be on my terms, and work will be something I do because I want to, not because I must, is my goal. the goal is in sight. I can't see myself making the kinds of compromises most people I know back home have made, in terms of becoming a debt serf, or so dependant on a regular salary that they have no real choice but to do a job they may or may not like. I think the last 30 years back home have seen ordinary people forced increasingly into walking a financial tightrope, from which, unless they are lucky or fortunate, falling means devastation of the life they'd tried to build.

I love Canada, I miss it, but I'm not going back until I'm good and ready, if ever. Or at least until the real estate market crashes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:58 PM on February 27, 2007

After several trips by myself, mostly to Europe, I ended up marrying derMax and settling in Switzerland, escaping the severe rat race existence I was leading in NYC. I've had my troubles adjusting and all, but after more than decade here I have a hard time imagining myself back in the in a clean, safe, wealthy country, working for ourselves, is not so bad. I certainly never want to go back to living in a tiny NYC apartment and sleeping to the sound of sirens going by, though I still love NY.

We still travel a lot, though no backpacking. Ironically we've done quite a lot of travelling in the U.S., e.g. driving trip in a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway a couple years ago, since derMax is a big US-fan. (Mrs. derMax speaking here.)
posted by derMax at 8:20 PM on February 27, 2007

I went on SSI for my mental disability. YMMV.
posted by davy at 8:22 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm about five-to-ten years behind the next chapter of most of the above. I took my overseas term in Italy and damned if Europe didn't just about break me financially.
A year and a half later and I'm about to grab a degree out of this place and meditate on what sort of un-accidental career I can live with for two years. Family history dictates a mad escape somewhere, like backpacking overland from Oz to the UK.
I've sat in on numerous conversations in the past six weeks with colleagues (both students and staff) about how amazing the overseas experience was.
Still, I'm also ok with being a debt serf on the short-term basis. (Two years = short term.)
Until opportunity knocks with a short pointy stick.
posted by lilithim at 1:09 AM on February 28, 2007

Wanderlust, I have it. In my younger days, I wandered all over the US. Settled for 5 years one place, then 2, then 6 (All US), then resumed wandering. Only now with partner and some style. My partner is an MBA with a US corporate giant, and European. We move every few years.

The part I'm most tired of is renting homes. This is a much bigger hassle outside the States. No idea where we'll be next, but expect to be there not latter than next year, likely by the end of this year.

We talk about settling down, but we've no idea where that would be. Everywhere seems to have good and bad sides. But increased income takes some of the edge out of the relocation hassle (it was rather brutal, in some regards, when moving to Germany from the States).

The very idea of moving back to the States seems weird. I miss Americans in many ways (delightfully open people, we are). In other ways, I worry the States has changed too much (haven't been back since I left in 1998).
posted by Goofyy at 3:05 AM on February 28, 2007

I have been following my dream career path for the last 9 years. I missed out on the travel thing during my twenties.
But the last year, I found that I was repeating myself with work...upset with the constant renting (Housing prices out of this world and no trust fund in sight)

Now at the age of the thirty I have been away for four months...met a girl in my first month and am now chilling in Norway. Travelling when and where-ever I can. I can't stand the idea of returning to work. I hate having regrets but I regret not doing this earlier.

Now my future plan, with travel been quite tiring for 8 months working a year and four months travelling ( a lot easier if you have freelance contracts). I'll do this for the next 5 years hopefully.
Locating somewhere else permanently would be great also.

I just want to get in as much travelling as possible before peak oil hits, a sail boat from New Zealand would take up too much of my time.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 9:49 AM on February 28, 2007

i'm 28. i've done 3 3-6 month international backpacking trips, plus we generally go to at least one festival during the summer and make about two circuit trips per year to visit friends and family in various places.

at home, we do pretty much any kind of freelance we can come up with. jobs we've done for money include selling paintings and drawings, doing massage therapy, painting kids faces, playing music, djing, dancing, babysitting, catering, consulting, writing, and doing construction. we have a pretty low income and work for money as little as is reasonably possible, and our lifestyle is pretty basic in a lot of ways (when we're at home at least). i think this is related to travelling in a few ways: 1) i'm definitely afraid of getting tied down to a career, and travelling is part (though not all) of the reason for this 2) i find it somewhat hard to care, especially after travelling in a lot of places, about maintaining the type of extremely commercial lifestyle that a lot of americans seem to take for granted 3) honestly i'm not very employable. we have to hustle a fair bit to do the work that we do, because it wouldn't be easy at this point to get even a stupid job with such big gaps in any job experience besides freelance. this isn't all causal though-- that is, i don't think i'd be in a traditional career even if i hadn't managed to travel. it's interelated in a variety of ways.

on the other hand, we own a house, partly because it's actually cheaper than renting (in the cheapest US city we've found, which is also a pretty nice place to live, and where i've been based since coming here for college about ten years ago). we're also expecting a baby. so travel hasn't made us completely disinterested in any type of commitment or anything like that. actually, towards the end of trips i tend to get really excited about going home for a while, seeing friends, working on my own projects, etc.

i have two major suggestions: 1) get a career involving travel, like many people have mentioned, or develop some very marketable skills so that you don't have to work shit jobs in between trips, and 2) if you have priorities that differ significantly from the mainstream, such as travel or adventure over career advancement, make sure to discuss this early in any relationships that might become serious. much more than problems with jobs, i've seen people run into problems combining major travel and associated lifestyle choices with disinterested partners.
posted by lgyre at 7:48 PM on February 28, 2007

My mind is eased, my wanderlust is back in overdrive, and my gratitude is great. Thank you all for sharing your stories.
posted by vytae at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2007

vytae, Interesting question.

My own late to the party story/opinion...Ran away from home at 15, (1969) left for Europe (1970). Lived in London 4 years (1970 to 1974; published a coiuple of books), Italy and Greece half a year each. At 21 (1975) hitched, mostly, to India and stayed there a decade. Six of those years, mostly, on the Indo-Tibetan border studying Buddhism and four years working in the fashion biz in New Delhi with trips to Nepal and Bali.

Returned to the USA in late 1985 after 15 years of alternative living abroad. Yes, it changed my life completely and satisfied my wanderlust. Being Buddhist gave me an inner reservoir of joy that endured. Living in Europe and Asia gave me some perspective, happiness, fulfillment and adventurous memories.

On returning to America, age 33, I had no college credentials, wished I did and ended up as a NYC street vendor for the last 20 years. I'm 53 now, working both as a street vendor, doing business writing/advertising part time as well for a small company. Worked 5 1/2 years as a building super and community activist. Love my life as an adult and am living peacefully in a small Hell's Kitchen apartment with a rewarding, warm and friendly relationship with my neighbors.

However, if I hadn't been in therapy in America after my travels abroad I don't think I'd be a happy or well person.

There are gifts to be found abroad and at home. In the end it's what you do with what you have that will make life liveable.

Ultimately, wherever you go, there you are. The most important journey, imho, will be learning about and becoming true to yourself and others.
posted by nickyskye at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2007

I just wanted to add this comment, since I just read a book that I think would be perfect for you to read, if you're interested in pleasure reading on the subject: Kiss the Sunset Pig by Laurie Gough. She's a fantastic travel writer, and this book represents her voyage through the US (she's an American-Canadian dual national raised in Canada) in her mid-thirties where she reflects on wild adventures throughout the world when she traveled in her twenties in Greece, Korea, Jamaica, the US, Singapore, & Indonesia. Throughout the book she tries to reconcile her traveler spirit with her desire to lead a somewhat more settled life and find the "right" place to spend her life and the "right" person to spend it with. The epilogue in particular is right on point for your question. Anyway, it's a great read - I just read it this weekend and could barely put it down. It's available at and but not in the US. Definitely worth the international shipping, if you're in the US.
posted by Amizu at 9:33 AM on March 5, 2007

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