“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”
The life of a traveler and immigrant is complicated. On the outside, it may look like a non-stop adventure: Jet-setting across Europe and the Middle East. Sampling new food and drinks. Meeting beautiful and fascinating people. Partying until the sun rises. Not being bound by corporate schedules and limited vacation time.
I will admit it has its perks.
However, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. Those who don’t live it don’t see the negative aspects of this lifestyle. What I like to call, “the curse of wanderlust” and its consequences.
I like to think of wanderlust as a sort of disease which has infected a part of the population. It is an insatiable desire to explore new places and be on the go. Those of us who have it will sacrifice anything to travel somewhere new. Many people dream of visiting Paris. The difference between a person with wanderlust and a person without wanderlust is that the person without wanderlust will probably be satisfied and feel accomplished after they make their 2 week trip to Paris, whereas those of us with wanderlust will yearn to explore more places in France and the surrounding countries. Every time we travel somewhere new, we discover new places we want to go to. It is a never-ending cycle and we will never truly satisfy our hunger to see more of the world.
For people with wanderlust, travel is a priority. The job, money (any more than the amount we need to go on our trip), car, degree, house, marriage and other things most people desire are not as important to us as our thirst to explore the world around us. No amount of fear or societal pressure can hold us back.
Unfortunately as with anything in life, my semi-nomadic lifestyle definitely comes with its downsides. Spending so much time away from home causes a huge strain on personal relationships. You can’t always come home for weddings or witness the birth of a new cousin. You will miss out on countless birthdays and holidays. Taking into account your already busy lifestyles, keeping up with close friends and family becomes even more challenging when you live in a different time zone. Despite all of the new technology-Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.-it’s still very difficult to make time for everyone.
On the other hand, this is not entirely negative because it helps you decide which relationships are good to hold onto and which ones you should let go of. Being far apart helps you evaluate the people in your life and you learn to appreciate the ones who make the effort even more. Also, as an advantage to your friends, they have a really cool place to go on vacation and a free place to stay.
Another downside is that friendships in your host country may very well be short-lived and fleeting. At first, it will be easy to meet people and everyone will want to talk to you. You’ll have new friends and plans in no time. However, maintaining these friendships after your stay in your host city is very challenging.
Since you are not a local and most people you meet either know that you’re going to leave at some point or are in the same boat as you, it’s difficult to make lasting friendships. This is even more true for friends you make while traveling. I’ve met and clicked with so many incredible people while traveling or staying in hostels and, unfortunately, I’ve lost contact with a lot of them. Although you get along really well and you share beautiful memories together, it’s not very likely that you’ll be in the same place together in the future. And even if you end up meeting again somewhere new, the experience will probably be different. These sorts of “friendships” develop very quickly at first and often fizzle out in the end. As they say, “easy come, easy go.”
However, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to make true friends when you travel or live abroad. If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t be living abroad right now. In the past few years, I’ve made some very close friends both from living in Spain and from traveling to foreign countries. We’ve shared amazing experiences together, like: trying new food, spending holiday dinners with their families and even taking a spontaneous day-trip to a Greek isle. The memories are sweet and I’m sure there will be more. As with my friends from the States, those of us who are meant to stay in touch will stay in touch.
And this brings me to the topic of love. Amor. Amour. Amore. Whatever you want to call it.
We’ve all heard a story about someone from our home country that went abroad, met the love of their life, decided to stay in their host country and lived happily ever after. Secretly, don’t we all dream of a blissful fairy tale romance with a charming foreign lover?
Well, as you probably guessed, dating is especially difficult for those of us cursed by wanderlust. If you thought dating back home was hard, try dating in a place where you aren’t as familiar with the customs, language and protocol. Language barriers create additional stress and the fact that you are not a permanent resident of your host country means that things cannot really progress beyond anything casual. In two weeks, you could be gone, so how could you maintain a serious relationship?
Although it is bittersweet in a way, dating abroad can actually help you better understand what you are looking for in a partner. Dating men and women from different cultural backgrounds exposes you to new things and often makes you re-evaluate the qualities and characteristics that are most important to you in a potential lover. Unfortunately, you will probably deal with more heartbreak and failed relationships than most of your friends back home, but you will come out stronger in the end.
Up to this point, I’ve really only focused on how wanderlust affects our relationship with others. However, when all is said and done, the most important thing is how this desire to explore the world affects us.
Travel changes you in many ways. Seeing new places, meeting people from different cultures, trying new food and adjusting to cultural norms challenges us and keeps us on our toes. Interpreting the world through the eyes of someone else makes us the see the world in a whole new way. It changes our point-of-view on life and broadens our horizons.
Wanderlust, and the fairly nomadic lifestyle that may come with it, also confuses us.
Going back “home” is not the same. We have changed so much, but the place we came from has not. We no longer feel like we belong there. Things that used to feel normal and comfortable to us are now foreign and strange in a whole new way. We are outsiders in our own home.
By the same token, our new “home” will never feel like it is ours. We are foreign. We did not grow up in this place; we form a small part of its story. Although we may feel like we have integrated into our host culture, it will never be possible to feel like we are fully part of it.
I think that the biggest challenge that faces those of us with wanderlust is figuring out our own identity. Travelling and living abroad changes us and so many abrupt changes in a short period of time can make us question who we are and what we want out of life. Sure, we may look the same and act the same. We will probably keep the same job and hobbies as well. However, we have changed on a much deeper level and our perception of the world is not the same.
Travel makes us think on our feet. It challenges us and frightens us. It is at the same rewarding and extremely gratifying. It makes us mature and responsible. It helps us develop our social skills and problem-solving abilities. It may give us the change to learn a foreign language or a new hobby. Travel transforms our very own identity.
Although I struggle with understanding my own identity and wonder if I will ever be capable of settling down in one place, I know that travel has benefited me in so many ways and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to live abroad and travel the world.
One day, I believe that everything will be clear and I will know what is right for me. My wanderlust will eventually calm down and my need to have a stable life will be more powerful. But, how can I be so sure? After all, I’m only 24…