Think it’s hard to start travelling? Try stopping


We were recently back in London for a few weeks catching up with friends and family. Many of them seem baffled by our choice of lifestyle (or still think we’re on some kind of delayed gap year), but some are fascinated and keep bombarding us with questions about how we did it.

Their perception seems to be that shifting to a life of travel is really hard. And while I’d have given you a different answer when I was trying to buy beachwear in London in December…it really isn’t.

The reality for us, we’ve realised, is actually the opposite: once you’re travelling, it’s much harder to stop than it is to keep going. And the logistics of going back to living in one place terrifies us.

Switching to a life of travel

When we were preparing to set off, we had what seemed like a never-ending list of things to do before we were ready.

Our main jobs were to:

  • Decide where to go
  • Book flights
  • Book our first month’s accommodation – it didn’t have to be perfect, just good enough
  • Throw out a large amount of our stuff
  • Rent out our apartment
  • Quit our jobs
  • Get all our mail sent to a kind parent’s address rather than ours

Once we started, it wasn’t that bad – and we started six months in advance so we had plenty of time. Even if we’d had more things holding us back – like a house that’s harder to rent, or kids in school, or vast quantities of “stuff” to put in storage – we probably could have done it in a year.

Switching back to living in one place

Now we’re moving, if we were to make a list of things to do so we could go back to living in once place, the new list would dwarf the old one.

We’d have to:

  • Decide where to live for at least the next year
  • Decide whether to rent or buy
  • Find somewhere temporary to stay while we found somewhere
  • Do lots of viewings – and it’d have to be perfect, because it’s more of a commitment
  • Find proofs of income and ID, and go through the procedural trauma of renting (manageable) or buying (horrendous)
  • Set up accounts for gas, electricity, water, internet, insurance, council tax…
  • Buy sheets, towels, kitchen equipment, and the strange things you take for granted like a clothes airer and vacuum cleaner
  • Get all our post redirected back to our new place

And to make matters worse, this couldn’t be spaced out over six months. Everything would need to get done all at once.

Breaking the status quo is hard…

I came to realise that people have got the wrong idea when they think that switching to a life of travel is hard.

It’s not that there’s anything hard about travel – it’s just that breaking your status quo, whatever it is, isn’t easy.

When making a life change involves working through a big scary list, it’s easy to put it off – whatever that change is. For us now it might feel like we’ve created some momentum, but really it’s still inertia. It’s just unusual to experience the settled/travel problem from our direction.

…but travel really isn’t

As well as being put off by the thought of the tasks involved in making the switch, people also seem to think that travel is a time-consuming business, with all sorts of administrative and logistical challenges.

It’s really not. OK, we now have to book flights and decide where to go next…but we save time by not having to make home improvements. We have to arrange visas and transfers sometimes, but we save time on paying bills – one PayPal payment to our Airbnb host covers everything.

Yes, we lose days to travel, and there are switching costs when we arrive somewhere new and have to work out where the supermarket is and how to get around. But when you add up all the time most people spend commuting, it’s nothing.

Seriously people: travel ISN’T the problem

In truth, doing something different and breaking out of your familiar patterns isn’t easy. And we’ve only been talking about the logistics here – psychologically there are a whole load more hurdles to get over.

But if we go back to living a more settled life, we’ll have to go through it all again – because travel in itself isn’t the problem.

If you don’t believe me, fine: I’ll sort out your travel plans, and in return you can arrange our lease and bills when we come back home.

  • Great point! I’ve been through both these transitions a couple times, and it’s always a headache. Newton’s first law about objects at rest staying at rest and objects in motion staying in motion seems to apply here :-p To this day, I’m never sure what to put as my “permanent” address when applying for stuff.

    • Wow, I didn’t realise I had Newton on my side in this argument 🙂 That’s what happens when your school somehow wangles its way out of teaching Physics because the teacher had some kind of breakdown (true story).

      And yeah, the old “address” box always causes more soul searching than it was intended to. There’s a great post on Ribbonfarm about the history/philosophy of why governments aren’t keen on people who can’t easily be tracked or defined: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-called-legibility/

  • Great point!
    I think that most often it is due to comfort that we don’t change. The unknown is usually worse to us than even the uncomfortable known

    And yes, I suppose that once you are moving it is easier to keep going….

    • So true Andreas – “better the devil you know” and all that.

      Gotta say, we’ve just had a day of trying to navigate around Sofia and encountered a LOT of unknowns, and it all seems to work out in the end! Everything is less scary in retrospect.