Time to Hang Up the Backpack

Time to Hang Up the Backpack

Last year, after my friend Scott passed away, I decided it was time to stop trying to plan a big multi-month trip and actually do it. His death made me realize that our time is short and you shouldn’t put off something in hopes that “the perfect time will come.” There’s no perfect time to just go — but there I was, waiting for one. I had fallen for the thing that I so often argue people not to do.

For the last couple of years, most of my travel has been in short, very frenetic bursts – a far cry from the slow travel I undertook when I started on the road. Between conferences, life obligations, and trying to having a home base, I kept cutting my trips shorter than I wanted. Sure, I was on the road, but it wasn’t those endless, carefree travel days of yore. Trying to juggle so many things in my life made it hard to just pick up and take off.

Scott’s death made me rethink my position, and so last November, I packed my bag and hit the road again. I wanted adventure, freedom, and to remember what it was like to have no time limit on your travels — to just go with the flow all over again.

Five months later, I came home.

Change is often gradual and insidious. You often don’t realize how much a trip has affected you until months later. You don’t realize that time spent hiking through the Amazon changed you until it is too late. But I knew right away how this trip changed me: it taught me that I don’t want to travel for so long for the foreseeable future. I’m over it.

I love travel, but after ten years on the road, I discovered that spending five months away isn’t enjoyable for me. It’s too long to be away when I’m in a period of my life where I want to slow down and create a life in just one place.

pexels-photo(30)I loved the first two months — they were fun, exciting, and everything I thought they would be — but, as time went on, this trip confirmed what I began to believe after my book tour: two months of constant travel is my new limit. After that, I get burnt out.

I’m not sure when it happened, but I like being home. I’ve been going back and forth with the idea of having a home for years, but this last trip helped me realize I really do like staying in one place, going to the gym, cooking, going to bed at 10, reading books, and all those other homebody-like routines.

I’m shocked at myself for changing. Who would have thought there would be a domesticated Matt? Not I!

And my friends and I are going to open more hostels this year, which will consume a lot of my time and require me to be stateside! (NYC and Portland, I’m coming for you!) I have many domestic trips lined up but my passport won’t be used until July when I go to Sweden. I’ll fly again to warmer climates in the winter but I’m excited not to have any other.

I need a break. I’m slightly sick of being on the road. The anxiety and panic attacks my last trip caused while trying to juggle everything made me realize I am no superman. Working while traveling has taught me I never want to do that again. Those Argentinians in San Rafael shook me to the core when they said, “Why are you working so much? Did you come to travel or to work?”

They were right. I came to travel. I don’t want to work and travel anymore and the only way to do that is shift how I travel. The most enjoyable parts of my last trip were when I was simply a traveler. When the computer was shut, when I was offline and could fully immerse myself in my destination, I was my happiest. I felt like I was immersed in a destination and focused.

I’m going back to that kind of travel.

While I might have outgrown long-term travel, I certainly did not outgrow backpacking. Being with those guys in San Rafael, staying in hostels in Australia, and hanging out with travelers in Southeast Asia made me realize I want to do more of that — and just that.

My computer is not coming with me anymore.

They say trips take you, you don’t take them, and I’ve never walked away from a trip without some new insight. This trip showed me that if I’m going to enjoy my travels, I need to change how I approach them — by planning shorter trips and leaving my work at home. When something becomes a chore, you lose your passion for it, and the last thing I want to do is lose my love of travel… even for a second.

And, though I’m taking a break and enjoying this rest stop, I still see the road and I know, sooner or later, I will answer its siren song, sling on my backpack, and be on the move again.

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Johan Smith

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