When you spend enough time on the road, the road decides your identity for you. You solidify your self-concept through the eyes of other trotters, other travellers, other self-identified leavers and wanderers and drifters. They call themselves global nomads. Citizens of Earth. Voluntary wanderers. Whatever you want to label it, it’s a cult-like attitude and it’s one that sucks you in. Wandering becomes your identity. Moving from place to place becomes not only what you do, but who you are. Your life is eternally lived in the future because that’s where you’re most comfortable living it.
You assume it’s going to go on forever.
And then one day, what you thought would never happen to you, happens: You reach a point where you do not want to leave anymore. And so you go home (or wherever home feels like). And you stay.
For years your life was littered with comings and goings. You never had to worry too much about the people you loved or the places you settled into because you knew and they knew that soon enough you would be gone and all of it would cease to be anything but a distant, pleasant memory. And something about that was comforting. It was easy to never invest, to never settle in, to never stay. It absolved you of responsibility and of emotion. It gave you a ready-made excuse to run away from any situation that didn’t serve you. It was a get-out-of-jail-free card for all of your mistakes.
Constantly travelling is a fantastic way of never facing yourself. You tell yourself that you belong on airplanes, in train compartments, sprawled out across sandy beaches or curled up in tents in the woods. You tell yourself that you belong nowhere and it becomes an easy identity to adopt. You are nowhere and everywhere. You’re nothing and everything. You belong to nobody, you belong to yourself. You are only your own and every time you start to feel like somebody else’s, you leave. Leaving is your thing. It’s what you do. It’s the only thing you ever feel sure of, the only action that makes you feel like yourself.
You need to know how to leave because it’s your defense mechanism. You’re not the person who sticks around to figure it out. You are not there come hell or high water. You’re not the person who grows stagnant and sad through repeating the same problems that have plagued you for years. You’re the one who knows when to get out, when to jump ship, when to tumble out of that crashing airplane using a feigned sense of empowerment as a parachute. You’re a skilled crash lander. It’s the only thing you know how to do.
And so, staying is not what comes naturally to you.
All of your years on the road taught you to believe that staying was the easy option and leaving was the brave one. But the more you entrench yourself in one place, the more you realize that it isn’t the easy option at all. There is nothing simple about having nowhere to run. There’s nothing easy about fighting through your battles and accepting the consequences of what you’ve done wrong. There’s nothing straightforward about living with genuine integrity, rather than jumping ship every time your intentions are questioned. Staying grows you in ways that constant movement never could. Staying forces you to face down all the parts of yourself that you would honestly rather run from.
And so what do you do, when you get that urge to flee? What do you do, six months in, when you’re sitting in the same coffee shop you have sat in for the past two hundred days, staring down the same walls you’ve stared down over the past four hundred coffees, nodding politely at the same people you have nodded at and chatted with for the past half of a year since you decided it was time to come home?
What do you do when your mistakes and uncertainties and insecurities start to creep up and settle in around your throat, begging you to open that Internet browser, look up those plane tickets to somewhere, to anywhere, to anyplace but here? What do you do when you feel that urge to run, and yet there’s nowhere left to escape to? When you’ve grown too old to glamorize it, too jaded to idealize it and too self-aware to slap the label of ‘adventurous’ over your constant need to move?
Where do you go when you only want to leave for the sake of leaving itself?
The problem with constantly moving is that after a long enough period of time, you forget who you are when you stay. You forget how to be someone whose entire life isn’t an act of defiance, whose being isn’t hinged upon rebellion, whose entire sense of purpose and presence isn’t simply a show of smoke and mirrors that precedes yet another disappearing act.
Leaving is the easiest thing in the world.
The hard part is learning to stay.
The hard part is cultivating a life that you do not want to escape from at all.