Us in Halong Bay, Vietnam

One Year of Travel – Nomadic Life and Searching for Home

It’s been a year since we turned our lives upside down and left the UK. Those twelve short months have felt like a lifetime in which we’ve learnt, seen and achieved so much. It’s the first year out of thirty that we’ve spent away from the country we call home – a mere blink of the eye – yet throughout this year I’ve been unexpectedly struck by powerful waves of longing for home.

It’s often small, odd things from home that I miss. While recovering from a bout of food poisoning in Laos, for instance, a vivid memory of buttered wholemeal toast propped against a bowl of steaming Heinz tomato soup got stuck in my head. Some days, as I sweat under another unforgiving sun in a cloudless Asian sky I dream of being back on my sofa in London, tucked away in a flat that’s no longer mine, encased in a cocoon of blankets; safely protected from the dark rain pounding the window pane.

England. I’ve missed it in a way I never imagined I could.

Us in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The third day of our trip in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

What is Home?

During my cultural studies classes at University I decided that the notion of home and national identity is nothing but an imaginary construct but out here on the road it’s become more real to me than ever. I’ve come to understand that national identity, home, is the shared experience of life, the tenuous commonalities that tie you to the millions of people who live in the same piece of the world as you do. For me, it’s being as pissed off as thousands of other commuters when the tube brakes down during rush hour, it’s watching the 6’oclock news and knowing that people up and down the country are doing the exact same thing as me. It’s the way we Brits all curse the weather yet still flock to the parks and seaside on cloudy bank holidays, choking the motorways as we go. It’s in the bleak British cynicism; our grey, depressing soaps on TV, the Sunday dinners and trashy tabloid newspapers, the crowds of smokers gathered outside of pubs and the way the winter skies darken in the middle of the afternoon.

Amy & Andrew in the Snow

Our last taste of snow in London

That is all home, all national identity is; a collection of memories and feelings, of familiar places, faces and routines. You can’t see it or touch it – but it sits inside of you, no matter where you go in the world. While travelling, for example, we’ve seen expats displaying totems of their origin in their new homes, unable to shake their roots; from the Australian with a crocodile warning sign on the wall to the US flag taped up in a hotel or pie, mash and the premier league on TV at an Irish pub.

Travelling, by contrast, is the exact antithesis of home. To travel is to permanently pass through unfamiliar cities, towns and villages; you drift through these places pausing long enough to observe how people live their lives in this particular corner of the world – you’re a bystander, an outsider, looking into lives that don’t belong to you. After a while, you begin to miss that sense of home.

The Side Effects of Nomadic Life

For me, living a nomadic life this year has been exhilarating and liberating; breaking free from the monotony and familiarity of life in England has completely changed my outlook in so many ways. In the simplest terms, travel has shown me how big the world actually is and rather than quench my wanderlust, it’s only inspired me to explore it further. Paradoxically, nomadic life has also made me long to have a home again. Over the last few months in particular I’ve begun to crave having a place of our own and a routine again, along with some of the comfort and familiarity we used to take for granted back in England.

Us on the beach in Koh Tao, Thailand

On the beach in Thailand

This longing for home has been exasperated by the aspects of travel that we’ve become well and truly sick of after twelve months: having to smother our bodies in foul-smelling bug spray and put up with having permanently dirty, disgusting feet, for a start. Enduring endless journeys in cramped buses with blaring music and air con has now become a familiar torture as has trudging through unfamiliar streets looking for half-decent rooms. At this point in our journey we long for a kitchen where we can cook familiar food without running the risk of getting stomach ache and if we never have to squash our wrinkled clothes into our backpacks ever again it’ll be too soon.

If these things sound trivial, that’s because they are. Objectively, I know these annoyances are a small price to pay for getting to travel the world and at the beginning of our trip I put up with them gladly.  After twelve months of it though we’re exhausted, not only have we realised how much we miss England, we’ve also realised that we cannot travel like this forever. We don’t want to give up seeing the world but we do need a break in England over the summer to transition into the next stage of our world exploration.

Amazing Things Will Happen

Place-mat at a restaurant in Cambodia

Transitioning from Constant Travel to Life as Expats

Given all this, the next stage in our life adventure is to try and create a balance between travel and home – but how is that possible? Before we create a more permanent base for ourselves in the UK, Andrew and I still have grand plans to road trip through America and Canada, take Spanish lessons in Mexico for a few months and backpack through South America. To achieve this we need some time to recover in one place and rebuild our travel fund; that’s why we’re moving back to Asia in September to teach for a year.

Bamboo Train in Cambodia

Riding the bamboo train in Cambodia

The plans aren’t finalised yet, we’ve still got to decide which country we want to move to, I need to complete a TEFL course and there’s the small matter of actually finding jobs, an apartment and building a whole new temporary life in an unfamiliar country. As someone who constantly second-guesses my abilities and over-analyses my decisions, I feel a lot of fear about entering this new stage of our lives. I have no idea if I’ll  be any good at teaching, for a start.

I am certain however, that we need to stop moving and I’m sure that Asia is the place we need to be. When we first arrived in Indonesia all those months ago I remember being daunted by the prospect of spending an entire year in Asia. Now, I look forward to living in this part of the world, immersing myself in the culture not as a traveller, but as an expat, someone who lives and works in a local community. It doesn’t hurt that we can save a ton of money pretty quickly in Asia either.

Cruising Halong Bay in Vietnam

Cruising Halong Bay in Vietnam

There’s so much to plan and look forward to over the next few months but for now we move into the second year of our adventure as backpackers in Asia while looking forward to a brief homecoming in the summer and then building a new, temporary base half way around the world.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 12:54h, 03 March Reply

    Congrats on your 1 year travel anniversary, guys! I CANNOT believe you’ve been on the road for so long already… honestly seems like just yesterday you guys were heading off. 🙂

    I think the feelings you are experiencing now are completely reasonable; there comes a point for every traveler when the need to slow down and just nest for a bit becomes overwhelming. I have to admit I have very rarely pined for home since leaving, but perhaps this is because this isn’t my first experience being abroad for an extended period of time so I have already gone through those pangs previously. It is true that there is nothing like leaving it all behind to help you appreciate what you have!

    I’m excited to see how your traveling evolves and to see what happens in year 2. No matter what you choose, I know it will be an adventure!

    • Amy
      Posted at 13:59h, 03 March Reply

      I know Steph, I absolutely cannot believe it either; a year ago today we were sat on a plane to New Zealand. In another strange way though it feels as if we’ve been moving forever and we are looking forward to a visit home in the summer and the chance to build a temporary home for ourselves from September, although we’re still not sure exactly where in Asia that will be yet! Hopefully by the time we’ve worked and lived in one place for a while we’ll be ready and raring to get back into travelling mode and head to North America!

  • Kellie
    Posted at 17:14h, 03 March Reply

    Congratulations on your 1 year nomadic life anniversary!

    After a year of being on the move I’m not surprised you need some time to lay roots down for a while. Travel really can be exhausting, organising transport, accommodation and the constant packing.

    We’ve only been on the road 3 months, but when I’ve been ill I’ve really craved the familiar of home, but I know I’d be there 2 weeks and be itching to get out of there. 2 weeks is long enough to ALL the food isn’t it?

    Teaching in Asia sounds like a great plan, best of luck!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:19h, 05 March Reply

      Thanks Kellie! I think you’re right, our trip home in the summer will probably leave us itching to get back on the road again; not before we’ve had a chance to eat a whole load of cheese though!

  • Catherine
    Posted at 22:18h, 03 March Reply

    Good luck on your new adventure! I’ve always wanted to try teaching English as a foreign language. I’m sure you’ll be great at it, or at least learn to be great at it 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:23h, 05 March Reply

      Thanks Catherine! I don’t like to do things badly so I will try my best to become a good English teacher 😉

  • Patti
    Posted at 07:33h, 04 March Reply

    I’ve not traveled for the length of time you have, so I can’t really relate but I would imagine that what you’re experiencing is quite normal. Even on our last road trip when we were on the road for 60 days, we took a 5-day break to relax by the pool for a few days and it rejuvenated us to carry on. Give yourself permission to be homesick and not worry that it means you don’t want to travel anymore. I think taking a break from traveling and living as an expat will just enrich your lives even further. And you’re going to be an awesome teacher!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:17h, 05 March Reply

      Ah, thank for the vote of confidence Patti 🙂 I can definitely see why you took some time out by the pool on your road trip, fast-paced travel is always exhausting. I hope that becoming expats will, as you say, enrich our lives even further – whatever happens I’m sure it’ll be an adventure!

  • Valen-This Way To Paradise
    Posted at 16:29h, 04 March Reply

    Great article! I am about to relocate to Asia myself, but mainly because I want to travel more. It’s so much easier to get around there than here in Mexico! But, I also like living as an expat and giving myself a sense of home!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:25h, 05 March Reply

      Thanks Valen, you’re right, it is pretty easy to get around Asia, we hope to continue exploring the area by taking short breaks in between work. I look forward to hearing more about your move to Asia!

  • Heidi Wagoner
    Posted at 19:45h, 04 March Reply

    Congrats to you both for your year of constant travel and for making the decision to be expats in Asia. We started with that expat life, dusted with travel and love that balance. That said, we are going to be more mobile in Asia later this year, so we will see how that goes. Perhaps we can bump into you along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we travel a few months and realize we want to just find a base and travel from there. Of course making money is key too. I forget, did you both get certified to teach English? I am sure you will be full of more adventures and experiences, as even the expat life is full of fun.

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:29h, 05 March Reply

      It would be great to bump into you guys here in Asia Heidi 🙂 Andrew was a qualified teacher back in the UK and taught French and Spanish, so he will be able to get a good teaching job in Asia easily enough. I have a degree and Masters in journalism so I will need to do a TEFL course over the summer before I can teach – it’ll be a bit of a challenge for me I’m sure!

  • Alyson
    Posted at 02:21h, 08 March Reply

    I totally understand Amy. When we moved to Australia I craved that Britishness so much. I’ve never been homesick while we’ve been actually travelling, but right now I need to sit still for a while. The hours and hours of internet research, finding our next accommodation or flight, have eaten our time and good humour. We’re so pleased to have a base for a whole month now in Antigua. It’s such a treat. You two will do great, I’m sure. It’s amazing how much you’ve changed, by the way, from the photo in the side bar and when we Met you. Carry on carrying on:)

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:41h, 08 March Reply

      Thanks for the support Alyson 🙂 I forgot to mention the hours of research and planning that goes into constant travel – you’re right, it really wears you down over time. I’m excited to hear more about your temporary base in Antigua, hope you guys have a restful time.

  • James Long
    Posted at 16:37h, 10 March Reply

    Great story Guys and one that I think is true for so many people. I find I suffer from it on two levels having spent nearly half my life in London and the rest in Australia. After living in London for 9 years I craved Australia and after 7 years in Port Douglas crave London. In fact I’m actually looking forward to working over there for 6 months mid year. Of course I’m not sure if it is a case of rose tinted glasses :). One saying I am fond of , Home is where the heart is or in my case family is. Good Luck in Asia!!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:39h, 12 March Reply

      Hi James, exciting news that you guys will be in London for a while! You’re right about home being where the heart is; I would be a lot more homesick if I wasn’t travelling with Andrew.

  • Charlie
    Posted at 22:26h, 11 March Reply

    Wow, a whole year! Congrats! When you say home is a shared experience of life, the tenuous commonalities that tie you to other, I totally agree. I guess that’s why wherever I’ve gone I’ve made quite a few British friends, it’s the humour and the shared background that makes it so easy I suppose – hey, that’s why I got a British boyfriend in Canada. But I don’t believe ‘home’ is a place. I believe it’s possible to feel just as at home on the other side of the world as in your actual country, home travels with you I guess. But long-term travel, that must be so tiring after a while. Expat life is so different, I’m sure you guys are going to absolutely love it!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:46h, 12 March Reply

      Hi Charlie, I’m excited about experiencing expat life and hope a year of that will have me craving constant travel again. Hopefully we can build ourselves a temporary home here in Asia that’ll become as comfy appealing as our home in London was.

  • Victoria
    Posted at 07:56h, 14 March Reply

    Hi there! I’ve just found your blog and I have enjoyed reading this post. Congratulations on making the move and travelling around the world for a year. That’s an achievement that many people would love to do but can’t due to fear or financial worries. You’ve been doing a great job.
    As a fellow Brit. I’m one of those people who found “home” wherever I happen to be. Look, I have the flag of the queen on my front door and bunting in the garden: which my neighours find fascinating but also weird, as I live in Germany……!

    I’ve not lived in my home-town of Manchester since I went to university and I haven’t lived in England for gulp! 15 years!! However, I’m still British. Awfully so. But I made my new home elsewhere: Berlin. That’s why (shameless plug here), I call myself “The British Berliner” as I call both Britain and Germany “home” and I’m proud of that. It was after so much travelling and then I went to India that I decided to settle down. I loved it but I just felt so tired so here I am. An expat.

    I’ve just found you and obviously, I don’t know you guys but I’m sure you’ll find yourself a new homeland and a way of making it work whether teaching, or otherwise. The important thing is to like where you are and what you’re doing. O.K. I’ll stop talking now. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:12h, 15 March Reply

      Hi Victoria, thanks for your lovely and interesting comment! I love the fact that you have the flag on the front door and it’s great to hear that you’ve managed to create two homes for yourself in different countries. I hope we settle into expat life as well as you seem to have done 🙂

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