When you ask the average child what he wants when he grows up, you’ll probably get a variety of answers based on careers, outlandish ideas – e.g. “to live in a castle with a pet dragon” – and a combination of wealth and fame. Seldom do we hang on to these ideas into our teenage years, let alone after graduation and into adulthood. If you’d have asked me how my childhood self would think about who I’ve become and what I’ve done over the years, I would think he would be impressed in the same way most people are when they hear of my travels and adventures. However, neither he nor many others have bothered to dig deeper. Once the mention of far away lands enters the conversation, it seems as though everything else – relationships, finances, health – is a mere side note. Admit it: all I have to do is show you a picture of me skydiving and you’ll instinctively assume I have my life together.
On June 8th, 2006, at 24 years old, I stepped foot on a one-way flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Osaka, Japan. I had a little over $1500 in my bank account, $2200 in credit card debt from purchasing a new Macbook Pro and three new suits, two impractically oversized suitcases, and one small backpack. I had just finished the Boston Marathon and was eager to stay in peak physical condition. I was nervous, far more than I ever had been in my limited time abroad before that point: a week or two here and there to touristy destinations with family; a summer in Italy. I was still very much tied to the world, and despite my escape to Asia, I anticipated returning and pursuing a career in aerospace engineering, renting an apartment, meeting the right woman, and staying put. The idea that I could fit all my worldly possessions in a single bag – some had been left in Texas – and not have a place to call home was just as foreign to me as life in Japan.
In June 2016, at 34 years old, I am in San Francisco, California. I have $11000 in credit card debt, nothing noteworthy in my bank account, two small bags full of clothes suitable for most business and casual situations, one three-year-old Macbook Pro, and nothing in storage. I have never been married, nor am I dating anyone seriously. My ear is still ringing after a foolish mistake in the redwoods, but for the most part I am in perfect health. I run regularly. I have no full-time job, and the likelihood of finding one isn’t so much due to the gaps between graduation and employment, but rather my unwillingness to work somewhere I don’t find fulfilling. I have traveled and lived in over twenty countries.
Honestly, I’m tired.
The purpose of me writing this isn’t to provide a timeline of my travels, or a summary of what I’ve learned in other countries; frankly, almost anyone is capable of this. I want to illustrate what my life has been like after I made the choice eight years ago to base it entirely on travel. A few days ago, I might have written this with a greater sense of hope. I had been waiting to hear about a full-time position in San Francisco, a startup needing a travel advisor familiar with the ins and outs of loyalty programs and finding deals- a job I think I could find myself enjoying. My life is filled with moments like those: through good times and bad, I convince myself that everything that has happened has led me here, and I have to believe there is a purpose behind it all. However, I now believe that rather than making this a puff piece about the wondrous travels and spirit of adventure you’re likely to find on the road, I need to be authentic.
The truth is, I’m not completely happy with the way things have turned out. It could just be any number of things affecting my mood as I write – the ringing in my ears, the numbers staring back at me as I log in to my bank account, the lack of companionship – but, ultimately, I believe I chose poorly when I decided to be a full-time vagabond. All jobs and lifestyles come with sacrifices that are often overlooked by those who choose to only see the greener grass, and the life of a full-time traveler is no different.
In my case, though I am free to go anywhere I like at any time, I have to consider that I no longer have any hope of being financially independent. I will be working until the day I die. I will never have enough money to own a house, travel in luxury for an extended vacation, or buy my heart’s desires. I will not be putting money into an IRA now, or in the next ten years. This is due to the fact that all my attempts to work full-time positions in the US have resulted in me falling into more debt due to low wages and high costs of living… and my idealistic expectations that someone working full time should be able to afford his own place, build some savings, and enjoy a meal out from time to time. It’s true, I’ve chosen cities with absurdly high costs of living – Seattle and San Francisco – but have also made attempts in Austin to no avail. Short of winning the lottery, I will never have enough money to be able to retire or truly be comfortable living in the US. Even those who work full time with decent jobs have to make sacrifices: living “normally”, which requires building debt before savings, or living in substandard conditions for years until they get that raise, save enough, or just luck out.
I will admit, this is entirely my fault. Some of my debt was accrued by not accepting jobs within my grasp because I felt they were soul sucking (not beneath me, despite what some may believe). They were, but almost everyone else I know keeps hammering me with the same statement: “Turner, that’s just the way it is.”
In the words of another madman, “I will act as if the world were what I would have it be, as if the ideal were the real.” I may not be able to control others’ perceptions of my life choices, but I can continue to deny that one should spend the majority of his conscious life (i.e. full-time work) doing something about which he is not passionate. As you can see, this ideal has led me into debt; however, it has allowed me a flexibility and perspective few ever experience.
I don’t know how my feelings on this subject will continue to evolve, but I know how I’ve changed since I first started this journey: from believing that the only way to go through life was to accept a 9-to-5 job that I had no choice but to try to like, to refusing to acquiesce to societal standards. I will work temporary or contract jobs to pay the bills, but I will never sign on to a full-time position for more than a year or two unless it’s a cause I am 100% behind. Cue the dissenting comments and cries of pity and disgust.
The me of 2006 was surrounded by an entirely different group of people. This was only a few years out of high school, and I still kept in touch with many of those friends, plus acquaintances from university. I wasn’t dating anyone when I applied for AEON and left for Japan, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my priorities either. When I did arrive, having fellow expats around from time to time was welcome, but not essential; I loved getting out of Hiroshima for solo weekend getaways to random corners of Japan, and my writing reflected that.
I’ve come to realize that I’m just too needy when staying in touch with people I’ve met on the road. It’s still beyond my understanding why some friends can’t take a few minutes every few weeks to catch up on Skype or at least do more than exchange Facebook messages or Instagram DM. As a result, I cut out a lot of people with whom I might have been able to stay in touch had I just been a little more patient: drinking buddies in Auckland; volunteers in Japan; travelers I’ve met on random trains and buses. While I can appreciate they may have jobs and lives to attend to, again, I’m holding to an ideal that I believe should be true: if you want someone in your life, it’s going to take effort; relegating a friend to nothing but a few messages that don’t even hold your full attention isn’t just rude… it’s unworthy of friendship, even in this age of texts and Snapchats.
At the same time, I’ve placed more of an emphasis on traveling with companions. Gone are the days when I just booked a ticket on my own and waited to see who I would meet. That’s all well and good, and I know plenty of long-term travelers who stick by this method. However, I need someone waiting on the other end, or someone willing to make the journey with me. If I were to book a ticket to a random country, I honestly believe I’d be more inclined to stay in my accommodation and use the wifi rather than getting out and seeing the sights. To me, experiencing something new in a foreign country has almost become such routine that it holds very little excitement; whereas the same attraction with a friend or companion offers a perspective I could never imagine. The latter is all that appeals to me these days.
Sense of Home
Many people – my parents, my close friends – whose opinions I trust have always come back to the same point in conversations with me:
“When are you going to settle down?”
The truth is, I’ve never had a strong pull to go home, wherever that may be. I will always be an American, and a Texan, but aside from that, I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, the way I’m supposed to be. I grew up in Plano, Texas, and spent the first twelve years of my life under one roof with my mother, father, and brother. I had aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, and a room of my own. Then we moved to be closer to my school in Addison; still, it was our home, and I will always have fond memories of holidays and milestones in that place.
When I graduated high school, unsurprisingly, everything changed. I moved from dorms to apartments to temporary rooms, and my parents moved out of the house I had spent all of my teenage years. There was no place to return. No space I identified as truly mine. Considering that, it shouldn’t have come as a shock that I sold what little furniture I had and moved to Japan.
However, my time has taught me home isn’t necessarily about possessions or comfort. A sense of home forms from the people around you. From friends who stand by you. From loved ones. From family. To someone like me, who has bounced from city to city, country to country for a decade, the idea of restricting myself to one place with one group of people is a little scary, but not out of reach.
Even with technology connecting us all, I truly believe the only way to belong anywhere is to stick around – stick it out through hardship, through others leaving, though jobs lost and found again. This sounds redundant or incredibly obvious, but it may not be to those who have the majority of their close friends in other cities. I love my friends in Dubai, Japan, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, but they aren’t a part of my life anymore. They don’t contribute to my feeling at home.
For this to happen, I’m going to have to start from scratch, in every sense – work, accommodation, leisure – but the only factor that will ensure I stay in one place is friends.
What have I learned about what I want?
My needs change all the time. Just because I’m writing this now, at 34, doesn’t mean I’m going to feel the same at 39, or even 35. I want others to see travel just isn’t a crazy ride that keeps you screaming all the way to the finish. Some people ride it for years, some their entire lives, but many of us get tired. I’m one of them.
I feel a drive to contribute, not just absorb experiences. Although I do feel at peace sitting in a living room on an IKEA couch with matching throw pillows in a quiet suburb, I know this is fleeting. I can’t ignore the complaints I hear from most people who are settled about their lack of free time to pursue dreams and travel. Nor am I fooled by the opposite end of the spectrum, people who have escaped conventional traps and found high-paying work they absolutely love and will continue to do until they die: they are the rarities, and one could go mad trying to follow in their footsteps, never achieving what they have.
Truly, I do want a home. I do want a woman with whom I can share experiences, mundane and extraordinary. I want to do more than just hop on a plane and see what happens on the other side of the world. I want to influence others in a positive way. I want to be remembered.