To Come Back or Not to Come Back? That is the Question.

Australia was as close as my wife and I have come to packing it in–quitting our jobs, selling the house, kissing friends and neighbors good-bye, and pitching our family tent in a new country.  It really was that wonderful.

The Downtown Sydney Skyline From The Royal Botanical Gardens

We found the quality of life in Sydney to be nigh-on perfect, which is saying a lot since we reside in Minneapolis, itself one of the most beautiful and livable cities in North America.  Australians understand how to balance the stress of work with the pleasures of food, wine, relaxation, outdoor activity, and time spent with friends and family.  Few of my colleagues ate at their desk, burned the midnight oil, or brought work home.  Instead, when they returned home at the sensible hour of 5 or 6PM, they relaxed on the patio, enjoyed a leisurely dinner, played with the children, and visited friends.  Everything about this life style resonated with me, and I felt like the Aussies had discovered the hidden secrets of la bonne vie, the good life.

But when our visit reached its conclusion we chose not to stay; not to pitch that new tent.  Instead, on September 1, 1985 after three-plus glorious months abroad, our family boarded a plane and returned home.  The obvious question is “Why?”  If Australia held such fascination why did we choose to come back?

A popular style of travel writing catalogs the roamings of stylishly elegant vagabonds who leave home and job for the good life overseas.  The stories are a paean to their new homes abroad and their über-fashionable quality of life.  Think A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle, a wealthy British businessman who moved to the south of France to enjoy good food and fine wine, all the while restoring an elegant 19th century French country home.  (Second choice:  Under the Tuscan Sun)  These tales make for superb reading and sell quite well–if fact, my readership would probably be far higher if I had stayed in Australia, bought a cattle ranch, and authored a blog entitled A Year In The Outback.

However, while enjoyable these stories suffer a serious problem–they are totally unrealistic.  Like 99% or so of my over-30 readers, I have home, family, and job commitments that my wife and I either cannot or will not voluntarily abandon.  In our case I love my teaching position, its responsibilities, and the salary and security it affords me.  My children enjoy their classes, friends, and after-school activities, and our relatives all live nearby, allowing us to participate in important life-cycle events.  We chose not to give up these bird-in-the-hand pleasures for the two-in-the-bush possibilities of a new life in Australia.

However, no matter how much you may love your job and family, after a few years we all begin to have that feeling of ordinariness, of “being in a rut,” the natural human response to doing the same thing every day.  That rut is what fuels the dreams of wandering nomads like Peter Mayle.  But if most of us cannot, or will not, take that permanent plunge into the ex-pat pool, what are we to do?  How do we dig ourselves out of this trench of boredom?  How do we scratch that “wanderers itch?”

The answer to these questions is the raison d’être for my blog.  For some people a couple of weeks at a ski lodge, B&B, or beach resort rekindles the fires that were slowly damping. But for many of us it takes more–something along the lines of the two- to four-month working vacations I have described and to which I am so fervently committed.

So, if you have a yearning for something different in your life don’t think the only cure is to become a stylish vagabond and sail a yacht around the world, set up home in the Amazon rainforest, or buy a vineyard in the south of France.  Instead, a couple of months living and working overseas–i.e., taking your own working vacation–is every bit as good a medicine for what ails you.

P.S. Don’t miss my next posting in a couple of days.  It will feature a travel contest with a cash prize.  Look for it!

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5 responses to “To Come Back or Not to Come Back? That is the Question.

  1. Hi Michael, I also just found you through the Lonely Planet site. It’s interesting that you value home so much: though I guess, for some people, digital nomading is actually easier than the three-month working vacation. I have just made the decision to go nomad — on a longterm round the world trip with my nine-year-old son, and hoping to travel semi-permanently for the foreseeable…When is your next trip planned for?

    • Welcome to the site, MummyT. As for my next trip, I was invited to be an “external examiner” at Cyberjaya University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My wife and I lived
      in KL while I taught at Cyberjaya on a Fulbright Grant. I am not really sure what an external examiner does, but since the position includes airfare, accommodations, and an honorarium, I accepted graciously! I am always happy to travel on the other guy’s dime!

  2. Hi there – I just discovered your blog through a recommendation on Lonely Planet’s forum, and I appreciate your insights on settling in vs. hitting the road again, and how to find a happy medium. Our family (kids ages 12 and 9) are settling in but trying not to feel too settled as we return from a 10-month round-the-world journey that was sort of a radical version of family and marriage therapy, plus “road schooling” for us all. It was the best thing we ever did. (my post on the weirdness of returning home is http://away-together.com/2010/07/12/homecoming/) I struggled with whether we should consider becoming so-called digital nomads and not return but ultimately felt the benefits of having a permanent address outweigh the vagabond life (the post on this topic is http://away-together.com/2010/04/30/eat-run-love/ if you’re interested) — but I like how you advocate weaving extended trips into regular life. I hope we can make that happen. I’ll put you link on my blog and hope you’ll consider a link exchange. take care,
    Sarah

    • Dear Sarah,

      I will be more than happy to include a link to your blog on mine, and I will check out your blog on a regular basis. Welcome to the site and I hope that you will contribute comments on a regular basis.
      MIchael

  3. That’s just goes to show that everyone is different. I found Australia to be a tired worn version of California about 30-40 years ago.

    Fat white people waddling on the streets. Not interesting at all. China now . . . different story!

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