For the past few years I’ve been in a state of near-constant motion. I was in Budapest for five weeks straight last month, and that was by far the longest I’d been in one place in years. This lifestyle now feels totally normal to me, so I thought it might be interesting to share what it feels like to live such a life, both good and bad.
Maybe the best part of moving around constantly is that I have a “presence” in different cities around the world. I have friend groups in Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo, and Budapest. In any of these places I can land and immediately feel at home, navigating by memory, calling up friends, going to favorite restaurants, etc.
Because I go to all of these places with relative frequency, I’m generally never gone for too long. So although I don’t get to see all of my friends every week like I’d like to, I generally see them every 1-3 months (longer for Tokyo).
If you call these five places my homes, you could say that I have a five “half homes” rather than one full home. In other words, it feels like the sum of these partial residences is greater than one residence, in terms of connection with friends, getting to know a city, etc.
There are very few slow or boring weeks, because every week follows the template of, “I’m in Budapest! I need to do all of my favorite things and see all of my friends.”
The downside to this, of course, is that I don’t have any one 100% home. That means that I don’t get regular casual contact with any of my friends, and I definitely feel the downsides of that.
This manifests in dating as well, especially because those new relationships are so fragile. Often I’ll have a great first date, leave for a month or two, and return to find she’s dating someone else or the momentum has slowed.
I’m very fortunate that most of my friends travel a lot as well. Some move constantly like I do, others every month or two. That means that I have a lot of amazing travel adventures with my friends. I haven’t been to SF in almost three months, but I saw several of my closest SF friends in Paris and Budapest a few weeks ago. During my six weeks in Budapest I had eight friends visit, three just by pure chance.
While I definitely miss out on a certain depth in relationships afforded by living in constant proximity, I gain depth from sharing unique experiences around the world with them.
I feel a much greater connectedness to the rest of the world. In a visceral sense, I understand the European experience, Japanese experience, New Yorker experience, etc. Even spending time in the island connects me to a more rural and self-sufficient lifestyle. Again, I obviously don’t get 100% immersion and understanding in any of those, but I do get a lot.
I believe that it is incredibly valuable to have experience others don’t have, and that one of the best ways to get that is not by having experiences others don’t have, but to have combinations of them that others don’t have. I like having a unique perspective to share, and I like it when others have the same.
Eventually flying and airports and all of that just become a background part of life. Many people commute for two hours or more a day by car to work, which is probably a bit more than I spend on planes on average. Much like that daily commute doesn’t feel so bad after a while, neither does flying.
I actually love flying at this point because I’ve adapted to it. I’m flying as I write this, in fact. It’s a good time to work, to think, or to look out the window at the world and marvel.
You also learn a lot of tricks and get all of the perks that make flying more pleasant. I spend time in airport lounges eating free meals and getting work done, can skip various immigration lines in several different countries, and get upgraded seats on some airlines. I know what the best restaurants are at a bunch of airports and how to easily get to the city from many of them.
So while traveling can seem like a big hassle and a little bit intimidating, once it’s part of your average week, it becomes second nature and very pleasant.
The barrier to take new trips becomes very low, because there’s an internal assumption that I’ll be traveling to somewhere anyway. So if a friend says, “Hey, a bunch of us are going to be in Tokyo next month”, I’m likely to pop over too. Once I woke up and saw that I could get free concert tickets in Vegas, so I booked a flight and went there for 24 hours.
This is made much easier by frequent flier miles, which tend to be a comparatively excellent value for last-minute bookings. When you travel a lot and play the credit card game, you have hundreds of thousands of points with which to make plans.
Sometimes I forget about major international trips and remember, “oh yeah, I’m going to Hong Kong tomorrow.”
Seasons blur together and it becomes hard to remember what season it is, or when something happened. With no natural cycles, you can’t think in terms of “last summer”. Or at least I can’t. I never know when anything happened and am often off by 6-12 months on my guesses.
Switching time zones becomes very easy. I don’t know if all of my strategies work, or if my brain has just given up on keeping a constant cycle, but I’ve been through North America, Europe, and Japan within the same week many times and instantly adapted to the local time.
Work is harder when you travel. There are some benefits, like distraction-free plane time, but the switching costs of going to new places definitely take their toll. I’m currently experimenting with more permanent worldwide home bases to combat this, but the jury is out so far.
One the other hand, it does force you to develop good work habits, because you need to be productive in a variety of environments.
Last, the world feels like a much smaller and more cohesive place. With constant exposure to all sorts of different cultures, you appreciate the differences but also recognize the similarities. Even across adversarial lines drawn by politicians (Russia! China!), you find that the people disregard those artificial divisions and are generally just interested in connecting on a human level.
Being a constant traveler confers all sorts of benefits that I don’t think you can get any other way, but it comes with its costs as well. Whether it’s right for you, or even for me, is up for debate. If you haven’t given it a try, maybe this post will bring you a little clarity on whether or not it’s a lifestyle you ought to explore.
Photo is the sky between Munich and Nova Scotia somewhere.
Currently in SF but heading back to Budapest next week. First time “coming home” to Budapest, which will be interesting.