Three weeks ago, I touched down at Gatwick Airport with more luggage than was suitable for someone who had just announced they’d turned to carry-on life.
I flew alone, apprehensive, troubled, and drained.
At the baggage reclaim, I waited for my bags, clenching my fists as though that would suddenly magic enough strength into my arms that I wouldn’t have an issue when it came to dragging my worldly belongings on to a trolley.
My backpack appeared: the bag that had taken me around the world for three continuous years until I’d landed in Lisbon, settled, relaxed, and happy. It was filled to the brim with everything I owned, and I hauled it off the belt with a groan.
A second backpack appeared.
Then a third.
I stacked them high, then wobbled the tower with my hands to check it was stable. The last thing I wanted was for my precious statue of a guinea fowl — a souvenir from Namibia that never failed to make me laugh — to smash to pieces across the glistening airport floor. I’d arrived in Lisbon with far too much luggage and was leaving with much the same, except now with dozens of impractical travel souvenirs thrown into the mix.
I took a deep breath, exhaled, and began to walk.
As I gripped the cool handle of the trolley and made my way to the arrivals hall, where my parents were waiting for me, I felt as though this was all a dream.
It was time for a change, and I was hoping it would be a Good Thing for me.
So why did I feel on the verge of tears?
Wait, what? You’re leaving Lisbon?
I thought you were happy there?
Did you and Dave break up?
I totally wrote that section at the top to make you think that.
No, we haven’t broken up. We actually celebrated our six year anniversary last week and are doing better than ever.
We made this decision together.
It was a decision we’d made before we even arrived in Portugal. Our time there was never intended to be a long-term thing.
We originally had planned to hang out in Lisbon for a while — maybe six months, maybe more, maybe less — to see if right now was the time for our continuous travels to cease. Back then, our long-term goal was to live in London. We couldn’t afford to do so at that point in time without giving up the freedom to live our lives on our terms, so our plan was to stop in a cheaper city to work on our sites and see if we could make it a possibility.
We quickly learned that the five years we’d spent as full-time travellers had been terrible for our businesses. Being a digital nomad means travelling badly, working badly, and forever failing to adequately balance the two. Within a year of transitioning to part-time travellers, we had doubled and tripled our income.
Finally, after seven years of blogging, we could afford to live in any destination around the world without having to sacrifice our freedom and love of travel.
Despite me choosing to keep my non-travel life off Never Ending Footsteps, I’m hopeful you’ve been able to tell I’ve fallen hard for Lisbon. Portugal’s now my favourite country in Europe; easily in my top five in the world. We managed to create such a wonderful life there that filled us both with an indescribable amount of joy.
Still, it was a temporary life.
You probably noticed.
This year, I spent just four months in Lisbon. The year before, I spent five. As much as I adored returning to Lisbon and exploring new neighbourhoods and restaurants, I couldn’t resist the temptation to leave.
Lisbon, subsequently, was never home.
I still call London home.
So London, here we come?
Back in June, I spent a full month exploring a handful of cities across the United Kingdom. Back then, I said it was because I’d had a sudden craving to explore more of my homeland, and while that was true, there was another reason behind our unexpected journey.
We wanted to find a new home.
After six and a half years of travel, we miss our families. A lot.
Neither Dave nor I have lived in the same country as any of our family members over that time, and we’re both people who put our families above all else. Our parents are getting older, Dave’s nephews are growing up without him, and we find ourselves with family on literal opposite sides of the planet. There isn’t a simple solution to what’s been the biggest downside to spending so much time in Lisbon.
We both have family in the U.K., though.
We spoke to friends and devised an itinerary that would see us researching anywhere that sounded like the perfect place to live. We travelled across the country, from London to Bristol, Manchester to Leeds, and Newcastle to Edinburgh, carefully selecting cities where we’d know enough people to form a community, hoping somewhere would feel right.
London. Bristol. Edinburgh.
We added all three to our list of potential new homes.
But there’s the other side of the world, too.
We’re heading that way in a month’s time.
While we’re there, we’ll be looking at Melbourne and Wellington to see if the antipodean life is the life for us. It wouldn’t be difficult for me to grab a partner visa through Dave, and it would be a whole new experience for me to live in the southern hemisphere. I’d be close to my beloved South Pacific islands, too.
I know where I most want to move to.
I know where Dave most wants to move to, as well.
And yes, it’s the same place.
So we’ll see what happens between now and then.
Because, um, then is quite a while away.
While you’re recovering from that first bombshell, cover your heads because I’m about to drop a second.
Dave and I have just set off on an open-ended adventure.
Yesterday, Dave and I flew to Rome. In a few days, we’ll be heading Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and… well, I’ll be revealing the rest of the destinations in Thursday’s blog post.
We’ll be travelling for six months, potentially more if we fall back in love with the lifestyle. Maybe less if we discover we’re not enjoying it. Some of the countries will be brand new to us; many of them will be familiar and loved.
And yeah, I don’t even know how to explain how that fits in with everything I’ve written above, but I’ll try anyway.
Recently, Dave and I have discovered we deeply miss the spontaneity that comes from long-term travel. How it feels to rock up in a new town with no idea how long you’re going to spend there or where you’ll be travelling to next; how liberating it feels to have nothing planned. While the past year has easily brought the best adventures of my life, I had every stop planned in advance as well a return ticket to take me back to Portugal two weeks later.
Right now, the timing feels perfect. It makes sense to do this kind of travel while we don’t have a home to maintain. Let’s face it: it would be hard to justify a six month trip across South America while paying rent on an apartment in Edinburgh.
So, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to leave Portugal, we’re going to travel for six-ish months, and then we’re going to find a new home.
I’m excited to see how it works out for us.
And here is the perfect opportunity to plug my newsletter, because guess what? My subscribers have known about all of these changes since July! I always share my news and updates in my newsletters first, so it’s time to get on that if you don’t want to miss out in the future.
Change is scary, but as I write this, I’m filled with hope.
It feels as though we’re taking a step forward.
This time next year, we’ll likely be living close to family for the first time in a long time. We’ll be able to receive mail from outside the EU without it taking 6 months to arrive, if it even arrives at all (it sounds silly, but this has seriously impacted Dave’s business, which relies on him reviewing products, usually from U.S. companies. He hasn’t been able to manage this successfully even once since coming to Portugal). I’ll be able to receive better treatment for some health issues I’ve been dealing with. We’ll have fewer challenges when it comes to assimilating with the local culture. There’ll be less of the cognitive load that comes from attempting to operate in a different language, making our day-to-day life less tiring.
Despite these fairly minor downsides, the past 18 months have been the best of my entire life, which made this a tremendously difficult decision for both of us.
Because if your life is already great, are you making a horrifyingly bad decision if you give it all up in the hope of finding something incredible?
It’s time to find out.
Good luck on these next adventures you two!
Tomorrow will be the best day ever and the next day will be the best again.
Thanks, Jub! :-)
Loved your post (heck, I like a lot reading all your posts, true.).
This is only a new chapter in your life. And family matters, always.
I will keep with my radar lock on your next adventures and travels.
I was surprised that fact that you went to Lisbon and stay for a while (but it was an excellent choice, ah!).
Let me tell this: you and Dave are great people (the kind of friends that we like to keep near). It was great meeting both of you.
I´m sad ( just a bit ;-) ), but I don´t have to.
Cheers to you and Dave.
To the future and to life!
Thanks so much, Antonio! Both Dave and I have so appreciated your help and friendship over the past 18 months — you made our Lisbon experience much more enjoyable :-)
What a difficult decision! Your tears are being added to my magical vial of travel lust, as Portugal must be pretty amazing if you have such feelings over it.
What will you miss the most about it?
The weather and the €2 bottles of great wine!
Ahhhhh! Good luck and happy travels!!
Looking forward to the travels and! I love your writing style.
Thanks so much, Rushell!
You totally freaked me out for a minute. I thought you and Dave had broken up. Phew.
I underestimated the mental load of navigating a country where you don’t know the language. I also underestimated how difficult it would be to learn said language even while immersed. Hopefully in 6 months, I’ll be much closer to my goal to be conversational!
I’m also excited to see where you end up living. Being close to our families is also important, but they ended up in the same US state, so we can’t complain!
I asked my husband if living in London would be a future possibility (he may travel there for business in the future). Either way, a visit to the UK is high on my priority list!
Yeah, I took an intensive Portuguese course earlier this year, and while it helped a lot, there was still a baseline level of confusion I always had to deal with, so I’m excited at the prospect of operating in English again. Living somewhere where you don’t speak the language is surprisingly exhausting, especially as you can’t often successfully google “where to buy an A2 picture frame in Lisbon”, as an example, haha, so you end up spending three weeks walking around a city in search of somewhere to buy a frame and then ultimately fail and never get to hang it on the wall. Yes, that happened to us!
Having said that, I ended up loving Portuguese so much that I’m going to continue taking lessons in the future, as I really want to become fluent.
IKEA (for the frame)!!! :D
Tried it! They don’t have A2 frames.
Lauren, I walked around our last hotel for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get in because I couldn’t understand the instructions. To give myself a little credit, it was hidden, but it was still a little ridiculous.
I will also keep studying Spanish. I’ll be in Mexico for awhile. I want to be fluent.
Hahahaha! Yeah. You don’t realise how easy life is when you speak the local language until you move overseas. So many mishaps every. single. day.
So exciting, I wish you all the best! I have just returned from 3 weeks in Portugal and fell in love with Lisbon within a day, so I can only imagine how hard it is to leave it after all this time (even if you haven’t spent that much of it there!). I had a really awesome adventure and because I’ve had a base for a year now, it was SO nice to be back on the road! But my sights are set on Edinburgh (which funnily enough is where I’m writing this comment from) as a permanent base. :)
It’s such a wonderful city, and I think I’ll probably be returning at least once a year going forwards. We loved Edinburgh when we were there later this year — not sure if we could handle the weather, but it’s still on our shortlist for now :-)
I’m excited for you guys and I’m sure you will find a great future base. It can be so hard to find a balance and what we need (and want) in regards to lifestyle changes frequently – for us travelers especially. For me at the moment, I feel like I have a pretty good balance with six months spent in the US with my fiance – with about half in Denver where we have his family and we both have friends, and the rest road tripping in our little converted camper. – a few months back in my home NZ and then traveling for 3-4 months. It’s working out great for now at least! Perhaps you guys could have a base for half the year in Australia/NZ and half in the UK with a few months travel in between?
It would be too expensive to spend half the year in the UK and half in Australia/NZ — we probably wouldn’t be able to afford two year-long leases for great apartments in both places, and trying to find 4-month leases multiple times a year would be near-impossible. We’d probably end up spending all of our time stressed and failing at apartment-hunting in different locations and then ending up hopping from hostel to hotel to Airbnb apartment every month.
Plus, one of the reasons why we love having a base is because we like owning more than we can fit in a backpack — we want somewhere that feels like home that we can fill with possessions and souvenirs. Having a proper desk setup with a monitor and good office chair, etc made a huge difference this year. Aaaand we love returning to the exact same apartment between trips, so I don’t think it would work to have to keep changing things up every few months and having very little comfort and familiarity in our lives. Oh! And one of the main things we need to remain sane is a consistent group of friends in the home we choose — it would be really tough to try and make good friends from scratch in a place where we only spend four months of the year.
We definitely considered it but ultimately decided it wouldn’t work for us. We’re really looking for a place that feels like a forever home, so we’ve decided that wherever it ends up being, we’re going to be all in.
I’m super happy and excited for both of you. Can not wait to read more adventures. Maybe we’ll meet somewhere halfway! Good luck
Thanks so much, Tany! :-)
So many exciting changes to look forward to! Have an amazing trip – can’t wait to read all about it!
Thanks so much, Kate! :-)
Wow, exciting news! I’ve lived in and loved both Bristol and London (and Edinburgh is my third choice too) so I can totally understand why you’ve gone for those! They’re probably the most pricey in the UK though – seems like we have expensive tastes! All the best with the move and the return to full-time travel before that. I’m excited to see how it all pans out as my partner and I know we need a base in Europe but we still cannot agree where.
Ha, yes! They’re all fairly expensive, but Lisbon has become so pricey and popular in recent years that I’d likely end up paying the same amount of rent for the same quality of accommodation in the UK! At least it wouldn’t end up being a shock for me, although that’s not really much of a benefit!
Such a nice post about decisions, thanks for sharing! Yes change scares us most of the time, but my advice is that follow your heart wherever you want to live. Move to where it feels like home where it can really support a living and traveling. I wish you and Dave the best of luck. Cheers to more adventures!
Thanks, Evan! Yeah, I’m hopeful that this time next year I’ll be certain the decision I made was the best one, but I know I’ll have a lot of worrying between now and then in case I end up missing Portugal too much!
I have a bracelet that I wear every day that read “Be Brave”
If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, change something. You’ve got this.
Yep for sure! We already have backup plans in place. I guess just because Brexit means once we leave Portugal, we’ll be unlikely to be able to return, so that finality is what’s stressing us out. What if life is never as good as it was in Lisbon and then we can’t move back?!
Loved your post you and Dave are great people. Portugal must be pretty wonderful if you have some feelings over it. I am sure both will miss the weather of Portugal.
Hey, thanks so much, Sebastian! :-)
Lauren I Loved reading this post. Your photographs are really stunning and your photography skills are improving. Portugal would be a beautiful place to visit one day. I hope to go. Even though you are not there now.
Oh, haha! Thank you. Hope you make it there! It’s so worth checking out.
I only recently began to read your blog, and I must say it feels familiar. Your writing voice reminds me of my ex-wife’s. I know that sounds awkward, but there is a legitimate tie in. When we were married her goal was to write a (and indeed she did attempt to) Blog about travel. Her take was much the same as yours; to write about traveling with personal obstacles. She has chronic pain, and loves to travel. These two things do not always make for a great traveling experience, but they do make for a great blog. Sadly her blog did not take off as she had hoped.
Additionally I too made a massive change in my life right around the same year as you. In 2011, two years after my divorce, I decided to move to the UK, and attend university. Now, on the face of things this doesn’t sound like a terribly big deal. Many thousands do this very thing every year. However, only a handful of us are in our 40’s. It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I am still trying to figure out how to do the same again. The possibility of teaching English in Vietnam or China as a base, then travel the east much like you and Dave is a genuine option for me.
This is why is strikes me odd that you would fret so over the yet another seemingly massive change. I am sure it’s just the writing voice, but still you’ve experienced this change in both a positive and negative way. In this instance you are set to propel yourself onward, stepping up, and not just out. Rely on your own positive recent experience as a guide, and remember the things you know to be obstacles. You got this!
I mean, just because I’ve been through a big change before doesn’t mean that I’m not going to experience any emotions over other changes. And this is different — when I left to travel, I could come home at any point. I can’t live in Portugal again, and living there was the happiest I’ve ever been, so if I leave and find that nowhere else feels right, I can’t get back what I once had. I don’t see why that’s odd.