This is a scary post to write.
From the moment this site took its first trembling breath, it’s been all about travelling full-time. I mean, just look at the name! I started Never Ending Footsteps with the enormously unrealistic dream of travelling the world forever. And somehow, less than a year after my first post went live, I’d managed to build a business that would allowed me to do just that. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I was living the dream.
Being paid to travel the world? Having the freedom to spend a month on the beach and not having to work if I didn’t want to? Getting to fly to Morocco on a whim because the flights were cheap and I’d always wanted to go? Spending my Monday mornings on Bora Bora while friends trudged to work in the rain?
How many people would kill to have a life like that?
Me. Five years ago, I would have killed to have a life like that.
So, what happened?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to the realisation that full-time travel isn’t sustainable for me. It wasn’t healthy. It was exhausting. My mental and physical health hit rock bottom. Travel stopped being enjoyable. I lost my sense of community. My sense of wonder. Lost touch with my friends. Lost touch with the *real world*. Lost sight of myself. I became a one-dimensional human who thought about travel, spoke with travellers about travel, planned my upcoming travels, and then travelled. Oh, and I wrote about travel, too.
Travel? I wholeheartedly believe it’s one of the best things you can do in life. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Travelling year after year after year after year? The benefits didn’t stick around for me.
It took a long time for me to admit this to myself and even longer to write about it publicly.
It was roughly two years ago that travel stopped being as fun, and that mere realisation made me feel terrible.
I had this dream life. I had a life that millions of people would dream of having. I could wake up and jump on a plane to South Africa if I felt like it, then fly to Brazil the week after that. I was even making enough passive income to be able to take a year off work if I felt like it. So why was I so fucking miserable? Why I was I having panic attacks every night for months on end? Why had I contracted eight separate infections in 12 months? Why was I permanently unwell? Why couldn’t I see how lucky I was? There had to be something wrong with me, because who has a life like that and isn’t happy?
It wasn’t just these feelings of shame that forced me to continue moving. It was the fact that my entire identity had been built around travel.
I liked that I could tell people I’d been travelling for five years, and that they’d find it impressive or interesting. I liked doing something unconventional. I liked writing about being a full-time traveller. I liked differentiating myself from all of the other bloggers who had dropped off to find a base. Because they, too, had found full-time travel to be unsustainable.
Who would I be if I stopped travelling constantly? Would I be boring? I didn’t have any hobbies. I didn’t know what my passions were outside of travel. What would be the interesting thing I told people about myself? I know it sounds like I was caring way too much about what other people think of me, but I kind of run my business around me living an unconventional life of full-time travel. How I would I brand myself on my site if I stopped? Would my readers all unsubscribe?
So, I travelled and I travelled and I travelled some more.
I tried slowing down last year, basing myself in Granada for four months, then Madrid for six weeks, then the UK for a month, then Taipei for a month, then Melbourne for a month.
It didn’t help.
It turned out it wasn’t the pace of my travels that were the problem; it was the lack of constants in my life. The lack of stability. Those aspects of travel that I used to thrive off of started to make me sick.
When I discovered the only thing that would stop my panic attacks in their tracks was talking about stopping travelling and finding a home, I knew what I had to do.
I needed to make a change.
So that’s exactly what I did.
It was two years later than I should have done it, but I’ve done it now, and I’ve never felt happier, healthier, or stronger.
I. am. so. so. so. happy.
Here’s why it was finally time for me to stop.
I Struggled to Run My Business While Travelling
Let me tell you about one of my recent travel days.
I was in Paris for the very first time and I wanted to see everything. On my first morning, I walked from my Airbnb apartment to the Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, getting my tourist on and racking up 25,000 steps on my Fitbit in the process.
I got home at 8 p.m., absolutely shattered. I sat down on the sofa, opened my laptop, and started writing a blog post about a cocktail tour I took in New Orleans six months ago. My mind was somewhere else, though. My mind was in Paris and processing everything I’d experienced that day. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t put myself in a New Orleans frame of mind and I struggled to remember how it felt to be there. I managed to write around 200 words before I passed out on the couch from exhaustion.
That’s been my life for the past five years. I’ve been in a constant state of over-stimulation.
It’s hard enough to regularly publish blog posts about places you’re not currently in, but what about if you want to further your business even more? I have a list of so. many. things. I want to do to improve this site, but I can’t even start on any of them when I’m constantly moving.
Now that I’m not travelling full-time: I have the time and energy to write about my travels without also having to deal with stimulation overload. I can work on side projects without having to skip out on seeing a major tourist attraction in a city. I can prepare for upcoming trips by writing posts in advance and scheduling them for my time away. Work is so much less stressful when I’m staying in one place.
As an added bonus, since stopping, I’ve managed to publish posts more frequently than when I was permanently on the road and tripled my income!
Travel Made Me So Unhealthy
I put on 20lbs/10kgs while I was travelling, and that’s a lot for someone who’s only 5’1”.
I lost it all within a few months of finding a base, getting a gym membership, and eating better.
When I joined a gym and saw my personal trainer for the first time, my BMI had me pegged as being overweight. That has never happened before — I’ve always been slightly underweight if anything!
It’s not even that Dave and I eat unhealthily when we travel. It’s that we would eat out for every. single. meal. Eating at restaurants three times a day sounds amazing, and we certainly ate well, but it’s not exactly the healthiest option. Sure, we could get an Airbnb apartment and cook for ourselves, but buying spices and ingredients and stuff ends up being ridiculous when we have to abandon them all three days later when we leave the country. Plus, one of our favourite aspects of travel is getting to try the local food. Could you imagine if I visited Paris and spent the entire trip eating boiled vegetables in my apartment?
As well as having a poor diet, it’s tough to exercise when you’re always on the move. You can’t have a gym membership, doing bodyweight workouts in a dorm rooms is weird, and running is tough when the pavement makes way for open sewers and it’s 90% humidity from sunrise to sunset.
Now that I’m not travelling full-time: I have a gym membership, I do pilates, I go for runs outside, I cook for myself, and eat much healthier. I’m no longer overweight and I feel stronger and healthier, too.
Most importantly: I got to do the Whole30 and use my results from that to learn that I’m intolerant to histamine and start building a low histamine diet that has drastically improved my anxiety. I could not have done that while travelling. As someone with a fragile brain, getting to take better care of myself has hugely improved my quality of life.
Before I stopped travelling full-time, I was having such severe panic attacks that I often couldn’t even find the strength to step outside my apartment. Since stopping and changing up my diet, I haven’t had a single panic attack in over a year.
I Kind of Lost My Community of Friends
My best friends back home have new best friends now.
It’s to be expected. I’ve disappeared out of their lives for over five years. I tried to keep in touch and send Facebook messages regularly, and we Skyped and chatted plenty. But it all stopped eventually. Soon, our online catch ups turned to them talking about work and me talking about travel and neither of us really connecting with each other anymore. We ran out of things to talk about in minutes rather than hours.
I understand, but it makes me sad.
And sure, you can say that real friends never abandon you, but put yourself in their position: if one of your friends disappeared around the world for six straight years, and still showed no sign of ever returning, wouldn’t you move on and form closer friendships with the people who still were in your life?
You make so many friends when you travel, and it’s surprisingly easy to do so, even when you’re a socially awkward person like me. And then you say goodbye three days later and you never see them again. And onto the next friendship and the next and the next. I’ve missed going for beers with someone I’ve known for years and sharing inside jokes and having mutual friends and doing that once a week rather than once and never again.
And although I feel like I can chat with any traveller for days, travel kind of killed my social skills with anyone else. When all you’ve done is one thing for five years, it’s hard to relate to someone working the 9-5. I don’t know how to small talk with people who have never travelled. I don’t know how to bitch about corporate jobs and terrible bosses. I don’t know how to talk about kids and babies and schools and shopping and gossip about celebrities. It’s embarrassing.
Now that I’ve stopped travelling: I can actually form a community of friends that I get to see multiple times a week rather than once a year — and I have! Within months of Dave and I settling down, we’d found a community of several dozen digital nomads who are based in Lisbon long-term. I love that I can put up a message in a Facebook group at any time looking for someone to go for drinks with and be almost guaranteed to be sat in a bar with someone within an hour. And that they’re not a stranger — we don’t have to have the same old conversation about where we’ve been and where we’re going! My life feels so much richer for it.
I Needed a Sanctuary
Let’s talk mental health, too.
It’s funny, because I’ve kind of become known as the travel blogger with anxiety in recent times. I’ve been so broken.
It’s weird to me, because for the first three years of my travels, I wasn’t even in the slightest bit anxious. I had maybe five panic attacks. And sure, things freaked me out and I was full of irrational thought processes, but real anxiety? Anxiety that prevented me from going outside? From eating? That suddenly appeared in 2015.
And travel made it so much worse.
I mentioned above that talking about finding a base was the only thing to halt my panic attacks, and it’s true. I’d be sat down in a restaurant, hyperventilating while having all the symptoms of a heart attack, and all Dave would have to say would be, tell me about your sanctuary.
I’d focus then on having a home and turning one of the rooms into a place for me. It would be white and cosy, with soft lighting and bean bags and cushions. It would be a place with candles and colouring books and a meditation space and essential oils. And whenever I felt anxious, I could go to that physical place and I would feel better again.
That’s all I had to think about to stop my panic attacks.
Now that I’ve stopped travelling full-time: I have the exact sanctuary I couldn’t stop thinking about and it’s one of the few things in my life that never fails to calm my mind. I don’t even spend that much time in there, but knowing it’s an option and that it’s there for me was all I needed.
Having a panic attack and having to spend my day in a dorm room surrounded by people I didn’t know was awful — sometimes just the fear of that was enough to make me anxious. Having a home makes me so much stronger.
My mental health has to come first — yes, above even travel — and if ending my continuous trip is what improves it, I have to listen to my brain.
I Lost My Sense of Wonder
I used to pride myself on my childlike sense of wonder. Every time I visited a waterfall, I’d stop and pretend it was the first one I’d ever seen. I would do everything I could to prevent myself from comparing it to the other, more impressive waterfalls I’d seen on my travels.
After five years of seeing waterfall after waterfall after waterfall, though? Eventually it just became falling water and I can see that whenever I take a shower.
Mountains became giant rocks in my eyes. Deserts became huge stretches of tiny stones. Glaciers became massive ice cubes.
Yeah, I became jaded.
And I didn’t want it to happen! It’s disappointing, frustrating, upsetting, but I can’t change how I feel.
When you spend every single day of your life chasing something new and exciting, eventually you kind of run out of new and exciting things to see. Your tolerance builds. Suddenly, it takes something something mind-blowingly incredible to impress you.
I think my priorities changed, too.
Back before I travelled, that was my number one priority; it was all I was focused on. I even remember when I thought I was going to die in the tsunami, my first thought was, oh god no, I’m not going to get to Antarctica. Yeah, seriously.
At some point, probably right around the time I started feeling jaded, my family became a much bigger priority in my life. I prioritise spending time with the people I love over travel now. I don’t want to wake up in twenty years’ time and have my parents be dead and wish I’d spent more time with them rather than skipping through countries for years on end.
Now that I’m not travelling full-time: The grass is always greener, so now that I have a base, I can take a break from chasing waterfalls. But that also means that eventually I start craving travel again, and I begin to appreciate the falling water and those giant ice cubes when I’m not spending every day seeking them out. My life feels more balanced.
I thought I was living the dream because I was “travelling forever”.
But the truth is: I was living the dream because I had the freedom to travel forever if I wanted to.
And because I also have the freedom to stop.
I like knowing that full-time travel will always be an option for as long as I continue to work online. That makes the decision to stop far less scarier.
My Life Now
It’s been six months since I stopped travelling full-time and decided to base myself in Portugal. I’ve never been happier.
I’ve realised I’m the type of human who needs stability and constants and guarantees. Even if it’s just the guarantee that I can leave my routine whenever I feel like it.
My life is just so much richer now, even though it’s kind of boring some days. It’s balanced. I have a gym membership and a constant set of friends and a home I can fill with the things I want to buy. I no longer have to throw something out if I ever want to buy something new! I’m picking up hobbies now, and learning who I am as a person outside of travel. I’m learning how to cook for the first time. I’m working on my mental health and taking great steps towards finding my anxious-free self again. I’ve got a dozen favourite restaurants in my neighbourhood, now, and a local park to sunbathe in. I spend half of the year in a beautiful city that’s close to the beach and feels like home whenever I return.
And when it comes to travel itself? I’m still doing so much of it.
In 2017, I based myself in Lisbon for six months and travelled for six months. I visited 15 countries. I saw and did just as much as I did when I was travelling full-time, but instead of travelling for a month and then finding an Airbnb apartment for a month to recover, I was able to return to the same apartment and live a normal life for a while before jetting off again.
Hopefully this post doesn’t come off as me whinging or sounding negative — I want it to be a positive post, because I’ve finally made the change I’ve been craving for years, and it worked out exactly as I’d hoped. I haven’t even had so much as a cold since finding a home (I had eight infections in the year before I arrived in Lisbon!), my business is doing better than ever, and I no longer suffer from debilitating panic attacks.
I hope I don’t disappoint anyone by ending my full-time travels, either. I’ll still be travelling just as much as before, but rather than spending month-long stints in different cities to recover between trips, I’ll be heading to Lisbon instead.
This is something I had to do.
I’ve learned that I need stability and routine in my life in order to stay strong, healthy, and happy.
And you know me — I love to share both the good and bad sides of everything. I think there is a dark side to full-time travel, and it’s one I’m glad to have finally acknowledged.
TL;DR: I work, travel, and live better when I don’t try to do all three at the same time.
Coming up soon: after visiting 70-odd countries, what made me choose Portugal as my home base!