Today's guest post comes from Andrew Couch from Grounded Traveler. Andrew is an American who has been traveling back and forth to Germany for half of his life. He moved on a leap of faith to Germany nearly 3 years ago and has since started building a life there. He is a software developer by trade, although he also has a degree in International Studies and is always planning the next trip. He started his blog as a creative outlet and writes about the expat life and putting down roots while still seeing the world.
Balancing Freedom and Stability
One of the questions that I ponder a lot about is the balance between stability and freedom. This is a wide ranging thing that extends through a lot of life, but it has a unique expression in travel choices. Pick a life of eternal movement, and you might miss some of the comforts of home. Get into the routine of work-home-work, and you might feel very trapped. Before we get too far, I actually think this is not ever a choice of either completely one or the other, but really a balance between them. I think we all crave some of each and that the trick is to find your balance. Like most balances, the problems come when one takes over the other.
I moved to Germany over two years ago without any definite plan on what I was going to do or where I was going to end up. My routines had trapped me and the comfort become a narcotic, addicting and sleep-inducing. I needed a change and to stretch my wings again. I was read y to make a leap of faith. This was an urge for freedom from too much stability.
Feeling Trapped? Maybe too much stability.
The cubicle worker, the king of his own gray padded realm and a steady paycheck, is often derided by travelers as the corporate grind owing his life to “the man.” But stability is also regular hot showers and home-cooked meals, being able to call and see a large portion of your friends on a regular basis. Routine and comfort, as well as understanding what is going on. To know that you will not be eaten by tigers and can relax and rest in comfort.
This life is one that can feel stifling and confining. Having to go to work every single day and do roughly the same thing ends up soul crushing for most. Comfort is addicting and feeds on itself in an interesting way. Stability seems to bring more anchors that provide more rigidity. It is hard to give up comforts sometimes, but for people that call themselves “travelers,” this life becomes too confining and they long to see beyond the veil of the routine into the chaos beyond.
Feeling homesick? Maybe too much freedom.
The wild nomad, traveling eternally with his full backpack and never-ending stories of the road. This is the picture of travel freedom and seems to be the holy grail of the travel world, to eternally be out there doing and seeing stuff. I too have dreamt of this life. I have even gotten glimpses of it. Living from town to town and sleeping on trains. This is enjoyable and freeing. The wind in your face and no responsibilities.
Yet, after the fourth day without a shower and sleeping in front of a train station because there isn't money for more, this freedom seems like a little much. After saying goodbye to close friends again and again, I begin to wonder what it would be like to have a home. Even living the first few years in Germany I longed for a place where I could be “home” and comfortable. It is a rush to be in a new place every few weeks and meet new people. Having to fight through a new language just to get the basic necessities or (at worst) medical care begins to wear on nerves. Never being able to rest is the extreme of this life.
My Shot at Balance
These two forces need to be in balance. Ok, for some they are truly happy to know that things are planned, and there are also the travelers who never settle and couldn't dream of it. For the rest of us, we need both in some mix. I for one am a big homebody. I like having hot water and cold beer and a list of people to hang out with on the weekends. Though I still have a traveler spirit and get itchy when I stay in one place too long. There is a wide world out there and I want to see it.
In the past I have done this on a 2 year cycle. I stay stable for about 2 years, then get frustrated and make a radical change just to feel that freedom. In my expat life, I have made a conscious choice to settle and still go see places. Deeper relationships often come with time, which I hope to build while settling here. In not picking one side and waffling back and forth, I could never enjoy the choice. Times of freedom bring worry about money running out, while times of stability bring feelings of confinement. By picking stability now, I am hoping to be able to weave my freedom into it. I love having a home to come back to, but I also love the times to get out so I can come home.
What does this mean for others?
I expect we all need a balance between freedom and security. I encourage everyone that I meet to travel, especially those deep in the narcotic haze of comfort. Knowing your needs is the first step to meeting them. After you have seen some of both sides, make an informed decision on where your balance lies. Don't be afraid to re-evaluate every so often, either.