Guest Post: Balancing Freedom and Stability

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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

Andrew in Florence

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.

Stability: Home in Freiburg

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.

Freedom: Sailing near Croatia

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

Hvar, Croatia

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.


Visit Andrew's site: Grounded Traveler
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @groundedtravelr

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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9 Comments on “Guest Post: Balancing Freedom and Stability

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  1. Andrew, thanks for this. I actually started commenting on this subject before I even read it. Honestly. A couple of days ago, I got the idea for a blog post – Part I The search for job satisfaction. I posted it on my blog a couple of days ago. The idea behind it is that I have always been comfortable in my job but I have lost the challenge and excitement of it. For me, my family is home. It’s my refuge. I am a huge homebody but something inside wants more. It’s so easy to be comfortable and stay where you are – that’s my job.

    However, I’ve started to explore another side – travel writing. I’ve been traveling since 1995 and that has given me some fulfillment. However, vacations for a working dad are just that – vacating your routine to enjoy the adventure. As I stated, I am a homebody so there is a huge part of me that enjoys the stability.

    So part II of my blog post will explore how travel writing is job satisfaction. Honestly, this new hobby has given me more enthusiasm and passion than anything I’ve done in my career. And it is made the rest of my life better too. In that, I need balance as well. However, I’ve learned that this writing is that excitement for me and is the passion that leads me to travel. It’s the space in-between and it’s opened my eyes to so many other areas of life.

    I love this post and the challenge that comes with it. Since we are all so unique, this will mean different things to each of us. Thanks for sharing your life and may each of us be challenged in our own way by this.

      Hey Jeremy,
      I did see your Job Satisfaction posts and commented on Part II. I like your take on things as well. There really does seem to be a fulfillment to be found in the freedom that comes with writing. It seems as a balance to the rigid stability of work with it’s business concerns and boundaries that they bring.

    @Jenna – Thanks for the confidence that this is the “perfect” balance. Maybe it is, but some days it doesn’t feel like it. There are urges on both sides and they have to be played against each other delicately. It is totally possible though and with greater effort comes the greater reward. The comforts of home are certainly worthwhile and not necessarily to be spurned automatically. Much luck in finding your balance.

    @Ali – As always Ali, I am very happy you enjoyed it. Nope, not my apartment building, just a nearby one that looks nicer in the snow than mine.

    @Andrew – I think if you have a partner that is committed also to find such a balance it is actually easier. There are a lot of things here that I think would be easier with another person to support. But if you have a partner that isn’t so committed, it would be harder I agree.

      Thanks again for sharing this post, Andrew. You’ve definitely got some conversation going on a great topic. I personally am at the point where I’m starting to get itchy feet from being stable now for a while. I don’t think my cure will be to move abroad (although that would be great), but I do think a change is coming in the near future. Striking a balance is definitely difficult, so kudos to those who have figured out how to do it successfully.

    Agree – everyone looks for their right balance. Can get even harder once you have a partner, kids to stile the right mix for everyone. Good post.

    As always Andy, love the post! I think it’s really tough to find that balance. I’m definitely addicted to comfort & stability, as you put it, but that freedom keeps pulling at me. I’m glad you seem to have found a good balance that works for you.

    PS your apt building looks nice!

    I love this post. It reflects exactly how I feel about myself nowadays. I am still living in my new hometown, where I’ve been for the past 8 years, but I made a conscious effort to find as much flexibility as possible in my career so I could have more time for travel. This is a compromise, and it gives me the comforts of home, which is especially important now that I have a little family to think about, but it also gives me the time to get away every year.
    Different things work for different people, and I think we have to recognize that a nomadic life is not for everyone. I had a lifestyle much closer to that when I was younger, but now I have a husband and child whose needs and desires I have to consider. You have struck what I consider to be a perfect balance, and one that I am working toward having in my life. Living abroad gives you the freedom to experience a new culture and place and to get away to interesting places. I hope to move somewhere abroad in the next few years so that I can enjoy a similar balance.

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