At the beginning of 2019, I made the decision to become a full-time nomad. Over the prior decade, my mental health had deteriorated to the point I had to stop working, and even join an intensive outpatient program to work things through. In putting my life back together, travel was one of the things that gave me a sense of purpose, and that provided me with a structure of sorts. Writing here on The Royal Tour gave that travel meaning beyond what it did for my own emotional stability.

The past fifteen months have been some of the healthiest of my adult life. When I am traveling, I am so focused on learning, on experiencing the newness of wherever I am, that my mind has less time to spiral into anxiety or depression. (Not that these things don’t still happen; of course they do. It is just rarer and less extreme than it had been.) Travel is amazing that way. It allows us to be the purest forms of ourselves, broken down to an almost newborn state, everything around being full of wonder once more.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced me to cut my last trip short by about three weeks. It caused my next trip (a family trip to Japan followed by a jaunt to Taiwan) to cancel entirely. And I find myself staring at the calendar, wondering when this life I built out of travel will return. I have a few things planned for fall, but it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not they will actually happen.

So what happens when the traveler can’t travel? It seems a petty thing to worry about right now. After all, so many people are struggling with losing loved ones, worries about their own health, or loss of income. And me? I can’t get on a plane to leave the country. Yeah, petty indeed.

And yet I feel the weight of this lack of mobility. I stare at the maps on my walls and yearn for those places still unexplored. I flit around on TripAdvisor reading about trips that may or may not come to be. I plan; I cancel; I plan again. It aches, a physical pain that eats into my soul.

I know I am not the only traveler hurting right now, longing for the feeling of freedom that comes from watching the sun rise from 38,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic, missing the excitement of successfully ordering lunch in a new language, or wishing for the sense of wonder at discovering what lies over the next vista. So many people I know have had trips cancel, have had plans change. For those of us who feel truly alive when we experience something new, the struggle doesn’t seem so petty on an emotional level. It leaves a void inside, and that void is very real.

The monotony of life in lockdown is more of a struggle than I can describe, especially as it came so abruptly on the heels of a series of amazing experiences in Portugal and Spain. Writing about those helps, getting lost in remembering and reliving the feelings that came with the first glimpse of the Alhambra in Granada, or tasting a pastel de nata in Lisbon. My girlfriend and I have been trying to have weekly travel-themed date nights so that we can still have experiences outside of those normally provided by remaining at home. After all, learning doesn’t have to stop. It isn’t the same, but it helps.

My mental health is ok for the time being, thanks in no small part to having my girlfriend, mom, and stepfather around. But I am faced with the daunting task of potentially finding a life beyond travel, or at least in addition to travel. It scares me. For those afflicted with wanderlust, staying in once place leads to more than just restlessness. It means being open to pain with no means of physical escape, of having to live in permanence rather than the transience of mobility, and having to confront the ups and downs of daily existence in a more real manner.

It still feels like a petty complaint, and perhaps it is. But if you also feel the emptiness of life without being able to journey, I understand, and I am here for you. And I want to know what is working for you in coping with the sedentary life we find ourselves forced into for the time being. Perhaps in knowing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, we can make it through this.

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3 thoughts on “When the Traveler Can’t Travel

  1. Jonathan, this was another excellent post. As a new full-time traveler, I feel your pain but also your perspective that others are really struggling with life and death matters vs my concerns. In the end, we’ll all be back on the road (or plane) again and enjoying new experiences and meeting new people (over a Pastel De Nata?) again. Be well.

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