Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamed of living a life where I wasn’t chained to a particular apartment, city or country, a life where I was free to move around the world as I saw fit. That dream has become a reality. It’s what allowed me to visit and live all over North, Central and South America, as well as Europe, enriching myself in immeasurable ways.
But, as I’m slowly discovering, there’s also a downside that accompanies this expanded freedom. This was especially evident as I was packing my suitcase when I was leaving Serbia en route to a new destination. It was the first time in a really long time, that the cons of leaving were slightly stronger than the excitement of moving to a new destination. Suddenly, the reward of discovering a new country or region wasn’t as alluring as it had been countless times before.
Here are some of the rarely-spoken aspects of the Maverick Traveler lifestyle…
You’re an outsider
I don’t care how friendly or “open-minded” you or the people in the country are, the reality is that you’ll always be a foreigner and an outsider in every country except the one where you can speak the local language without an accent. Although your chances of integrating greatly improve once you master the language and understand the culture, you’re still a foreigner and will always be perceived as such. No matter what you do, you just cannot substitute decades of growing up and living in the country with a sojourn that merely lasts several weeks or months.
In each society, there will be social circles where crossing the cultural divide will be easier: international meetups, couchsurfing events, foreign language meetups, etc. But then there will be also various social circles where foreigners will be discouraged or barred altogether: house parties of close friends, bars and clubs with face control that only allow locals, etc. That’s part of human nature and it will never change.
The bright side is that in order to flourish in such environments, you’ll have no other choice but to transform from a mere outsider to a hardened sovereign man. The only other option is to quit, go back to your home country and rejoin the (familiar) masses. But frequent readers here know that the latter is not really an option.
You don’t form long-term relationships
When you’re living a nomadic lifestyle, true friendship is a luxury that’s always slightly beyond your reach. The best you can expect and hope for is to make ad-hoc connections with the random people that you come into contact. There’s the neighbor to whom you say hello every morning. There’s the friendly coffee shop girl you greet when you order your coffee. There are the people you meet when you go out when you go out and never see again. The relationships rarely go deeper and end up forming something more meaningful.
On my last trip to Serbia, I made great connections with some of the guys from the local BJJ academy, guys that were interesting and cool. Unfortunately, I knew that the friendships would be ending soon, as I had already booked my ticket out of the country.
I’ve gotten so comfortable with such temporary and shallow friendships that I no longer exchange any kind of contact information with them like phone numbers or emails. There’s no point. There’s a good chance that I’ll probably never seen them again, something that—for better or worse—I’ve learned to be perfectly comfortable with.
You’re forced permanently out of your comfort zone
Travel bloggers love to downplay the fears and the difficulties of traveling to foreign lands. They tell you that all your problems would be offset by the super-friendly locals. Don’t believe them. While there are countries that are friendlier than others, the increased friendliness is highly overrated; you certainly won’t immediately make close friends the moment you land and get out of the plane. Don’t expect people to approach and introduce themselves to you.
You’ll have to hustle. You’ll have to go beyond—often way, way beyond—what you’re normally comfortable with in order to create friendships, despite them lasting only during your stay and dissappearing once you leave. So, if you’re a super introverted person, who has difficulties managing human relationships in a place where everything is familiar, you’ll have even more difficulty where you don’t know anyone and no one cares about you.
I won’t deny that this has made me a stronger person and the same metamorphosis awaits you, but I won’t lie and tell you that it will be easy.
You experience extreme highs and lows
We all go through various highs and lows as part of our normal routines, but when you’re uprooted from your own environment and are placed in a completely foreign one, those highs and lows are magnified many times over.
Since you’re alone, completely isolated in a new environment, you tend to highly value a chance to form a new connection, whether it’s with a cool guy or a cute girl. One day, you make a bunch of friends and have a great time. The next day they all disappear, leaving you alone again. One day you’ll meet a cute girl, get her number and setup a date. You’re happy to have met her and can’t wait to see her again. When the date comes, she flakes and ignores all your calls and messages. Easy come, easy go.
One solution to this dilemma is to adhere to the “spinning more plates” principle. That means to keep trying to form new connections in case the previous ones fail. However, I see it as some kind of an emotional pyramid scheme: you’re approaching new people not because you like them but because they “protect your losses” in case the previous acquaintances flake. It doesn’t fix the underlying problem: you’re dealing with people who don’t owe you anything because they don’t originate from a deep social circle.
And this leads to an even more vicious circle of ever increasing highs and lows.
Your precious routine takes a hit
I laugh when I read about “entrepreneurs” running their startups or businesses while traveling around the world—especially if they’re not yet established and need extra hustling. I can certainly see someone getting serious work done if they’re spending at least 3-6 months in a country, in the same city, sitting under the same desk, but it sure ain’t possible if you’re moving around every week.
Where are you going to design and code that super mobile app? While Skyping with your team on a chicken bus in Nicaragua on some crappy GPRS Internet with a bunch of loud people behind you? Just ain’t gonna happen…
My most precious accomplishment is something that I’ve spent countless amount of time perfecting: my routine and habits. It takes effort and time to build and settle into a productive routine. In each place I’ve lived in, I usually spend the first week or so discovering the best coffee shops, libraries and other areas that are conducive for work. I require an environment where I can sit a whole day and work. An environment that’s not too loud so I can think and concentrate. Fast Internet is a plus as well.
When you’re constantly on the move, your job is no longer limited to just your job, it now includes reassembling your meticulously structured routine. That takes valuable time and effort, time and effort that can instead be used to make money.
Things begin to really sting as you transition from more developed places to less developed ones. I experienced that when I moved from Denmark to Bulgaria last year. The Internet was slower. The coffee shop culture was barely existent. I couldn’t find a place to work. Even though Bulgaria has various advantages over Denmark, I was going crazy the first week or two in the country as I attempted to settle into a predictable routine that I had in Denmark.
And it’s not just work that takes a hit. My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) training is another great example. When I lived in Brazil, I had no problems training everyday with world class instructors, allowing me to progress in rank very quickly. But try training BJJ when you’re traveling around southern Balkans or rural Moldova. Or try uploading a large file.
You’re just a traveling gypsy
Few years ago, when I was waiting at a bus station in Western Ukraine, I started chatting with a girl and eventually told her that I had been traveling for the past several years and don’t really have a place that I call home. She smiled and responded, “Oh, so you’re like a traveling gypsy.”
She certainly had a point. Instead of putting down more permanent roots somewhere and taking responsibility for something, I seem to be constantly moving about. Perhaps too much of freedom, just like too much of anything, can be a curse. Perhaps it’s responsible for making me less eager to take responsibility and plant down an anchor somewhere.
But I’m feeling subtle changes. Recently, I have become very comfortable staying at a country for at least three months—if not even six or more. I’m also less envious of guys that are rapidly traveling the world. Guys who are rapidly covering cities and countries no longer excite me.
Perhaps the whole “growth” vs. “comfort” is reaching its limits…
But, who knows, maybe all of this is just a temporary hick up—a temporary low—on the journey of a maverick traveler…
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