Exercises in Staying

For as long as I can remember, my only goal has been to Leave.

At thirteen, it was dreaming about moving to L.A. to become a famous actress after I saw Prince Caspian in movie theatres. At sixteen, it was planning an overland round-the-world trip through every continent and dozens of countries. When I finally did leave, I went away for nine months, and I think my parents hoped I’d get it out of my system but it only made my wanderlust more aggressive.

In university, I worked every day that I had off from lectures to afford low-cost trips. During long weekends and holiday weeks I trotted around Europe, and during summer holidays I’d take off two months to zoom as far from Finland as I could.

An exchange semester in Brazil happened because I’d always wanted to go to South America; never mind the fact that I’d be missing half of a bi-annual study programme that could have pretty much guaranteed me steady employment after graduation. If I wanted to stay in Finland, that was.

It didn’t matter; I had picked my studies – translation – partly because I had a huge crush on foreign languages, partly because it would allow me to become location independent after graduation. In the end, I couldn’t even wait till the end of my studies before abandoning ship and moving abroad.

Everything I did, from the long hours I worked to the career I chose was only to benefit one goal: go as far and as often as possible.

You can imagine my shock when some time last year I realised I didn’t enjoy travelling anymore.

Iran had been on the top of my travel wishlist for years. I suppose in my head I built it up to be this big thing, a trip greater than life, one that would inherently transform me like my first trip to Australia or the hitchhiking trip I took in the Balkans the year before. Instead, I found myself disillusioned.

I struggled to find the connection with locals that other travellers were always gushing about. Good food was hard to find. Hostels were full of interesting travellers but I found myself bored with repetitive conversations, craving for a long-term friendship that is almost impossible to achieve when you’re travelling. The closest I got was the three days I spent in a dingy pothead hostel with a grumpy Polish girl who could only be coaxed into talking for a longer time if you brought up veganism. We haven’t talked since.

It is true what they say: too much of a good thing… Most of my friends seemed to think I was living the dream. They never saw the stress of having to figure out your life completely anew every morning or the loneliness of overnight bus trips alone. And yeah, you could roll your eyes at me and say that I deserved it because I chose this for myself. And I mean, I can’t argue with that.

In December, as I was planning where to go next, I realised I didn’t have a destination. I knew my plans up until Christmas – but beyond two weeks, I couldn’t even say what continent I’d be on. I used to laugh about this. Oh yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. Inside, I was terrified.

I realised I had become untethered. That it had been exciting sailing out to the wide open sea but as soon as I lost sight of a destination, I was no longer sailing – I was adrift.

So I took a moment to recalibrate.

I had to figure out what my priorities were. If you’d asked me three years ago, I would have probably responded: travel, freedom to travel, and ability to travel. Now it had suddenly become: a stable group of friends, an apartment, a space for work. In short, I was craving every-day routine.

This shouldn’t have been news to me – I was always more interested in staying in places for longer, going away to live somewhere for a bit instead of speeding through a holiday. But somehow I got caught into a loop. Somehow constant travel became my reality and I just accepted it.

So when I realised I needed a place to settle, I called up an old friend I knew from Tbilisi. He was a digital nomad as well – in fact, in my two years of nomading, the only real nomad friend I’d made. How mad is that? And he immediately invited me to hop into his little group that was planning to go to Bali for a few months.

Now listen, I’ve been a vocal anti-advocate for Bali for AGES. I said I had no desire to ever go there. But when the opportunity was offered, I shoved that smug hipster aside so damn quickly and hopped on the plane.

As I’m writing this, I’ve been in Bali for a month. The traffic here is loud and dangerous, and it is more expensive than I thought it’d be – or maybe I’m just spending more money than I should – , and I keep getting randomly sunburned even when I sit in shade.

But… I am happy here.

I wake up at 7 a.m. to run along the rice fields. I work from beautiful cafés overlooking the ocean – oh yes, I do work, because now I have more time than before to really focus on building my skills. I have somehow gathered a circle of friends who take me surfing and come to my parties. Every night I jump into the pool at my villa and talk about everything and nothing with people who have suddenly and unexpectedly become my best friends.

Of course it’s not perfect – nothing ever is. I still sometimes wake up tired just wanting to stare at the walls for hours, and even the calming sound of the waves can’t fully erase that built-in feeling of melancholy that seems to follow me everywhere. But somehow here all that feels easier to deal with.

Is it home? I don’t think so. Not forever. But for now, I have decided not to set a deadline for my life here and only leave when the time feels right.

For now, it’s everything I wanted.


Thanks for reading!

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