One big thing I’ve learned in 8 years of continuous travel

one big thing I learned from 8 years of continuous travel

Last Updated on September 17, 2023 by Ellen

On August 10, 2015, I boarded a plane for Tulum, Mexico, to start the slow travel lifestyle without spouse Theo. He says that day crushed him, because we had only been married a month (but we had dated for 14 years prior). I left with a five-month plan to ‘live’ in Tulum. As I have told him and others, I did it because I didn’t want to wait. Life is Now. And also: I was still doubtful he was serious about living a travel lifestyle after so many years of dreaming about it. I was equally doubtful we’d even get married based on each of our histories in this life. But we did marry, and he did join me, as the world knows.

In December 2015, Theo officially retired early. We have been traveling since then, nonstop, with only a few trips back ‘home’. Experiences over these eight years have taught me so much about me, about him, about Earth and all of Her creatures, such as endangered Komodo dragons.

We were breathless as dragons fought each other right in front of us in Indonesia. One time we camped so close to an active volcano in Guatemala that I learned the literal meaning of being shook to the core. In Nepal, we watched dawn’s light reveal some of highest peaks on Earth. We’ve also: played on sand dunes in the Sahara Desert; swam with whale sharks in Mexico; lived with elephants in Thailand; brought water and electricity to an indigenous tribe in the Philippines— during the pandemic.

Of course Bulgarians are different from Belizeans — on the surface. Languages, religions, skin color are mere dressings of characters whose souls all are seeking the same goals.

It doesn’t matter if I’m with our indigenous Ati friends on tribal land in Malay, Philippines, or with expats in a Michelin restaurant in Penang, Malaysia, or at a backyard cookout with locals in Plandiste, Serbia— people everywhere want a physically comfortable, emotionally safe, mentally happy life. In this way, we humans are like fields of sunflowers. We seek out material needs, just as a sunflower’s face follows the sun. With age, the sunflower stops turning towards the sun, turns brittle, dies. Sunflowers and humans – and everything else – dust in the wind. Before we go, however, some of us find God when we turn away from physical and material desires and needs; sometimes, fear of mortality introduces us to higher powers.

I’ve seen so many beautiful churches in Italy, toured mosques in the UAE and Morocco, along with synagogues, Hindu temples, pagodas all over the world. Today I better understand one of the intended roles of organized religion: to provide a moral compass in our prime time of our spiritual existence preoccupied with bodily comfort, safety, and happiness.

If our human desires are warped with greed, sick people are elevated into leadership. Then everyone suffers accordingly, no matter the country.

Albanians really surprised me. Some years ago during our visit, a few businesses displayed the American flag, though proprietors had no connection to America. They wanted to be like Americans — materially, emotionally, mentally. I lost count of how many Indians told us they wished they could go to America. Just the other day in Bulgaria, a stranger told us the communist times were better because everyone had a job and money. He then asked us for “a little financial help,” like so many other people ask of us all around the world. We can’t help everyone. Westerners understand what “budget travel” means. But to the people who ask us for money, they only see we are wealthy enough to travel the world — something they cannot fathom.

To my American friends who don’t travel outside tourist zones in foreign countries, you should know people all over Earth still hold the USA in high regard. It’s not because of democracy or diversity. It’s because of the dollar. With dollars in hand, there is an explicit promise for that comfortable, safe, happy life.

Husband Theo often marvels at how ‘everyone wants to go to America — even now’ with gun chaos, soaring prices, high health care costs, democratic decay and voter disillusionment — for starters. They chose to ignore these facts and hold onto the American Dream, which these days is a fantasy for more Americans than ever before.

We tell these wistful dreamers (and sometimes road weary migrants) that greed and corruption are everywhere — including America. We tell them the deck will be stacked against them, yet that explicit promise beckons. Of course, I’m a hypocrite in all of this because we invest in companies where nothing matters except the almighty dollar profit, and this propels our travel lifestyle.

Today starts my Year #9 of continuous world travel. I thank God that I am comfortable, safe, happy, and that I have the chance to grow spiritually. There are more fantastic sights around Earth to experience. One big thing I’ve learned through all of this travel is that matter where we go, the people will be just like me: seeking a physically, emotionally, mentally stable life. I just happen to have been a little luckier with the birth lottery in this life.

Thanks for reading, “One big thing I’ve learned in 8 years of continuous travel.”

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Ellen’s sobriety date is April 13, 2010. She left the news business in 2015. During budget slow travel in early retirement with husband Theo, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy without reconstruction in Croatia in 2018. Today she travels the world as a ‘flattie’.


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2 thoughts on “One big thing I’ve learned in 8 years of continuous travel”

  1. Loved this piece, El. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world! I wish you & Theo many more happy years traveling planet together 🌏

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