I’m writing this from Istanbul Airport during a very brief pause between kebabs. We’re well and truly on our way home now.
The flight to Singapore we’re waiting to board will be our second to last. These are the final hours of our 10-month round-the-world trip, and the final days of my second decade on Earth.
It’s kind of a big moment for me.
Over the next few months, some exciting life changes that have been a long time coming are about to unfold. I don’t often use this forum to share personal updates – but since this will all affect the blog, I thought I’d take the opportunity to fill you in.
A very quick recap of the past 10 months
In the four years we’ve been travelling and living overseas (wow, that’s a long time!), we’ve never gone more than three months without a home base. That was until October 2018, when we packed our little carry-on bags and left for Medellin, Colombia.
After attending a friend’s wedding and making a quick stopover in Lisbon, we spent the next eight months overlanding in the Balkans. I was desperate to spend some quality time in this underrated part of Europe, so we dedicated most of our trip to the region.
We started in Bulgaria, where we celebrated Christmas and saw in 2019 with our friends Allison and Stephanie of Sofia Adventures. From there, we travelled through Bucharest and Transylvania before making a quick detour through Hungary, Vienna and Bratislava to reach Slovenia.
Croatia, northern Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina came next. In Montenegro, we hired a car and drove around the Bay of Kotor for a week – that was definitely a highlight. We were enamored with Kosovo, and slightly underwhelmed by North Macedonia. That was the end of our time in the former Yugoslavia.
When we arrived in Thessaloniki, we kicked ourselves for not having set aside more time for Greece. A quick detour – we flew into Naples and from there, took a day train to Sicily where we spent a week with my aunt and uncle at their home in the Aeolian Islands. Our time on Salina was probably my favourite part of the trip. I can’t wait to write about it.
From Italy, we took an overnight ferry to Albania where we met up with Ross’s parents to do some hiking and sightseeing. After a month in Albania, we crossed back into Greece to pick up another flight – this time to our favourite country on Earth: Georgia.
I was a little nervous about going back to the Caucasus. What if it was different to how I remembered? What if I didn’t like it as much? I needn’t have worried – the five weeks we spent in Kutaisi, southern Georgia, northern Armenia, Yerevan and Tbilisi couldn’t have been more perfect. We finished the trip with a week in Istanbul.
It doesn’t sound like much when I write it all down, but we’ve been going non-stop. We visited at least four or five places in each country, spending an average of 3 weeks in each Balkans nation – much longer than most people.
Why stop now?
Counting all our weekend trips, holidays and side-trips from Hanoi and Phnom Penh – plus this last 10 months of continuous travel – we’ve packed a lifetime’s worth of travel into four short years. Now we’re both desperate for a change of pace, which is why we’ve decided to find a new home base in Australia.
I always thought moving back would feel like a failure. I think the desire not to fail has been propelling me for a while. Recently I’ve come to see it a different way: Continuing to do something my heart is no longer in, that would be the real failure.
The whole reason we moved to Chiang Mai in 2015 was to do something different and build greater flexibility and choice into our lives. To continue travelling at this pace or living in temporary homes in faraway places just isn’t what I want any more.
At least I don’t think it is.
I think this is important to mention: Our decision to switch gears is motivated by positive forces, not negative ones. I am grateful for that. It’s not a financial decision – we’re in a better place now than we were four years ago, and we could continue travelling for the foreseeable future if we wanted to. It’s not a health decision, either. It’s just time for something different – permanence, community, and planning for the future.
Too much of a good thing
Travel burnout is real. It happened to me.
In the past 10 months, I’ve seen more than I did in my first 28 years. I’ve experienced the best and worst of humanity (mainly the best). But the pace has been unrelenting.
The longest we stayed put this entire time was a fortnight. And that was way back in January! Enjoying each place as best we could, planning our next steps, studying online (Ross) and working (me), all while moving around every 3-7 days. To say we’re exhausted would be an understatement.
On top of that, I’ve been trying to grow this blog and seize the opportunity to collect as much material as I possibly can. Feeling like I’m working all the time (and some weeks, actually literally working all the time) has taken a lot of the fun out of travel.
I’ve met many long-term expats and full-time travellers who love their lifestyle. But I’ve realised it’s not the right fit for me at this point in my life.
Getting comfortable with comfort
I’m beyond excited at the idea of having our own place and returning to a ‘normal’ routine. But I’m also nervous about it. I think I’ve become a bit addicted to discomfort.
Living in Australia, a place devoid of all those little daily challenges I’ve grown used to – no language barriers, no currency conversions, no bargaining at markets or haggling with tuk-tuk drivers, no getting lost or jumping on the wrong train – is going to be strange. Everything should be easy in Australia, so I feel a lot of pressure to get my life in order.
Having said that, we don’t want to get too comfortable, so we’ve decided to set ourselves a new challenge. Instead of moving back to Brisbane, the city we both grew up in, we’re going to try living somewhere else for a little while – somewhere just as foreign and exciting as Hanoi or Phnom Penh.
In fact, our new home base is almost closer to Cambodia than it is to Brisbane. (How’s your geography? Maybe you can guess?). I’ll save that news for a future post.
What does this mean for the blog?
The biggest thing to come out of the past four years of travel – apart from the friendships I’ve made and the professional experience I’ve gained from working overseas – is this blog.
I started Wander-Lush for fun without any expectations. For the first few years, I had no clear idea of what I wanted this website to be or what I wanted to achieve. About 18 months ago – after yet another public breakdown where I wanted to delete everything before Ross talked me back from the edge – I finally decided to start taking blogging seriously. I set goals, and with support from some fantastic colleagues, friends and networks, I’ve been doing my best to drive Wander-Lush in that direction.
I’ve now reached most of these goals. I make an income. I’ve built enough of a rapport with my audience that people keep coming back to my site for information. I get to work with awesome people and small companies to support tourism in their communities. I feel like I’m doing my bit to promote alternative destinations and encourage tourism in places that really need it.
As I’ve become more confident, I’ve also become more ambitious. I now see no reason why this website couldn’t be my main source of income. Thus I find myself in the strange position where I could actually blog full-time – if I want to.
However I decide to split my time in the future, I’m looking forward to developing Wander-Lush further and making it a more useful resource for other travellers.
I collected enough materials for roughly two years’ worth of content on this trip – more than enough to keep me busy! (Can you imagine the number of jpgs I now have to sort through!? I haven’t counted, but it’s definitely in the five figures.)
Coming up, you can expect to see more posts from the Caucasus and the Balkans. I also plan to start writing long-form monthly newsletters rather than just sending off a list of posts (I’ll probably start doing this in September, so make sure you’ve subscribed if you want to see the new format).
Will I ever travel again?
The fatigue and mental exhaustion of the past 10 months hasn’t killed my passion for travel. Travel will always be a part of my life.
Sitting in our Airbnb in Tbilisi a few weeks ago, I realised something significant. I’ve never been one of those people who wants to travel to every country (power to you, but it’s just not me). I’ve never created a massive bucket list to tick off (very unlike me, because I’m usually someone who loves lists). I don’t want to travel forever.
I know where I like spending my time, and that’s in Southeast Asia and the Caucasus. If I could only travel to those two regions for the rest of my life, I’d be more than OK with that.
In some respects, I feel like this trip has helped me reach a new ‘level’ of travel. I’m beyond (or maybe just over) must-sees and must-dos. I prefer travel that’s familiar and nourishing, not anxiety-inducing and draining. A kind of travel that’s all about the people you meet, the friendships you form, and the small, seemingly insignificant experiences you have every day.
These are the things I love most about travel. They’re the things I miss. It’s what I’ll keep searching for, and what I hope I can continue inspiring my readers to pursue as well.
It would be rude of me not to finish by saying thank you. I’m so grateful for your readership and support. If you’re planning a trip to any of the countries mentioned above, or if there’s somewhere you’re particularly curious about and would like to learn more, please leave me a note below.