Travel Update: Homeward Bound

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).

In the meantime, make sure you’re following me on Facebook for photos (I’m more inclined to share on Facebook than Instagram these days), and on YouTube for videos.

Will I ever travel again?

Update: Since this post was first published, I’ve announced my next trip!

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.

24 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Erica and David Bailey says:

    Loved your blogs.
    We are a 75 year old male and 72 year old female married for 52 years.
    5 years ago we sold our house in Australia and have been on the world travel trail since then.
    Have visited all the places you have. Been to 75 countries and now in Kutaisi Georgia in an apartmehht for 3 weeks.
    We do get a bit overtravelled from time to time but find by travelling slow and taking breaks as we are here negates it.
    Spent 14 months in The Balkans and loved it.
    Hope you decide to travel again soon,!
    Best wishes
    David and Erica

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi David and Erica,

      Thanks so much for the lovely message. That’s amazing! Good for you. How are you liking Kutaisi? I have to admit I have fantasied about living there more than a few times.

      Thanks for the advice, I totally agree. Enjoy the rest of you time in Georgia and safe travels!

      1. David and Erica Bailey says:

        Just loving Kutaisi.
        The trees here remind us of Mendoza in Argentina where we spent 2 weeks and fell in love with the town.
        Off to Mestia on Saturday and then Ushguli where it is already snowing.

          1. David and Erica Bailey says:

            Have taken the road from Skoder to Theth in Albania ,listed as one of the worlds most dangerous roads, so we are prepared for the Ushguli drive!

  2. Reanna says:

    Moving is always an adventure, wherever you go! I found your blog last year before I went to the Caucasus and your posts were so useful to our planning. The Balkans are definitely on my to do list, so I am looking forward to reading whatever content you produce on them! My partner and I have recently moved to London from Australia (just like every other 20-something Aussie it would seem), and I would love to move to Asia after our visa is up. Reading your post has made me think about how long term travel and living away from home might impact me down the road, as I don’t know how quickly I will burn out after a few years. All the best on your move back to Aus!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Reanna,

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I’m really glad you found my site helpful! If you liked the Caucasus, I’m sure you’ll like the Balkans as well.

      I would love to live in London. Our original plan was to move to Canada but that never happened! Asia is a terrific place to spend time, especially Southeast Asia. It’s hugely challenging but rewarding and will change your perspective on life forever.

      I think there are a lot of misconceptions around long-term travel. It really does have its ups and downs. I wouldn’t change anything – I’m so glad I did what I did. But I’m also glad that chapter has come to a natural ‘end’, and that I was brave enough to listen to myself and try something different. We’ll see how long that lasts!

      Good luck with settling into London life!

  3. Kan says:

    Thank you for your amazing blog. I can relate so much to this in so many ways. I’m also an Aussie albeit from Sydney and my partner and I had left our cushy corporate jobs for some long-term travel since May this year. Much of the burn-out and the longing for something more stable has crept into my thoughts every now and again.

    Ironically, we’re also currently in Georgia and your blog has been an incredible resource to help us navigate this amazing country! So, thank you for the advice you share and also for sharing your own incredible stories. You should consider doing more of these, it makes this more personal and less Lonely-Planet-cum-Nomadic-Matt. I will always choose something with more personality to read and find my information.

    I’m excited to see how things go for you in the next chapter and would love to learn more about how you built something that can sustain your passion. This is something that I am still figuring out for myself.

    PS – if you’d like to consider exploring China at some stage then please reach out. I’m of Chinese ethnicity and love my heritage and wish to share more of it with everyone. Hopefully, I can emulate something half as great as your blog!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Kan!

      Thank you so much for the heartfelt comment and the feedback. That’s incredible that you’re in Georgia. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as we did.

      Good on your for taking the leap into travel! Burnout is a tricky one and I think something everyone faces at some stage. I really believe it helps to choose destinations that energise you – Georgia is definitely one of those places for me, and I hope you’re finding it fulfilling and nourishing (in every sense of the word) as well.

      I visited China when I was very young but I’d love to see more of the country. Now that I’m back in Australia, I’ll definitely be planning some trips! I’m off to check out your blog now. Look forward to following your adventures 🙂

      Happy travels!

  4. Ksenija Olmer says:

    No need to be so apologetic. It is your life and you live it lushly wherever. I enjoyed your Georgia and other posts. Georgia is my favorite in the Caucasus. Just returned from another trip there, this time a horse adventure in Tusheti. Did a 6 weeks driving trip in the Balkans this summer. My favorite was actually Romania. Republic of Moldavia was a bust though 🙁 loved the Albanian Alps even if we did not trek them.
    If you have not been to Western Australia, that is my favorite part of Oz. Darwin is hot, but we had a great visit out in the National Park. So many waterfalls and aborigines art!
    You are sooo young, there are many adventures awaiting you! All the best!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Thanks so much Ksenija 🙂 I can’t wait to see more of Aus. I have family who just moved to WA, so a visit is definitely in the cards. Darwin should be an adventure!

      Tusheti – amazing! We’re saving it for our next visit. I really enjoyed Romania too, although we were there in winter. Just beautiful.

      Happy travels!

      1. Ksenija says:

        Hi again, I have been thinking about long time travel and the challenges it poses. Some bloggers will admit to burn out or even big crisis. I think it is especially true for those who try to make a living from blogging and thus face a lot of pressure.
        I think the people who sustain long time nomadic life is those who en up taking it more easy. They stay in one place for longer building a home base in an apartment, cooking their own food, making friends. On our travels we usually don’t stay longer than 2 nights in one place and it is a lot of pressure to continually find a nice place to stay, a decent restaurant etc.
        But we also have a few home bases to return to. We visit my parents cottage in the Alps for a week at a time between European trips, we stay for a few weeks in Prague in an apartment lent from my step daughter where we have our winter clothes and our treasures from the road and we stop at our friend’s House in Thailand for some R&R when in Asia. That makes a huge difference.

        Also when you are in your 30is a big decision starts looming – will you have children? Such a decision can not easily be followed through without a stability of home. Travel has its seasons like everything else in life. Especially long term travel. You can do it when young and when old. For most and regular couples in between it is time to build up a family and professional life to sustain the family. You can of course travel with children, too, but it is a lot more challenging and you need to adapt. Once school starts you are limited to school vacation time. Still great and a wonderful way to see the world through their eyes, too. Once they are grown and you are an empty nester like us, it is time to hit the road again, health permitting. Until grandkids start popping up. 😉
        Happy trails and adventures to all!

  5. Peter Nenadovic says:

    Hi Emily – having recently travelled in Oman and as someone with Montenegrin heritage, I would like to thank you for your excellent posts on Oman and the Balkans!

    And good luck on your future ventures! My partner and I spent many wonderful years living in Darwin, and whilst living there we travelled overseas far more times than ever heading ‘down south’. Mind you, the attractions around Darwin and over to the Kimberley are immense and unmissable. The desire to travel somewhere, near or far, never leaves you.

    We are heading off for about 6 weeks in Iran next Monday. Maybe Georgia next year!

    Best wishes!
    Peter and Anne

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Peter and Anne,

      Thank you so much for the heartfelt comment. I remember chatting with you a few years back before your Oman trip. I’m following you on Instagram now so I look forward to your Iran pics! You would love Georgia – no doubt about it.

      Everyone who has spent time in Darwin has good things to say. I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed your time there and still found occasion to travel. I’ve still not been to Indonesia (can you believe that?) so it’s first stop Java for us!

      Thanks again for the kind words, it means a lot.

      Have an amazing time in the Middle East!

  6. Louise King says:

    Hi Emily

    I so hope you are moving to Darwin. Perfect post travel base. It’s where I moved to be in Australia but 40 minutes to Asia. I love everything that you write and you are my main source of travel information and inspiration. I can’t decide where in the Balkans to go next European summer so all your posts should help or confuse me!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Louise!

      Ahhh I think I’m going to confuse you with all my Balkan posts! But my top picks in the region are Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Kosovo is outstanding. The people are unreal.

      Thanks so much for the kind words – it means a lot! Yes, Darwin! I would love to pick your brain some time about life there!

      1. Louise says:

        Yes happy to provide information. You might like Growing Up Troppo – different from you but perhaps a like minded soul? Yes your Kosovo posts really inspired me and I was going to add Macedonia to round out 3 week trip until I saw this post. So will keep following your posts.

  7. Honey says:

    I am happy for you! Too much of anything can be bad. And some stability and predictability is sometimes necessary in our lives. I first found your blog while I was researching for tips on traveling to Armenia-Georgia, and your blog has been my “role model” for my own travel blog.

    I look forward to reading more of your adventures and the photos that still need to be processed (can definitely relate to this one!). I hope you find success in whatever you decide to do from now on, and I’ll be waiting for your updates. 🙂

    A reader and a stranger who strangely cares about your travels! <3

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Honey! Very much appreciated.

      I look forward to checking out your blog! Did you end up travelling to Georgia and Armenia? How was it!?

  8. Jeff says:

    What an adventure you guys have had! It’s been great following along and no doubt will continue to be as you get through all of your content!

    All the best with your new adventures – I’m guessing Darwin?! Or perhaps Perth/WA?

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Ahh thank you Jeff! I’ll be living vicariously through your posts.

      Darwin is correct! Let me know if you ever find yourself in the Top End, it would be awesome to meet up.

      Safe travels!

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