It’s not about being brave

People often say to us: “so, you left your home country and made travelling your living. You must be very brave.”

We usually reply, politely, that it has nothing to do with being brave and that we in fact are rather cautious by nature. We do however have a strong urge to see and experience new things, meet new people from various places and broaden our horizons. To do that, we don’t really need to be brave. We need a passport with enough blank pages – preferably also a bit of money but that can be arranged along the way if we are willing to put in some work here and there.

The other thing we hear a lot is: “oh, it seems so wonderful to do what you do. I wish I had done the same.” Then our reaction becomes slightly more confrontative: “so, why don’t you?”. The reply is usually a series of rather obscure arguments, normally involving work and/or children. The real answer is often obvious though: the urge is not there – that strong urge that’s burning inside your chest and simply won’t give you any other option that to pack your bag and leave. Again, and again, and again.

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We know people who have left their home countries together with their children, regardless of age. We know others who have taken their jobs abroad, or resigned and sold everything they owned if that is what it takes to get going. We are of course all different and we really do have the greatest respect for people who admit – to themselves and others – that they don’t have that urge. You are in many ways admirable in your peaceful attitude towards life.

Now, the thing is that we ourselves have never had to go through the stage of selling everything. It has simply never been necessary. So honestly, it’s not really a big thing. In our case it’s a question of a night’s flight to a second or third home country, or for that matter: a few months in a car through Africa. It’s not about being brave. It is however about restlessness and curiosity, both of which can of course be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it. But it’s also a philosophy we share with soulmates all over the world.

It’s important to realise though that life changes when you decide to start living a wandering life with more than one home. The world somehow becomes larger and smaller at the same time. You expand your horizons and realise that the world does not end at the city border, yet the concept of distance will also lose its meaning. Travelling halfway around the world becomes natural. It’s easy, and you do it all the time. You stay in daily contact with people in every corner of the world and when someone says, “you really should come visit”, there’s not necessarily anything stopping you from being there within a day or so. (You just need to distinguish between a proper invitation and an empty, polite phrase from someone who wasn’t expecting to be taken seriously.)

The word “home” becomes something abstract. Something which is more about people and feelings than about geography. Home is where you feel happy and where you’ll find people you love – and that’s rarely limited to a single physical place.

You will soon get tired of questions such as “so, where is home for you?” or worse: “when will you move home?”. The answer is that we are constantly moving home. Every journey, long or short, is in fact homeward bound.

Time will become highly relative, not necessarily based on 24 hours to the day or that the time is what your watch tells you. The world has 24 time zones, which means that it’s always five, or seven, or midnight somewhere. Perhaps where you are, perhaps where your friends are. Flights, other means of transport, and cultural approaches to time will confuse things further.

Specific languages lose their meaning and start blending. You alternately dream and communicate in different tongues and your existence does not revolve around how you communicate, but the fact that you do communicate. Two expats from the same country speaking a foreign language with each other will often be considered braggarts, but it’s really not about that– it just happens. The main point is that the message is understood.

Packing becomes a way of living. Just like most people, we too have accumulated quite a bit of stuff over the years, stuff that we keep in the various places that we regularly return to. However, travelling will also make you realise that nothing is essential unless you can fit it in a few reasonably sized bags.

Departure is always a bit melancholic but no longer sad. You learn not to say good bye and not to linger in your farewell. At most a casual “see you next time”. And when you have said it you don’t turn around. We might not know when we will meet next – perhaps here, or there, or at an airport somewhere – but if you’re my friend then you’re also part of my home, and believe it or not but I love coming home.

Andreas Karlsson

Journalist, author, photographer and safari guide. Read more about Andreas here.