This piece originally appeared on Alex in Wanderland
Less Is More: Stillness at Twenty-Six
Four and a quarter years of constant motion have shown me the world, trained me in the art of true independence, taught me more than any master's degree could ever hope to and allowed me both the financial freedom and the content source to start and grow my travel blog into a thriving business. Four and a quarter years of conscious homelessness have made me, me. I have so much to be happy about , and to be grateful for.
Yet when I sit still with my thoughts I know that in some small ways, this lifestyle has also drained me, and lately when a friend asks how I'm doing — really asks, not just makes polite conversation — I find myself admitting through my smile, I'm tired.
I'm tired of rushing through each experience on the way to another. I'm tired of living out of a bag. I'm tired of never, ever feeling in control of my workload, and putting aside creative projects over and over again simply out of time constraints. I'm tired of waking up confused over what city or country I'm in.
Which is why I'm spending the next six months on Koh Tao. Last year, when I was on the brink of burnout, two months here brought me back to life. It was a beautiful time in my life. But I craved more. More stillness, more permanence, more more. And so, for my twenty-sixth birthday, I'm finally making the major transition from a fully nomadic wanderer to a travel addict with a home base.
Why? I've realized that my interpretation of living fully is living simply, and being on the road constantly is stretching me too thin. I want to savor the small things. I want to live in the moment. I want to pay rent on the same studio apartment for multiple months in a row.
Koh Tao has always been the place I come to recharge. In 2009, I spent a summer here and fell in love with the charms of Southeast Asian living. In 2011-2012, I called the island home for the better part of ten months. In both 2013 and 2014, I returned here again for annual restore and refresh sessions. Yes, I've struggled with knowing when to slow down. But I've always known where.
Having a base again will allow me to focus on my health, nourish creative projects, and cultivate an in-person community again. Here's a peek at what's changing, and what I'm looking forward to.
I'm Settling In
This move won't come as too much of a surprise to my longtime readers, who know I've been slowly trying to pump the breaks on my travels for over a year now — with mixed results. The thing is, once I'm on the road, I can't seem to control myself. I talk big game about spending more time in less places, but then my wanderlust muscles in and takes hold and suddenly I'm stuffing six cities into a month and signing three major contracts on the side and agreeing to several familial and friend obligations in between because who needs sleep anyway? (Answer: humans do.)
I've concluded the only way I can force myself to settle down is to strand myself on an island with no airport and few access points, and start paying rent on a place so beautiful I won't want to leave it.
And so I have. Since arriving in Thailand in late September, I've secured an apartment — the longest-term lease commitment I've made since I left New York in 2011. I've bought a motorcycle. I've rearranged furniture. I've started a new tab at an old bar that has my name on a plaque on the wall, I've printed out photos and put them into carefully curated frames and I've purchased passes to not one, not two, but three fitness establishments.
I've always loved challenging myself to go beyond the ordinary, and for a long time I resisted settling down as I saw it as at odds with that goal. But now, I see that traveling has become my ordinary, and the true trial for me at this phase is to live with some stillness. I wake up in the morning and I know that the pillow my head is laying on is the same one it will be laying on next month. And the month after that. And the month after that. And you know what? That brings me a lot of joy.
I'm With My People
I've had this joke for a while that all positions are filled and I'm no longer accepting applications for new friendships. Try again next year. It's funny because the truth is that I can't help myself from meeting new people and making friends wherever I go — it's just part of my DNA. Yet when I'm on the road 24/7 I barely have time to answer my own mother's texts, let alone FaceTime with my college crew. And I'm usually on the wrong continent for a brunch date with my childhood best friend.
Five years of coming to Koh Tao means that one of my largest communities is here. I look forward to putting down FaceTime sometimes and putting in realfacetime with the tribe right here in front of me. And the ones who aren't? Staying put means time to Skype them, send them long emails, and keep in touch on a more consistent basis.
I'm Focusing on My Health
I've always been somewhat fitness focused, but now that I'm in one place I'm fired up to take it to another level. I want to hit the reset button on my mind and body. Recently, I kick-started a DIY health retreat — stay tuned for more details in an upcoming post — that includes yoga, hiking, pilates and resistance training, as well as fresh healthy foods and regular massages.
After years of instability it feels like a blessing to have constant access to a kitchen and several nearby healthy restaurants, to have a gym buddy, and to get into a routine when it comes to my diet and exercise.
Back when I had a permanent address I used to love taking courses and classes and workshops. Once I started traveling full time, those kinds of things became impossible. Can't sign up for a cake decorating class when you're going to miss two out of four classes — those fondant flowers aren't going to shape themselves!
And so I look forward to what I might learn while I'm here in Koh Tao. Already since arriving I've taken workshops on Thai massage and yoga inversions. What's next? A freediving course? Thai lessons? A cooking class? I have so many hobbies and interests outside travel — I can't wait to cultivate some of those, too.
I'm Working Differently
I've had a part-time assistant who helps me with social media scheduling and other behind-the-scenes tasks for over a year now. But as my business continues to grow, I've struggled with how to scale it — there's only one of me, and a lot more opportunities out there than I can handle (what a blessing!) Having a home base is allowing me to experiment with outsourcing parts of my business that don't need my personal touch, and might even benefit from another set of eyes (analyzing Google Analytics, for example, which is far from my own strength).
I've recently hired an extremely qualified part-time assistant here on the island and I can't wait to see what we learn from each other. Restructuring my business so that it gives me freedom rather than ties me down is one of my major goals for this period.
I'm Writing Differently
Right now, I'm so behind on trip recaps that y'all might be reading about the 4th of July sometime around Christmas. Frankly, that pressure to catch up to "real time" means that I sometimes hold off on publishing other types of content, or breeze past certain points of interest.
Looking forward, I'm excited to bring you guys more inspirational and philosophical content that isn't necessarily tied to a destination, as well as more in-depth posts about the trips I actually do take — for example, more packing lists, more planning tips, and more musings on my emotional takeaways from each trip. Oh and heck yes, there will be trips…
I'm Not Quitting Travel
Does having a home base mean I'll stop traveling? Heck no!
- In September, I visited Bangkok and Phuket on a very fun work campaign.
- In October, a business trip brought me to Bangkok, followed by Trang and Satun Provinces.
- In November, I'll head to my neighboring isles of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan for an immigration-errand-turned-island-getaway (my visa needs to be extended in-country after sixty days, and restarted by leaving the country after ninety).
- In December, a hop across the border will bring me to a visa run slash yoga retreat in Cambodia.
- In January, digital detox trips to both Khao Sok and Khao Yai National Parks are in the works, as well as a weekend away in Bangkok.
- In February, I'm arranging a tour of the Khao Yai wine region with a group of my favorite expat friends, followed by an international girlfriend getaway to Burma.
Oh, how I love this corner of the world! Right now, I'm attempting to limit myself to just five nights away from Koh Tao per month, with some exceptions here and there. I can't wait to explore corners of Thailand and Southeast Asia both new and familiar.
I plan to actually take some of these trips off from work entirely. I know it looks like I'm on vacation all the time to some people, but the reality is I work almost every day no matter where I am. I'm hoping having these long periods at Wanderland Base Camp means I'll be able to get enough work done beforehand to totally switch off while I'm on the road — I might even leave my laptop behind for some of them.
For someone who has spent the last few years on back-to-back multi-month epic journeys, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to my little weekend getaways. Some of my recent trips have been such whirlwinds that I barely had a moment to savor the planning stage, catch my breath while I was on them, or let them soak in once they were over before I was onto the next thing. I'm ready for some quality over quantity.
With every new opportunity comes new challenges. I have concerns over being able to sustain my travel business while, well, doing a lot less traveling. And there are things I'll have to get used to — paying rent on an apartment that will sit empty for 1/4th of the time I'm living in it, retraining my overstimulated brain to slow down and savor sitting still, and overall turning down my wanderlust meter a few notches.
I see this next six months as a trial period for the future. In April, I'm contemplating a six-week backpacking trip to a new country that's long topped my bucket list (one I'd have plenty of time to plan and prep for!) and in May, I plan to return to North America for the summer as usual. But in the fall, if all goes well, I hope to either return to Koh Tao or try a new base elsewhere. It's time for a new chapter.
I'm ready to live more by doing less.