Commentary

This Why I Travel To Look Back

This is Why I Travel to Look Back by Duke Stewart
Written by Carl Hedinger

出る杭は打たれる. The stake that sticks out gets hammered down. – Japanese Proverb

This Why I Travel To Look Back

Everyone has that “Why I Left” story. It’s almost mandatory these days, with varieties of reasons for being here. For me, it was leaving that comfort zone known for too long and having a look back at it. Life once seemed part of a plan, with hope for the future seeming dim at best. A dark cloud shouting, “you’re stuck!” hanging over each day. The money and opportunities were good enough but something seemed absent, missing.

Bijindo Sunset

I felt like a part of something and was headed in the same direction as many other people. We were together and walking in the same line towards the same goal until one wanted out along the way. That person was eventually me who wanted to break the chain and escape, and this is Why I Travel to Look Back. But it took time, and it started with a friendly nudge. Life seems right even when routines rule the day. Weekends spent watching games and weeknight drinks with friends. It was hard to get away from that crowd and lifestyle but then, until whispers emerged from afar. Just as my life station seemed in place, I hear “Come to Korea. Life here is easy.”

Korea DMZ

I respond with the excuses like “I can’t. No money saved.”

And that wise voice responds with “save? Don’t need to do that. Get over here and the money will come in no time.”

Getting out required things to fall in place, but the spark was there and would never leave. More time passed and life continued on. The job grew into something more meaningful but still packed with stress. Working on Christmas seemed right. Mandatory overtime? Okay! More money. Who cares about time? Things didn’t get worse. They just never changed. Wholesome friends always found a way in and great times still bounce around inside my head. Something just… lacked.

Monk Walking at Songgwangsa Temple

Nothing in the area challenged my comfort zone. Friday Night sushi dates were the best part of the week but the hangover following the after-drinks ruined the weekend. Poor habits didn’t help with the smoking, drinking, and no exercise comprising a routine harkening back to college. Something had to change and I didn’t know what yet. The desire to do something different poked at my growing belly everyday. After some talk about living abroad, we decided to get out. My wife came home following a particularly soul crushing workday and said, “My degree came in the mail. Let’s get out of this place.”

South Korea Gwangyang Valley

That was the final piece and we really could leave now. Tears of joy were shared and then it started. The journey was off the ground within a month, after the necessary documents were ready to go and an overseas recruiter secured a job in no time. Fast-forward another month and we took to the road while saying “goodbye” to various family and friends along the way, racking up miles and trying to enjoy home as much as possible. Life was soon turning into a dream. We saw new places and another thing happened. The poor habits eventually disappeared and succumbed to a healthier existence, though those occasional junk food binges help the homesickness at times. Don’t judge.

South Korea Hwaeomsa Temple

But it all seems blurred together now. What would have happened if we’d never left? Would we be happy? How would I look back? Having friends and family so far away brings tears as close as they’ll get to my eyes. Guilt and remorse for leaving resurface on occasion. We’ve returned home once and those friends are still there, waiting to pick up right where the last conversation left off. When we leave, I wonder if they miss us. Hopefully. We’ll be back but for now, still breaking away. Searching for ways off the beaten path. At the end of the day, our journey is part of another big line like before. Following the crowd but this time, traveling. Finding a purpose and getting as much out of life as it offers. Something I couldn’t do before.

South Korea Seoul Han River

Our story is not special because everyone (including YOU) can do this. Sometimes it just takes a little push or a whisper in your ear to get moving. I travel and have pulled myself out of a life that wouldn’t relinquish control. Today, I feel free and know that my life is not special, but fulfilling. Sometimes life in a different culture becomes a headache but there are more happy days than sad ones. Who would’ve thought that it took a push to go in this direction?

South Korea Yeosu Horang San

To that very wise friend who started all of this, thank you. You started the spark. Those friends whose memories occupy my mind to help through the rough times, thank you for everything. You’re always cheering us on and I’m cheering back at you. We keep staying positive that we’ll meet again and I know that won’t always be the case. We still remember you and thanks to all of you, we keep moving. Life might not be so easy on that fateful return home but these few years spent abroad have truly changed things. And you’ve been there all along the way. You’re why this is easier. This is why I travel to look back, with love towards those memories and familiar faces.

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Travel to Look Back

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About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

16 Comments

  • Duke,
    Andrew, Bailey and I have just embarked on our full-time travel lives this month. It’s always great to know someone else who has made a big change in life as we have.
    Beautifully written piece and we hope to see you on the road soon.
    Brenda

  • Nice post. When I was in university I had a Japanese friend invite me to his home in Japan, but made the off-handed comment that I’d probably never visit (I had never left Canada before that). To prove him wrong I did visit him. Fast forward many years and travel now makes up a majority of my life and adds meaning to it. All this because, like you, a friend nudged me.

    • So good to know that all it takes is a friendly nudge to get others like yourself on the travel wagon too:) Great story, btw. I’ve got a friend that I’d like to prove wrong someday and visit. Btw, do you two still keep in touch?

      Thanks for commenting and for tweeting this, Heather and Tim:) Gonna have a look on your site now!

  • I just came across your post on twitter and am so glad I was able to read it. I will be leaving the country in less than a week to attempt a life of travel. Like you I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I have spent the last 10 years building a career that became more of my life than actual living. Long hours and high stress pushed me to look for something else. I have spent the last month visiting friends and family, and when that moment came to say goodbye, it was one of the hardest I’ve had to deal with to date even though I had said goodbye before. It just feels different being on the other side of the globe rather than the other side of the US. I needed some encouragement this morning because the doubt is getting stronger as my departure date gets closer and closer. Thank you for sharing your story and bringing a smile to my face. Cheers!

    • Sadie, first and foremost I’d like to thank you for commenting here.

      I know it’s hard at first but you’ll definitely thank yourself for doing this. I hope you can keep on going, even when it gets hard on you. I’m happy that this brought a smile to your face. People like you are the reason I keep going. I truly thank you for your wonderful, heartfelt comment. Many thanks to you and the best of luck. Hopefully we can keep in touch during your time traveling. All the best to you.

    • Wow, I’m so happy that you took the time to comment. I’m in the boat right now, where I’m trying to find a way to avoid going back to that life in the U.S.

      I love to write and want to keep doing that. Just not sure if that can pay the bills, alone. I’d love to hear more, if you’ve got any advice. What’s your twitter handle? I’d love to connect with you.

  • I think you pretty accurately described what separates those who have traveled and those who want to travel. If you want to do something different, something potentially life-altering for yourself, you have to fight those resisting voices in your mind. They will always be there. But you have to choose to go against the excuses and rationalizations. If you truly want to travel, you just have to do it. No questions asked.
    I’m glad you’re apart of this group. Love reading your blog Carl!

  • This reflects the feelings of a lot of long-term travelers, I’m sure.
    You pretty accurately described the difference between those have traveled and those that want to. That, of course, is the ability to push against the resisting forces in your head and to just do it. Being able to push yourself to get outside your comfort zone. If you really want to do something new and potentially wonderful for yourself, you just have to do it.
    I’m glad you’re apart of that group Carl!

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if I live 450 or 2,500 miles from where most of my family lives since they don’t ever go anywhere. I’m like some sort of fluke in the family that way. Still, being overseas would seem like such a wide distance.

  • Great piece. I completely understand about the guilt that comes with being so far from friends and family. It’s hard, but everything is the same when you do return to visit. Reading this has made me long to leave again. 🙂