There’s something I learned about myself in 2023. As much as I love travelling and immersing myself in new environments, whenever I arrive in a new country, instead of sightseeing or exploring my new surroundings, I actually prefer to spend the initial days focussing on my work. This might seem surprising for those of you familiar with my frequent travels and my emphasis on a healthy work-life balance. However, over my 9 years as a digital nomad therapist, my way of travelling has continued to evolve, and this is just one of the things I learned about myself along the way. It’s been a while since I gave you a glimpse into my life on the road, so in this blog post, I want to share some insights into how travelling can change over time and why embracing your unique approach is essential.
Breakfast with a view
The more you travel…
At the time this post is being published, I’m on my way from Sri Lanka to Australia. My three weeks in Sri Lanka marked my first visit to a new country since 2022. Despite several people advising me against spending time in the country’s capital, Colombo, I booked myself a nice apartment in the city for the first five days of my stay.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly value recommendations and local tips from people who have already visited a place I’m about to go, and I often rely on them to prepare for my stay. However, self-awareness also plays a crucial role. Have you ever found that the older you get, the better you seem to get to know yourself? Similarly, the more you travel, the more you understand which way of travelling is right for you.
Travelling between countries with diverse cultures, languages, time zones, climates, and even seasons can be overstimulating and exhausting. And jet lag usually doesn’t make things easier. Because of that, it often takes me some time before I feel fully immersed in a new environment. Last year, I visited 9 countries in a matter of 6 months, so I decided to try something I had been thinking about for a while. To avoid culture shock and overwhelm, I planned not to do any work during the initial days of each stop, hoping that it would help make the transition into each new environment easier. Except, I was wrong. Contrary to my expectations, I found that this approach actually made it more difficult for me to settle. Rather than avoiding work during the initial days, I discovered that spending a few hours a day focussed on my work (more or less, depending on how long and tiring the flight was), can provide my days with a structure and routine, which helps me during the transition. That’s because my work routines and to-dos always remain the same, no matter where in the world I open my laptop.
This – and the fact that the internet connection in the rest of the country is notoriously unreliable – is why I chose to spend my first days in Sri Lanka in Colombo. It allowed me to acclimate to the tropical heat (having come from Winter in Europe), to recover from the long flight and jet lag, and also gave me time to understand the cultural nuances and get used to the unique quirks of my new environment. Did you know, for example, that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that has a half-hour time difference?
An unexpected find in a Sri Lankan mall
Of course, I didn’t lock myself inside my flat, but I still went out on some short trips around Colombo. It allowed me to gather some first impressions and get used to my new environment and the way things work in Sri Lanka. And it led to some unexpected discoveries, like stumbling upon an ice rink in a nearby mall on one of my lunch breaks. Colombo may not have a mark on the common tourist map, but I truly enjoyed this little discovery. And after a few days in Colombo, I felt ready to embark deeper into the country.
What’s right for others isn’t always right for me
There’s a famous train route in Sri Lanka, which is a popular tourist attraction and known for the Instagram pictures passengers take while leaning out of the moving train. I enjoyed it so much that, unlike most people, I took it both ways. While I also enjoyed the experience of leaning out of the open carriage door, which is not something you get to do very often, it was not the purpose of my journey. I love travelling by train whenever I get the opportunity, and I have taken many incredibly beautiful journeys over time, most recently all three scenic routes in New Zealand. So, while many of the other tourists fixated on capturing the perfect GoPro video or Instagram shot, my focus was entirely on savouring the ride and soaking in the breathtaking views.
It is possible to make multiple stops along this train journey, and my destination was also known for its hiking trails. However, I decided not to do any of them. Upon arrival, my hosts picked me up in a tuktuk from the station and brought me to my home for the next two nights – an apartment with a lovely terrace in the mountains. I had all meals at my accommodation and spent the next day reading two books on my terrace while taking in the beautiful scenery. Over time, I have learned that must-see attractions don’t always align with my personal interests. What might sound boring to some sometimes is my idea of perfection. It serves as a reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to travel.
Taking in the breathtaking views from the train
Travelling isn’t just a vacation for me, it’s a way of life. While I understand the curiosity and eagerness of others to squeeze in as much as possible into a limited amount of time, especially when you’re a tourist on your annual break, my approach is tailored to what best suits my unique lifestyle. It’s also essential to remember that my travels involve not only work but also regular activities such as handling tax returns and connecting with family and friends while abroad. This blend of work and personal engagements requires more downtime between activities.
The main reason behind my visit to Sri Lanka was to break up the long flight from Europe to Australia. Sri Lanka was a perfect stop along the way, especially since I had heard many good things about it. However, because I travel so much, I often view these kinds of trips from a different perspective. I don’t always feel compelled to visit all the must-see attractions during my initial visit, thanks to the flexibility of my digital nomad lifestyle that allows me to return at any time. Instead, I view these trips as a sort of “test” to determine if I’d like to revisit for an extended stay. Hence, I often skip the famous beaches, temples, and other tourist hotspots, opting instead to people-watch in local cafés or simply absorb the atmosphere and views with a good book in hand.
Fancy coffee making – I travel with an aeropress
There’s no doubt that travel changes you. It can improve your overall well-being and mental health, broaden your horizon and change your perspective. But the way you travel can evolve over time. With every new trip I make, I gather more experiences and learn more about myself. And admittedly, as I’m getting older, I also notice more and more that I don’t mind a bit of comfort.
Many of my online counselling clients and friends are also digital nomads or at least frequent travellers, and it has always fascinated me how differently we all travel. But that’s the beauty of this lifestyle; it looks different for every individual and is a life of constant change and adaptation. The longer you travel, the more you understand what works for you. And this, of course, doesn’t only apply to travel but to all aspects of life. We all need to find our own way of living this life.
Over time, I have tried many different things and have frequently adapted my way of travelling and working. As I continue to explore, I’m reminded that the essence of travel lies not only in the destinations but in the unique, personal stories that unfold along the way. So, whether you’re a seasoned nomad or a budding adventurer, remember this – there’s no handbook for the perfect way to travel. Find your way and accept that it may evolve over time, embrace the unexpected, and let the journey unfold in your unique way.
Have you noticed your own way of travelling change over time? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. And if you would like to receive regular insights into my life as a digital nomad, as well as regular advice for looking after your mental health, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter!