“All travel is circular … after all, the grand tour is just the inspired man’s way of heading home.”
– Paul Theroux
“I’m so jealous,” your friends tell you. “You’re always travelling.” Yet part of you yearns for what your friends back home have – stability, a house, savings you can’t even imagine at this point, connections that continue to grow.
You’ve missed the weddings of some of your closest friends, people you went to school with are on their second or third child, and the thought of climbing any sort of corporate ladder amuses you.
You work hard, but you’re never at one job long enough to rise through the ranks. Or you’re a freelancer. Sometimes you have lots of money coming in, other times you have none. Either way, you tell yourself, you only have yourself to blame.
Friends: You Lose Them As You Gain Them
It’s true that your closest friends will always feel close, even if you spend years apart. The trouble is, most of your friends aren’t going to be your closest friends. Leaving home long-term is hard; being written out of the usual gang because you’re always away isn’t much fun either.
So you go off on your solo wandering way, travelling the world and checking in to see what’s going on back home as often as you want. Sometimes, you’re glad to be away from everyday life. Other times, it’s all you want. Your travel history continues to grow as your chances of owning a home before 30 (or 40, or 50) get further out of sight. From wherever you are in the world, you know you’re missing out; if only you were suited for a different path.
But even as you pine for your usual TGIF, after-work happy hour spot and miss whining about your boss to your bestie, your own circle is growing more international still. Sometimes that means facing hard truths about your own preconceived notions, and the inbuilt discrimination that resides in everyone, in varying degrees.
Gone are the days when you met the phrase “Do you speak English?” with indignation. You now know better than to assume sophistication, education, and speaking English natively are the same thing.
When people hear you’re from Singapore it isn’t unusual to be met with questions about chewing gum and Michael Faye (come on guys, that was more than 20 years ago). So you do your best to share what you can of your own country, and give the same opportunity to other people’s countries.
Family: One Call Away, Questions & Answers
Friends from other countries who live in Singapore have told me they visit their parents more often living abroad than they do back home – an effort is made to fly home twice a year when you live abroad. The same, of course, does not apply to Singapore. Many of us live at home, or close to home, our whole lives. Those family ties don’t disappear, though. When away from home, I Skype my family at least once a week – at least twice as often as my American fiancé does. There’s comfort in the knowledge that even when it hurts to always be away, the roots and traditions we were brought up with don’t disappear easily. Even in the middle of the night, on a lonely morning or after a rough day, the people you’re closest to are only a call away.
It’s not like you don’t have a job, or don’t work hard. You just live by your own rules, right? As you get older, admiration for your adventurous life turns into well-meaning (though not always well-received) concern for your future. Not married yet? What about a house? Savings, how? A relative recently asked what I was doing with my life. “I’m writing freelance and studying a new language!” I proudly replied. “Oh. I see.” The response received was crushing in its disappointment.
To you, you’re expanding your horizons and living life to the fullest. To relatives, you’re squandering your life away recklessly, with little thought for your (or your family’s) future. At the very least, you’re not around often enough to see the disappointment in your great-aunt’s eyes.
Work: For Yourself, Or Not At All
At my last office, monthly birthday celebrations were customary, and gifts were given out generously. Every now and then, HR would organise Friday beer sessions in the office, and the CEO took us out for quarterly dinners. Corporate bullshit to some, good employee motivation to others (a bit of both as far as I’m concerned). Whatever your opinion on office events and awkward dinners, it’s nice to feel that someone at least spent time and money on keeping you happy a little while longer. Saving for the house you don’t have is possible, and you’re (maybe) putting money aside for your future.
That same security is lost almost entirely when you’re running your own show. Freelancing while you roam the world? Sometimes there’s lots of work, sometimes there isn’t any.
Still, the freedom to work from anywhere in the world is enticing.
“The money will come in when you need it to,” you tell yourself. Perhaps not the sagest financial advice, but you get by. And for now, for you, that can be enough.
Being away from home all the time provides a striking amount of clarity. You see your country in a different light, you have time to think about what you really want to do with your life, what you miss most, how important family is. You might not have as vast a social circle as you once did, but you quickly learn who your best friends are. Pro Tip: They’re the ones who still always come to hang out with you at your old favourite haunt, forgetting that you missed a wedding, a birthday, or new baby.
As the inviting twists and turns of the road beckon further still, remember that far more than collecting fridge magnets and sending postcards, your travels expand your knowledge, respect for and appreciation of what’s around you.
For those you have missed while you were away, return an inspired person, a more accepting individual, whose absence has not been for nothing.