Why I Quit Traveling After A Breakdown in Cologne, Germany


in Travel

The past two months has been a revolution for me, and I want to tell you why.

Two months ago, I had been traveling in Europe for about five months straight. Now, as you know, Hack the System talks quite often about getting free plane tickets  and traveling the world, but I want to talk a little bit about the downsides.

Yes, travel opens minds. Yes, travel helps us grow, connect, and become a better person. But travel can become an addiction.

And for me, some time in 2012, that addiction became pretty evident.

I always joke around about this — if you’re in your home town and spend all day on Facebook, doing nothing — well, you basically wasted your day. But, if you’re in Colombia and you spend all doing nothing — well, at least you’re in Colombia! You don’t feel so bad.

And that’s how traveling became an addiction. I found it easy to travel — far cheaper than living in the US. It became easier and easier to run away from problems. I can specifically remember two instances. Once, in October, my roommate had invited over a guest to our house who had overstayed his welcome. Rather than confronting my roommate, what did I do? I bought a same-day ticket to Buenos Aires. At least the ticket only cost $42.40…

Travel can become an addiction. It offers challenges, stimuli, liberation, anonymity. When you’re traveling, nothing has consequences.

But traveling can hurt you, too. It doesn’t allow you to focus. It doesn’t allow you to build habits. It lets you forget about what needs to be done and think only about the day ahead of you.

In June, I found myself breaking down in a Regus office in Cologne, Germany. Literally, sobbing. I knew it was time to head home.

So that’s how I found myself in San Francisco for a month, living with James Swanwick. I’d been talking for years about the importance of finding a partner, a mentor. And James turned out to be the role model I needed.

In the last two years, I’ve tried to release products online, but always failed. With James, we pushed out a fully designed product in 18 days. Something I never would have dreamed of.

Last month, I accepted a round of funding to — a hardware incubator based in Boston. I’ve decided to settle down for a while and start a company — Behavioral Technologies. You can see, from the Bolt Blog Post, that my company “builds wearable technology that seeks to influence habits, rather than simply measure movement.” I’m keeping it a little bit hush-hush for now, but you’ll be the first to be updated, as a member of the Hack the System newsletter.

Here’s the point I’m getting to — there is a lot of romance in the idea of being able to travel forever. At the point I’m at, it would be easy to focus on life-coaching and simply live abroad in Thailand for the rest of my life. If that’s the life you’ve always dreamed of, well, it’s not as hard as you think. Hell, I can teach you how (see below, #2).

Unfortunately, that life of limitless travel will bring along with it plenty of negatives. You won’t be able to build anything bigger than yourself if you focus on a constantly nomadic life.

For some, the dream of perennial travel is enough. For me, it’s not.

I want to build something bigger than a sounds-cool-at-parties lifestyle. Now’s the time. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

And that’s all I have to say about that.



Joe May 21, 2016 at 9:59 am

I’m surprised more people haven’t commented on this, because it made a big impression on me when I first read it almost three years ago and it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. I’ve also found it very difficult to settle into a productive routine while traveling. And I am aware that by not committing to any place, I’m missing out on deeper relationships and opportunities for growth. The problem I have is fear of missing out. I’m not ready to commit to a single place. How do you balance the need to travel and wander with the need to actually build a meaningful fulfilling lifestyle, social network, etc?


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