I traveled the world for 7 years, then moved back to my hometown. Here's why.
In 2017 my wife and I sold everything we owned, bought two one-way tickets to Europe, and hit the road.
Since then we’ve traveled the world as digital nomads, working online while living in places like Hungary, Spain, Thailand, and Mexico. A few months ago we decided to move back to our hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
This decision has brought almost as many puzzled looks as when we initially condensed our life down to two suitcases.
We can live anywhere in the world and yet we chose to come back to slow life in the Midwest.
We chose cold cloudy winters over picturesque rice paddies in Bali…
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One of my favorite TV shows is How I Met Your Mother.
While the writing of the show is phenomenal, what I really love about it is the tight-knit relationship between the main characters.
No matter what happens in their lives, they’re always together.
They know that when they step foot through their favorite bar MacLaren’s their friends will be there in their regular booth.
This is something that my wife and I desperately missed.
That’s not to say that we didn’t make friends during our years as digital nomads. Quite the contrary.
Over the last 7 years, we’ve made incredible friendships with other nomads, but our hangouts are short-lived.
Our times together have beautiful backdrops, but they also have an expiration date.
We were hungry for the “How I Met Your Mother experience”. Sure, expecting to see your friends every time you walk into your local pub is unrealistic, and that much time in a pub would probably be cause for concern, but what about 10% of the time?
That’s something I’d be really happy to find.
Digital nomads will sometimes point to our nomadic ancestors and say “See this isn’t crazy!” but they forget something important…
Our ancestors didn’t travel alone, they moved as a tribe!
Diminishing return of travel
I was recently on the phone with a good friend and fellow nomad. I was in Mexico, he was in Spain.
My wife and I had already shared with him that we had decided to move back to the US and after the expected shock he said something funny:
“I guess I wouldn’t mind a Soda Stream.”
When you travel full time you gain a lot of life experiences, but you also make a lot of concessions. As a creative, my wife loves to paint and sew, but these are hobbies she struggled to bring with her on the road. Our two suitcases aren’t enough space for an easel or sewing machine.
As a podcaster, I’ve always dreamt of having the “perfect” setup with a microphone, standing desk, and an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. A Wi-Fi connection that I’m confident in and doesn’t drop mid-Zoom call wouldn’t be bad either.
But these things are also tough to fit into a suitcase.
Like earning more money, travel has diminishing returns…
Increasing your salary from $20K to $40K could be life-changing, but going from $120K to $140K really means you get a slightly nicer car.
Mark Manson, the best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, talks about his time as a digital nomad and how he found that the more he traveled the harder it became for him to find the same amount of growth.
“Ultimately, the experience of travel has diminishing returns…if you’ve been to 50 different countries and seen 50 different cultures, then that 51st doesn’t have that same significance or impact…” he says on the Empire Flippers podcast.
There comes a time when your desire to paint, sew, build a podcasting studio, or make your own soda water weighs heavier than seeing another perfect beach.
Cities never stop evolving
As travelers, we expect that when we leave a place that location hits pause - everything stands still and is perfectly preserved just the way we remember it until we can come back and hit play again.
In reality, it’s more like that place hits fast-forward.
When my wife and I left Cincinnati we weren’t running away. We didn’t hate our hometown. On the contrary, we actually really liked it, we just wanted to see what else was out there.
We would come back to visit family and find that the city had evolved.
The empty parking lot was now replaced by new buildings with cute coffee shops and tasty restaurants. Our favorite plant shop had closed down and the friendly bartender in the pub next door had moved on to a new job.
Our city was evolving without us.
My wife and I are not bystanders, we like to get involved in the community and seeing our city move forward without us bugged us.
We missed playing a part, even if a small one, in the evolution of the city we called home for so long.
In life, few things are 100% correct. Most tend to be shades of gray. In the same way, all cities have pros and cons.
I would be lying if I said that I was sure that moving back to Cincinnati was the right answer, especially now as the air gets colder and the days get shorter.
A few times I’ve checked my Weather app to see the forecast for Puerto Vallarta…
95 and sunny, but there’s a hurricane approaching. Flash flood watch is in effect.
For now, I’ll take the cooler weather.
It feels like it’s the right move for the next chapter of our lives.
Then again there’s no such thing as a perfect place…