I don’t know exactly when it happened. But after almost a decade of being completely obsessed with travel, I suddenly, quite unexpectedly, didn’t care about it anymore.
I remember being 13 and wanting desperately to move to America when I was old enough. I wanted to live in an apartment and sit on my New York fire escape eating a bowl of cereal, pretending I was in a Spike Lee film. Traveling itself was even more wonderful than I had imagined because, as a teenaged girl, I had been taught to be afraid of predatory people. I felt vulnerable from the moment I stepped outside of my front door. But when I started to travel by myself, I realized that, on the whole, people are kind, and I was very strong and capable. I was able to solve all sorts of problems I never thought I was strong or smart enough to get through on my own.
I lived in America for a year and worked as a nanny and barista. Then, I returned home for three years to do my degree. I was recruited by a Middle Eastern company and flown to Oman to work as a University lecturer. I loved the freedom of throwing all of my earthly belongings into a bag. It was an indescribable feeling of moving forward, and being somewhere other than home made me feel like I was an adventurer. That I was living my life to the fullest. I traveled in my free time, staying in hotels in Muscat and Abu Dhabi or spending weekends hiking in the desert.
After three years, I decided to move back to Europe. I had saved enough money to take a small break from work, and rented a small apartment in Paris for a year living mostly on my salary from a part-time teaching job. I’d use some of my savings when I wanted to treat myself to a haircut or a train ticket home to visit my family. I was still thoroughly enjoying traveling — it was the way we millennials were supposed to live, what with terrible economic downturns going on in the U.K. and America. It made sense to me to stay abroad until things got better.
When I decided I wanted to go back to work full time, I found a role running a primary school in Singapore and moved there with my then-partner. I had a beautiful condo with a pool and a pretty demanding but manageable job, and we were able to take inexpensive holidays to Thailand and Bali in our free time. I have to admit that at this point, traveling was starting to lose its appeal for me. I felt I was traveling too much and didn’t really know why anymore. There was an odd “keeping up with the Joneses” aspect to the expat life that was becoming quite wearisome. Traveling had begun to lose its meaning — I was just doing it to go through the motions and keep dinner party conversations over “where we were going next” interesting.
After about a year of living in Singapore, I got a message from home that my little sister, who was only 15 at the time, had gotten a high fever, and that it had developed into Limbic Encephalitis. A very scary, life-threatening brain infection that, as far as I know, has only recently come to doctors’ attention, it causes blackouts, seizures and extreme changes in mood and personality. I desperately wanted to go home and hop on a plane to see her. I suddenly realized just how far away I was and how incapable I was of doing anything beyond offering any support. Even worse, I wasn’t able to take time off of work to go see her, because I was teaching for 33 hours a week. So I had to do the impossible: put “my little sister might be dying right now” in a file in my head, walk into work with a big smile on my face, and talk to students as though everything was fine.
This terrifying experience really marked the beginning of the end for me. Expat life can seem dreamy and aspirational, but real life will catch up with you eventually and give you a nasty shock. I flew home for my next holiday, and my family and I had a rather tearful conversation. They had always been supportive of me living abroad, but we all confessed that we really missed each other. After I finished my contract, I decided to leave Singapore and not take on another work contract abroad. My family and I lived together for a year, My little sister ended up becoming an academic machine, and she secured herself an art scholarship at Rugby with full board. I spent the summer working in London, fell in love with it, and eventually moved there. My family regrouped, healed, and then fragmented again, getting on with our lives whilst staying closer to one another.
I’ve completely fallen in love with being an English girl again, and even with the challenges my country has looming on the horizon, I am not even a little bit tempted to take another contract abroad. My girlish curiosity for the world has matured into a desire to “move forward” in other ways, such as improving my skills, one day at a time. Instead of hopping around the world making friends, I’m cultivating communities and developing deeper, more intimate friendships with people. I am glad I stopped traveling when I stopped feeling a passion for it, that I didn’t simply keep going through the motions because it was comfortable and familiar and I associated it with my identity for so long. Life is a continual adjustment to change. And although I may regain a love of travel in the future, right now, I am thoroughly enjoying my new life in London with my beaten up, heavily stamped passport enjoying a well-deserved sabbatical on my nightstand.
Phoebe Prentice-Terry is a writer, art dealer, and survivor of David Cameron’s various experiments in human misery. She likes Gin and Tonics, French skincare products, and is most proud of her collection of Wolford bodysuits.
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