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Travel sucks.

This time last year, that’s what I’d have said if you’d asked about life on the road. I was completely sick of it, and it was making me sick in return.

I’d been on the move for nearly five years, and the passion was gone. Where once lay a burning desire to see the world, the smallest flicker remained. I barely cared where I was going next, dragging my backpack from country to country in an indistinguishable blur of airports and Airbnb apartments.

The views and the food changed, but everything else stayed the same. Writing all the time, I hardly saw any of the places I stayed in, even when I spent months there. What did I do in Oaxaca, or Taipei, or Madrid? I’ve no idea, but whatever it was, it was less than most visitors would have done in a long weekend.

Looking back at old blog posts, I’d apparently starting feeling this way at least a couple of years earlier. At that point, Lauren and I thought we’d end up building a tiny house in New Zealand to base ourselves in. That never eventuated, but by the time the start of last year rolled around, it was clear that things needed to change. We needed to stop moving all the time, and we needed to do it immediately.

Lisbon view April 2016

And so we did. While I still spent plenty of time on the road, there was less travel in 2016 than there had been for many years. The “full-time travel” chapter of my life had finished, and I’d moved on to other things.

The combination of cheap flights and an insistent girlfriend are hard to argue with, though, and so it was we ended up with two trips booked to southern Africa earlier this year. Both were for roughly two weeks, the first solely in Cape Town, the second a road trip around Namibia.

I decided to travel like a normal human for once, leaving electronic distractions behind, and actually researching the places we were going. In the past, continual movement meant I knew less about each new destination than most day trippers.

I told myself it made for a more serendipitous experience, but really, that was bullshit. Not knowing where to go or what to do just gave a convenient excuse for – you guessed it – sitting inside writing, instead of exploring with the limited free time I did have.

Lauren bought a guidebook for Namibia – a real one, printed on paper and everything – and we pored over it, working out routes, distances, where to go and all the rest. For days we researched accommodation, and food, and the likelihood of destroying a Toyota Corolla on the country’s terrible roads at the end of rainy season.

We probably put more effort into that trip than anywhere we’d gone in the previous five years. And, amazingly for someone who hates planning, I actually enjoyed it. Who knew?

Penguins at Boulders Beach

We had a wonderful time in Cape Town. It’s a fantastic city, and without my electronics, there was no temptation to stay inside the apartment. Instead, we were out exploring all day. We hiked Lions Head and Table Mountain, lay on the beach at Camps Bay, hung out with penguins at Boulders Beach. We drank great coffee, ate delicious burgers, had a Valentines Day picnic in the sun at a local vineyard.

We went to a concert in the gardens, and took a walking tour through the city. As we were heading to the airport to catch our flight home, we turned to each other and declared it to be the best trip we’d ever taken.

That distinction lasted exactly one month.

Namibia was, to put it bluntly, fucking amazing. The wildlife, the seafood, the sand dunes and deserts, the people… just all of it, really. I drove 4000km in two weeks, almost all of it on terrible dirt roads, and still loved it. Often waking up for sunrise, we packed a ridiculous amount into each day, and I fell into bed each night totally exhausted. The good kind of exhausted.

The “man, that was an epic experience” kind, not the “damn, that was hard work” kind. The kind that’s inspired me to dust off this blog and start posting again, which may be the biggest surprise of all.

Kolmanskop Dave

We left wanting more, but for once, hadn’t squandered the time we had. We couldn’t have done any more, gone anywhere else, and it was time to return home.

Sleepless on the overnight flight, I thought about the last few months. How I’d wanted to cancel both trips a few days beforehand, and how happy I was to have taken them anyway. How freeing myself from my laptop, and planning a trip properly, made it so much better.

How having friends, and a gym membership, and favourite restaurants where the staff always find you a table, is just as important as airports and new countries. How it’s the combination of both that gives the elusive balance I’d been searching for. There’s a bigger story there too, about the sustainability of long-term travel … and not just for me, I suspect.

Squeezing my travels into a few weeks of vacation time was never enough, but doing it continually for years wasn’t the answer either. Much like Goldilocks, it’s somewhere in the middle that feels right.

I’ve rediscovered my passion for travel, but it looks quite different. I don’t want to do it forever. Taking defined trips, with a home to return to in between, means my travels and life are both better than they’ve been in a long time.

Apparently, less is more.

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