The Eternal Traveler Syndrome

by Corey · 14 comments

Eternal Traveler Syndrome - Sindrome del viajero eterno

The eternal traveler, Robert Sánchez, carrying his daughter to a new adventure.

On June 11, 2010 Robert Sánchez published a post on his blog, Reven.org, about the experiences of “the eternal traveler” – someone, who once they have lived abroad, belongs neither here nor there but somewhere in between. In the past few weeks, Robert’s post has gone viral! Each day it is read by thousands of people around the world who resonate deeply with his message.

Being that Robert discusses my post Returning Home After Living Abroad in his post, I wrote him expressing how delighted I was that he referenced my post but how sad I was that I couldn’t read his post in his own words (Spanish) – there is no way that Google Translate could capture his true expressions.

During the inspirational contact and communication which followed, Robert sent me the following translation (see post below) that he made from his original blog post Síndrome del viajero eterno. I can not express how truly honored I am to receive this and I am certain that you will enjoy it as much as I have!

By Robert Sánchez
Photo credit: Robert Sánchez

One of the hardest things to explain to someone who has always lived in the same place is that sensation of not belonging anywhere. It’s an anxiety, a discomfort, like something is missing. I call it “eternal traveler syndrome,” because once you leave, you are a traveler forever; there is no going back. I’ve only met a few people who actually know what I’m talking of: the experts call it “reverse cultural shock” (and it actually is a well described medical condition, but I’ll skip the details).

In it’s most simple form, it would be something like this: when you leave a city your memory of that city is frozen on that moment and doesn’t change substantially over time. In our new home, we always miss that city and we even idealize that memory, forgetting the things we disliked. It’s not until we return that we realize that we suffer this syndrome and that’s why this illness is so cruel: we realize that the idealized city we remember has continued to change without us and that things do not seem that familiar all of a sudden. The effect is usually as strong as the distance between the cultures and increases with time.

And that’s how we enter the path where nothing is home. You end up wanting to live in a city that’s a collage of memories, experiences and people. A mix of styles, architecture and gastronomy… A city that’s a chimera of all the memories of the cities you have loved. But that city doesn’t exist.

And those who have only traveled on vacation won’t understand you. They’ll just say you’re exaggerating, and for them “home” will always be a defined place. You have to live abroad at least a year to notice the effects.

Some time ago, I read an article titled “Returning Home After Living Abroad” that explained this pretty well. One of the things that the author (Corey Heller) said is that she had the sensation of wanting to go back the whole time but as soon as she was actually there she wanted to leave again. That’s something that I’ve felt a lot of times, but I had never completely understood why.

She also explains how discovering other cultures changes you for ever, and that even though you don’t feel “at home” anywhere, it’s a sacrifice that would gladly be done again.

I agree with her that the familiarity you lose with your city is invested in “international” familiarity; you become an airport animal, for whom check-ins and security controls are something trivial. You become more observant and you pick up the general principles of the culture in which you find yourself much quicker and are able to adapt to them easier.

She concludes that we must stop asking ourselves if we will feel at home some day (or better said, in some place) and just try to figure out what we need to feel at home now, in the place we are at this precise moment.

Those of us that are nomads will already know that in the end there are a few little things or a few chosen ones that will be “home” for us wherever we are. And some of us are even lucky enough to have those people follow us, and then home can be anywhere at all.

Visit Síndrome del viajero eterno to read the original post.

Robert Sánchez is a Spaniard and a nomad. He has been moving around the world for as long as he remembers. But he’s also a lucky one, because he found somebody that loves to travel as much as he does – and a little one follows their steps now too. He works in research and loves to write about the things that happen to him in his blog Reven.org. Please feel free to contact him because he loves to receive emails (from humans).

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anna February 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I have felt this way for most of my life. As many of my friends have said, I am not and “American” I am a citizen of the World. I will take that title and wear it proudly! There is not one regret from any of my travels or adventures! Thank you for this story

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2 Rosario February 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Esta sensación me explicaba mi marido… tanto moverse desde muy pequeño le acostumbró a no ser de ningçun sitio en concreo, a despedirse con tranquilidad cada vez que parte de algún sitio y a hacer la maleta correcta para asentarse cuando toca hacerlo. Al día de hoy, después de cinco años casados, me he movido más que en los 30 anteriores… durante 30 años viví siempre en la misma ciudad, y sólo en dos casas. Esta experiencia me ha permitido entender lo que significa la vida de viajero, el deseo de asentamiento y la idealización inevitable de ese lugar maravilloso al que volver algún día.
Lo he ido elaboradno, y afortunadamente he podido ayudar a otros a hacerlo, sin embargo lo que más intenso me parece es ver a mi hija pequeña, de sólo dos años y medio (dos nacionalidades, dos idiomas…) que crece en una apertura cultural bonita, y a la vez con la sensación de que le falta algo. Le falta su abuela, por ejemplo que vive en Venezuela, o su tío que vive en Londres… y ella no hace más que reproducir mi sensación de “falta” pues es auténtica. Mi experiencia como madre es ayudarla a vivir tranquila con su vida actual, y con la sensación de que en muchos sitios diferentes y lejanos es querida y será bienvenida siempre!

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3 Charissa Reijmers February 13, 2012 at 12:06 am

Oh yes so very familiar! I have lived in 3 countries and there is simply no way I will ever be ‘complete’. When I’m in one place I miss the other two – go to one of the other two and I’ll miss the places I’m not currently at.

To be honest I’m not even sure it’s worth it. I guess it makes me a more interesting person, but life would have been easier if I hadn’t decided to live abroad for a while. Not that I would have made a different decision, or wouldn’t do it again in the future! But it’s a kind of pain that stays with you forever.

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4 Jeanne @soultravelers3 February 16, 2012 at 8:44 am

I’ve been traveling the world and constantly moving regularly for almost 60 years and we’ve been traveling the world as a family for the last 6 years ( 43 countries on 5 continents on $23/day per person) and I must say I see it a bit differently.

When I was in my twenties and lived in Italy for a year I did have some feelings of being homesick, but on our family world tour, none of us have ever been homesick.

Instead of “you don’t feel “at home” anywhere” we feel at home EVERYWHERE and most especially in the special places that we return to regularly.

Perhaps that is the difference, we never really move away. We are not expats, we are not tourists, but something different and new. The world is truly our home and we feel we have many homes and love that. http://www.soultravelers3.com/2011/02/kids-friends-travel-on-the-ultimate-family-adventure.html

“Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion” Hunt

So perhaps we agree and disagree. ;)

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5 Dim April 23, 2012 at 2:04 am

I’ve been reading the article and the comments and had to smile – it sounded very very familiar. :-)

Born in a country that does not exist any more, grown up in 3 different countries and living in hotels without ANY own apartment, I’m traveling for almost 10 years around the world on the search of a “home”.

I came to the conclusion, that the concept “home”, in a globalized & internetized world, has fundamentally changed. It is simply impossible to link “home” to a physical place and it is almost impossible to connect it to family or group of friends – especially if they are any similar to oneself (which is quite common in friendships :-) ).

Thus, I personally believe, that authentic globetrotters need to make an intellectual effort and accept “home” as an abstract concept, defining “home” as emotional state in which one finds/reaches the inner peace and intrinsic personal happiness/fulfillment.

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6 Andrea August 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

I cannot agree more!! I have recently moved to yet another country, to settle down for a year or so, however, I keep longing to those other places I have lived, romanticizing them in my head. However I have to constantly remind myself that I left those places, because I wasn’t happy there anymore and it was time for a change. Now that I read about this imaginary perfect world we create, I realize I am doing exactly the same. Although I know that at the moment only my savings are keeping me from moving to the next place, I know that where-ever I am, as long as my partner is with me, I am home. Lucky I found some one who does the same as me. In my head I have created this home of like minded people, the friends I had before I went abroad are not in that anymore.
It’s funny though, because every time I try to settle down somewhere I feel like it’s only a stop to work and earn for the next adventure, once we’re traveling I find these places where I could see myself living. Maybe it’s time for a new approach?

About the internet, I think it makes it harder for us to say goodbye to our adventures, because it makes it so much easier to keep in touch with the friends you met abroad, it’s harder to say goodbye to the past and return to a ‘normal’ life.

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7 Antonio November 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

MYyeelings are a bit different. I left my homecountry, Mexico, because I disliked what was happening to it, plus a series of many other facts, such as a hard breakup after nine years, losing all my friends, being unnemployed, living at my parents’ house, etc. I jumped the Atlantic and came to Europe with no intentions of looking back and I haven’t. I don’t miss Mexico at all (Well, the food I do! :) ) except for my familly, of course. However After two years, even though I love this Mediterranean city, I don’t feel like I belong. I feel it like home, but not a home I belong to.

I have plans of moving deeper into Europe; I have the money and the intelligence to do it, but I don’t know if this feeling will be saken away. Even back in Mexico I did not feel like I belonged.

And it is hard, making international frineds, who then go back to their countries, and then you’re left alone to your own devices. I have alway been a solitary person, but I feel as I grow older I cherrish these friends more, and miss them terribly.

For me it’s not looking back; I left my cradle and now there’s no other way but forwards. However I can’t help but feel like I just don’t belong anywhere.

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8 newcomer December 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm

This feeling may have a dark side as well. As a child I moved quite a bit because of my family situation. That I believe created this feeling of not belonging to any place or any person. Although I have lots of friends I am not able to form long-lasting deep commitments, my marriage failed and I constantly look for the “next” thing, be that a place, work, relationship or interest. Needless to say I lived in more than 30 cities, dozen countries and 3 continents in this 40 something years. It is not that I would like to “settle” down, I love my nomadic lifestyle but it doesn’t only relates only to places is what I am trying to say.

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9 Peter January 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Hi Corey.
This blog is amazing, I have always struggled to to put into words the issues I’ve had after my travels.
No one back home seems to understand and I was constantly at a loss at how to be in everyday life remembering the other places, the fun, challenges and amazing people I had met.
I’m 22 and I’ve lived in about 14 different places in under 5 years, I can’t settle anywhere and even to go back to somewhere which I thought I was almost pining for almost makes it worse.
For me, the biggest challenge hasn’t necessarily been the feeling of “nowhere is home” its that in all my time, I’ve never really met anyone else with it, except for one person who I only really managed to speak to for one rather brilliant night.
Thanks for this post, it’s nice to see that I am not a loon and some other people know how it feels

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10 Krithinidhi Mistry May 29, 2013 at 1:12 am

Wow :) I found your blog on Ask searching for something else entirely, and now I’m going to have to go back and read through all the old material :) So long my free time today, but this was a great find!!!

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11 algoquerecordar January 8, 2014 at 4:57 am

Hi everybody!

We were so worried about these symptoms that we shot a short movie trying to explain our feelings. Here is the link with English subtitles.
http://algoquerecordar.com/posts-destacados-el-sindrome-del-eterno-viajero/

After that, we’ve discovered that the “illness” is not so dangerous :)

Hope you enjoy it!

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12 LostInside April 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm

I am almost crying after reading these comments. I have struggled with this for so many years, but haven’t really found anyone that actually understands. I was born in Mexico to American parents, and then moved back to the United States. I lived in one place for a few years, moved several more times, and then finally ended up back in Mexico for 7 years. Now, I am 18 and have been living in the U.S for the past two years.
It seems like I hurt inside for something that I have never known. I am homesick, but I don’t know what for. I have always been this way, but lately it has gotten worse. I was home-schooled up until my sophomore year of high school, but I have done well in public school. I am well liked, but the problem is I don’t care for everyone around me. This fall I plan on attending college, but I’m not sure if I will be able to. I don’t know if it is even the right choice, at this point. I have scholarships that will pay for everything, but I don’t want to be here. It doesn’t feel right.
I have wondered in the past if anyone else felt the same, and now I know that they do. I’m not as experienced and well traveled as everyone else on this site, so I am open for any advice and comments!!
P.S. Also, maybe someone can understand this… No matter where I go, it seems that people are extremely ethnocentric, and this highly bothers me. I’m not sure why we can’t accept our differences and value other cultures without constant criticism!

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