I started this blog about four years ago to deal with my post-travel blues. I always expected to kick out the travel blues by now, and get my backpack from under the dust again. But four years after putting the backpack in storage and the post-travel blues moving in, going on the road again is not what’s next for us.
Four years ago, I met my then-boyfriend-now-husband while on the road in Australia. (I still get SO excited calling him my husband!) We were both there on a working holiday visa and whereas he didn’t really plan to go back (or plan anything at all, as a matter of fact), I had a job waiting for me back home. My plan was to go home after one year so I could pursue a PhD, starting in October 2014. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I just had to try it. And I did. And it wasn’t for me. But I’m not one for giving up, so here I am, almost four years later, absolutely and totally ready to move on from my life in academics. So after my one year down under, I moved back to Belgium and the husband came with. We always said that after my contract would finish, it would be up to him where we go next. We might go back on another working holiday someplace else, we might move to England (where he is from), or do something different altogether. But as it turns out, making plans, even these kinds of super vague ones, for something that is four years away, didn’t work.
I am now 27 and the husband is 30. Yes, I think that is freakishly old. But it is definitely too young to make long term plans. Four years ago, I was a silly 23-year old! I thought I would still have all the freedom in the world after my PhD. And don’t get me wrong, we do. We don’t have a mortgage, no pets, no kids. Nothing really ties us down. But we have opportunities. Just like my PhD was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, the husband now has a very exciting job. It drives him crazy a lot of the time, the last month more than it used to, but we know that in this job, he will get opportunities he might not get anywhere else. He’s been there for about two years now and his job has already changed so much. The company is expanding super fast and he gets to ride the wave. And he’s riding it to the top! (Is that a thing? I think you might actually ride a wave from top to bottom, or maybe from side to side? But you get what I mean, right?) So if we pack up and leave now, we would always be wondering, what if…
Ah, the million dollar “what if” question. It’s how I’ve figured out every dilemma I’ve ever faced. Which decision do I need to make so that in five years time, I WON’T ask myself “what if”. If I do the One Thing, will I regret not doing the Other? Will I ask myself: What if I did the Other Thing? Or if I do do the Other thing, will I ask myself, what if I did the One thing? It works pretty well. It made me go to Australia.
Me talking to myself five years ago: “Fast forward five years in time: will I regret not having gone to Australia for a year because instead I chose to spend time with my grandparents, or will I regret having actually gone to Australia because I didn’t get to spend more time with my grandparents?” My grandparents thought it was a stupid question with an obvious answer, so I went and sent them lots of post cards. And after these five years, me as well as my grandparents are indeed super happy I went and found my now-husband. Not once did I ask myself the question “what if I would’ve stayed home?” Even writing down that question makes me giggle because it is just too stupid for words.
For the PhD, I asked myself the same question: in five years time, will I regret not having tried the PhD to travel for a bit longer, or will I regret not having traveled longer to try the PhD. Honestly, at this moment, I’m not so sure if I made the right decision. This PhD really changed me into a much less happy person. I’ve asked myself the horrid “what if” a thousand times already. But on the other hand, if I wouldn’t have tried it, I would’ve always felt like I let an opportunity slip through my fingers and still wondered “what if”. Seems like there was just no way to win there.
So I guess my “in five years time” method isn’t as failsafe as I thought it was. Which makes it so much harder now that we are stood in front of the next fork in the road! If we want to go adventuring again (and then I mean proper adventuring, just the backpacks and us, for a long long time, with no ties to come back to a “home” any time soon), we let a lot of opportunities pass us by. But if these opportunities turn out to be the same kind of buzzkill like my PhD was, then we might end up regretting not having taken the leap.
I’ve read many a blog of young couples like us, saying that nothing prevents us to pack up and leave now or at a later stage in life. But I don’t agree. There are other things in life we also want. And what these hipster travellers fail to mention, is that you can’t have it all. The husband, he is ambitious. The jobs you get on the road hardly are. Me, I like a little bit of stability. Just knowing that we have a place to come home to. When I was younger, that was my parents house. But now, for the husband and me, that wouldn’t be a home. It would be a short-term solution. And also, we want to have a family. Tick tock says the biological clock. One baby on the road, exciting! Two babies on the road, exhausting! Not to forget wanting to give your children all the opportunities you can, including a stable home.
Does that mean this is it for us? The last fork in the road where at least one of the two options involves a crazy travel adventure? I don’t know. And I won’t know. Not all the planning in the world can help me out here. We just have to ride the wave, whether it goes up or down or sideways or maybe it’s just a really calm day and there are no waves at all. Maybe it’s time I stop thinking so much of the future and of the future “what if” moments I may have. Because if there’s anything I learned during my four years of PhD hell, it’s that you just don’t know what will come next. So rather than picking the option you think you’ll be happy with five years from now, maybe we should just pick the option we’re happy with now?
DAMN THAT’S SCARY! And: what does it mean!