When gathered in a group, my friends and I sometimes play a game as we wait for a meal or linger over drinks. There are different variations, but the basic premise is this: What countries would you visit for one week, six months, and three years?

People are inevitably quick to the draw, their three destinations already floating at the front of their minds. South of France, Thailand, and New Zealand. Morocco, Peru, and Denmark. Once everyone responds, we start trading answers and debating the ideal length of stay in each country. We love this game because it is a mental vacation and lets us imagine life somewhere else.

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Beyond a way to pass the time, this game tells me that most people have the innate urge to explore. There’s a wide, beautiful world out there, and we’re itching to see it. But not everyone can travel and almost no one can travel all of the time. Whether it’s a steady job, lack of funds, young kids, or another tethering circumstance, there are many stages of life when globe-trotting just isn’t feasible. So, how do you cure your travel bug when you can’t travel?

I think one simple step is to redefine travel. Exploration doesn’t have to mean a multi-country excursion. I’ve only recently started to accept that life moves in seasons, and that my current one doesn’t allow for moving abroad for months at a time. But it does allow for plenty of short trips and creative local experiences. Though it’s not foreign, camping for a weekend or spending a night in a nearby city is doable on almost any budget and timeframe. No matter your position or finances, you can explore locally.

Technology has given us the gift and the curse of traveling vicariously. We can follow people’s sojourns in real time through online sharing. Yet, too much of this voyeuristic travel produces two negative repercussions; first, it can become fuel for comparison and discontent; second, it can become a substitute for creating our own experiences. What would happen if we resolved to give up social media for a week and notice our immediate environment instead? Lifting our eyes off a screen might just help us see an old place in a new light.

In a recent article, Joanna Zelmon suggests that we have lost our ability to interact with the natural world. “We are teetering dangerously close to preferring satisfaction in the virtual world over the real one,” she writes. It’s tempting to lose yourself in photos and online exploits of great adventures around the world. But, if it’s the natural world we are so bent on seeing, let’s go see it. I’ve always found that standing before something bigger than myself is a quick remedy for restlessness. If you’re craving a sense of the world’s magnificence, head to the nearest mountain, ocean, forest, or lake.

Let’s allow wanderlust to spur us to make plans and then to also make them happen. And while we wait for the promised trip, we can live deeply where we are.

For all its shimmer, wanderlust isn’t healthy. While travel dissolves our prejudices, reshapes our opinions, and widens our worldview, wanderlust doesn’t produce anything new. An obsession with being somewhere you’re not only leads to discontent. Let’s allow wanderlust to spur us to make plans and then to also make them happen. And while we wait for the promised trip, we can live deeply where we are.

This isn’t my year to take off on a long-term adventure, and I’m still figuring out the balance between contentment while staying put and cultivating a curious spirit for the world. For all its beauty, travel is an easy thing to romanticize in hindsight. When we’re away from home for long, stability is often the thing we miss most. Knowing this helps me appreciate a year that is more about rootedness than restlessness, and keeps me from straining toward the next big trip. There’s no single cure for the travel bug, but we can embrace where we are, invest in small trips and local experiences, and plan for the grand adventures to happen … eventually.

Are you in a season of rootedness or restlessness? What are your remedies for the travel bug?

Image via Morgan Ashley Photography

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6 comments

  1. I have been discovering this very thing myself. I am a traveler. A traveler who is living a postgrad life in suburban southern california. My funds are low and my schedule is tight. I find myself looking at my friends who have moved to grand places and are doing grand things. I began feel this frantic sense of discontent grip me. Yet, I do not want to be discontent so I have chosen seek out the magic in the mundane and be present. My roommate and I have started going on mini adventures to discover home. There really are inspiring people and places all around us even if they may not seem as glamorous as traveling across the world. These small actions cure my wanderlust and allow me to be content. Thank you for your article, I agree whole heartily and hope people are moved to be present.

  2. I have long suffered from the grass is greener syndrome. My husband and I now have all the time we need to travel and just returned home this week from a month long visit to France. You are so right, though, that what I crave when we are away is stability. I long for the routines I have at home – my morning oatmeal and my walk with the dogs. I am still (at 59) learning to relish the home time, enjoy the planning and anticipation of future trips and live fully in the moment whether in Indiana or Provence.

  3. This is a beautiful post. I recently returned home after teaching English abroad for eight months, and to say readjusting has been difficult would be an understatement. I struggle with the grass-is-greener syndrome, due to (1) social media and (2) the tendency of nostalgia to make the past seem perfect. So I love what you wrote about learning to “live deeply where we are.” Thank you for sharing.

  4. This is stated perfectly in my opinion! I’m not immune to wanderlust nor dreaming of that next “great adventure”. However, like you, this wasn’t our year for an international excursion. Rather than feel deprived or less content my husband and I looked at this year as an opportunity. An opportunity to get to know each other more deeply and explore the area we call home. We’ve biked miles and miles of old converted railroad trails, hiked bluffs that rewarded us with phenomenal views, and enjoyed many o’ discussions over coffee and meals. And looking back on this summer and year thus far I couldn’t be more thankful. We’ve discovered so many amazing things in our “backyard”. And more importantly, we’ve learned things about each other and us as a couple that had we not taken the opportunity we may never have discovered. Experiences can be created anywhere. Just open your mind to it.

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