It happened on the eleventh-month mark of my year in New Zealand - I've got one more month of exploring this amazing, beautiful country, and then it's off to the Pacific Islands for three months and then home for Christmas and then I'm moving to Tasmania. Life is really, really good.
It happened on a Tuesday - I was staying in Wanaka, gearing up for my last backpacking trip in the country and generally getting my life together for the next chapter. I decided it was time to fix the table in my van, so I walked to the local Bunnings Warehouse to buy a couple of hinges.
That's where it happened.
I walked into the store and nearly started crying.
It was the smell.
That smell, you know the one that all home improvement stores on the planet have, made me yearn with a physical ache in my chest for a house to tinker with. A house to fill with books and plants and animals. A house where I could put that amazing light fixture and pick out the perfect tiles and get around to painting the kitchen eventually. A house with a yard that I fill with veggie gardens and birdbaths and plenty of flowers for the bees.
Life really is good, but no matter where you are, opposing desires are normal. You can be completely happy with your life and still long for something else. So sometimes I can't help but think of my other life. The one I almost had. Nearly two years ago I was faced with two very clear choices. New Zealand or a "real" job that would've provided upward momentum in the field I'm interested in. I chose New Zealand which in turn lead me around the South Pacific and then to Australia and soon, hopefully, Antarctica.
But what if I chose the stable job in Tacoma, Washington?
I'd have a dog, no doubt there. Maybe my own place, maybe a shared one, but I'd have a jungle of houseplants, a thousand books, and a mountain of fuzzy blankets either way. Maybe I would've met someone early on. Maybe he works for the same magazine and we live ten minutes apart. Maybe I'd have a serious relationship like so many of my peers seem to have already. I would definitely know Washington like the back of my hand by now, with set weekends to explore and discover all that the Evergreen State has to offer with new friends. I'd have a nicer car. I'd be making more money.
It sounds pretty damn good, some days more than others.
I'm sure I would've been happy in that life, maybe more or less, but realistically, probably about the same. Fortunately, I know that I'm happy in this life that I've built.
"The grass is always greener on the other side."
We've all heard it but we tend to ignore what else it implies, namely, that from the other side, your grass looks greener too.
So I remind myself that it's okay to look at my friend's lives and imagine what it would be like just as they look at mine and imagine the same. Life is life no matter how you live it. We all have problems and worries, joy and happiness, risk and reward. How you live your life doesn't change the fact of that, just how it all comes to play.
And most importantly, I remind myself and everyone I meet that every lifestyle requires the sacrifice of something but we're under no obligation to keep giving up the same things forever.
Just as people get stuck in comfort and routine, I know plenty of backpackers who get stuck in a similar rut and can't figure out how to settle down. Your lifestyle becomes such a huge part of your identity that drastically changing it makes people assume that something has gone wrong. The longer people stay stationary, the more seems to be at risk by giving that up whereas the longer travelers move from one place to the next, settling down is seen as and felt like "giving up."
But life should be fluid.
Life should be intentional.
As soon as you start doing things because it's expected or habit, your life begins to control you rather than the other way around.
I love my life. I love what I've chosen to do and I'll do it for a while longer, but not forever. I hope I never have a forever life. Eventually, I'll have a house that I built and I'll live in it with my dog and plants and books and a husband to share it with, but I don't want that until I can tell a thousand anecdotes of my wandering years.
So I'll continue this semi-nomadic lifestyle until I want a semi-settled one more.
Simple as that.
If the grass is always greener, it's time to start watering your own side. Chase the things that make the most sense for the time and don't forget about the rest, simply remember to reevaluate every once in a while and make a change when the change makes sense.
I've found a pretty happy solution to my conflicting desires. I took the Working Holiday Visa to Australia and carved out stability with it. No van-life this time around, instead I'm renting a townhouse filled with houseplants (that I purchased at the local Bunnings - sweet, sweet triumph!) and a garden with an apricot tree, blackberries, and a soon-to-be flourishing veggie garden. I got a super fun job within walking distance and set weekends to explore. I have a car called Taco that can take me all over Tassie and beyond. Still, no dog because even though the temptation is STRONG, I can't in good conscious fly an animal back to America at the end of this all and I can't invest too much into the house because I won't be able to keep it, but it's a pretty nice start to satisfying the conflicting urge for stability and adventure.
Top Photo: New Zealand - Living intentionally by swinging on every single random swing I find in nature