After Six Years

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene and Pete Heck

“Can you smell it? Come stand here and inhale. Close your eyes.

Pete lowered his camera and walked the few feet to stand at my side. With his free hand he grabbed mine, and we both stood on the side of a mountain road in Montenegro, sniffing up the fresh pine from the trees that surrounded us. Several hundred feet below was beautiful Kotor Bay, with royal blue water that sparkled in the low sun and framed by the jagged edges of the Dinaric Alps.

I didn’t care about the view – it couldn’t distract me from that fresh alpine fragrance. We both stood for long minutes, silent except for the sound of our deep inhalation.

It smelled like home.

Kotor, Montenegro

I’d be lying if I said that in the last six years I didn’t sometimes fantasize about returning to the life we once had. Sometimes I crave it.

I can see myself tossing down my bags, flopping onto the large and cozy sectional couch in front of the big screen, putting my feet up and declaring: “Well that was an awesome trip!” I’d steal my kitties back from my friends and spend many house-bound hours cuddling them while wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe. I’d bake. I’d nest. I’d make regular plans to visit all the friends and family.

Sometimes that all really sounds very glorious.

But I know me.

The routine would grow stale, the novelty of our return would soon be lost on our loved ones. I’d detest the accumulation of material goods required to lead a settled life. I know that it would be but a short time before I’d be eying the door.

In truth, its not that I revolt from returning to THAT home we once had, but ANY home. The thought of settling, of giving up an ounce of our current freedom, is almost nauseating, and has been since year two of our travels.

(I say “nauseating” and that is how I honestly feel. Pete would not word it as strongly and admits that I am the driving force behind our continuous movement. He’s slightly more apt to settle and will surely feel comfortable wherever he is. Lucky for me, his arm is of the twistiest rubber. With his easy-going nature he just smiles, shrugs his shoulders, and says sure to nearly every suggestion I throw at him.)

Our friends, family, and those who have been following us for awhile no longer ask the question: when will you stop? Now it has evolved to: do you think you ever will?

It wouldn’t be prudent to say never as life has a tendency to throw curve balls, but right now all I can say is: I can’t see how. Not at least without some severe sacrifices to our happiness.

I’d be lying if I said that in the last six years I didn’t sometimes fantasize about returning to the life we once had.

Pete & Dalene Selfie in the Tatra Mountains of Poland

Recently we received an email from a reader with the subject line: “Help me!” Inside, he stated that he is within a decade of retirement and worried about money, but also wasn’t sure if he could take the routine much longer. “I feel extremely unfulfilled. I have always been adventurous and talk about the day when we will have enough money to sell everything and travel. I am not sure I can last much longer.”

Excerpts of my response:

“Let me tell you that I am writing this to you while taking a break from hiking in the Faroe Islands, which is simply the most stunning place I have ever been to.

If we had waited and wondered what if, we never would have begun our journey and made it here. We don’t live lavishly but are not cheap either, and we easily get by on $30K a year (and could do so for much less). That is cheaper than our old stable life in Canada, and far more fulfilling! Everyone believes that a fortune is necessary to travel, and that is simply not true.

You only get one shot, and I hope you won’t wait to do what you really want. Life is far, far too short for that. Let me know how I can help.”

His response: “Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. This may have been enough to change and probably save my life and marriage.”

In our ensuing conversation, he acknowledged that his response may have been a bit dramatic, but I absolute understand the significance.

Because travel did that for me too.

Faroe Islands Bound

There is no doubt about it: we are happiest when on the road.

I can’t explain why, in these early days of our seventh year of permanent travel, but I feel that sentiment more than ever. Yes, sometimes we worry about money and we’ve also had several severe bouts of hitting the proverbial travel wall, but right now I feel like I am on a massive upswing.

After 6 years, 72 months, over 2,200 days, we’ve really hit our stride. We often spend too much time working (I am writing this when I am supposed to be on our first true vacation in years!), but in a way work also protects us from frequent burn-out. When we are forced to stay in one place for awhile to get some work done, it lets us nest a wee bit and alleviate road-weariness. Sure, we spend many days slaving behind the computer like everyone else, but hey, we like our work, and after hours we can go have drinks on the river Vltava in Prague one night and tapas in Barcelona the next. We have no idea how good it might feel ‘to be back in our own bed’, but that doesn’t phase me in the least – I consider that a very easy sacrifice for freedom. A simple trade for the choice to explore Paris one month and then move onto Mexico. Or Quebec. Or Albania. Or wherever whim takes us, really.

In short: one single place just cannot compete with all the places (no matter how comfy the bed is).

And therein lies the root cause of our happiness in everything – our new careers, our marriage, our life – it all works because we have the freedom to travel and be anywhere and everywhere. We are, without a doubt, most content when we are on the move.

Travel may not have actually saved us from death, but it has taken our lives from a pit of monotony and depression into a future that soars.

And isn’t that kind of the same thing?

We have no idea how good it might feel ‘to be back in our own bed’, but that doesn’t phase me in the least – I consider that a very easy sacrifice for freedom.

Cheers Montenegro

Not everyone will find the same happiness in this lifestyle, and that’s okay (we fully acknowledge that we are the weird ones here). We know people who have started and stopped in just two months. There are many who have done this for several years and then called it quits when the burn-out could not be overcome. Yet others we know have done it for decades and are still going.

Where we will be in one year or ten, I do not know.

For now I am satisfied with subtle whiffs of what was our home and to visit when we can. It is where our oldest friends and most of our family are, but it no longer belongs to us. It is just that single place on the planet that we’ve lingered the longest – so while home is still the word we use, it doesn’t really hold the true meaning. Maybe we’ll never be able to apply that word to a physical place again.

But that’s how we feel today. Maybe we will change our minds. Maybe we will stop – there, or anywhere – your guess is as good as mine. But it won’t be in failure. It won’t be because we’ve reversed our beliefs on the merit of travel. It will just be because we have given ourselves the freedom to make that decision.

After six years of wandering, hundreds of thousands of miles traveled, fifty countries and hundreds of cities visited, countless friends made and memories collected, we come out of it only knowing one thing for sure.

We’re not done yet.

49 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Victoria | Girl Tries Life
    June 8 2015

    I absolutely adore this post. What it inspires in me is the theme of passion. Whether it’s travel, writing, photography, cooking, or we need to make the most of our lives and start now. You never know if you don’t try. Who knows what the future holds in store for any of us, but most of all… try! Explore! Create!

    Also, you two are so freaking cute… just saying!

    • June 17 2015

      Thanks so much Victoria! And you are absolutely right about the passion – to make this lifestyle work, you have to have a lot of it!

  • June 8 2015

    Oh you guuuuys. You’re an inspiration, you really are. Keep on rocking 🙂

  • What a magnificent post, Dalene. I know in the bottom of my heart that I am not meant for a life of constant travel but you make it sound amazing! You guys are an inspiration to so many people, this is an incredible privilege that you have. It’s nice to see good folks like you use their notoriety to do good. Keep up the amazing work 🙂
    Marie @ To Europe And Beyond recently posted..Alsace Roadtrip: My Suggested Itinerary

    • June 17 2015

      Thanks so much for your very kind words Marie! I can completely understand how people aren’t as attracted to this lifestyle, it can be pretty iffy at times. 🙂 But now we just can’t see it any other way!

  • June 8 2015

    Very inspirational. This post is coming at just the right time, as we are about 2 months away from attempting a life of travel, and the worries and insecurities are starting to set in. But life as it is right now is not right, so this is why we are fixing it.
    Michelle recently posted..Yosemite Backpacking Guide

    • June 17 2015

      I remember those scary days leading up to it! One thing I am sure of – you will not regret it. 🙂

  • June 8 2015

    This is exactly how we feel! Right down to me feeling nauseous at the thought of settling down, Simon having easygoing arms of twisty rubber, and that after over 5 years on the road we feel like we are hitting our stride (we have worked less than ever in the last 3 months but our passive income is increasing).

    Now we just have to get to Africa- looking forward to reading your posts about it. Enjoy!
    Erin recently posted..Beyond the Slopes: Hiking and Horse Riding in Ruka, Finland

    • June 17 2015

      Wow, travel twinsies! 🙂

      You guys would adore Africa, I know it. Maybe we’ll come back and join you when you finally get there!

  • Ivonne
    June 8 2015

    i wish you guys the best!! your story inspires me to achieve my dream before its too late. i too have the wanderlust feeling of just wanting to go now and explore the world that God has created instead of being stuck in a cubicle. I feel like I am suffocating doing the regular 9to 5 job.. soon I will figure it out.. soon. :0

  • June 8 2015

    I feel similarly. I am not nomadic like you but have been an expat in 4 countries over the past 11 years as well as travelling on average a few months each year. Working contract roles has given me the freedom to do that. There are still a few countries I would love to live in and many more I want to travel to so I don’t think I will be stopping anytime soon either. In 2 weeks I will be embarking on one year of travelling without working and I can’t wait 🙂
    Katie recently posted..Summer in Alaska: My Itinerary

  • Nur
    June 8 2015

    Great post. We planned to sell or store everything and travel for a year and then a favorite smaller house was for sale and instead we downsized. Now it is even harder to pull away for a years travel but I am pushing to try three months hoping we will catch the bug and it will pull us away.

    Your post was motivating. We are in our fifties and if not now, when? Please tell a bit about older people you may encounter or hear from. Do they travel in similar style as yourselves? Wish I knew how much to figure on cost. Thanks!

    • June 17 2015

      Hello Nur! There are many retirees who are embarking on this lifestyle, a LOT who do mainly housesitting and therefore can do it for a lot less than we do (we haven’t been housesitting as much lately, but will get back to it soon). You should check out the Facebook group “House Sitting World” – there are lots of like-minded souls in there who are always more than willing to share their thoughts.

  • June 8 2015

    I can really relate to your sentiments in this post. “One single place just cannot compete with all the places (no matter how comfy the bed is).” The freedom and flexibility to travel overwhelms the occasional cravings to nest and, fortunately, I also have a husband who is just fine with it, too. I think there’s a good chance we’ll make it to six years on the road, like you two.
    All the best!

    • June 17 2015

      I think we are probably both extremely fortunate to have spouses who are okay with joining us on these quests. 🙂

  • “It is where our oldest friends and most of our family are, but it no longer belongs to us. It is just that single place on the planet that we’ve lingered the longest – so while home is still the word we use, it doesn’t really hold the true meaning.” My feelings EXACTLY. You two are such an inspiration to me. Thank you.
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..Discovering Foodie Heaven with Devour Barcelona Food Tours!

  • June 9 2015

    I love this post. We’re just entering year 2 of our travels. Loving it so far but I can’t help but wonder how I’ll feel if we’re still going in 1 or 3 or 5 years time. Thanks for sharing!
    Yasmine recently posted..How to spot a geisha in Kyoto

    • June 17 2015

      If your feelings change or if you are still going – either of those scenarios are absolutely OK. You’ve given yourself the freedom to chose how your life evolves. 😉

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    June 9 2015

    You guys are such rock stars! I think it’s so incredible that you’re still going strong (actually, going stronger!) after 6 full years on the road. That’s pretty much Tony’s & my dream, and we’re just about at our 3 year mark. This year has actually been kind of tough as we’re at the point now where pretty much everyone who set out to travel long-term around the time we did (and many from after we left too) have returned home and, more importantly, returned to the life we left behind. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like we’re the only ones out here doing this unusual (but life affirming!) thing, and so it’s always wonderful to hear from people who have been doing it even longer. Long-term travel certainly isn’t perfect or free from worry, but the freedom and the exhilaration we get from knowing we can just keep exploring and don’t have to be tied down is such that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You guys inspired us before we hit the road, and I’m so glad to say that you still continue to do so. Keep on keeping on!

    • June 17 2015

      I’m so glad you guys are still finding as much enjoyment in at as we are. Yeah, we’ve seen many people settle too, which is fine, but affirms our status as weirdos a little more fully. 🙂 Man, I hope we get to cross path with you soon!

  • June 9 2015

    You guys have been the biggest inspiration for our travel lifestyle:) On the road 412 days so far!!!!I have struggled to write how it feels to live this lifestyle.Your post helped me find the words that seemed to always escape me, thank you Dalene! I love “One single place just cannot compete with all the places”. I feel that way too, so much.Congratulations on 6 years of travel you guys!
    Tracey recently posted..How We Feel at Home Traveling With Airbnb

    • June 17 2015

      Has it been over a year already for you?? Wow! So happy that you guys are loving it as much as we are, and even happier that we got to meet before you set out. Hopefully we can meet up somewhere again soon!

    • Margaret
      July 7 2015

      Great post!!! Although our travels mostly consist of house sitting, with a bit of renting in between, and nothing as exotic as your travels, I feel exactly the same, about returning to my old life, no matter how comfortable the bed.
      I can’t imagine at this point, going “home” and staying put. I think it would be good for about a month, then I would be itching again to get on the road. I guess I like to always have something or somewhere in the future, to travel to. Without the “next” trip in the offing, I would find life very flat.
      Having sold our home, also helps us stay motivated to travel, as we don’t have a permanent base, anyway. Being homeless, is a great motivator to keep on moving.
      We will be finishing three years on the road next month, and last night was asked, “When do you think you will stop?”, and the answer was NEVER!!!! Thanks for your posts, I love reading them.

  • June 10 2015

    Congrats on the 6 year mark! We are about to hit the 2yr mark as expats in London and we have no desire to stop of adventure. The idea of returning home to our old lives is a little hard to imagine. We want to see and explore more and maybe get to a point where we can ditch the work thing and travel full time. But like you, we aren’t too worried about what our five year plan is and how we might feel about travel later. We’re just enjoying our experience has it unravels before us.
    Good luck with the start of year 7!
    Drew recently posted..The Great American Road Trip: Arizona & Utah

    • June 17 2015

      Thank you Drew! Best of luck to you too!

  • Carmel
    June 10 2015

    “We’re not done yet” rings so true. I’ve been living in France for almost 5 years now and still get bouts of homesickness but …. not done yet! I could stay here the rest of my life, I could go back to Ireland, or I could hit the road for a couple of years! Sometimes it’s great to have a plan, sometimes the plan isn’t that important, and then sometimes it gets kicked right to the kerb. Friends and family still ask if we’re coming back and when you genuinely don’t have an answer it’s taken to mean something negative.But I feel positive about not knowing!

  • June 10 2015

    You two are amazing! I can relate to this post because I’ve been an expat so long I’m not sure I’ll ever really go home, but it also reminds me of how eager I am to start truly traveling again after spending so much time in one place (even if it is a foreign place!). You guys are a fantastic source of inspiration.
    Kirstie recently posted..Travel Talk with Trevor: Teaching as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Galicia, Spain

  • June 11 2015

    You guys – your post is resonating with me so deeply. We’ve recently come back form 14 months of travel, and have continued to travel rather often while having a home base and regular jobs. Two things I have found — it’s exhausting, and it doesn’t quite satisfy our wanderlust. Thank you for being an inspiration!
    Jenia recently posted..Laos: Travel Tips, Tricks, & Resources

  • Dave
    June 12 2015

    I guess I’m the only one wondering how you make $30,000 a year while traveling? Okay, so how can we do that?

  • Tricia @ The Adventure List
    June 12 2015

    Congrats on the 6 years. I’m glad to read you have no intentions of slowing down or stopping as I love reading your blog.

  • June 15 2015

    6 years traveling is a blessing!! you have the perfect life

  • Your and Pete’s story never ceases to inspire me. Travel really does give you a vibrance and lightness that nothing else does. Here’s to many more years of it 🙂
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..PHOTO GALLERY: Tibetan Culture In Ladakh

  • Love it! I have to chime in as another “driving force” half of the travel couple and say that I completely agree. I find it so affirming to read about other people feeling weirded out to the point of nausea at the thought of settling down and starting to collect stuff.

    I am also happy to say that though somewhere along the two year mark Tom was keen to to stop this whole “traveling thing” and start to settle down, after 4 1/2 years he is fantasizing about new places to travel to just as much as I am!
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted..Merida Cenote Diving

  • June 20 2015

    I can’t seem to stay in one place long either. I’ve been on two trips overseas that were between 7 months and over a year long, but my next adventure is the first time I’ll be setting off with no definite return plans. It’s the most liberating feeling!
    Arianwen recently posted..Sightseeing with the London Pass: is it Worth the Money?

  • June 21 2015

    What an inspirational post! Here’s more power to your feet and pen – here’s to many more years in hectic travelling! Yay!!
    Arti (@artisdiary) recently posted..Decoding Yoga || International Yoga Day || Quote Unquote.

  • June 21 2015

    This has been an amazing read, I’ve honestly spent the last hour perusing every inch of your blog that I could (all the while supposedly “working”). You guys are accomplishing something absolutely incredible and one day I hope to have a blog that is as recognized and incredible as this one as well as a life full of the same.
    Laura O recently posted..24 hours on The Mount

  • June 22 2015

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My wife and I are approaching 2 years on the road and I can’t even imagine stopping in the next 5 to 8 years minimum, there is just too much out there to see and experience. Your attitude is more an affirmation than a revelation and I find that wonderfully comforting. Thanks again.
    Peter P recently posted..Playing the Tourist

  • June 22 2015

    Congratulations to you both! I’m waiting out stock options in a cubicle and then hope to break free or at least get a change of scenery. In the meantime, maximizing my 5 weeks PTO and living vicariously through blogs 🙂
    Leigh recently posted..San Diego – Business and Pleasure!

  • June 22 2015

    So well said!. “But I know me” sums up our desire to keep exploring even after almost two years on the road. Too many adventures to be had! My wife Chelsea and I love your blog, and maybe we’ll run into you somewhere in this small world sometime. Happy trails.
    Dakota recently posted..Pudding Wine? I’ll Just Have the Chips, Thanks

  • This post hit our hearts.
    Macrae felt like the gentleman that emailed you for the past few years.

    But now we’ve been on the road for 9.5 months and haven’t looked back.

    You’re so right that there are ups and downs about continuous travel, but that’s life, isn’t it? and it seems like when your experiencing a down time (like we are now) you don’t think the ups will ever come, but they always do and stronger than ever!

    Being continuously on the move really tires you out, but its the most exhilarating thing we’ve ever experienced. Going back home is no option, even though like you, we miss it.

    We have a house sit for 5 weeks (which will be the longest we’ve been in one place since we’ve left) staring tomorrow, so hopefully that will give us back our energy and let us get more work done 🙂

    anyways, sorry for the long comment.
    great post!

    hope we meet on the road one day!
    Carolann & Macrae – One Modern Couple recently posted..Off The Beaten Path in Rio With The Wanderbaums

  • Love it!
    I’ve only just found you but I like what I’m reading. I started travelling 16 years ago and the itch never went away so I moved to several countries and lived there as an expat thus creating a forum in which I could still do the work that I love, have a family, home and lifestyle AND still travel. I’ve already been to 8 countries this year and we’re only half way through LOL!
    Keep up the good work. 🙂
    [email protected] The British Berliner recently posted..The Queen came to Berlin. I’m British so pass me the Pimms!

  • July 4 2015

    I envy the life of travelers. The freedom, the adventures and most specially the perspectives they have on life is amazing. Loved the post. Keep up the good work.

  • July 6 2015

    Such a beautifully written, emotive post Dalene and congratulations on your 6 years of nomadic living. At only 2.5 years into our journey, we cannot foresee the need to settle anytime soon – more likely never! I love the St Augustine quote “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. I’m sure we won’t ever catch up to the amount of travel experiences you have had, but living like a local in different communities around the world is incredibly fulfilling and more than what we ever expected to love experiencing so much. To you next 6 years and beyond if it shall be XX
    Jodie Thompson recently posted..Branded.me – FREE Profile Tool House Sitters should Use

  • July 13 2015

    Great article, you guys are such an inspiration! My husband and I have only just started our travels and blogging about it. I only hope that my husband has as much as a twisty rubber arm as Pete does. I’m not sure I will ever have the desire to buy another home and “nest.” At least right now, I feel like I could live a nomadic lifestyle for the rest of my life.

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