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Photo: mrhayata

Alexandra Bruekner is scared that her frantic travel pace over the last six years isn’t sustainable.

I first stepped out of America when I was seventeen. For ten days, I roamed throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Those ten days were probably the most influential of my life, because they acted as a turning point. By the time I came home to Pittsburgh again, I was head over heels in love with travel.

Six years later, that love has stayed with me. My life is now largely defined by travel and my obsession with it. The best months of my college experience were those I spent studying abroad in Cologne, Germany. I once flew to England for a weekend to see my favorite band in concert, and though it was the music that initially made my knees go weak, I was just as in love with setting foot in a foreign country. Three months after graduation, I shipped out to northern Japan, where I plan to live until 2015.

Every year, I have a goal to take an international trip and get out of my country of residence. Since 2008, I’ve succeeded. This year I hit eight different countries, five of which I’d never been to before, on three different continents. My ultimate goal is to fill my passport before I move out of Japan.

But as much as I love travel, there is a constant, nagging fear that I have hit my peak. The past six years have set an extraordinary precedent. The bar is pretty damn high. How much higher can I go? I’ve lived in three countries at this point and I average between one and three international trips a year. Once I leave Japan, can I expect to keep leapfrogging across the globe for the rest of my life? I’m content for now to while away my days in Aomori, but I know that eventually my feet will get restless again and I’ll want to search out a new home. It’s a lifestyle that I could definitely see myself having.

But what if I can’t sustain a lifestyle like that? I’ve done more traveling at 23 than a lot of people are able to do in their entire lives. I am extremely lucky, and I know it. I’ve gotten this far without throwing down any permanent roots, but I am deathly afraid that once this period of my life is over, I will spend the next half a century constantly yearning.

But the idea that I will have the everyday life for every day of my life is terrifying to me.

Once you have a life of travel, it’s hard to go back. And once you’ve obtained this lifestyle, it largely becomes an issue of “chasing the dragon” to top yourself. I’ve gone bungee jumping off the Macau Tower, the highest jump in the world. Where do I go from there? There’s only skydiving. I’ve done yoga on top of a deserted mountain on Lamma Island in Hong Kong. Somehow my living room floor just doesn’t cut it now. I was in Berlin for the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. I can hardly imagine any other anniversary eclipsing the emotions I saw and felt that night. I’ve eaten countless unidentifiable entrees in Japan (and some that were identified that I wish hadn’t been). That new sushi restaurant that opened in my neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh? I’d rather pass than be disappointed.

It’s not that any of these things are bad. Far from it, in fact. They are comforting, familiar, and part of the everyday life that has shaped me. If my travel experience has provided mountainous spikes in my life, my everyday life has given me the constant plateaus to appreciate those mountains all the more.

But the idea that I will have the everyday life for every day of my life is terrifying to me. I want sunsets in India and sunrises in Peru. I want snowstorms in Finland and heat waves in South Africa. I want pappardelle in Tuscany and pan de anis in Peru. I don’t want to achieve “veteran traveler” status at 30 or so; I want it at 70.

Travel makes us greedy — not for things, but for experiences. We are collectors; the problem is, we have no cases to fill or awards to win. There is no point at which we can proclaim, “Finished! I’ve gotten everything that I can!” because there isn’t a finish line.

If my traveling days eventually come to an end, I worry that my wanderlust won’t. It’s awfully hard to survive with one without having the other. I’ll be like those has-been athletes who are forever recounting their glory days of college or high school. But instead of that winning touchdown pass, I’ll be endlessly repeating the story of the time a random French man kissed me under the Eiffel Tower because he liked my hair (or so I gathered with my horrific French and his broken English)…or the time I randomly ran into Chris O’Dowd while walking down Regent Street in London…or the time I bottle-fed a lamb on the set of The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand.

If the past you leave behind consists of a beautifully erratic path across the globe, how can you not be endlessly plagued by nostalgia?

About The Author

Alexandra Brueckner

Alexandra Brueckner originally hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but also calls Cologne, Germany and Aomori, Japan home. She currently lives in rural northern Japan, where she attempts to explain the confusing labyrinths of the English language to Japanese high schoolers while also devouring as much sushi as humanly possible and perfecting the “deer in headlights” look when someone asks her a question in Japanese. You can read her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

  • Katka Lapelosová

    The lives of travelers go in waves. At 21 I’d filled my passport, then came back to the US for grad school and didn’t travel for two years. Now, through saving money and working steadily, I am able to travel internationally at least twice a year, if not more. If you make travel a priority, it will always be there for you. You could return to the same place a million times and each time would be different. Sometimes, I feel travelers do need a detox from the road in order to compress their experiences and plan their next moves. You’ll be alright. The world will always be there, and will always provide you with something cool and different to do.

  • The Traveling Advisor

    Nothing is permanent. You may decide to wander and travel for the rest of your life. You might not. You may change the way you travel or why you travel. I am 27 and have been traveling at a pretty aggressive pace for about 6 years, and like you, have asked myself this question many times. Live today the way you need to live today. Tomorrow may be different but it doesn’t mean you ever have to “settle” for boring. Curiosity is a mindset and you can cultivate it no matter where you are in the world. I wish you well on your journey!

  • Shari Tucker

    You never have to ‘top’ an experience you’ve had in the past. Just find your next new adventure and it will always hold it’s own piece of your heart. It doesn’t have to be the highest bungee jump, it might be about who you do it with, how the sun feels on your skin that day or how close you came to the water at the bottom. Each experience, each adventure has it’s own merits. Don’t try to top each one, just keep living each and every day to the fullest and appreciate every spectacular moment you have!

    • Andrea Paulson Robinson

      Adventure is not always about seeing new landscapes, but in seeing things thru new eyes…

  • Scott Brills

    Do it until it’s no longer what you want to do–you’ll know it when you get there. I was the same–living in Japan, thinking I’d be “done” with traveling all over the place by the time I reached 25 or so. At that point it’d be time to plant roots somewhere and “settle down”.

    Well, just turned 30 and I finished my craziest year of travel yet, with over 30 countries on 6 continents. Travel–it’s one hell of a drug!

  • TravelnLass

    Sorry but… I don’t quite understand your dilemma, Alexandra. I mean, your entire post here seems to be a collection of self-kudo bucket list ticks – based on a premise that… what? that somebody/something is somehow going to suddenly stop you from… traveling to ever new lands throughout your life?

    I mean, you yourself state that your recent travels (and surely 6 years does not a lifetime of travel make) have been at a “frantic pace”. So simply slow down a bit – at 23 you’ve got TONS of time to see the entire globe if you like (and I’m not talkin’ “…eight countries in but a single year” – which leastwise in my travel book is just plain nuts, and certainly not what I’d call travel of any quality).

    Shoot girl, I raised two daughters by myself, yet still managed to drag them to Europe for a half year (whilst simultaneously polishing off a couple of university degrees by taking courses at the University of Foreigners in Perugia, Italy, and Avignon, France), not to mention started my own tour company leading small groups to Belize and Costa Rica – this back when few had even HEARD of Belize. Furthermore, I didn’t even really START to travel seriously ’til I was nearly *40* (yep, already dodderin’ by your young standards). And finally, I’m presently living in Asia and skipping off to – well I too, could tick off a string of bucket-list countries, like recent month-long trips to Mongolia, Oz, et al – every chance I get. But that’s not (or leastwise shouldn’t be) the point here.

    So sorry, but I guess I have a bit of trouble sympathizing with your “deathly fear” that “once this period…is over…”. It’s only “over” my dear, when – and more importantly IF – YOU decide it’s finished.

    In short, there’s nothing going to stop you from a lifetime of travel. Education? Marriage? Kids? Rubles? Verily ALL can be tweaked to suit most any wanderlust’s dreams. There’s trade-offs of course, but those are part ‘n parcel of EVERYBODY’s brief stay on this Planet.

    You do seem to be on the right track what with choosing to base yourself in Asia (likewise my chosen playground). But if your “ultimate goal” is to merely “fill my passport”? I agree, that kind of senseless travel might well – not only be “not sustainable”, but sounds pretty unfulfilling to me.

    Sorry, though I hesitate to wax “Why, when *I* was your age…” ;) But… a mere 23 and fretting that you’ve somehow “reached my travel peak”? Sorry, but that’s just plain silly.

    • MaryAnne Oxendale

      I was thinking the same thing myself. 23 should technically be when you’re just getting started– if travel really is something your prioritize in your life. If you don’t- and if you think you really can’t ‘top’ meditating on Lamma Island or whatever and so everything after that pales by comparison- then you will follow the standard path that keeps you grounded back in the US. It’s your choice. I started travelling at 18, and now at 38 (and 40-something countries later) I’m still going, living in China right now. There are a million ways to keep going and no reason to think you’ve reached your peak BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T.

      Or maybe you have.

      It’s your choice.

    • Fran Levine

      I agree! Sad to think that at 23 you can feel that you have peaked. I believe part of the problem comes from using language like “…This year I hit eight different countries…” (Hit?) Yes, if it is all about ticking off countries, then it may be finite. If, however, it is all about the experiences, that is never ending. My husband and I celebrated our 60th birthdays in the Pyrenees, sometimes in France, speaking French, sometimes in Spain…well, getting by. We have a lifetime of travels and experiences…we MET while traveling 37 years ago!…but you can’t be mired in nostalgia…bring it forward with you. There is SO much more ahead…it is just waiting to be experienced, and appreciated.

  • Drew Meyers

    “There is no point at which we can proclaim, “Finished! I’ve gotten everything that I can!” because there isn’t a finish line.”

    That’s why travel is so awesome :)

  • Jim Harrelson

    You want sympathy? Grow up spoiled brat!

    • Alexandra Brückner

      While I understand that you don’t share my opinion (and that’s fine), two things: First, I didn’t write this to gain sympathy, nor was I expecting to. Second, I recognize that I am extremely lucky, but I have gotten these opportunities through working hard. I come from a thoroughly middle class background; my parents have not ever paid for one travel venture, as they are not able to. I worked three jobs during the summers between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. During university, I worked two jobs. The job I have now required a six month interview/screening process. When I live at home, I skimp in any way possible. I’m not spoiled; I’ve never rested on my laurels or expected others to pave (or pay for) my way. I have worked hard my entire life, and that is how I’ve gotten to accomplish so much traveling. Please don’t presume that you know me or my situation.

    • Donald M

      I think that instead of an article about how you are about to peak, try one about how you actually did it. When I first read it I was thinking like Jim there, that your family must have money. You said you started when you was 17 an have been travelling non stop an now you think you have reached the end. Tell us how you did it, was it cheap how did you manage to hit that many countries in one year? Instead of sounding like an adventure it sounds like a gloat of how rich you are. I am really interested in how this travelling was accomplished..

  • Jim Harrelson

    Shame on you guys for even publishing this crap! Most people have to work their tails off to travel and many more never get the opportunity to visit a fraction of those places.Its just a slap in the face to a lot of people.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Everyone’s entitled to their opinion…while you’re right that travel is a privileged act, I’d argue that it’s more available than you think. For many people it’s a matter of lifestyle choice. Travelers make their choices and sacrifices, just like those who choose to go the more “traditional” path of school/work/family make their choices and sacrifice.

  • Jeremy Reed

    Great article and as a world traveler myself, I understand the fascination with stepping foot into a foreign country…but one suggestion: there’s some beautiful country side in the United States. Hawaii has some beautiful coastlines that can make you shake as waves crash against the eroded rock. I woke up at 3 a.m. In Alaska to the sun still peeking over the horizon…caught salmon in the heart of the country side where not a soul had been for decades. I walked the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg in the wee morning with fog rolling over the battlefields. Just some suggestions to keep you traveling! :)

  • Bruce Kennedy

    Fretting you’ve peaked? I am about to turn 60 and am planning trips for at least the next 10 years; trips that involve cityscapes less but more hiking and kayaking in places that provide me an opportunity for photographing nature and landscapes. Why fret? You either want to travel and make that happen, or you decide you no longer wish to travel and opt for a different lifestyle. The one factor that *may* hold you back from some activities is your own physical condition. Beyond that, it’s all about attitude.

  • Sandy Sauter

    I think you are just gloating. I’m 24, been travelling nonstop since I was 17 and when I think of the future or look at the globe I only see possibilities. I think your measure of travel is, well, off. I think there is something wrong with the way you travel if it ruins doing yoga for you. You must not like bungee jumping if you wouldn’t do it off a shorter base. It’s the same with traveling, you must not enjoy the journey, it is just for show. When I am watching a bad movie I can’t wait for it to end. However if I am I enjoying the movie I get so lost it I don’t think it could ever end at all. Why are you focused on the end? One of the more offensive things in your article was in reference to the Japanese food. You’d rather take a pass on the new local sushi place than be disappointed. Ok then pass already, you are closing yourself off to an infinite number of opportunities and possible good experiences, and that’s just not in the travelers spirit! Bon Voyage!

  • Paul Mvl

    are you fucking kidding me?

  • Luis Návar

    I just see pure show off here. I’m sorry I do not sympathize with you. What an existential problem… you have reached your traveling climax? Really? To me it seems that you haven’t understood the meaning of “travel” at all. It’s not about “filling up the passport” or doing “Yoga on a Lamma Island”. Its about your life journey, and that involves growing up and facing that nothing is permanent in life. Certainly, the conditions that you enjoy this moment will completely change one day and that day and you should be mature enough to be happy with visiting the town next to your home or a local museum. Be happy with what you have now, be sure that it won’t last forever.

    • Alejo Alfonso

      no puedo estar más en desacuerdo. Podrá haber hecho todo eso, pero no sabe lo que es ir a Tarifa con un colega en coche, por ejemplo. jaja. Que tal susi? feliz año. Podriamos quedar para hacer un skype. Me gustaria ponerme al dia. Abrazo grande

  • Susan

    travelling gets boring when you get older.

After three months, I still wake up and gape at all of this space that is just for me.
There are always a million reasons not to do something.
Frugality may be the result, but learning to travel well comes from being pragmatic.
That plunge into the unfamiliar can inspire instinctual, even animal emotions.
The first step to being a better traveler in 2014 is to be a traveler in the first place.
My favorite travel memory is the one I'm making right now.
TED Talks are about spreading ideas. It says so right in their tagline.
These are the Big Questions I am pondering during my year in the world.
We speak of taking trips as we speak of seizing something from the world.
And in the end, could you have chosen any differently?