The Pain of Wanderlust Living

FERNWEH The absolutely worst part of expat living and overseas assignments is the inevitable end date. December 31st looks like a black hole pulling us closer and closer to the opening of the empty nothingness. It is like a vacuum that sucks air from our everyday lives, and I can feel it when driving kids to school, right in the middle of the workday, or worse – when thinking all of the European destinations we still haven’t seen, although our goal was to travel as much as we could during the three years living in Sweden. It’s not just wanderlust, it’s feeling intoxicating pain because you haven’t seen and experienced enough. In German they have a word for it, “Fernweh,” feeling homesick to all of those places you haven’t seen yet. It’s actually more common to use that word in Germany, than “Wanderlust.” Maybe this fearing the end of the long travel period is normal, maybe people feel like this on their honeymoons when they travel to an exotic location, eat the fancy food, and are being pampered 24/7 before returning to real life. Our life here in Sweden has been like living in a dream, and in many ways like a “honeymoon,” just like our three years in Germany were. Sure, we’ve had our difficulties, it’s not easy to adjust to a new culture, different customs, and live surrounded with people who speak a different language than you do. We have cocooned ourselves living the European dream in a countryside mansion, and cooking family dinners made with fresh ingredients and products, that we have carried home from all around Europe (Oh this simple meat and potatoes dinner? I marinaded the meat with spices and bay leaves from Madeira, Portugal, the Sweden-grown potatoes I just baked in the oven and drizzled with some Icelandic sea salt on the top with some olive oil from Puglia, Italy and by the way, did I tell you about the time we went olive picking in Italy?). Our own family unit of five is incredible. We have three children, one teenager and two almost teens too (11 and 12 years old now). We don’t have the t(w)een-kids-problems I hear other parents talking about. We spend time with our children, and experience Europe together. With often changing addresses, it’s our family unit that never changes and having each others is the closest to what you could call having “roots.” All of it hasn’t come easy though, for none of us. We could have easily also ripped our family apart, but we chose to work hard to make this crazy lifestyle work for us, even on the days it has been everything but wonderful. It is a choice to make the best out of each day, and put family first, even when it is everything but easy. We don’t have many local friends, it’s not that we don’t like Swedes, or that they don’t like us, but it is mentally exhausting to make new friends and then have to move to the other side of the world/country. I know, because we have done it so many times. People get hurt because we leave, or people get mad because we don’t stay in touch often enough after leaving. And I get hurt. I hurt because I miss people in so many posts where we have stopped in our travels. I feel homesick to places we have called home, even if I would never want to live there again. And the worst is knowing that our children go through the same thing. All of it doesn’t make any sense. Having the pain of needing to see more, but yet getting attached to places and people, and feeling homesick after you have left. I know why people never leave their hometowns, and part of me is very jealous of that kind of commitment, and almost like self-confidence of knowing that “this is my spot in the world.” I left Finland 17 years ago, and we have moved an average every two years, and I still don’t know “my spot.” Maybe I have been just looking for it in the wrong places? At the same time, I don’t understand people who never leave and experience something different. I don’t even know how you can truly even appreciate your own hometown if you have never left. I for sure have much more appreciation to my home country Finland after living in other countries as well. Not knowing where to go the next can be very exhilarating. The entire world is open for you, and the possibilities are endless. Could we live in a beach hut in Bali? Or Thailand? Yes, absolutely. What about coastal Norway? Sounds amazing! Milan, Italy? Let’s go! I can see our family living in several different countries (that’s how I judge a place when I travel “could I live here?”, and I try to put myself in the footsteps of the locals), but the reality of physically packing all of our things and moving them to a new location, and starting all over again, including trying to find a job, and a place to live, and putting kids to new schools is scary, and I don’t think it’s doable with three teenage children. Now we are talking about their education and future as well. And thus, the black hole of December 31, 2014. Our official last day in Sweden, and the unknown future, the unknown adventure that waits for us. The black cloud that we can’t shake, and the end of the tunnel that isn’t bright. Will there be sunshine and will we be able to make the best of it? Yes, sure. I’m ready to start planning our exit from Sweden, and I’m ready to start making our next adventure a reality. But for the love of chocolate and wine, I need to know what it is, and where we are going, because my waistline can not take any more chocolate. My mission is to inspire you to live life to the fullest and find your own “skimbaco,” how you enjoy life where ever you are in the moment. For ideas for travel, home, food and fashion, subscribe to weekly Skimbaco Lifestyle feed on Mondays and I hope you get my newsletter that I send out sometimes on Fridays.
  1. And now it is Spring of 2020, and the new normal precipitated by Coronavirus.
    The world economy is in transformation.
    Tourism and the nomadic life for most people are no longer easy or realistic options.

    Where are you now, and what is your life like? As you grow older, are you more content?

  2. Katja, I couldn’t agree more with you. This is a great post.

    I can relate to most things you mentioned. I have absolutely no idea where we would live in September yet the year after – on our list we have Brazil, Australia and many European countries. I know how lucky I am to see the world, but it certainly is hard not knowing where we would end up and when. And very consuming.

    I’m in Finland right now and it is hard /weird to see how my childhood friends are all settled down and have their own fancy apartments, cars etc. And they are not keen to leave this city, all they need is here. That is their choice, but very different from my life right now. Can’t say I wasn’t a bit jealous when I visited my friends place a couple of days ago – their life was very much planned.

    But then again, I remembered why I left. Although sometimes I envy these friends a bit, I’m the happiest somewhere else. Seeing the world is a great opportunity and the opportunity shouldn’t be missed. It seems we can’t have everything in life, something is always going to be “not-so-right”. Funny but true…

  3. Totally normal. Uncertainty can consume you especially when it comes to moving countries, kids and the like. It was the part I disliked most about living overseas because I could never control timing or the destination… my husband’s job did.

    I thought I would hate not being an expat. We came home because my father was terminally ill and we’re staying because my daughter is the type that needs stability plus we’re near other aging family. It’s been exactly what the doctor ordered (not sure if returning home is an option for you) because I make travel still a priority and I missed having deeper friendships (though many of the people I met overseas are certainly lifelong friends). We don’t travel as much, but it’s enough.

    1. There is time for everything I think. We are in that stage that we might need more stability for the kids’ high school years. We have been moving their entire lives, in fact, they were all born in different countries, so they don’t know anything different than moving around. We don’t have a “home” to go back to. I think you have certainly made the best of moving back home, with your family and still being able to travel.

  4. By the way, we found a great way to deal with all the packing nightmare for emigrating – we sold, ditched or gave away everything. Yep, everything. The only thing we kept was clothes, a few kitchen pieces, some of the little guys toys (but he got rid of a load of his stuff too), our bikes and a few personal effects. One of the most liberating things we have ever done. Minimalism is our new way of being and we all love it. We arrived in Canada with 22 boxes between the three of us, and three of those where the bike boxes and another two were the little guys toys. So we had a grand total of 17 boxes which also included my business stuff.

    1. YES, I totally agree. Over the years we owned less and less, and in the last move from New York to Sweden, we sold almost everything too. It WAS very liberating, and we have made only three kind of purchases 1. something to keep forever and remember our time in Sweden, or Scandinavian design that we like 2. cheap furniture & home ware items from IKEA 3. even cheaper dishes and decorative items from flea markets. It will be very easy to get rid of the #2 and #3. We moved houses here in Sweden too last year – it took a moving crew 5 hours to pack the truck in the old house AND empty it in the new house. I couldn’t believe when they left at 1PM and the entire moving was done :)

  5. Oh boy how I can relate to many of your comments. As part of a commitment me and my husband made to ourselves and each other on the top of a mountain as dawn broke on the morning of Jan 1st 2000, we have been on a mission to design our ideal life. This has led to two big moves – from our home country (England) to Ireland in 2006 and then a move from Ireland to Vancouver, Canada in 2013.

    As you point out, these sorts of life choices come with prolonged periods of uncertainty and mixed emotions.

    One thing you said that really struck a cord with me was “I feel homesick to places we have called home, even if I would never want to live there again.” I know exactly how that feels. We have been in Canada over a year now and we all love it. Yet there are still things I miss so much about Ireland that it hurts. Yet, I don’t want to live there again.

    I think these experiences and feelings are a reminder that whatever choices we make for our lives, then we have to embrace the not so nice parts of it as fully as we embrace all the many advantages and positives they bring. There can not be one without the other. I have found that acceptance of that helps with navigating the process.

    1. I totally agree. I think the ideal perfect life doesn’t exist, and you always have to navigate to find the best route to take and keep balance – meaning you often have to give up something to gain something else. It’s the pain of giving up that many people are afraid of, and what we know in so many ways. But if you don’t give you, you keep yourself from gaining so many other things in life.

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