Physically, the key I dangled from my finger was little more than an intricately cut, nearly weightless piece of brass. But as I looked down at this particular sliver of metal for the last time, it felt like much more.
Giving a spare one to a neighbor is a sign of trust. Presenting a fresh one to a significant other is a show of intimacy. For me, just having one, the same one, for nearly seven months in a row, was a sign of stability.
I couldn’t count the number of keys I’ve had over the last five years. Plastic hotel key cards, tiny padlocks for hostel lockers, a smile through the peephole when relying on the couch and kindness of a friend. I chose that life for myself and I loved it, but I also recognized when it was time to slow down. The key I held in my hand was mine for longer than any I’d had since I left New York in 2011. I squinted down at it one last time and marveled at the miracle that I’d never lost it.
I felt a surge of emotions as I slipped it off my Diet Coke keyring and handed it back to my smiling landlord, en route to the ferry that would carry me away from the island that has always felt like home.
When I first arrived back in Koh Tao, I wrote a post about my anticipation of more than six months of stillness. Those six months are over, and I’m now back on the road in Brazil. I’ve already begun sharing parts of my latest Thailand adventures with you, but in many ways I needed to soak them in and let them settle fully before I was able to reflect on how this chapter would fit into my greater journey.
While I began this trial period of having a home base again with much excitement, I also had some reservations. I was worried about feeling fidgety, about my wanderlust taking hold and about giving up such a gorgeous chunk of time that could potentially be spent exploring some exotic new continent. As someone who genuinely panics on occasion about running out of time to see everything they want to see in the world before they die, this was a concern. I also worried about trying to run a business from a remote Southeast Asian island, and if I would make myself irrelevant by effectively benching myself for half a year.
Y’all – I had nothing to worry about. Sure, I was a little restless at time, and yes, island fever did kick in. In my last month I was pretty excited to begin a new adventure (my final week, in which the weight of leaving kicked in and I woke up every morning filled with dread over all my looming goodbyes, was another story.) And there was a serious adjustment period to the idea of having a routine. After years of non-stop mental stimulation and constant adapting to new environments, my brain needed to be re-wired a bit to appreciate the beauty of weeks in a row where my days were pretty much played on repeat and consisted primarily of office hours.
But it was exactly what I needed. One day, when I was kicking myself for not making progress on a project I so longed to finish before leaving the island (spoiler alert: not even close) and stressing over whether or not I’d made the most of my downtime, I made a list of all I had accomplished. And you know what? It was a pretty badass list.
• I spoke at my first TBEX conference
• I signed deals with PADI, Capital One, Kayak, and Abbot, among other major brands
• I automated or outsourced several parts of my business that were no longer feasible for me to complete alone
• I set up a new affiliate program and set wheels in motion to create new income streams
• I signed with a business manager that I’m already over the moon to be working with
And thanks to the large amount of work time I had, the low cost of living and traveling in Thailand and the fact that by staying stationary I seriously cooled it in the spending department:
• I saved almost $14,000 for future trips and adventures
Heck yes! When I read through those bullet points, I feel proud. Taking time off from being a full time nomad meant I had time to be proactive and do more than just keep my head above water. And after seriously depleting my savings over an indulgent summer, it was both necessary and very mentally soothing to take some time to refill them.
But developing a Wanderland HQ was about more than just ticking things off my to-do list or watching my bank account grow again. It was also about getting to experience one special place deeply and meaningfully. And while after six years of traveling to and from Koh Tao I might have thought I knew it inside and out, I was reminded that I’ll never be done exploring. Who knew that on this teeny tiny island – just 13 square miles! – there was so much to discover. Look out for posts about the following new-to-me experiences on my favorite old island:
• A cooking class
• Several new hiking trails
• New yoga studios and workshops
• Three new dive certifications at three different dive schools
• A Koh Tao Loy Kratong, one of my favorite Thai holidays
• A new hotel and a new apartment to review
And of course, I didn’t stick just to Koh Tao the entire time – nor could I have, as visa restrictions alone force me off the island every sixty days and out of the country every ninety. My longest period off the island was two weeks, though in general I stuck mostly to weekend trips. Here’s where I went:
• Bangkok — many, many times for many different reasons!
• Koh Samui for a couples getaway and later a girl’s weekend
• Koh Phangan for a villa vacation with my expat crew and later for a Full Moon Party with some friends visiting from home
• Khao Yai National Park for a camping and hiking trip
• Hua Hin for some alone time with Ian
• Khao Yai wine region for a “Wanderland Vacation” – what my group of friends in Thailand calls the trips I plan for them!
• Khao Sok for my friend Janine’s birthday
• Siem Reap for a visa run turned Cambodia trip
• Phuket for a work campaign
While about half those destinations were repeat ones, half were in fact new to me. Thailand continues to amaze, and I’m ever adding to my list of new corners of it to explore.
Yet by far the greatest aspect of the last seven months was the people I spent it with. While I truly treasure my independence and my own company and did occasionally miss it over those seven months (no one is ever truly alone on Koh Tao!), I wouldn’t trade the world for the amazing company of my Koh Tao community. I treasure the friendships I have made on that island and what keeps me coming back, year after year, is the fact that I feel so deeply bonded to my friends there, that they feel more like family. Getting to spend so much time with them was a gift.
So yes, this perpetual nomad loved having a home base. Did it come with its sacrifices and drawbacks? Yes, but every lifestyle choice does. Did Koh Tao occasionally drive me insane with its limited resources and small island limitations? Yes, but that’s what I call “the paradise tax.” Somehow, in looking for an equilibrium between work and play, a sense of adventure and a sense of home, independence and community, I seem to have stumbled onto the far edges of this elusive thing they call balance.
And so the question I asked myself when I first held that key in my hand – is having a part time home base again a part of my new normal? – seems to have answered itself. I’ve dropped hints at this here and there, but now it’s official — I’ll be returning back to Koh Tao in late 2016 to do it all over again.
I can’t wait to continue sharing more about my time in Thailand with all of you! Holler in the comments if there’s anything about Koh Tao, re-establishing a home base, or any of the other destinations I visited that you’re anxious to hear more about.
I’m so excited to hear that! You just seem so happy in Koh Tao, and I love reading about your island life. Um, also, I recently realized that after living and traveling abroad for five years, in a couple of weeks I’ll be leaving Norway for the first time in 7 months! Staying still isn’t the worst 🙂
Aw, thank you Silvia. I am indeed very happy there. Seven months in Norway doesn’t sound half bad 🙂
Great post! I think it’s easy to think of the perpetual nomad life as being the ideal, but sometimes having one place to call home surrounded by people you love just can’t be beat. I think for most of us that’s just human nature; to want a community. For me, I’ve only been nomadic for 6 months, but already I can’t wait to settle somewhere for a couple months. What you said is so true, the people really make the place. Excited to read more about your adventures in Thailand!
Thanks Eva! I agree, travel can be pretty exhausting and overwhelming. I have found I really enjoy having some home base time between trips to let them settle in and soak up all the memories and amazingness before rushing onto the next one 🙂
I am heading to Koh Tao for this first time on Wednesday to get my dive on and it’s mostly because of your blog. Looking forward to your upcoming posts!
That’s so awesome to hear Kat! Rock on and let me know how you love it!
I am absolutely loving it here! Unfortunately I caught a nasty chest infection so I’ve only managed 5 dives but I did make it to Sail Rock before getting sick. I’m consoling myself by spending some of the money I would have spent on diving on a couple of days at the View Point resort.
One thing I want to ask: what’s your recommendation for a really great Thai massage? I went to the Gallery the other day and it was incredible.
They are great! I also love Silver Sands or Kayo when I’m just looking for cheap and easy. For something a little higher end I used to consistently love both Aurori and Majestic though I have to admit the quality of both has slipped to hit or miss — it really depends on who you get. Enjoy!
I love your blog as I very much enjoy reading about your visits in Thailand and the US.
I’m as bad as yourself with rushing about, but every now and then, it is marvellously good to stop, and in this case, smell the lilies.
Brilliant photos as usual, especially the last one. Very cute!
It’s hard to take a breather when there’s such a big beautiful world out there to see! I’m definitely guilty as anyone. But every once in a while… it is glorious to slow down.
It’s good to hear that the months of stillness have done you good and that your planning to repeat them! I’m as always looking forward to reading about all your adventures wherever they may be!
Follow your heart and your readers will follow you 🙂
Thank you my dear! That is music to a travel blogger’s ears 🙂
I’m not sure how this is possible, but I actually have enjoyed the pace of your life MORE since you “settled down” in KT for a little while 🙂 (just from a reader perspective)
You always sounded sort of exhausted on the road, and having a clear, defined home base for a while seemed to be very centering for you – which is awesome!
From this gal’s perspective, living in KT for a few months is NOT settling down!! Haha!! Far from it.
Keep on doing you!
Thanks Meghan! That is definitely how I feel when I’m there — more centered, less frazzled — so I suppose it makes sense that that oozes out from my blog as well.
You’re such an inspiration lady! I’m glad you got on so well and that you’ll be back in 2016… maybe i’ll catch you there this time! ?
One of these days 🙂
I loved how this post defined needing a home base yet also needing a passport! U can’t wait to visit koh Tao one day, and I wish you the best on future travel’s
Yes, setting up a home base abroad has been the perfect balance of exotic and familiar for me. Long live expat life!
LOVE THIS!! I do reverse bucketlist all the time whenever i feel uninspired =)
What a fun term! I’m going to start using that… “reverse bucket list” for the win 🙂
Love reading your stories and growth! I just spent 4 months on a constant move through Central America and Europe and it was exhausting. Once I hit Australia in April I was ready to find a place to stay put for a few months to just breathe and sleep again.
Can’t wait to read all about your Brazil adventures! And congratulations on the money saving. That’s incredible! 🙂
Thanks Katelyn! I had a very budget draining summer in the US so it was very reassuring to refill the coffers again 🙂
Congrats, you should feel proud! Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂
I do indeed, Carmen! Thank you!
Paradise Tax – I love it, I’m going to use that sometime! I can only imagine how great it feels to settle in for a bit – I get tired of living out of a suitcase, even after just a few back to back business trip or long weekends! (never tire of nice hotels, though!)
A nice hotel can definitely stave off travel fatigue for a bit 😉
What a successful period of time for you. I am big advocate of slow travel – the benefits really outweigh the ‘one night here, two nights there’ type of travel which many backpackers adopt. Stop, take in the culture, and save some money as seen by Alex in Wanderland!
I am forever reminding myself to slow down! As hard as it can be to pass up on a destination or two, I really feel more time in less places is always my key to happiness.
Yay, so exciting to hear you’ll be heading back. I’ve loved all of your posts from the island and I can’t wait for more.
Settling down I think is always something that is necessary when travelling. I’m currently spending a couple of months in Florence and it’s almost over and I’m not so sure I’m ready to be constantly on the road again. It’s exhausting. But we will see how it goes! Hopefully I can shake the feeling.
I agree — travel, for all its beauty and wonder, is exhausting! Especially with other people. When I travel alone I find myself fairly relaxed, but when I’m traveling in a pair or a group I always find myself running around more.
That’s so exciting! Congratulations! I think moving to Koh Tao was a great decision. I love reading your stories. They’re very inspiring! Can’t wait to explore KT. Thank you for sharing, Alex!
Glad to hear you are headed there! Hope I can give you some inspiration in my upcoming posts!
So glad you’ve found a home base that makes you happy! It’s the best of both worlds really, 50% travel 50% living in a beautiful place with beautiful people. My wanderlust for Koh Tao always steps up a notch after you post from there and suddenly I’ll find myself looking up flights to Bangkok… 😉
I am ALWAYS looking up flights to Bangkok 😉 It’s an addiction!
Alex I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found a place that is so special and grounding for you. That’s a blessing to find. This was a great read!
Thanks Jenn. It is a blessing indeed — and I count them daily!
What a great article! I always worry about my future time periods where I’ll be staying in one place/area for a few months, but your experience gives me sweet relief! Plus, staycationing is one of the best ways to really get to know a place. Thanks again for sharing(:
I look forward to my time in Koh Tao as much if not more than my far flung adventures! It’s a gorgeous thing!
Those six months seemed to go quickly! I think it’s a great decision to do the same next year, you certainly managed to keep publishing awesome travel content during your stay in Thailand and well done on saving so much money! I’m excited to see where you’re headed next.
Thanks Amy! Being so tragically behind on blogging meant I had plenty of old trips to share while I was parked on my couch, ha ha.
Hello! Brand new reader here and boy am I so happy to have stumbled upon your corner of the internet!
I love this article so much and you’re a great inspiration.
You are right about people making a place, and I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe locations hold a pull on you at a spiritual level from the people you’ve met and the experiences you endure!
Can’t wait to read more articles about your adventures!
I’m happy you found me too! Thanks for following along <3
Finding that work, life, travel balance can be so difficult, so kudos to you for getting as close as you have on Koh Tao! It’s so though to find a place to settle while trying to satiate your wanderlust!
I know how you feel! Koh Tao definitely hits that spot for me — manages to feel both at home and exotic.
Seems like you’ve found your ‘soul-home’. Did you plan on concentrating on Southeast Asia to begin with? Or did you just recognize it as being a place you belong? [Like I did the US southwest, having never been out of Ohio before my first visit] I wanted to ask, does ‘Koh’ mean island? I love language, but I’m a scatter-plan linguist, know a few words in a lot of languages, can’t really communicate in more than two, and am losing the second one, not living where I can practice it much. At this age, stillness has become a psychic need, not a choice. But love roaming vicariously with you!
Koh does indeed mean island! I definitely always felt very drawn to Southeast Asia before I ever stepped foot into it, and it wasn’t long into my first trip that I realized that it was a place that would be a very big part of my life. It does indeed feel like my soul home!
Thanks for letting me know about this in your travel blog success comment! Reading it really allayed a lot of my fears, particularly that I’d also become less relevant and stagnant if I slowed down. I never really know what’s in the thoughts of the people on the other side of the screen – if they’d understand or get bored. I think it’s finally time for me to give a routine a try (even though I’ve been saying this for forever I have to really do it now). T’was a joy, as always, to read
I know how you feel! It helped that I had SO MUCH content to catch up on — one of the reasons I wanted to slow down in the first place. I bet you do too! Aren’t there so many posts you have brewing in your head that you don’t have the time/energy to do when traveling? I’ve actually had readers comment that they enjoyed my blog MORE when I was in one place, as I didn’t seem as frazzled. I didn’t realize how much that was coming through in my writing and probably my social media presence as well. Oh, and I Was saying I’d do it forever before I finally did, too 🙂 Feel free to email me for a staying still support group any time!
Wow your trip sounds like it was absolutely amazing! I have always wanted to venture over to Thailand, and kind of check out for a little while, exactly what you did. I can’t wait to read more from when you go back in late 2016!
Thanks Megan! Thailand is a great place to press pause for a while. I’m already looking forward to returning.
Sounds like you took a break right when you needed it! I am doing the same at the moment in New Zealand. It is nice not to pack my backpack every week.
I didn’t touch my backpack the entire time I was in Thailand until I left again! Taking a little carry on for short trips as opposed to dragging around my entire life on long ones? My back was not complaining about this arrangement!
I could stare at that first picture for hours and not be bored! Stunning shot (not that that’s a surprise on this site!). Taking time to recharge and giving yourself a home base seems like the perfect solution. Thailand intrigues me, so I’m always excited to read your posts.
We are just spoiled with the sunsets on Koh Tao. It’s hard to take a bad picture of one!
have been planning a staycay to Thailand for about 5 years debilitating between experiments in my locale, blowing money otherwise..etc
but really want to figure out how to manifest the doe by utilizing my airbook, web/graphics.
can you suggest the best time to visit – and where would be the best place to look for 2-3 month rentals?
ideally manage a medicinal retreat for expats who would be interested in plant medicine. build a site, manage the details, take pics..
thanks, and also maybe you would be interested as well?
research: ayahuasca, iboga, cubensis
glad you blog btw, you give me hope that I may find an adventurous girl someday..
not a total creep
Hey there! Based on the interests you describe, I think you’ll find your community in Koh Phangan 🙂 Check out the Koh Phangan Conscious Community Board on Facebook, it should give you a good idea of what people are up to and in to on that beautiful little island! Best of luck!
Ahh, can’t believe I’m leaving Thailand next week and won’t have time to visit Koh Tao ;( but I have had the most incredible six weeks in Koh Phangan, so can’t complain! Looking forward to getting home and writing an article like this one, I feel so inspired after having so many wonderful experiences here.
Thrilled to hear that Milly! I’m so glad you had an energizing, centering experience in Thailand as well 🙂
I believe to truly live in peace and harmony with all that is one has to take a moment to reflect and your journey sounds divine. Beautiful read
Couldn’t agree more. For me slowing down is a challenge and it’s tough to reign my enthusiasm sometimes but I’m always happiest when I manage to do so!