Should You Wander the World or Build a Home?

Perpetual Traveler?

I’m taking a break from my normal, opinionated rants to pose a question: should your twenties be devoted to wandering the world, living in many places, but never deeply? Or should they be spent picking a place to live and investing your time to build a home from that place?

I’ll share my thoughts on this question and then invite you to respond with yours. Because, if blogging for four years has taught me anything, it is that collectively the readers are much smarter than I am.

Why Ask the Question?

I’m in a position where I may be able to run my business from anywhere in the world upon graduating from university. At the moment, this is looking likely, however even if it there are setbacks in my goal, I’ll keep showing up, so achieving the goal of a full-time location-independent business looks likely for me.

Being in such a position essentially untangles my career success from a particular location. I could live almost anywhere, for any period of time, without that decision having a significant impact on my progress in a career.

However, I’m not unique. Even if you aren’t planning to start a business in your twenties, there are many options for spending your twenties as a wanderer. You could:

  • Change offices in within your company, moving between different cities and countries.
  • Take work or educational exchanges (I’m on one right now, in France).
  • Plan mini-retirements or sabbaticals from your work to travel.
  • Take up freelancing or a mobile job and work from anywhere.

Yes, extreme vagabonding may not be available to everyone. But I think most people simply assume it is too expensive/difficult without doing any research. I know regular, suit-and-tie accountants that lived in different countries just by switching offices at their firm.

Given that myself and many others have, at least, the possibility of spending our twenties living in different cities and countries, this makes it worth asking the question. Especially for people such as myself, who have mostly decoupled location and career ambition, meaning there is no longer an obvious trade-off between your ambitions and desire to explore.

Does the Added Freedom Need to Be Exploited?

Let’s say you’ve got a location independent job, freelancing gig or business, does that mean you should use it?

If your company has openings in foreign countries, does that mean you should take them?

If your university offers exchanges and opportunities to study abroad, should you start packing your suitcase?

At this moment I’m living in France and it is, without doubt, the best year of my life. Adventures, interesting people, new languages and cultures make for an interesting life.

I believe there is a strong argument for doing a year (or two) abroad for anyone. Even if you later decide never to live in an exotic place again. The marginal value of adding a year as a foreigner is high.

But that begs a deeper question: is it worth it to continue living abroad? If I have the ability, what’s to prevent me (or you) from living in a dozen different countries for nine months at a time?

Do You Dabble or Commit?

This may be one of the best years of my life. But the relationships are also more fleeting. Many people I’ve met, I will never see again in my life. Friends, social circles and people will all get separated over time.

Yes, this will happen even if you never change locations. People will move, switch jobs, or drift apart. However, if you become a permanent vagabond, this becomes more extreme. Sure, you can always keep in touch, but keeping in touch is more difficult than continuing friendships face-to-face.

There is an argument that continuous wandering may create more friendships, but ultimately shallower ones.

There is also an argument against this wandering from a personal growth perspective. Yes, living in new places opens you up to new experiences. But it also creates new obstacles. Living in one location could allow you to build on past successes and create an amazing life, rather than needing to reset every several months.

Wandering also puts other goals on hold. You may enjoy years of travel, but wake up in your early thirties to discover many of your earlier peers have left you behind. They have bigger careers or businesses. I’m not saying the tradeoff isn’t worth it, just that there is often a trade-off to consider.

The Broader Implications of Your Choice

This question has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m living abroad and contemplating where I may set off to next.

However, I think the question is a more general one about how you pursue life. It’s the question of variety or depth, and while I don’t believe you need to be consistent in your answer on every case, your choice in this question also forces you to reflect on other issues:

  • Should you date or marry one person exclusively, or have many shorter relationships?
  • Should you stick to one job, or hop frequently?
  • Should you build one major enterprise or become a serial entrepreneur?
  • Should you study one subject exclusively, or broaden your learning to everything?
  • Should you commit to lifestyle traits such as religion, vegetarianism, etc., or reinvent yourself every year?

My current opinion is to lean towards wandering. The trade-offs aren’t as large when you are young and have relatively few external commitments. However, I do understand the arguments on both sides.

What are your thoughts? Should you build a life for yourself in one place, or become a perpetual wanderer? What are your thoughts on the broader implications of this choice? Please share in the comments.

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  • Annika

    I’m 18 years old and have been wandering my whole life, so I thought I’d put my 2cents in. Because of my dads job, I have never lived in any country longer than 4 years.
    Maybe it’s because I haven’t known anything else, or because I see the sheltered (sometimes almost ignorant) lives of others, but I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything. I am very quick to make friends, and form deep meaningful relationships with them. Even if the actual ‘face time’ may be just for a few years, I know that if I am ever in the same part of the world as them, we can meet up and it will be like we have never been apart! My kids are definitely going to grow up in different countries – it provides such valuable insight into life and people!
    In terms of partners, I can understand the concern. I am in a long distance relationship at the moment (London to New Zealand..!) but we are both aspiring towards location independent lifestyles so that we can travel and learn together. I am fortunate to have found someone so alike so early on, and I already have a list of things I want to experience and skills I want to learn – with at least 60 years ahead of me, I’m sure I can do most of them!

    Good luck on working out your own answers to your questions, I realise it’s not an easy journey.

  • Dania Mania

    I’ve spent my twenties living in various locations for periods of time. I’ve been bartending to support myself, and although I’ve gone to college and earned a degree, my gypsy lifestyle has prevented me from beginning a “career” other than bartending (I also didn’t really know what I wanted for a career). Now in my early thirties, my peers are in the midst of their careers and settling down, buying houses, getting married, having children, and I am starting from scratch all over again. It never bothered me before, because I always looked at it as one big adventure, but the last time I moved it frustrated me not to have a built up social network that allowed me to maneuver easily around town, not to mention learning the streets and people of this particular place. I came home, where I grew up, to get grounded and grow roots because for me it’s time.

    I have had wonderful experiences along the way, have met wonderful people, and there are places that I will miss. The reason I chose to wander was because I wanted to do it before life’s more extreme obligations inhibited me. However those people that have remained where they are have built up wonderful social networks of people that have taken an entire decade to build. They have found people they can rely on and it makes life much easier and more fulfilling in the long run. These people are not unexperienced. They are world travelers who have made it a point to take vacations and explore the world. The one lovely thing is that they have a place they can call home.

    The wonderful thing about my experience is that I’ve gotten a deeper perspective on what other places are truly like. When living in a place you learn so much more about the culture and lifestyle of the people than when just understanding a glimpse through a visitor’s lens. However, you can’t live everywhere! And there is only so much a person can absorb until you must find a place that suits you and call it home.

    As you said, there are advantages and drawbacks to both options. I think a bit of living in other places is good for you, and offers perspective that few have the opportunity to attain. But ultimately, I believe that a place to call “home” is of greater value. There is still the option to visit places and gain incredible experiences, it’s just nice to have a “base camp”, if you know what I mean. So go, travel while you are young! Follow your heart and your dreams, especially if you have the ability to do it while earning an income (I think that’s everybody’s dream, really)!! But think of a place where you will eventually call home, even if you haven’t found it yet. I believe there is a greater value in quality over quantity, because ultimately it is the more meaningful connections you make in life that truly matter.


    Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu:

    Knowing others is wisdom;
    Knowing the self is enlightment.
    Mastering others requires force;
    Mastering the self needs strength.

    He who knows he has enough is rich.
    Perseverance is a sign of will power.
    To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.

  • Irpsit

    Your question is actually a great question be asked in terms of personal choices and personal growth, because a lot is related to this.

    Freedom brings you growth, and commitment and depth also brings you growth.

    I think I love both wandering and commitment and depth. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reach the maximum of both at the same time, but I guess this is what I have been seeking until now my 30th year. I have lived in 4 countries and it has been good. Especially in career-wise, I decided not to commit to a career anymore. I just want to do fulfilling projects while earning. But I don’t want to make commitments in that. Relationship-wise I think for me it’s different, I like experimentation but depth is a very much important thing is relationships. At least if I can move with a partner, that is perfect.

    But this works different for every person. Some people need great emotional and commitment involvement. Others thrive in a lot of novelty stimulus by travelling and meeting always new people. Others feel both things. Others seek status and career growth, a sense of achievement. I have been feeling all these things, and I guess this makes my life richer. I only follow my heart, and try to be free at all times.

    I guess the biggest question for me is really whether or not to have children, because that is probably the biggest commitment, but I feel it doesn’t need to be a commitment to a place or job, maybe to your partner yes, but not the rest.