The transition we travelers rarely talk about

Larnaca, Cyprus - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

When people tell me they love to travel, I hardly ever say “Oh! Me too!

I often ask them right away. “Why?”

Why do you love to travel? Is it the constant movement? The excitement of landing somewhere new? Reading signs you don’t understand in a foreign language? Interacting with locals whom you’d never interact with back home? Getting beneath a culture? Never letting an opportunity to travel for free pass by? Checking items off your bucket list? Living life to the fullest under the YOLO* mantra?

All of the above?

We all have our reasons for exploring this earth and its farthest corners and they’re all valid reasons in their own ways. Yet, I’ve noticed that this thing, this existential space called travel we all seem to love so much can also feel like an entrapment. A way of escaping and running away from it all. A way of finding one’s self. Of being nomadic. A way of finally finding one’s “true” home.

Like publicly announcing you’re on a campaign to lose 40 pounds and then having the whole world hold you to it. The world knows you’re a “bona fide” traveler. Now they eagerly await your every next step, and you start living your life trying to please and entertain others instead of staying true to your “Why?

I’ve read posts after posts about how travel has been this cathartic process of discovery. It has been for me in many ways as well.  But it wasn’t until years ago when I started identifying the “Why?” in my travels did I fully realize a couple things and start to carve out a specific lifestyle…

Paphos, Cyprus - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

I cornered a friend of mine during a conference in Helsinki, Finland. He’s a well-known blogger and successful entrepreneur who has spearheaded some amazing travel campaigns. We had an invigorating conversation that got me thinking and brimming with some ideas. Then I posed a question to him. “What about the in-betweens?” He knew exactly what I was talking about right away.

He understood. We’d both had babies around the same time. And we both have outstanding spouses who step in when we need to travel without babies. Usually me having to leave mine behind more so than him because he has a wife who takes care of their baby when he’s off. There was no space for in-betweens, he said. Not right now.

I get it. I too used to be an in-between who dragged my daughter to over a dozen countries before she turned two.

So what about those in-betweens?

The creatives who want both – a life of constant travel and to start a family.  The ones with the young families. The photographer who wants to travel on exciting assignments but also wants to start their own family and not feel like they have to choose a perceived prestigious career over that natural desire.

Those in-betweens who haven’t taken a break since having their babies for fear of missing out, losing followers, and not feeling as relevant as before.

There are established travel bloggers (solo and couples) and there are established family travel bloggers. What about those with very young children? Infants?

What happens to the in-betweens during their transitions and why do they feel the need to cater to the world instead of taking adequate time off to cater to the most important person in their lives at the moment?

Paphos, Cyprus - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

I travel. A lot. A lot more than I ever announce on Facebook or humble-brag about on Twitter. Most people don’t know I’m gone until I get back. Sometimes I sit back and wonder if it’s counterintuitive as someone who passionately writes about travel and exploring places because I usually never make much noise about it.

The excitement still courses through and envelopes me. It seeps through every pore yet it’s publicly restrained to an extent because I consciously try not to over-glamorize travel in a way that makes it this new currency.

This exclusive club that denotes status.

Even though I’ve been traveling before my first birthday, it took me 16 years to get that blue book that opens up the world sans visas in many ways. In those 16 years, I still traveled widely on my green passport, paying exuberant visa fees for each and every single country I visited because travel is important to me. That’s why Tracey Friley inspires me because not only does she get it, she’s actively doing something about it for young girls.

But to travel is not the lifestyle in and of itself for me. When I met David Miller in late 2006 who mentored me through my early travel writing process, it was then I truly got clued into actually writing about place as opposed to just writing about my travels. Physically writing about place myself and not just reading about it in travel narratives and books.

Place is key.

Exploring place is just one part of my “Why?” Writing about place – no matter where you are is what it’s about for me. Whether I’m in Nigeria, the Balkans, Lapland, Peru, off to the Seychelles, or sitting at home in Stockholm, that innate curiosity is what gets me digging deeper into a place.

In other words, redirecting those energies into my own backyard when I can’t direct them outwards.

So keeping that same curiosity about place can help the in-betweens during their transitions before they feel they can head out again.

Or better yet, making it about place can help you carve that exploratory lifestyle that keeps you invigorated, excited and curious like you were leaving on a jet plane to Indonesia in the morning when in fact you’re just heading out to brunch at a new local eatery.

If I wasn’t leaving for a trip within six weeks, I didn’t feel pressured. Yes, I’m filled with wanderlust but it’s a controlled type of wanderlust that redirects energy into exploring my current place until I can head off to go explore someone else’s place.

Paphos, Cyprus - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

I recently had an interview last week with a potential client for some freelancing work. He’d found me by googling about Sweden and reading some of my articles. He liked my tone and style but he couldn’t hide his curiosity after awhile.

“So…why do you write so much about Sweden?”

I read between his lines and chuckled. Then proceeded to tell him I write about place. Wherever I find myself for extended periods of time. I don’t just exist in a place. I need to get beneath it, understand how it flows culturally, and learn from it.

I don’t just quietly exist in Sweden. I explore it deeply.

The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is “Look under foot.” The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are…John Burroughs

Travel journalist, photographer, and friend Ellen Barone recently wrote a thought-provoking piece- Where would you go if you only had a few weeks to live? – which I encourage you to go read. This is something I’ve pondered and the response I left on her blog was this:

If I were to travel till the end, every single day and journey would be spent with my family traveling alongside and exploring with me. The older I get, the more I realize time with the ones dearest and nearest to me takes priority. It’s not about giving up dreams but it’s about sharing them.

This is also one of the reasons why I took my husband’s last name after vehemently opposing the idea as a single woman and even waiting a few years after we were married to do so. I get independence. I get not being defined by your spouse or partner. I was fiercely so before and still am now. But as we transition through various stages, especially those of us who’ve always wanted our own families and are avid travelers, we have to realize that decisions are not made on a solo basis.

Adding his name was a subconscious way of always reminding myself that everything I do isn’t always about me and my own dreams and that the people, the person, I love the most needs to be there every step of the way supporting those dreams as well.

That when my website crashes for days and my social media accounts get hacked into and my online life gets temporarily halted and I have to cancel that trip to Dubai because my baby falls ill, that the most important people are right there by my side and they above all deserve my time and attention.

There’s a super thin line between the freedom to be ourselves living out our dreams to the fullest and just being self-involved and frankly, selfish.

So to all the in-betweens, I want you to know that I get it. I understand how you’re feeling. I was once there. Like moving from place to place and country to country, it’s only a transient feeling. That time too will pass.

In the meantime, why not consider writing about place? Your backyard? Redirecting those energies to your right now? To living in the moment?

To being present in your life instead of wanting to be some place else?

We will all be here waiting for you and will respect you even more for putting the most important people in your lives first.

Paphos, Cyprus - Travel photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

*YOLO – You only live once. All photos from Cyprus.