When Settling Makes Sense

by Brenna Holeman

London 11

Hyde Park, London

I sat in the back of a cab yesterday on my way to Heathrow airport, the city of London whizzing past. I was on my way back to Canada for a visit, nearly three weeks with my family in three different cities.

I arrived in Toronto late yesterday afternoon, and it all immediately felt familiar: the Canadian accents, the chain coffee shops, the cars driving on the right side of the road. I’m here for only a few days, until I’m off on a holiday to America, and then I have another ten days in my hometown of Winnipeg.

It is good to be back, there is no doubt about that. When people ask me if I get homesick, I really only get homesick for one thing: my family. The next 18 days are going to be wonderful, being with them. And yet – for all I’m proud of being Canadian, this is not the place I see myself living. Not Winnipeg, not Toronto, and not Halifax, where I went to university.

I didn’t feel that way about any of the other places I’ve lived in the world. I’ve enjoyed places I lived briefly: Copenhagen, Denmark; Yaroslavl, Russia; Edinburgh, Scotland; Antigua, Guatemala. I also loved my time living in Osaka, Japan, but again, I knew that it wasn’t permanent. There was always something calling me to keep travelling, to keep moving; the nomadic lifestyle appealed more than a sedentary one. That’s why all my paycheques went toward holidays or longer-term travels, and why I spent most of 2010, 2011, and 2012 on the road, with barely any breaks. I left Canada in 2006, and have been steadily travelling or planning my next long-term travels since then.

But then something changed. And although I’ve been realising the change for the last year, as I watched London go by from the cab window yesterday it all was achingly clear: I’m not ready to leave this place. I really like this place. I think that, for all of the wanderlust still in my bones, I want to settle in this place. Permanently.

London 5

London Fields, London

London 13

My flat in London

Living in London is like having a passionate lover. There are days when it’s so good you want to scream from the rooftops, you want to brag to everyone just how fantastic life is. There are other days when it all becomes too much – those days when London feels too expensive, too crowded, too big. For the most part, however, I love my life in London, and nearly everything has come together for me there: my career, especially, but also my friends, my education, my flat, and my hobbies. It is, moreso than any other city I’ve lived in, the city for me. And now, one year in, I think it might be the city for my future, too.

That’s a strange feeling. My entire life, ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I would travel as much as I could. At 30 years old, I feel proud of accomplishing that, happy that I travelled to six continents on my own in the last eight years, experiencing things I never could have imagined or even hoped for. Most of my favourite memories, and my happiest times, occurred with a backpack on my back and no set itinerary. There were many, many days in the last decade when I did not know what tomorrow would hold, or even that afternoon.

London 12

With my coworkers

London 8

With friends and fellow bloggers Monica, Hayley, Vicky, Kirsten, and Beverley

Now, my life is pretty routine. I love my job and the people I work with. I set aside time for schoolwork and other freelance jobs. I get to see the same friends every week or every other week. I go to the same pub a few times a week for the same pint of Guinness. I take pleasure in the small routines of life: making the same thing for breakfast, going to the same market every Saturday, even cleaning my flat. It’s a routine, yes, but it’s comforting and fun, and I’m crafting the life that makes me feel inspired and fulfilled. Settling, for the first time in my life, makes sense. I both want to settle in London and need to settle in London – I’m relishing the routines, and the thought of living nomadically is not an especially appealing one at the moment. My Master’s degree also dictates that I will need to be in London for at least another year. After more than eight years on the road, though, being in one place feels good.

“Are you ever going to settle down?” people used to ask me, either when I’d be on the road or when I’d visit Canada. And as much as I love travelling, and have extremely fond memories of my nomadic lifestyle, I always knew that I’d reach a point where I would want more of a home base, a place where I could make friends I’d see more than a couple times a year, a place where I could unpack, a place I could get to know really well.

London 10

With the Laburnum Street gang

I’m also well aware of how lucky I am, in that London is one of the greatest cities in the world; not only is it filled with things to do and see, it is also an incredible base for exploring other parts of the world. It is easy to fly to Europe, and quite cheap. I’m also aware that my job and career (and this blog) allow me to travel more than the average person; this year I’ve already been to Portugal, Poland, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, France, Italy, Spain, and now Canada, with America, Ireland, Cyprus, Greece, and possibly Thailand still to come. I suppose for someone who travels a lot, “settling” is a relative term. It is still, however, a scary term, and I’m continually getting used to the idea. Some days the thought of remaining in London (with as many trips as possible, and, oh yeah, that little house on the beach I still plan on buying one day, ahem) makes perfect sense. Other days, I panic, thinking that I should give it all up and once again hit the road. Ideally, I would carve a life in London that still allows me to travel for a few months a year; so far, this is the case, and it’s the best (and the most accomplished) that I’ve ever felt. And as much as I love living in London, I am always planning the next trip or holiday, always planning where I’m heading next.

London 4

Enjoying work with some of the Expedia Pioneers at Blogstock

For now, however, I’m still in love with London, and a permanent life there is one I emphatically embrace. Even if, after a year later, when I blow my nose a little bit of black gunk still comes out.

What does the thought of “settling” mean to you? Does it frighten you or is it an idea you embrace? If you’re a nomad, do you ever see yourself settling in one place?

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Vic Philpott (@VickyFlipFlop) August 22, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Yay, stay in London! Too many people leave (including me right now, but I’ll be back!) and I feel like I have too high a turnover of friends! Glad you love it so much and I enjoyed your description. See you somewhere in London sometime soon…

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:22 pm

Yes! Can’t wait to hang out again soon… keep enjoying your travels!

Ashley August 22, 2014 - 7:55 pm

The thought of settling currently frightens me, but maybe one day I will be more comfortable with the idea! If you don’t mind me asking- were you working when you lived in Edinburgh? And if so, what did you do? I’m hoping to move there in the near future so I’m just being nosy! Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:22 pm

It used to frighten me, too, but now it’s an exciting idea to stay in one place for a while (as long as I still get to travel all the time, of course!). I wasn’t working when I was in Edinburgh, I lived there with my boyfriend at the time and used it as a base to travel through Europe.

Pauline August 22, 2014 - 8:04 pm

Welcome to Toronto! I hope you will enjoy your time here ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m quite the opposite of you, actually. I am settled (somewhat – I live and work in Toronto), but I don’t want to be settled. I wanna go on a round-the-world adventure. Maybe after that I’ll want to slow down, but for now? I want to be everywhere else. I can see how exhausting it is to constantly be on the move though and the idea of settling down can be very attractive after constant travels.

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:21 pm

Thank you! And yes, I totally understand where you are coming from – when I lived in Canada, I felt that way. After many years travelling, though, I’m glad that I found a city I really love living in and that I can use as a base for other travels! I hope you get to do that round-the-world trip very soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas August 22, 2014 - 8:50 pm

Nothing wrong with staying – I realized Sevilla was it for me, despite a plan to teach in 3-5 different countries. Now that I’m home with my family, I get those feelings like I could live back here, too. But a new house and a fiancรฉ call in Sevilla – amazing how life can turn out!

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:20 pm

It is indeed amazing – that’s awesome that you’ve made such a fantastic life in Sevilla!

Micamyx|Senyorita August 22, 2014 - 9:25 pm

I stayed somewhere in Warwickshire for five months last year and travelled to London almost every other week. I have to admit that I really want to stay there for good. I want to work in London too. I love the vibe it’s so magical and alive!

Settling and taking it easy is good too. At least you were able to spend time in your 20’s exploring the world. It’s time for you to have a routine and concentrate on new beginnings. Hope to meet you when I get back there ๐Ÿ˜€

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:20 pm

I agree, and that’s why I love living in London – it really is such a great and lively city! I love being able to experience something new every day, even though I don’t have to leave London for it. I hope that you get to realise your dream of living in London, too!

Kasha August 22, 2014 - 9:58 pm

I loved reading this, Brenna. I wasn’t too sure on London right in the beginning, but I can’t imagine really leaving now. Selfishly, I’m so happy that you aren’t going anywhere, as it’s far too much fun exploring this city with you!

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:19 pm

Aw, thank you! I love exploring with you, too. I’m glad you’re staying!

Tahnee August 22, 2014 - 10:25 pm

I’ve been traveling the past 3 years and the more I travel the more I CAN’T see myself settling. I understand being in one place does have it’s perks but for me the richness of traveling outweighs that. Life was meant to be live in movement. I have this romantic idea of dying on the road when I am old and gray, ceremoniously just walking into the next life, never having stopped. I hope we all get that chance.

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:18 pm

I do feel that I am living in the moment in London, which is why I knew that it was the place for me. I felt the same as you a few years ago – I couldn’t see myself settling at all – but we change all the time, I guess! I’m lucky enough to have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to travel a few months of each year, and for now, that’s perfect for me.

Nikita August 22, 2014 - 10:52 pm

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever feel that way about a place… I currently live in Prague, and feel more settled than I have in a while (even more than my home in Canada, as when I was there I would always dream about leaving), but I know that within a year I’ll probably be gone. The idea of settling permanently is a terrifying one. But it’s lovely that you finally found a place that makes you feel that way, and I hope for you that this love affair continues far into the future!

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:17 pm

It took me a long time to find a place I loved so much… as I said, London is the first city I’ve felt that about. Up until last year I did not think I would settle anywhere, ever! And who knows, I might only stay for another two years anyway (depending on visas). Thank you for your comment!

Helen August 23, 2014 - 12:23 am

Whoop! That means we get to hang out more! There’s nothing wrong with loving a place! ๐Ÿ™‚

Glad you’re staying! xxx

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Ha ha yes – I’m so excited we get to hang out more! Liverpool in September… get ready…

Katie Featherstone August 23, 2014 - 12:31 am

I love going to London to visit friends. It’s a beautiful city, a bit too busy and expensive for me so I could never live there, but everyone I know who does loves it! Congratulations on finding a place you love so much though! I hope everything goes well for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Thank you very much! I hope you have a great time in London.

Shivya August 23, 2014 - 8:42 am

Thanks for yet another honest post, Brenna. Having been on the road only for 3 years, the idea of “settling down” does scare me, maybe because travel is the only thing that has ever made me feel like I need nothing else in life to be happy. But reading about your journey makes me realize that we, and our thoughts, change all the time, and that is fine – as long as we’re listening to our hearts ๐Ÿ™‚

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Yes, totally – after eight years I recognise that change, but a few years ago there was no way I wanted to settle anywhere! And who knows, in another year I might feel differently again…

Hayley (Lovepuffin) August 23, 2014 - 9:25 am

I’m exactly the opposite, Brenna! All I think about is getting outta here! ๐Ÿ™‚
You’re right though, London is just fantastic, and such a great base for exploring Europe. Now, where next? X

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:13 pm

Oh trust me, I’m always thinking of my next holiday / holidays… but I love that I get to come back to London! Up next I have a lot of fun plans, I can’t wait.

Jono Cusack August 23, 2014 - 4:59 pm

I’m still not there yet, I’m one of the last of my friends that began travelling with me over ten years ago. I think I’ve got what, a solid five more years left ๐Ÿ˜‰

Brenna Holeman August 23, 2014 - 5:11 pm

That’s awesome! I think if I hadn’t found a job I love so much (and allows me to travel so much) I’d still be itching to be on the road all the time… my Master’s degree also keeps me in London for now!

Melissa August 24, 2014 - 1:36 am

It’s awesome you’ve found a place you love that much – it’s so clear from your blog how much you love where you live. London is such a dream destination for me, and it seems like such a good home base for a global soul both because of its proximity to Europe (and really, compared to North America, even the middle east and Africa) and also for its incredible diversity. I believe it is one of, if not the, most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world.

I’m curious about some of the practicalities of moving to the UK for Canadians. I sadly can’t live in my favorite city, Vancouver B.C., because I’m American and emigrating to Canada long-term is pretty tough for anyone without a lot of money or very specialized skills. I hope you’ll be able to share about some of that at some point!

Brenna Holeman August 27, 2014 - 1:18 am

Thanks, Melissa! I agree that London is a really great home base for travelling.

Sorry, is your question about Canadians or Americans and about moving to the UK or to Canada? Unfortunately moving to the UK is still quite difficult for Canadians. I am on a student visa but hoping to be sponsored by work eventually. If you are under 30 I believe you can apply for a youth in mobility / working holiday visa, although to be entirely honest I am not the best authority on any of this. Sorry!

Camille August 24, 2014 - 2:46 am

I feel I’ve had to settle where I am right now because of my graduate degree. Is it a permanent settling? Some days I feel I could be fine living here as long as I travel often. Other days I feel like I need to branch out and live abroad for a few years. Luckily my degree is in TESOL so I do have a lot of mobility in my career.

London suits you well! I’m happy for you ๐Ÿ™‚

Brenna Holeman August 27, 2014 - 1:19 am

Thank you so much, Camille! It sounds like you have a lot of great options.

Chantale August 24, 2014 - 7:52 am

I saw your blog just a few weeks ago and felt compelled to respond to your “should I stay or should I go” until I realised it was written in Feb 2013. So I’m replying now.
I got the travel bug at 30 and for the next 5 years, travelled on and off (as work would permit), visiting almost 40 countries.
I was admiring the beautiful scenery and landscapes on the way to Everet Base Camp when it hit me. I didn’t want to travel anymore! I wanted a house in the country and kids.
And I went home and started planning. I’m just as excited about these new plans as I have been before and during every trip! This is a new and different adventure…
In an ironic twist, however, I’m writing this message while sitting at the airport in Amsterdam, on my way to Turkey. This trip was already planned and paid for before I went to Nepal. Lol
Enjoy London but don’t forget us Canadians!!

Brenna Holeman August 27, 2014 - 1:22 am

Thank you for sharing your story, Chantale! I totally understand how things can change and your wants and needs can switch around as you travel. It’s absolutely a new and different adventure!

Don’t worry, I will never forget about my true home… Canada!

Expatkerri August 25, 2014 - 8:17 pm

It would be hard to pick a better city for a world traveller to settle in! You are a stone’s throw from Europe and earning the Pound must mean that your travel budget can go a tiny bit further ๐Ÿ™‚ In reading the comments, it seems like settling for us might be more like finding a place to stash our things between adventures…

Brenna Holeman August 27, 2014 - 1:25 am

Thank you Kerri! Yes, earning pounds definitely helps a bit. And you’re totally right about our definition of “settling”… just a place to stash our stuff, really! ๐Ÿ™‚

Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 26, 2014 - 7:50 pm

I love this post! So much of what you’ve said here rings true to me even after I’ve lived in London for 14 years – some days, I love it and some days, I’m angry with it but I know I can’t leave it – not any time soon anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

Brenna Holeman August 27, 2014 - 1:08 am

I’m glad I’m not alone in the way that I feel about London! Thanks for your comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

Alyssa August 28, 2014 - 2:22 pm

I KNEW it! ๐Ÿ˜› Despite not knowing each other for that long, when we met up here for the first time I got the feeling that London would be your ‘place’.

I’ve had good days and bad days in London, but it’s growing on me. Some days, I can see myself settling here – eventually. I want to travel more and have more experiences abroad, but I’ve found London to be much more ‘me’ than Toronto. But who knows – that could change!

Brenna Holeman August 28, 2014 - 6:19 pm

Yes, London is 100% more “me” than Toronto. Despite only living there for about six months, I don’t think I could ever live in Toronto again. As you said, though, it changes all the time! Glad you’re here in London at the moment. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zalie September 10, 2014 - 4:34 pm

Ahhhhhhh settling in one placeโ€ฆI’m afraid that my life may be divided into two places, although I try to tell myself that is part of the adventure! When are they going to start giving out UK visas to older sisters? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Brenna Holeman September 10, 2014 - 11:45 pm

Maybe your heart should be divided between three places… come to London!

Amy September 13, 2014 - 3:41 pm

Ha, I totally get what you mean about the black gunk! I love London so much though that I gladly put up with that ๐Ÿ™‚ My ideal life would also be one where I lived in London but had the flexibility to travel for a few months of the year. Although I’m settling in Vietnam for the next nine months so I can continue travelling afterwards I know I’ll return to London permanently in the end – once you’ve fallen in love with London you’re always drawn back there.

Brenna Holeman September 14, 2014 - 5:30 pm

Totally agree – there is no way that my travelling days or over, nor am I ruling out living somewhere else for a while, but I would love to have London as my home base. You’re right, I gladly put up with the black gunk! Thanks for your comment Amy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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