The moment I decided to stop travelling, put down roots, and buy a house (on the pretext that I needed somewhere to store my bikes and camping gear), some deeply buried part of my brain started looking for ways to make it feel like I was actually still travelling.
I’m certainly not the first. And I suspect such urges often go unacknowledged, manifesting as a kind of low-level unease; a general malcontent with life in the aftermath of a big adventure.
But sometimes, something else happens. The intrepid traveller reacts the only way they know how: by taking a purposeful step forward in the direction they want to go.
The results of this are interesting and varied.
Among my own peer group (by which I mean middle-class white people with useful passports), I have seen this lead to everything from simple pub get-togethers (ie: “Adventurers Anonymous”) to storytelling events, adventure festivals, tour companies, and weird Instagram-based personality cults on which having a baby is the “next big adventure”.
Even the microadventure was borne of this yearning, and has since spawned an industry.
Why? My hypothesis is that long-term travel can be so affecting, imparting values and perspectives that embed themselves so firmly into the psyche, that without at least some element of that experience occasionally being felt, one can begin to feel listless and untethered; feelings that can easily spiral into depression. This is akin to an addiction in which the user desires only to feel normal once more. Given all that, perhaps it’s understandable why, when dyed-in-the-wool travellers settle down (as they inevitably do), many start searching for a fix – for a way to somehow recapture and relive the feeling of being a traveller.
I confess to have mostly extracted myself from the world of travel and adventure over the last few years. There was a time when this scene was the closest thing I had to a tribe, but life took a different turn, and my last big expedition mutated into something quite different. If, today, you were to try to deduce my lifestyle from the contents of my inbox or calendar, you would likely end up with some kind of Venn diagram in which exploration, conservation, cartography and international development overlap in a country most can’t point out on a map.
Following the natural evolution of things, I also realised the dwindling benefit of paying rent and, together with my wife, brother, and sister-in-law, bought a house in Dilijan, Armenia. As previously mentioned, I did this by convincing myself I needed somewhere to store my bikes and camping gear. Tenny and I also realised it conveniently doubled as a place to sleep and cook, so we ended up moving into it.
But with home ownership comes the fleet of concerns you started travelling in order to avoid. Things need fixing. Neighbours need managing. You can no longer give notice to your landlord and ride off into the sunset. Traditionally, it should have been about then that I started looking for ways to bring the feeling of being a traveller back into my life.
And that is exactly what I did.
By deciding to turn my house into a community hub for adventure.
In a fortuitous plot twist, the day we got the keys was the day we also discovered another overgrown plot behind the house that had been vacant for 40 years. We bought it at a rock-bottom price, and immediately realised it was a much better spot to build the kind of forest-fringe cabin we imagined. The original old house, being closer to a nearby thoroughfare, would better suit some kind of commercial use. But what, exactly?
Truth be told, the idea of creating an adventure space in Armenia – ideally at a major stopping point on the Transcaucasian Trail, thus attracting long-distance walkers, muddy bikepackers, and other such ragamuffins – had been floating around for a while. In fact, it had been on the table as a serious proposition since 2017, when I somehow managed to borrow a massive Soviet residential complex and use it as a summer trailbuilding headquarters, in which our friends (and their friends, and their friends) were constantly requesting to come and hang out.
But it took this particular constellation of factors – the demand for a central point from which to explore Dilijan National Park, the soon-to-be-vacant building I’d bought in the very centre of town, and my sadly predictable impulse to recreate the feeling of being a traveller – for me to join the dots and realise what was possible.
Tenny and I scraped together the remains of our house-building budget, bought ourselves an arsenal of power tools, and, in breaks between work commitments, started to make the place inhabitable while a new cottage was built on the plot next door. (It helped that we lived opposite a hardware store.)
Once again, all our friends (and their friends, and their friends) were constantly requesting to come and hang out. We accepted, then forced them to toil under the hot sun in miserable working conditions in return for spending mere minutes in the pleasure of our esteemed company.
It worked beautifully – at least, until Covid-19 hit Armenia in the spring of last year.
We had already filled our workshop with decorating supplies and unassembled furniture, so it was actually quite a good time to be told we couldn’t leave the house. Although the slave labour we’d come to rely on was no longer available, Tenny and I continued to work, scraping away decades of neglect, patching up what we found underneath, and redesigning the place one room at a time for the future guests of what had become known as Dilijan Hikers Hostel.
We filled every waking hour with scrubbing, sanding, plastering and painting, shifting boxes and backpacks from one room to the next, watching the slow transformation of the house into a place for future guests to rest their heads.
As a result, we barely noticed the paralysis that had engulfed the world outside.
If we had, perhaps we would have realised sooner that those future guests would not be coming.
Given all the time and energy (not to mention money) that had been sunk into the idea, it was a dismal realisation that we were working towards an opening day that would never come. The project ground to a halt as Tenny and I were given the unsolicited opportunity to reflect on what we were doing with our lives.
In the meantime, the country we’d made our home was, after 27 years of complacency, dragged into an inevitable war it could never win; an experience somehow more traumatic after the fact than during the 44 days of actual fighting, and whose only outcome for Armenia seems to have been yet more uncertainty.
We were forced to acknowledge that – though we loved the idea of seeing Dilijan Hikers Hostel come to fruition – our emotional reserves were so depleted that we wouldn’t be able to do justice to something that would succeed or fail based on the energy that surrounded it. A pair of fresh eyes and a new injection of enthusiasm were needed to get the doors open in time for the travel bounce-back we now saw coming over the horizon.
That was when I met Ani, a long-time traveller herself, who’d grown up in America, seen the world, and had just returned to her native Armenia, with the idea of establishing a network of hikers’ hostels throughout the country’s growing trail network.
That’s the second fortuitous plot twist.
Ani and I started scheming. She loved the idea of opening a hikers’ hostel in Dilijan. We lived in a half-finished hikers’ hostel in Dilijan. We shared an understanding of what makes an unforgettable adventure, and a vision of what a place like this should offer. And between us, we knew exactly what needed to happen next.
Today, more than a year after this story began, Tenny and I have finally moved into the newly-completed cottage next door, and the old house is about to get a new lease of life. We already have three Workaway volunteers living on-site to help finish all those DIY projects. If all goes well, the doors will open in July, and a brand new adventure community can begin to flourish in this unlikely corner of the world.
For her part, Ani is currently embroiled in something with which I’m all-too familiar: promoting a crowdfunding campaign.
This is possibly the most high-stress way of raising money to make something happen – but when it works, it works wonders. The Indiegogo campaign for Dilijan Hikers Hostel is into its final week, and I imagine Ani is now spending a lot of sleepless nights worrying about whether she’s going to reach her fundraising goal, as more or less every first-timer is fated to do.
I would not mention this if I wasn’t fully behind the campaign myself (as if that were not already obvious), having donated my house, filmed and edited the pitch video, and advised Ani from past experience on how to run the show.
And I will now ask you once, and only once:
If you have the means to do so, and you’re sufficiently moved to chip in, please do so now by clicking this link and making a donation.
Truly, after years of living out of backpacks, it’s nice to have a place to store my bikes and camping gear (which conveniently doubles as a place to sleep and cook).
I might even have my record collection shipped over.
And I am frankly thrilled that a community hub for adventure is being born next door.
Perhaps I’ll see you here sometime soon, when you too will help me recreate and relive the feeling of being a traveller.