Travel Isn't Always the Answer

Lately I’ve seen many articles circulating the Internet that basically say this:

If you’re unhappy (or even just bored), you should quit your job, sell your stuff, buy a one-way ticket, go see the world, and find yourself. Right now.

True, I’m following this path to some extent. But still: I call bullshit.

I too have been guilty of believing this naïve idea that all you have to do is want it enough and travel will just happen; and that people who aren’t traveling just don’t desire it as much as I do. But this is far from the truth.

I’ve taken some time to reflect on this travel-snobbery mentality myself, and honestly, I’m torn.

People often write me messages saying how “lucky” I am to have this lifestyle. And yes, I am lucky. But it has taken me a lot of work and sacrificing to be able to maintain this lifestyle.

I want to share with the world that travel can be possible, even if you are paying student loans (like me) or are nervous about venturing abroad. I want to share the ways I have saved money and how I afford to do this. I want to share how I pack everything I need for a year into a backpack.

Travel is my passion and my hobby. I want to share it with others, and I want to be a resource and inspiration. But in doing so, I don’t want to send the message that this lifestyle is the only way to live fully, or that it’s an easy path for everyone.

And there’s something that I have long been overlooking, or just plain ignoring… I am privileged. Lucky. Blessed. Whatever you’d like to call it. I was born into a life that gave me access to opportunities that I didn’t necessarily earn.

I was born in a country where English is the native tongue, which allowed me to teach English in Korea and save more than $22,000 to put toward traveling (and paying off stupid student loans). And while I’m on that subject… although student loans suck big time (that’s the nicest way I can phrase it), I am privileged that I had the opportunity to pursue higher education.

One of the most humbling parts of traveling has been meeting people who are native to the land I’m visiting, but have seen less of their country than I have.

While in Vietnam, I had a dress tailor-made in Hoi An. The girl who was taking my measurements was about my age, and she kept trying to convince me to buy more clothing items. I replied innocently without thinking, “I won’t be home for a while, and I don’t have enough space to carry more with me.”

She looked at me, somewhat taken aback by my response. “You are traveling for a long time?” she asked as she wrapped the measuring tape around my waist. I nodded.

Her eyes welled up as she explained that she’d like to travel, even just in her country. She told me she was embarrassed that she’d never been outside the city in which she was born.

And what should I have done? Wiped her tears and say, “Don’t worry, sweetie. Just quit your job, sell some of your things, and it’ll all work out.”

This young woman reminded me that travel isn’t always possible. And it’s not always the answer. It won’t necessarily bring happiness or an “I know what I want to do with my life” epiphany like we so often assume.

Frangipani Plumeria Koh Tao

Travel isn’t always easily accessible for those who were born into privileged lives either.

There’s the practical reason of having a mortgage or other bills to pay. And while it can be done, travel isn’t always a high enough priority to convince people to reevaluate their lifestyle. And that’s okay.

Others have responsibilities – be it children, pets, or sick parents – that make it impossible to just quit their job and take off, for however short a time it may be. To tell these people that they are living a life unfulfilled because they haven’t shaded in enough countries on their scratch-off map is not only unfair, but it’s untrue.

And then there are medical conditions that make travel – long-term or short – difficult, if not nearly impossible. How ignorant of us to assume that the most difficult part of travel is packing a suitcase.

And you know what? Some people just don’t have the desire to travel long and far, and that’s fine too. They may have jobs they wouldn’t want to give up, or maybe they just don’t have the interest or motivation.

Perpetuating this notion that travel is the only fulfilling way to “discover one’s self” or “live life fully” is nonsense. I have encountered many long-term travelers who are doing neither during their time gallivanting around the globe. And likewise, I know people who have more self-awareness and purpose than most, but don’t often have the opportunity (or desire) to leave home.

Now, let’s pause for a minute. I do wholeheartedly think that travel is meaningful. It has shaped me into the person I am today and has taught me more about life than I learned in school. Travel is the best thing Ben and I have done for our relationship, and has strengthened our marriage unlike anything else. But this is our story.

I never want to insinuate that traveling is the only way to learn about the world or grow as a person. And travel certainly isn't the only way to have adventures...

I share pictures and stories of my travels because I don’t have a dog or a house or a baby to snap pictures of. I am simply telling my story.

And I hope that my story says this: Travel is not the only rite of passage to a life well-lived. It is one path, yes, but certainly not the only one.

Now go and find your story – whether it includes travel or not – and tell it, because only you can.

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Can you relate at all? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.