I’ve got a confession to make:
For a long time now (pretty much since I started sharing my travel plans with the world), I’ve been lying about my reasons for traveling. And I haven’t just been lying to the people around me, in an odd sort of way, I’ve also been lying to myself.
Let’s be clear, I wasn’t actually lying. That’s too harsh. You can’t lie if you aren’t aware of the truth and I didn’t realize the truth until very recently, even though it was right under my nose.
Now that I’ve been on the road for over 3 months, I’m starting to understand why I chose to travel in the first place.
So, it’s time to set the record straight, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. I want to share my real reasons for extended travel because the realization I’ve had is an important one. It’s one that I think people contemplating doing something unconventional in their lives would be well served to hear.
The Lies I Told To “Fit In”
I knew I wanted to travel the world for a long time. It all started when I went on a 5 week-long trip to Europe during the summer between my Junior and Senior years of college. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like it, and I honestly had no idea what I was getting into.
Before that trip, I hadn’t left the country for more than a week, and when I did it was to a resort or Canada. So, I didn’t really know what it would be like or how to go about planning it. I pretty much bought a plane ticket and a euro-rail pass with my good friend, and dove in headfirst.
As you can imagine, leading up to the trip I felt a fierce concoction of emotions. I was mostly nervous, but it was a nervous excitement that, more than anything, got my adrenaline going. Despite the nerves and lack of planning, this trip ended up being absolutely amazing, unlike anything I’d ever done before. The people, the places, the cultures, the fun, the natural wonders, and the freedom totally blew my mind. From that point forward, I knew travel would be a part of my life.
As such, a few years later while I was slaving away at my desk job, it was always on my mind that as soon as the opportunity presented itself I would again drink from that cup of freedom and adventure. And all that time, I was pretty clear about my plans with my family and friends, especially as the time to leave my job drew near. Some loved ones were interested, but most just complacently nodded in a way that suggested that they didn’t believe I’d go through with it.
It wasn’t until I actually quit my job, and then didn’t look for a new job, and then booked a one way ticket to Nicaragua; that the people in my life knew I was for real about my plans to travel the world. And it wasn’t until this point that I was faced with actually answering the tough questions that came along with making a decision that isn’t very common among people in the United States.
And This Is When The Lying Began
I, as a long-time member of my social and familial circles, thought I could readily anticipate the types of questions that would come once I made such a “crazy” decision to take time off work and enjoy my freedom by traveling. I knew my loved ones would want to know things like: “Why would you leave such a good job?”, “What are you going to do with yourself?”, “Why are you traveling?”, “Aren’t you wasting money?”, “How can you afford to do this?”, “Is what you’re doing safe?” “Why would you want to go to foreign countries and live out of a backpack?” “Are you throwing away your career?” ETC.
Some of the questions were easy to answer. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do in the short term, and I knew exactly how I was going to do it all. I had saved almost half my salary for years, and between that and some of my other ideas, I knew I’d be able to survive without a job for a good while. So it wasn’t difficult to explain how I was going to be able to travel the world without working a traditional job.
The problem was that I was so caught up with the how of things and so impressed with myself for actually being able to live out my dream, that I’d forgotten that I would need to justify the why. For me, the why of travel and of what I was doing was so deeply ingrained in the fabric of my being that I wasn’t able or, at least, wasn’t prepared to put it into words. My plans made perfect sense to me and I thought they would to everyone else.
But they didn’t, and it was the why questions that kept coming from a variety of friends and family that made me start to question what I was doing.
I knew traveling the world was what I wanted to do, it had been for a long time, but I couldn’t put words to why. I knew that it had to be something deeper than just wanting to do it. I had always been the type of person that did things that were logical for a specific, quantifiable reason. I didn’t just act on emotions.
So I searched myself for a better answer: why travel? I spent a lot of time in introspection and learned a lot about myself, but it didn’t clarify my reason for travel. I kept coming back to the fact that I was going to travel because it’s what I wanted to do; because I wanted to see the world, experience other cultures, and have complete freedom.
But that answer didn’t really cut it with my audience. The why questions kept coming and when I responded with that answer I got anything from blank stares to confused gestures to more questions. What was apparent to me was that just wanting to do something didn’t make sense in my social circle. It was more than that too because their questions carried an underlying message: “What you are doing is irresponsible. Why would you do such a thing?”
And for me that was tough to deal with. Maybe I was insecure, but when everyone is sending you the same message and it’s a negative one, it’s hard not to question yourself. I started to feel irresponsible, even though I was doing what would make me happy and had a solid plan for making it work.
Trying To Justify Travel
It’s a scientific fact that people want approval from their peers. And while I’m generally an independent person, I’m not immune to this social pressure, especially when I’m doing something that isn’t part of my character. I had always taken the responsible route and here I was doing something different and everyone was directly or indirectly telling me how irresponsible it was.
Since my own reasons for travel didn’t seem to be good enough, I caved in and started seeking ways I could justify my actions and prove to the world that I wasn’t irresponsible, that God forbid, I wouldn’t just do something because it made me happy.
That says a lot about our culture as Americans. Other cultures around the world put an emphasis on quality of life and in those countries travel and family time are considered normal and healthy. Talk to some Europeans or Australians and you’ll find it’s not just normal to take a gap year, but respected and encouraged. Not so in the USA.
One thing I’ve learned is that our American culture is obsessed with outward appearances. And one of the important aspects of your outward appearance is being perceived as someone who is as optimally productive as possible. Someone who is obsessed with getting ahead, who is willing to sacrifice their quality of life to be successful. So people wonder: If I leave my job and don’t immediately do something productive, will I be able to find another one or will my future employers judge me? Will I ever be employable? Will I survive or am I shooting myself in the foot?
I felt the pressure of these questions, societal pressures that had been planted inside me long ago, that made me feel bad about taking some time to myself to fulfill a dream.
Just to be clear, I am not against hard work or having a purpose in life. I believe in contributing to the world, pulling your own weight, and being a productive member of society. But, I also believe in fulfilling your dreams, enjoying your life, and doing what makes you happy. It’s not so far-fetched to think that a balance exists.
But I digress. The bottom-line is that I felt those pressures our society imposes. I thought I needed to have a real, concrete reason for spending a year travelling. And I thought that if I didn’t know how to justify it now to my family and friends, then how would I justify it to an employer or gatekeeper later?
So I did what most of us are trained to do and turned towards answers that sounded good.
I started telling people what they wanted to hear.
I told people things like: I’m going to volunteer. I’m going to build a business. I’m going to learn a second language. ETC.
And while these things are true: I have volunteered and want to continue to do so. I have worked on and made several thousand dollars from various side projects. And I have made significant (but not complete) progress towards learning a second language. They were not the reason for my travel. They aren’t why I’m living the life I’m currently living.
They are simply components of my dream life. I volunteer because I want to contribute to society and it makes me feel good, but I didn’t leave my job and fly halfway across the world to volunteer. To say so is a lie. And the same is true for the other goals. They were all lies, stretched truths, to make my dream of travelling the world more palatable, more acceptable to the achievement-obsessed culture of the USA. They were pieces of the truth that were twisted in a way to make my time sound as productive and purposeful as possible. They were my resume reasons for travelling the world.
Not Everything Needs A Reason
So here we are. I’m doing a lot of things while I travel and living a fulfilling life, and in many small and big ways I’m improving myself and the world around me, but none of that tells why I’m traveling.
The real reason I’m traveling the world is because: 1) it’s the one thing that I most want to be doing and 2) I have worked to put myself in a position where I can do it.
It’s as simple as that, it just took me this long to accept it and feel comfortable saying it.
Why Travel Is The One Thing I Most Want To Be Doing
When I decided to travel that was all I knew: that travel was what I most wanted to do. I think I had some intuitive feel for why, but I couldn’t articulate those reasons or write about them. However, now that I’ve been on the road for almost 4 months, I have more clarity as to why travel is something that excites me.
I believe that everyone has a small set of values that drive the decisions they make. While these values can change, they are relatively stable, more stable than things like specific goals and much more stable than our emotional states. For me, two of the values that drive my actions are my love of learning/challenge and my desire to experience and understand the world around me. If I’m being honest, it’s these two forces that have most consistently been prominent in my life.
Travel embodies these principles. When you are traveling independently in foreign countries, each day you are exposed to new experiences, and this exposure pushes you out of your comfort zone. The more you experience, the more confident you become in your abilities, the more adaptable you are in difficult situations, and the more you are able to handle whatever the world throws at you.
Beyond that, travel teaches you. Each day, I wake up with a blank slate, often in a new place, and I am constantly being exposed to new ideas, activities, customs, climates, cultures, lessons, etc. During travel, the simplest daily activities become lessons and challenges to overcome. Add to that the learning that comes with volunteering in unique situations and the mental stimulation that comes with living in a second language, and you can see that traveling extensively is anything but a vacation. It forces you to grow and that fits perfectly with my values. I love learning, challenging myself, and growing as person.
Even more than that, travel changes how you approach the world in a positive way. Most of the world is stuck in an endless daily, weekly, and yearly routine, which causes us to become numb and lose our awareness and appreciation of the amazing world around us. With travel, there is no routine. Each day is a new experience, and with that, you feel alive and you live life in a state of awareness. Traveling puts you in a place where you are constantly living in the present, where you appreciate the simple pleasures in life.
Travel has been an incredible experience of growth, learning, and daily appreciation which suits me a lot more than stagnating at a job where I’m not learning and that is, more or less, the same every day.
But all of that is me. It’s personal. And it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I know with 100% certainty that I am living the exact life I want to be living.
The moral is that it’s okay to do something because you want to, because it makes you happy, and because it’s in line with your values. After all, that’s what life is about, not building a resume or trying to impress some future, unknown person. More than that, when you live in this way where you feel alive and you love what you’re doing, opportunities and connections with like-minded people are always happening. When you are acting in a way that is in alignment with your values, life starts to click and doors open themselves that you didn’t even know existed. The future that seems uncertain and cloudy reveals itself day by day. When you live in alignment, things work out.
Living Your Dream
For me, traveling the world has been a dream ever since my trip to Europe, and for 6 years, that dream never left my mind and was the one thing that remained constant. Interests changed, girls changed, friends changed, location changed, career ideas changed, business ideas came and went, but the whole time I knew inside that I wanted to see the world. I wanted to experience different cultures, learn new languages, climb mountains, meet people, live out of a backpack, and really KNOW the world that I live in. And knowing that fact, accepting that dream I had, I worked my ass off to make it a reality.
So here I am, 3.5 months in and I am in love with my life. No, not every day is perfect and I don’t think I’ll live this lifestyle forever, but I am literally living my own dream. I am doing exactly what I want in my life and it feels amazing.
I urge you to live your dream even if it’s unconventional. Unconventional dreams are possible. I’m not the only one living this dream, trust me, I’ve met many others. Don’t let people’s expectations hold you back from doing what you really want. Don’t worry too much about justifying your decisions to others. As long as you can justify it to yourself and you know what you’re doing is right, do it.
I’m done justifying what I’m doing. And I hope you are too.