If you’re reading this, you’re probably still quarantined just like me. Times are very tough for everyone right now. I’ve been taking this time to reflect a lot. I reflected a lot about travel and the misconceptions that a lot of people seem to have about travel and travellers and it inspired me to write this! As always, this is purely my opinion and as always, differing opinions and diversity of thought are very welcome here! If you disagree with anything in this blog post, please feel free to leave comments, so that we can learn from each other and be exposed to different points of view!
The cold winter air slapped my face as I slowly stepped out of the car. I took in a deep breath of cold December air and then began walking towards the mall. I was about to see my friends for the first time in about 6 months! We’d talked over Skype and Facetime, but this would be the first time that we’d be talking face to face since I’d moved out west. I had apparently arrived a bit earlier than they had, so I decided to walk around to see if I recognized anyone in the mall because I used to work there. I walked around and didn’t see very many familiar faces and the mall felt and looked different. I spotted one of the phone kiosks. I knew and had spent quite a bit of time with most of the people who worked there before I left. I walked over to see if any of them were still there. I saw my one friend and we talked a bit before he left to go on his break which left me with one of the newer guys. We started talking and I asked him about the job and if he liked it. He told me he didn’t mind it. I can’t remember exactly how we segued into the 6 months I’d been gone, but we somehow did. He asked where I’d been and I explained that I’d spent 4 months in British Columbia and about 2 in South America. He gave me this look… the look people give you when they assume you’ve known no hardship in life… the look that people give you when they assume that you’ve had a struggle free upbringing… then he spoke; “Wow, sounds cool… It’s just a shame that some of us have to work in order to pay for school, car insurance and other bills and can’t just travel around all the time…” He responded with a bit of condescension and salt in his voice. I was initially kind of offended and wanted to fire back about how he didn’t know me and how my life wasn’t as easy as he thought and about the sacrifices I had to make in order to even make those last 6 months possible, but then it dawned on me! A lot of people truly don’t travellers. Heck, I still don’t understand a lot of travellers!
The deep introspective traveller and the hard core partying traveller are two completely different breeds of people. I’m not here to say that one is objectively better than the other! You can do what ever you want when you travel as long as you’re respectful in my opinion, but let’s be real, the most popular posts that you see on social media are of people who “Seem” to have easy and “carefree” lives, partying it up in Cuba, The Dominican Republic or Mexico. (At least if you’re from Ontario). It honestly does seem like their lives are perfect and that they don’t have to worry about bills, school or anything else. Maybe some of their lives ARE in fact easy, but a lot of them probably aren’t. Everyone faces hardship… We just face DIFFERENT kinds of hardship. I firmly believe that NOBODY lives a struggle free life and that leads me to the first point.
Also, before I dive in, I don’t want this to seem like I’m secretly throwing shade at the guy at the phone kiosk. I totally understand where he was coming from because I used to believe the same things! I should honestly be thanking him for inspiring this blog post!
“If you’re able to travel, your life is easy and stress free!”
As I said before, I used to believe this too. I actually wrote an entire article about it that can be viewed by clicking on this blue sentence! (Seriously, please check it out!). I used to go on social media and look at all the “spoiled” people that were travelling and writhe in jealousy and envy. Yeah, some of them probably actually were spoiled, but some of them probably also busted their asses to make those trips possible. This is why I initially got offended when the guy at the phone kiosk talked to me as if I had had a super easy life. He was only seeing the tip of the iceberg! I do understand that when I said “I’ve been gone for 6 months” that it probably sounded like I was just chilling and enjoying months of sand, beaches and mimosas, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The first 4 months were spent working extremely long hours almost every single day of the week while dodging bears and irrational, angry customers. I had to leave behind my friends and family to even make working at that job possible. The job was very stressful at times and really weighed me down and there were at least three occasions that I considered walking out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed most of it and it was honestly a great experience and I met tons of interesting people, but every job has it’s negatives.
I’m also a very social person, so being in such a small town with so little people for so long wasn’t easy either. What really kept me going was trying to pay off the almost 4000$ of debt I had accumulated and to help out my family back in Ontario financially. Life was NOT easy or stress free. Am I trying to say that my life is objectively harder than anyone else’s? No. I’m just highlighting the fact that the first 4 months weren’t as “Easy” as they seemed at first glance and that leads me to the second thing!
“All travellers have a lot of money!”
The initial 4000$ of debt illustrates the fact that I wasn’t rolling in cash at any point during the 6 months I was gone. I was luckily able to pay off the debt pretty early into the 4 months and began saving, but I wasn’t “rich” by any means.
My limited travel experience has shown me that there seem to be two kinds of travellers that one will meet, and I know I’m generalizing, but there are always exceptions. There are short term travellers who seem to spend most of their time partying on shorter trips that seem to last from about 1 weekend to a maximum of 2 weeks. This group seems to have quite a bit of money to spend. This group also seems to always buy a lot of souvenirs from what I’ve seen.
The second group consists of people who seem to be travelling from 1 month to a year or more. They normally seem to have saved more money overall when compared to the first group, but their spending habits and frugality makes me assume that they’re also generally on extremely tight budgets. I’m yet to meet a rich traveller and the only guy that I’ve ever met that didn’t really worry that much about money was a guy who was working as he travelled. Rich travellers definitely exist and that’s a fact, but they seem like the minority. I can only speak from my own personal experience though.
Another example that comes to mind is when I went to Vancouver for the first time. I stayed at a hostel that was full of people that were coming to Canada from several different countries on working holiday visas. I always assumed that people who did this had saved loads of money beforehand, but I was wrong. A lot of them were rushing to get jobs before their money began to run out and a lot of them were also on really tight budgets. One guy I met only had about 960$ dollars to last him about a month! This was shocking and eye opening to me because as I mentioned before, I personally always naively assumed that everyone saved tons of money before applying for these visas and that they had huge financial safety nets. Obviously some probably do have financial safety nets, but a lot didn’t. This was both eye opening and relieving for me.
“Travel is a waste of money! Spend it on something that matters like a car or a house!”
This is something I hear quite a bit and I think it has a lot to do with social media again. I personally travel for more introspective reasons. Many other people do and many other people do not. My way is not objectively better than anyone else’s, it’s just what brings me the most fulfilment. As I said earlier, if you go on Instagram, you’re probably going to see people partying on the beach and spending copious amounts of money on alcohol. If this is all social media generally shows us, of course it would seem that instead of buying the Moscow mule at the bar in New York, one could save the same money and put it towards a car or a house, but not everyone wants a car or a house. Everyone spends their money on things that they believe will make them happy. I personally know a lot of people who like to spend tons of money on new shoes, bling and nice cars. I couldn’t care less about how my shoes look as long as they’re presentable and having bling just increases my chances of being robbed. I personally can’t wrap my head around any of this and never have been able to, BUT these same friends probably don’t understand why I’d spend my money to risk my life on a dangerous bus driving along the edge of a mountain just to see a historical monument. Things like that make ME happy, but the shoes and swag make THEM happy and that’s perfectly fine!
Buying a house or a car can be good investments, but travel can be too. The most life changing lessons that I’ve EVER learned in my entire life were not learned in school, but while travelling! I can’t speak for other travellers, but this doesn’t mean that I won’t ever buy a car or a house in the future, it’s just not the right investment for me right NOW.
“Travellers are just running away from reality”
This is another one that I hear often, but I feel like it’s both true AND false. A lot of people seem to assume that people who subscribe to a more nomadic lifestyle are running from something or that they don’t want to face “Real Life”. When the people who say things like this define “Real Life”, they’re generally talking about the typical “finish university, pay off your debt, buy a car and a house, have kids, raise them to do the same thing you did and then retire” That society pushes on us. There’s nothing wrong with this lifestyle and I know a lot of people that truly want it, but following this lifestyle, as with any lifestyle, can also be a form of running. As humans, we’re experts at hiding our feelings of inadequacy behind perceived societal success. This is why people tend to only post positive experiences on social media. I’ve spoken to a lot of people that have followed this path and seem very happy and satisfied with life and I’ve also met a lot of people that have followed this path and seem to really regret their decisions and envy others who made different decisions. They hide their unhappiness behind kids, having a house and car(s). “If society says I should be happy, then I must be happy… right?… right?”. The same exact thing goes for travelling. I’ve met people that were travelling to avoid pain at home, break ups, and the general feeling of being lost in general. I’ve also travelled for some of the same reasons. I remember that I went through a break up and decided to go on a spontaneous trip to Montreal with a friend of mine to distract my mind. What a terrible idea that was in hindsight! Don’t get me wrong, the trip was fun and we met a lot of cool people, but the pain I was feeling took away from the experience a lot. Conversely, when I went to South America, I wasn’t exactly running from anything. I just wanted to learn more about myself, meet interesting people and learn about the continent in general. That trip was a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable than the trip to Montreal was. I don’t know the exact percentage of people that travel to hide from problems and the percentage of people that travel for the shear enjoyment of the craft, but there definitely are two different groups. Not everyone travels to hide or to run!
“Traveling will magically make you happy!”
This is a misconception that I’ve heard from myself and people who want to start traveling. They seem to believe that once you start traveling, you’ll magically become an eternally happy person. I believed this for a really long time until I learned that travel itself doesn’t make you happy. Although travel can help you find your way to happiness, it isn’t the be all end all. I personally believe that true happiness has to come from within. I know it’s hard to hear that because there’s something attractive about the idea that you can buy a plane ticket and fly away from your problems. Traveling away from places can actually help at times. If you’re travelling away from a polluted city and going to a greener city in the country side because you hate smog, then that may bring you happiness. If you HATE mountains and move to a bustling metropolitan city, that may bring you happiness, but I believe things like low self esteem, a lack of self worth, anxiety or depression can’t necessarily be flown away from. They’ll silently follow you onto the plane, bus or boat. They’ll sleep beside you in your hostel, hotel or AirBNB bed and they’ll come with you to see historic monuments. To avoid this, you need to work on yourself. I don’t believe that one can run away from such things. You can probably run for a short time, but they’ll catch up to you as soon as you stop to catch your breath.
I like to equate travel to money. Money itself can’t buy you happiness, but it can definitely help. You can be rich and depressed. A lot of rich celebrities commit suicide for this exact reason. The sad thing is that many regular people still subscribe to the idea that money = complete and eternal happiness and don’t understand why celebrities make decisions like this. I remember talking to a lady who just couldn’t understand why Robin Williams would take his own life when he, and I quote, “Had everything”. You can be rich, but hate your marriage. You can be rich and have no real friends who actually care about you. The list goes on.
Being able to save money in British Columbia didn’t magically cure my anxiety or other issues, but it allowed me to do things that have allowed me to better understand anxiety and myself as a person. Going to South America didn’t magically make me happy, but it taught me many extremely important lessons that I believe will lead me to living a more happy life.
“When are you going to settle down and live a “normal” life?”
The concept of a normal life is subjective and many people have different opinions on what defines a “normal life“. Is it working a 9-5? Is it renting an apartment with your partner? Is it buying a house? Is it renting a house? Is it having a big house with a green, well trimmed lawn? Is it growing up with money? Is it growing up without a lot of money? <—(This was my and the people in my old neighbourhood’s “normal”). Is it having one kid? Two? Three? Is it becoming the next Octo-Mom?. Your definition of normal will probably differ from mine and both our definitions may differ from my neighbour’s down the street. If we can’t even agree on what defines a “normal” life, then how exactly does one settle down and live a “normal” life?
The other thing is that many people choose to settle down at different times in life. I know people who had kids and settled down at 18 and I’ve met people way older than me who still haven’t settled down. I believe that if one settles down before they’re ready, they’ll live in a perpetual state of FOMO (Fear of missing out). Some travellers don’t have any immediate plans to settle down and want to keep travelling indefinitely. Conversely, some on the other hand, get everything they want out of travel or life changes and they choose or are forced to settle down. Traveller or not, I don’t think there’s a specific universal time to settle down.
I think there will always be people who disagree and misunderstand each other’s lifestyle choices which is fine. I also haven’t travelled enough to consider myself an “experienced traveller”, but I hope that this article was able to take your mind off of the quarantine and also to help travellers and non travellers to see that they actually aren’t all that different after all. I also hope that I was able to dispel some of the myths and negative beliefs that people have about travellers!