I love traveling. I love meeting new people; I love learning new things; I love researching unique locations and discovering different ways of seeing the world. Mankind has never before been so mobile, and that’s been a huge blessing for humanity!
At the time of this writing, I have been to 35 countries, and am in my third year of long-term travel. I think by now I’ve met every type of traveler out there: the backpackers, the professionals, the vacationers, the hippies, the retirees, the missionaries, and the youngin’s just seeing the world (that’s me!). I am grateful for this privileged lifestyle, and am thankful for the amazing things I’ve learned from the people I’ve met along the way.
But. Along the way, I’ve also started to pick up on some of the “quirks” of the traveling community. And now I have a few things I would like to say. So are 5 things I wish I could tell the travel community:
1. Traveling isn’t a competition.
The goal of traveling for me is about inspiring awe within myself. I adore learning new things about new places and exploring new cultures with new friends.
And deep down, I think most travelers started out with this mentality, too.
But somewhere along the ubiquity of social media and the explosion of millennials getting passports, travel became a competition for some people – a way of feeding their ego by comparing themselves to others.
I wish I could tell the traveling community that the goal of traveling is not to see who can visit the most places on vacation, who went to the hippest, most exclusive destination, or who got the most likes on Instagram. It’s not a competition to see who’s been to more countries or who had the wildest night abroad or who has the most unbelievable stories to tell.
Deep down, traveling should be about yourself, not about others. How far can you push yourself out of your comfort zones? Can you challenge some of your assumptions about your culture? About humanity at large? About what we all have in common? How much can you expand your horizons? How can you enrich your values and your life? If you’re just going to fuel your story-topping tendencies, reassess your goals for traveling.
2. All levels and styles of traveling are perfectly acceptable.
Different people value different types of travel, and no style is better than another. You want to go camping in Patagonia for two months? Great. You want to drop $400 a night on an upscale resort? Fantastic. Some people want to bar hop, some people want to bird watch. It’s their money, their time, and their vacation. So if you’re a backpacking purist who looks down on those people who only take cruises, just relax. Everyone has different comfort zones and interests, and they deserve to vacation as they please. Let’s keep all conversations a judgement-free zone.
3. Traveling is not an escape route.
This is a delicate topic, so I want to make myself clear: there is nothing wrong with taking time off to travel and heal from heartache or other difficulties. There is nothing wrong with getting a change of scenery to clear your head and reflect on your life’s direction. I have all the respect in the world for people like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild)—I’ve read both of these books and been inspired by both of them. However, that said, I am concerned for anyone who seems to use travel as a means to distract themselves from their problems. Travel should enhance and enrich your current life, not prevent you from dealing with it. Escapism is never healthy, so I encourage everyone—myself included!— to just reflect on whether or not they’re running away from something in their lives.
4. Travel is a mindset, not a singular activity.
To me, traveling is more than just flying for 20 hours on a plane across an ocean. I believe traveling can be discussions with people from different backgrounds, visiting a museum in your city, or watching a documentary. You don’t need an expensive plane ticket to travel; try just visiting with someone with different experiences than you. You can still broaden your horizons in your own city. Ultimately travel is just about learning new things and seeing how amazing and diverse the world is.
5. You are not any better than anyone else just because you’ve been to remote corners of the globe.
I love swapping travel stories as much as the next adventurer—but there’s a fine line between sharing and story-topping. I’ll give you a common example: an old friend, lets call her Susie, recently made the life-altering decision to move to the big city about 3 hours north of her hometown. Susie was very nervous and apprehensive about this move, but ultimately she grew a lot during this transition and finally settled down to start an exciting new career in the city. But all too commonly, a typical response I hear from nomads goes like this: “Wait, you think that was scary? Let me tell you about my experience living in (insert foreign, exotic location here)!”
At the end of the day, everyone’s comfort zones are vastly different, and anyone who challenges themselves to anything new should be celebrated—no matter how big or small.
In conclusion, I think this blog post is fundamentally about humility and acceptance. I myself have definitely fallen short of all five of these precepts at various times, but I hope I can continue to remind myself to be humble in my experiences and accepting of other peoples’.
Happy travels, friends!