When I first started toying with the idea of traveling and pursuing an adventurous lifestyle, I came across TONS of blog articles telling me just how to do it. First, I had to sell everything and buy a one-way plane ticket. Once I did that, I needed to get a cool minimalist backpack and a pair of Ex-officio underwear (okay, I can’t rag on these too much because they are actually pretty life changing).
After choosing a starting destination, one that would “expand my mind and push my limits”, I would then need to sign-up for a yoga retreat and learn how to bend my body into a pretzel while taking a selfie. Then I would volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. Followed by trekking through Vietnamese rice fields. Then I would meet an indigenous family who would invite me to their home for dinner. Then I would fall in love with an exotic man. Then I’d get my heart broken, but be stronger for it. Then I’d get a stick and poke tattoo by a Buddhist monk.
Everything that I needed to be adventurous, was laid out before me. I had the formula, now I just needed to go – “just go”, they all said. But you know what I’ve learned over the years of trying to be like the people I saw on Instagram or the ones who were published in the Huffington Post? I learned that I’m not them.
These people have created amazing and beautiful lives for themselves. Their posts about how to travel or how to have the biggest adventure of your life come from a place of sincere eagerness to give you the tools to achieve ultimate happiness, like they have. But that’s the problem. YOU actually have all the tools you need, and your path to fulfillment and happiness is completely different than theirs.
So, use their advice for bits of inspiration or new ideas. But don’t use it as a blueprint. Your blueprint is perfectly fine, focus on bringing it alive.
This is what I want you to know about figuring out your own travel path – it’s what I wish someone had said to me 7 years ago.
There are only two reasons why you haven’t committed to a full blown travel lifestyle.
- You have some serious financial or time sensitive responsibilities at home that you can’t back out of. For example, you are a new mother. Or you are on parole and can’t leave the country. Or you work for the CIA. If you have other circumstances that you believe prevent you from traveling, please refer below.
- You don’t actually want to travel as bad you think you do. Which is totally fine and really important to acknowledge. Maybe you have a job that you like too much to leave or you are in a relationship with someone who you don’t want to be away from for a long period of time. These are both incredibly valid reasons to postpone traveling, but they also tell me that you have other more important priorities. In my opinion, the things you give your time to are the things that you find most important. If you really wanted to travel as bad as you think you do, you’d be doing it already.
The good news is, we need people like you to make the world go round. You aren’t less adventurous or less edgy. You just channel your energy towards things that are more important to you.
Practice makes perfect.
You aren’t going to get it right the first time. Your first big trip is a HUGE undertaking and will likely be more of a learning experience than the dream exotic travel experience that you were looking for. You will figure out what makes you tick and what doesn’t. This is the time when you will realize what travel means to YOU and how you enjoy seeing and participating with the world. Maybe you aren’t someone who needs to see every single cathedral in Ireland. Or maybe you don’t find homestays as culturally immersive as trekking with a local guide. This is your chance to figure out how you like to travel and learn what to different next time.
You’ll probably get robbed, lost, frustrated, and really sick after eating too much street food. You’ll question everything. It’s all a part of the journey, keep your head up!
Travel won’t change you.
I find that a lot of people use travel as a path to awakening or to find themselves. This is great in theory, but pretty dangerous in practice. I say this because if you are only able to “be a better person” while abroad, what does that mean for you at home?
I went to Namibia as a depressed, deeply impressionable 18 year old and came back only to believe that travel was the one thing in my life that made me happy (cue dramatic Slipknot music). I became more depressed than I was before I left, and couldn’t focus on anything other than getting my next travel fix. I decided that traveling was the key to feel good about myself and so I needed to keep doing it – which resulted in not holding myself accountable for the introspective work that really needed to be done.
Using travel to test your limits or to distance yourself from a scenario that you need time to think on is great. And I’m not saying that travel can’t be transformative. Holy hell, it has done amazing things for me. But these experiences should only augment an already whole version of yourself. You aren’t empty and you don’t need fixing.
If you don’t want to go to the mountains, don’t go.
I’ve been touching on this topic throughout this post, but let’s dive in a little further. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to travel. I’ve discovered over the years that I am not a sightseer. I honestly don’t care about museums or pretty architecture. I sometimes feel like a real tool for my lack of interest in physical history, but I find it boring and uninspiring.
My way of travel mostly involves adrenaline, mountains, rivers and tacos. Throw in a dash of cultural learning and foreign language and I’m a happy camper. Figure out what parts of travel excite you and focus on that. Obviously be ethical and respectful, but you don’t need to travel with the sole intention of cultural immersion, if you don’t want to.
Which leads me to my last point…
We are all tourists.
I’ve had some amazing experiences with locals in the countries I’ve traveled to. Heck, I had my first ever cigar on the back porch of a Cuban families home overlooking their tobacco farm. They treated me like a friend, maybe even family. But at the end of the night, my camera full of pictures, I walked away knowing that I was still a tourist, a very lucky one.
I think it is absolutely amazing to witness and learn about other cultures. These special moments are a vitally important chance to grow your own tolerances and understandings of humankind. We could all use a little of this, especially now. But this doesn’t make you a better traveler than someone else.
You’ll find that there is this weird competitiveness in the travel word about who immerses themselves the most. Or who had the most “real” cultural experience. Sorry, but I thinks that’s a load of crap. At the end of the day we are all just tourists. Simple as that. Just because you look at your map in the confines of your hostel, instead of pulling it out of your fanny pack on the streets, doesn’t make your experience more or less valuable.
I hate labels, I think they are destructive and constricting. But if you must have a differentiation, I’d argue that there are vacationers and there are tourist/travelers (interchangeable terms). The sole purpose for a vacationer is to relax and take time away from whatever is going on in their lives at home. The sole purpose of a tourist/traveler is to experience another culture or country in a way that highlights it’s differences from their home country.
It might be ironic that I’m writing all of this after saying I dislike posts that tell you how to travel. That’s the opposite of what I want to do here, though. Instead, I hope that this post has given you the little push you need to travel how YOU want to, not how everyone else is.