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Screw what you heard: You don’t need to travel internationally to lead a fulfilled existence

Why I think travelling to faraway places isn’t the be-all and end-all of life.

There are plenty of things in life I enjoy. Running, curling up in bed with a good book, and spending evenings in the company of good friends are a few of them.

But of all the things I like to do, you probably know me best for my love of international travel.

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My passion for globetrotting was an itch I had to scratch in my 20s– I would do practically anything to explore foreign lands.

I changed my major from Economics to French Literature so I could study abroad in France, and, once there, lived on hot dogs and broccoli for over a month so I could save up enough money to take a two-week rail and sail trip through Spain, Portugal, and Morocco.

I’ve since built a life around travel and discovery and it’s been fantastic.  I’ve seen a lot. Done a lot. My experiences on the road have changed me and the lens through which I view the world. The world is smaller, more accessible, and its inhabitants more easy to understand and relate to.   It’s wonderful, I’m grateful, and I’ll forever espouse the merits of international travel to those who’ll listen.

 

BUT.

It’s important to remember that international travel is not the be-all and end-all of life.  It’s not the cornerstone of a happy or fulfilled existence. It doesn’t necessarily make you more enlightened or knowledgeable than someone else.  Your level of culture or class doesn’t increase with the number of stamps in your passport.  It won’t fix all your problems.

And yet, this is difficult to internalize when the industry sells a dream that’s not always rooted in truth. It’s a dream that’s packaged in carefully curated images of faraway lands designed to incite wanderlust whilst creating feelings of envy, longing, and inadequacy. Though I don’t do it intentionally, I’m partially guilty of this myself.

The quotes you see shared on social media often contribute to this discontent. St. Augustine’s assertion “The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page”, seen on Instagram and Facebook feeds the world over, essentially tells us we are dumber or less learned for not having globetrotted; the quote “collect memories, not things” chastises us for spending our money on frivolous “stuff” and not on precious travel.

These days I even sense an undercurrent of disdain for those who choose stability at a 9-5 job over freewheeling dynamism or tireless entrepreneurship time zones away from home. “I would rather work 16 hours a day for myself than 8 hours for someone else” the memes proclaim stoutly. After all, exploring the world will supposedly allow us to know ourselves better and to “find” ourselves (“Travel far enough and you’ll meet yourself”)– for we’re not truly living life if we don’t go out and see the farthest reaches of the earth.

The message is clear: if we don’t travel internationally, we’re missing out on something big.  For, as the saying goes, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”.

To hear some tell it, there’s a certain nobility in eschewing consumerism, stability, and “The Man”. Quitting your job, throwing caution to the wind, and traversing the world with reckless abandon is an act that makes us more virtuous: we become fulfilled, aware, and wise.

But what if you can’t jet off 10 times a year (or indefinitely) due to financial or familial constraints?  What if digital nomadism or entrepreneurism or straight up unemployment isn’t feasible or just isn’t for you? Moreover, what if you don’t need to be “found”?

And what if you *gasp* just aren’t interested in travelling?

Does that mean you somehow lack adventure or intelligence? Does that mean your life is somehow less worth living?

Not at all. There are so many ways we can lead happy and satisfying existences, and to think otherwise is narrow-minded, foolish, and elitist.  And you know how I feel about travel snobbery.

Furthermore, travel is more than jumping on a plane to Bangkok.  The worth of a trip is not counted in the miles it takes to get there. Exploring your backyard is not only cost-effective, it can be equally as gratifying.

Before you throw tomatoes at me, it’s evident that I love to travel, and I try to instill that love of exploration in everyone.  This is why I’ve shared my travel tips and stories online for nearly a decade.  I want my readers to go out and see the world, BUT I’m not going to make them feel bad if they can’t or simply don’t want to.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that not everyone is on the same path.  It’s impossible to conflate a love for home and familiarity with a genuine lack of curiosity or knowledge.  Some of the most inquisitive, intelligent people I know have fewer than 10 passport stamps.  But they have a deep understanding of themselves and the world they live in.

This is why, while I love the travel industry for encouraging people to go out and see the world, I simultaneously despise it for engendering feelings of inferiority in those who don’t have the means or desire to travel in a certain way, if at all.

International travel isn’t the be-all and end-all of life.  While it can be part and parcel of a happy existence, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee one.  Don’t believe the hype.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Jamie Laird
    February 11, 2017 at 12:38 am

    Truth.

    Thank you!

  • Reply
    Caroline Achieng Otieno
    February 11, 2017 at 12:39 am

    We always know ourselves first as individuals before we know ourselves as people who are part and parcel of a wider community.
    The most common advice flung around these days is, “Do you!”
    When I returned from a rigorous six-week vacation through four countries in Eastern Europe, and while I was chatting with a friend, I just told her that if the travel bug is in someone, they will feel the need to be at a different location from time to time. She doesn’t feel that need, and I understand that, just as much as I understand that for myself it’s a burning desire that pushes me to get out there whenever I have the opportunity to do so.
    People should work out what is best for them, with the knowledge that wanderlust is a recent phenomenon, and there had always been other ways to live satisfactorily while tethered to one location.

  • Reply
    Arielle
    February 11, 2017 at 7:57 am

    People who look down on others for not traveling are obnoxious. Also, spending a month at the beach in Thailand ≠ understanding Thai culture. Just cause you have a passport stamp doesn’t mean you’ve been bequeathed with supreme knowledge of anything.

    • Reply
      Jk
      February 19, 2017 at 12:21 am

      I often wish that Americans would know something about the world beyond our borders. Your comment is a good reminder that moving the body’s not the important part.

  • Reply
    Jai Lew
    February 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Yes indeed. Don’t believe the hype that one is more deeply connected, in touch with themselves or the world because they travel. Traveling abroad or at home isn’t a magic pill that creates consciousness, mindfulness or awareness of self.

    Thanks again Oneika for speaking the truth about travel. Do it if you love it and if you don’t, don’t.

  • Reply
    Krystal
    February 11, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    I 100% agree with this post. There are so many local or domestic treasures to explore that seem to get overlooked when people talk about travel these days. I’m becoming a local tourist” with regard to my region Northern California/SF Bay Area and I’m really enjoying the gems that are in my backyard. They’re adding to me in ways that people say international travel do. It’s all about perspective. Also, for those who can’t even afford to physically explore locally, I find a curious mind and access to the Internet or a local library can be just as effective.

    • Reply
      Kimberly R.
      February 13, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      I’m a Bay Area native as well. There are so many gems up and down the California Coast that I’ve enjoyed just as much as Domestic/International travel. Traveling abroad is wonderful, but it isn’t the be all, end all to a fulfilling life.

  • Reply
    Alissa
    February 11, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Love love love this post! I completely agree. I think a lot of travel bloggers write about these things without acknowledging the place of privilege that they come from. It’s easy to encourage people to travel when the people they’re encouraging are like them: generally affluent folks from western nations with passport privilege. I believe that travel writers who encourage people to travel need to be realistic about who they’re writing for, and in turn who they might be alienating. I could go on and on, but you said it perfectly already! Thank you for once again writing a conscientious post about these issues!

  • Reply
    Tash
    February 11, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Yes!! I’m so sick of smug instagram accounts telling me to ‘quit being a wage slave and start living ‘. Maybe I like my 9-5 as well as travel? I don’t think that makes me a mindless sheep. And apart from anything else, the whole world can’t make a living selling each others social media likes can they?!

    And like you say, having spent a few months partying on beaches in Thailand with other wealthy westerners doesn’t automatically make you more enlightened – it depends on how you live and what you choose to spend your time on not just the number of countries you’ve been to.

  • Reply
    Precious
    February 11, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    I love this article so much!

  • Reply
    Nina Frambuesa
    February 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I agree with you. I think this behavior comes from the inherent need of humans to feel better than others. It starts as a reaction of being “different.” People who travel frequently may hear from people with more “stable” lives that they are not leading a fulfilled life. They may feel lonely for not having a relationship (single female travelers seem to be a market), so somebody taps into that feeling and says: “You know what, you’re actually better than the people who live their suburban lives.” And people go for it. We have to be very cautious to not become a part of that. What is good for me doesn’t need to be good for everyone else.

  • Reply
    Christine
    February 12, 2017 at 2:41 am

    I appreciate you and this post.

  • Reply
    Christine
    February 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Agreed! As much as I love to travel, I realize that not everyone will love it in the same way I do–and that’s totally OK! One of my favorite quotes is from The Art of Hearing Heartbeats: “Why? Must one have seen the world? In this village, in every house, in every shack, you will find the entire range of human emotions: love and hate, fear and jealousy, envy and joy. You needn’t go looking for them.”

  • Reply
    Shaday Brown
    February 13, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Great article
    I’ve read many travel meme and ponder to myself what does that really mean anyway? ‘ To Travel is To Live’ . As a mother of two, I too want to travel more and in the near future I will. I just can’t up and go and if I did I would have this heard feeling of regret and Guilt hovering above my head once I’m in that foreign land. So planning is a must. Traveling isn’t for everyone and pointing that and showing you can. Be happy homebound with your career and passion is just as fulfilling too

  • Reply
    Victoria @The British Berliner
    February 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    So true!

    When I was a fresh graduate, I set off for a 6 week assignment in the Czech Republic, and came back two years later! It was great, and I loved it, but would I do the same now. Not with an (albeit understanding) husband and a teenage son at home!

    I have a corporate job, family responsibilities, a garden, and 2 cats, and like yourself, I still travel all over the world. However, I am acutely aware that my readers aren’t going to quit their job anytime soon. And why should they? I love my job, and so do they, so I usually advocate for smart travel.

    I also try not to be too arrogant towards our American cousins, and advice that if they can’t, or aren’t inclined to travel across the pond, that they travel around the wonderfully great landscape of America instead!

    And it’s perfectly OK to do so!

  • Reply
    Christine
    February 14, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Totally agree!! I work 9 to 5 and find time to travel and that works for me. I don’t want to quit my job to travel full time and I really hate reading the “quit your job posts”. It’s not for everyone!

  • Reply
    Uju
    February 27, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I adore this post! It’s funny, even though my ‘travel posts’ are mainly focused around my home base (London), I get some of the same feedback. In other words I’ve had a few people tell me they feel ‘less’ of a mum because they see all the fantastic things I’m doing with my kids and can’t keep up. I’m like, wait first of all I’m a blogger, it’s my job to be out there doing tons of stuff lol. Also a vast majority of the time we’re chilling in our pyjamas!

    Thankfully this is only a small minority of readers as most have told me they’re inspired by our adventures. The point is not to shove my lifestyle down people’s throats, but to encourage more families to make the most of their free time together, whatever that shape might take.

    You’re spot on that some of the wisest, most ‘well-lived’ people I know have barely left their home town. Travel is a state of mind, and there are so many ways to celebrate an adventurous spirit without necessarily totting up air miles. Thanks for writing this, loving your blog! x

    • Reply
      Oneika
      March 6, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      THIS—-> The point is not to shove my lifestyle down people’s throats, but to encourage more families to make the most of their free time together, whatever that shape might take.

      Thanks so much for reading and for your perspective!! Also, I love that you’re doing so much with the kiddies, what a great opportunity for them!

  • Reply
    jo Ann Lawery
    February 27, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Yes, I agree with you. Unfortunately , most Americans don’t have a passport and don’t seem to want to get one. As an American , I’m sad to say that the world knows more about places in the our own country more than we do. We need to explore our own country first, then take on the world. I’m not trying to sound like a super patriot , but it bothers me when we don’t know where Virginia or New Mexico are. I also have a blog that focuses on travel not only in Canada , but the United States as well .

    • Reply
      Oneika
      March 6, 2017 at 3:17 pm

      I definitely think it goes both ways! The problem with travel within the USA (and Canada for that matter) is that it’s super expensive! I’ve found it cheaper to travel overseas than in my own home country… 🙁

  • Reply
    TK Eye
    March 9, 2017 at 8:28 am

    What a great blog. I was born with the need to travel. This could be 40 miles to the history fair, or 4000 miles to Kathmandu to see the monkey temple. I love to travel and can’t do as much as I’d like overseas due to work commitments. Visiting Chicago is just as exciting and visiting Prague, just different people and sites. I can’t help needing to travel, though. I have to go someone once a month, even just a couple towns over for a festival or event. It’s how I learn and grow.

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