Notes on following your dream
There’s something that’s been bothering me lately: this concept where a life in which you travel is inherently better than one in which you don’t.
It goes without saying that I love to travel and that I find it incredibly valuable in a multitude of ways. Going to new cities inspires me: wandering aimlessly down unfamiliar streets feels liberating, figuring out foreign public transportation systems challenges me, noticing all the little ways in which cultures differ (and are also the same) makes me feel more connected to both my own home and the world at large. And escaping the chaos of New York City in a cabin by a lush and verdant lake or a sun-soaked beach relaxes me and rejuvenates me. I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences that I’ve had living abroad, traveling solo and traveling with (new and old) friends in such a wide variety of places: I fully believe they’ve shaped me into a better (but not perfect) wife, daughter, friend, employee and citizen.
That said, I don’t think that “living the dream” necessarily means a tropical drink in a hammock on a white sand beach in a faraway place. The dream could be a lake house where you spend every summer weekend, or a baby (!) and all of the commitments that come along with it, or a job where you give back to the community and feel fulfilled every day, or a life in which all of your debts are paid off. Not every dream needs to be filtered and captioned and shared immediately on Instagram.
You don’t have to go across the world to find yourself. You don’t have to quit your job and buy a round-the-world plane ticket to be a traveler. You don’t have to leave the country to have a relaxing or inspiring vacation (although I do think it’s nice to have a passport and thus have the possibility of doing so, should you please), and you don’t have to leave your backyard to be curious. You don’t have to give into the 2017 version of keeping up the with the Joneses (and their perfectly Instagrammed Iceland road trips or Bali yoga retreats or croissants in Paris) to be happy and fulfilled.
I’m friends with a lot of travel bloggers (both online and in real life), and there’s often this very obvious (or sometimes sneakily subtle) feeling of superiority because they travel regularly and make a living from it. Sometimes they even want to teach you how to do it too (!), as if the world needs fewer accountants and engineers and secretaries and is instead calling out for more people to get paid to take photos of waterfalls and post them on Instagram. Even as someone with her toes dipped in the industry, I have the very real sense that this whole travel influencer thing is all a huge bubble that might very well burst. And I see all of the ebooks and guides on “how you can do it too!” and headlines screaming about six-figure salaries while thinking: but is the behind-the-scenes as desirable as the highlight reel? Is that flashy salary paying for health insurance and 401Ks? Are you really as content as the life that you’re trying to sell?
Because within this narrative of exotic travel equaling the dream life, there’s a latent disdain for a life of commutes and offices and mortgages and “the real world” in which many of us live. Speaking as someone who regularly deals with train delays and arbitrary work hours and exorbitant rent payments, I can say quite honestly that there are certainly days in which I would prefer to be sipping a margarita while staring at a turquoise sea instead of dealing with “real life.” But as someone who travels fairly regularly for work and for play, I can also say that real life has a way of catching up with you, no matter where in the world you are. There can be joy and heartache and arguments and the feeling as if everything is finally clicking together at home or the office or while stuck in traffic on your way home just as much as it can happen on vacation.
When I started this blog seven years ago, I certainly considered the possibility of one day being a freelance writer. Maybe even dreamed of it! But after trying out life as a full-time travel blogger as I traveled solo through Southeast Asia for three months, I realized: this isn’t for me. I like routines, and coming home to a comfortable bed and flowers on my bedside table, and having friends who I can see regularly for book club or a workout class or an emergency bottle of wine while watching reality TV. I like having a life that isn’t just travel, and I like the fact that I truly appreciate the new places I get to go because it’s not just work and it’s not just what happens every day.
Sometimes I think the crux of the issue is the notion of feeling trapped, feeling stuck in a job or a small town or a relationship: you have to remember how much you own not only the choices you make but your attitude toward them. If a life of travel is your dream, then go for it. But if that’s not the life you dream of: be secure in that choice too.