Travel is not Utopia

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Clearly, I love to travel. Exploring cultures and finding new adventures around the world — and in particular, learning the stories and lives of others — is one of my biggest passions.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that travel is always fun. Or happy. That it doesn’t have its downsides.

Travel is not an escape; or at least, it shouldn’t be.

As a self-employed writer who focuses extensively on travel (and someone who just loves to travel, anyway, in my personal life), I notice that us travel writers tend to write a lot about all the good aspects of travel. Of course that makes sense — people want to read about the adventures, the cool stuff, interesting cultures and local color and awesome hotels, etc. — and we like to write about that.

But, it doesn’t mean that all the time we are traveling is glamorous and happy and thrilling. We tend not to write about the bad, or just plain boring, aspects of travel. And so by omission, through our sheer love of travel, we are presenting a one-sided tale of the road. One that can make people yearn for it, fantasize about it, be jealous of it or have that “One day…”If only…” thought process.

And maybe sometimes, we should tell the whole truth about it.

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The reason I am having these thoughts, is because this was brought home to me by the recent death of one of our own. Earlier this week, travel blogger Anita Mac tragically took her own life. Needless to say, it shocked the travel writing/blogger community, and greatly saddened us. Even more so because, in Anita’s very last post on her blog, she wrote about her broken heart. She was following her passion, her need to travel; but it was at odds with her personal life and relationship, causing her great personal pain.

She seemed like a happy, outgoing person; her blog was full of inspirational stories of fulfilling her dream of seeing the world. Travel is one of those romantic things that people easily fantasize about, like writing the Great American Novel or winning the lottery. Many of us dream of chucking it all to take off and journey the world. And, many of us actually do. It can be freeing and fulfilling, and I like many others am a big advocate of not being stuck in the 9-5 or corporate world or other people’s expectations if you don’t want to be; in following your dreams, whatever those may be.

But, it won’t make you happy.

541621_10151445254535720_942326241_nIn truth, nothing external will make us happy. Travel is no different; like making more money, or getting that perfect job, buying a bigger house or fancier car, or just finding that right someone to share our life with…these things won’t magically make us happy. Only internal things create happiness, and we have to be happy within ourselves, every one of us. It’s the work of a lifetime. Quitting our jobs to become a yoga instructor or artist or professional skateboarder or any of a zillion other “fantasies” won’t necessarily make us happy if we don’t know how to be already. Yes, living a life that is more authentic to our own personal, inner passions certainly will bring more joy, fulfillment and opportunities for a satisfied life to most of us. Depression and unhappiness often come from living a life that seems false to us, or that is based on other people’s expectations or what society deems we “should” be doing.

But true happiness is internal. Nothing — no amount of travel or more money or better stuff — is going to MAKE us happy.

I’ll tell the truth here about my own travel. Plenty of times on the road, I am not happy. Just like at home; sometimes I’m happier than others. Sometimes things are hard when traveling. You miss a train, it’s the middle of the night, you don’t speak the language or know where to go or what to do. Or worse — there are times I’ve been scared or really nervous while traveling.

When I’m traveling, if I’m with someone else I often get sick of being with that person 24/7; they get on my nerves or annoy me (and vice versa!) and I just wish I was somewhere else. When I travel alone, sometimes I’m lonely.

Sometimes travel is hard; you’re hungry and tired and dirty, and nothing is going your way. Sometimes I’m moody or frustrated or just plain out of sorts.

Sometimes I get homesick, and I’m tired of being on the road and just want to go home. Sometimes I miss my family and my friends.

Do these things outweigh the fun and joy and adventure I find through traveling? No. Do they mean I don’t want to travel? Of course not. I can’t imagine not seeing other parts of the world.

558309_10151914889550720_306210457_nBut my point is that, just like everything in life, there’s good and bad. I don’t want people to read my travel stories and see my photos and think, it’s all fun and glamour and excitement. I don’t want people to think every minute of every trip is wonderful and that I’m happy every moment. I’m human. This is real life.

Travel is something you feel inside you, as something you “can’t not do” if you really want to see the whole world. But it shouldn’t be something to aspire to in the sense that, only when and if I could leave this life I have behind and go travel the world, then I would be happy.

In my travels I have met or encountered many people for whom I got the impression that they were traveling as a means of running away from something. Either people who were now living in the place as expats, or just long-term backpack travelers. Of course, these are surface judgments on my part and may not be accurate at all, but I have come across too many people that gave the distinct impression that they were sort of checking out of life as a way to escape, rather than traveling the world through an innate sense of curiosity and love of the journey itself.

We all need to be aware that the reality of life is reality for all of us, no matter what our lifestyle or how we seem to the outside. We all have struggles, problems, heartaches and sadness. I think sharing that with others is what binds us and helps us not feel so alone.

The same problems still follow us. You can’t escape from yourself.

Something about what happened with Anita haunts me. I feel her broken heart somehow, even though I didn’t really know her personally. Anita, we will miss you and your adventurous spirit.

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9 Comments on “Travel is not Utopia”

  1. August 29, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Shelley, Well Said. When I meet university students at orientation I show this TED talk by Shawn Achor on the subject of Happiness. Touches on some of the same subjects.
    Kevin McCloskey http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

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    • August 29, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Thank you for the comment, Kevin! Great idea on the orientation.

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  2. Chandra Lawrie
    August 29, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I recently read Denis Hickey’s Breaking Free where her travels to find clarity in his life. One day he just left, for a year with a backpack and other things. Breaking Free is that book, he’s got the second coming out anytime called The Traveler. But there are some great questions he brings up. Did he find the happiness he was after, or did he just find a more clear picture of whre he was in life. It’s a great read! http://www.breakingfree-thebooks.com/

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  3. August 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Great blog, Shelley. In this day and age with so many suicides, it is the hope that lies in our spirit, that could have been missing in this young lady. When the light shines through from some of the darkest times of our life, we realize that those times made us stronger and wiser than most. I was saddened to hear this news, and could relate to her in a way. Feeling those feelings of hopelessness has nothing to do with what you do for a living or how much you travel. I beg anyone who is feeling this way to help someone else that needs it, like I see Shelley Seale doing on many of her travels. It feeds your soul.

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  4. September 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    You are so right Shelley. Travel is merely an extension of our lives with all the same, sometimes more, frustrations. But when it’s one of our passions then it’s worth it. Just like our loved ones are not always what we wished, or a situation isn’t always fulfilling but overall it makes us happy. It’s good for tourists/travelers to see the good, the bad, and the ugly or they could be grossly disappointed….expecting the utopia of travel they’ve always read about but in life’s reality doesn’t exist. Happiness is what we make out of what life throws our way.

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