If you read Gadling, there’s a half-decent chance that you read other travel blogs, too. Don’t worry. We’re cool having an open relationship. We read other sites, as well. Some have the financial backing of investors or media companies. Others are independent labors of love written by one or two people who enjoy travel, started putting words to HTML and hoped that someone would read the stories they shared. Many of the travel blogs that have been popping up lately focus on round-the-world (RTW) travel, career breaks and long-term (or, seemingly, permanent) travel. It’s that last category of traveler (and their corresponding blogs) that has begun to grind my gears.
I love travel. I assume you, a Gadling reader, loves travel. But is traveling all of the time – with no home base – really that fantastic? Furthermore, do people who adhere to that lifestyle have the right to belittle those with stable lives and jobs? There’s been a lot of idealizing of traveling permanently and, quite frankly, I find a lot of it condescending. It’s time for a reality check.One of the most well-trafficked sites dealing with long-term travel is Nomadic Matt. That’s also the name by which the site’s founder, Matt Kepnes, is known. Matt has been traveling virtually non-stop since 2005. At 29, he’s known very little of adult life beyond traveling. Which is why I was so insulted by his recent post, “Why We Travel,” on The Huffington Post. For someone with such limited exposure to the “real world” of steady jobs, rent payments and the stresses of daily life, he has some very firm opinions on why his lifestyle is far superior to the alternative that the vast majority of Americans call normal. The following quote is indicative of the message he was attempting to convey in his post:
“In this modern world of 9 to 5, mortgages, carpools, and bills, our days can get pretty regimented and become pretty boring. Typically, our days rarely exhibit huge change. Under the weight of everything, we often lose track of what’s important to us and what are goals are. We get so caught between commutes and errands or driving the kids to soccer, that we forget how to breath and to smell those roses. When I was home I could plan out my days months in advance. Why? Because they weren’t going to be much different — commute, work, gym, sleep, repeat. Yet on the road, every moment represents a new beginning. No day is the same. You can’t plan out what will happen because nothing is set in stone.”
I should note that I know Matt. I like Matt. The limited time we have shared has been pleasant and he seems like a nice guy. However, I do not think that his perma-travel lifestyle is one that should automatically be envied or revered. In fact, I don’t want that life at all.
What someone at the age of 29 who has been traveling for much of his adult existence could possibly understand about the life that he rails against is actually less perplexing than his broad generalizations about those of us who do not abide by his philosophies. While there are certainly countless people who are lost in a sea of TPS reports and hollow pursuits, to write off all people with stable, non-travel lives as working stiffs is condescending at best and offensive at worst.
There are more than enough “mommy bloggers” – many of whom also write about travel – who enjoy driving their kids to soccer while also taking them on holidays from Disney World to Djibouti. Is there a trade-off that comes with starting a family? Well, the number of blogs out there about taking kids on trips all over the globe would indicate that there doesn’t have to be. And for the people who do stay home or perhaps only occasionally take traditional vacations, if they are happy, why is that bad?
While defining why he travels, Matt says, “[w]e want to see the world, see something different, see something change. Travel allows for change…We all want something different from our daily routine, something to challenge us.” Again, these are generalizations and gross misrepresentations that diminish the enriching and often diverse lives that people with roots firmly planted in one place have created for themselves.
His post also neglects to mention things like hobbies, families, friends, social functions and fulfilling lives that include careers and pursuits that make those so-called working stiffs happy. I have friends who are not travel writers. They have jobs in fields such as marketing, education, law and insurance. They are husbands, wives, parents, dog owners, volunteers and caregivers. They are also drummers in bands, founders of supper clubs, distillers of whiskey and triathletes. In short, they are well-rounded human beings.
I’m not alone in believing that people can have stable lives, travel only occasionally and still enjoy everything that the world has to offer. Over on the Resident Wayfarer blog [Disclosure: I know the author but am respecting his/her wish to remain anonymous], a post addressed this very topic. “To me, travel can’t define a life, travel must be the thing that holds a mirror back up to yourself, to your life, and forces you to see it in a different light, through different eyes, reversed.” In other words, travel provides a broader context within which you attempt to understand things, including yourself. The post closes with the following declaration:
“I remain the person with a home base that I love, a well-balanced wanderlust, and a pretty low bullshit-o-meter.”
In a very succinct manner, the author managers to sum up why not everyone with a 9-5 feels the way Matt suggested that they do.
“…don’t tell me the right and wrong way to travel. I don’t want to hear it. I’m doing fine on my 2 passport stamps and don’t need your worldly views dragging me down for whatever reason you feel necessary. I’ll travel however I want, whenever I want, to whereever [sic] I want. The lifestyle I choose as a traveler is entirely my decision…It seems like travel writers these days won’t tolerate anything less than a full-time backpacking lifestyle.”
To insinuate – or outright declare – that there is only one way to travel is narcissistic and condescending. It insults your audience and creates a false debate about the nature of travel. A debate that is actually more about the writer than it is about travel.
People travel for myriad reasons. Be it to take a break from work, introduce their children to Cinderella or learn about new cultures. They also do it to run away. Or to avoid a reality that scares or confuses them. Is eschewing the “real world” to travel permanently as difficult as those long-term travelers suggest? Is it more challenging than raising children, being an active member of a community or pouring yourself into a hobby that becomes a passion?
It seems to me that creating a fulfilling life – however you define that – is your own business. It may include travel. It may not. The travel could be road trips to ride roller coasters, all-inclusive getaways to tropical beaches or, yes, packing up completely and leaving your current life behind. That’s up to you. And you know yourself a whole lot better than any writer does.