Is long-term travel selfish? It’s a dilemma many backpackers and full-time nomads struggle with. You miss birthdays and weddings, you get to skip sitting behind an office desk eight hours a day, you make your family and friends worry and spend each day fulfilling your own desires to explore the world.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of selfish is “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” While I would say that partially correlates to the long-term traveler, I’m not sure it’s a completely accurate depiction.How Travel Is Selfish
There are many selfish aspects to long-term travel. Travel is about oneself, and what we want to get out of an experience. Our days are dictated by sites of interest, as we commit to exploring unique landscapes and having rare experiences. It’s purely for the benefit of oneself. However, isn’t it necessary to be selfish in life, to get what we want, even if the method is unconventional?
The part of the definition of “selfish” that doesn’t sit well with me is where it states that the person is acting “without regard for others.” Traveling is inspiring, and many long-term travelers try to make a positive impact where they go. Whether it’s helping a community, imparting knowledge, buying a handmade scarf at a market or playing a game with a child, travelers can make a positive impact. Even something as small as teaching a local about life in your home city or doing a language exchange can help educate someone in another place.
Of course, different people have different travel philosophies, meaning there may be some genuinely selfish travelers out there. However, if they’re enjoying what they’re doing and not causing harm, are they really acting “without regard for others?”
What we learn we can then pass on to others. By traveling we automatically help the local economy in the place we are visiting. One argument many people have for long-term travel being selfish is that the traveler doesn’t help their home economy; however, I don’t think many non-travelers are staying home solely to make purchases to help their economy. The cheeseburger you bought for lunch, those new shoes and that gold watch were more likely purchased to fulfill a self-centered desire than anything else.
Everybody has the ability to make their own decisions. If someone chooses to travel long term, they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re doing something wrong. It may be unconventional, but is that really a bad thing? Moreover, aren’t most of things people do out of passion “selfish”? If you go to the gym, do yoga, get a dog, buy a shirt, or go to work, aren’t these all motivated by a selfish desire? In my opinion, you need to be a bit selfish in order to feel fulfilled.
Is Being Selfish Always A Bad Thing?
But, why does this need to be a bad thing? Our passions are what help us grow. Why do you think travel is such a great resume booster? It gives you life skills and knowledge, and makes you more of a citizen of the world. As a well-rounded individual, you can then make a positive impact on society.
On a recent bus ride in Bolivia, I sat next to a man who had uprooted his two boys, one 14 and one 9, to volunteer around the world. At first I couldn’t believe he would take them out of school and away from their friends at such a young age; however, when the nine-year-old boy began to speak, I was amazed at how smart he was. He knew how to read braille from working with the blind, spoke of the habits of monkeys living in the wild, knew a lot about health and nutrition and spoke of working with the mentally challenged in a mature and sensitive manner. His dream was to travel the world and experiment with natural remedies to come up with cures for diseases. What a selfless goal to come out of someone’s “selfish” act.
Do you think long-term travel is selfish?