Is Long-Term Traveling Selfish?

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living,” – Miriam Beard

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?

How Travel Is Not Selfish

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.

Many Things In Life Are Selfish

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?

10 tips for dealing with travel fatigue

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling long-term or for only a week, travel fatigue can happen to anyone. You’re tired, cranky, and you really couldn’t care less about seeing another museum, cathedral, or castle. Maybe you’re even thinking of cutting your trip short. Before taking drastic measures, try using some of these tips to help you get over your travel fatigue.

Exercise and eat healthy

It can be easy to forgo your fitness routine and opt for all of the rich, filling foods that you wouldn’t normally eat at home. For budget backpackers, it often becomes a habit to buy whatever food is the cheapest, which usually means greasy and unhealthy. While saving money is important, so is your health, and for you to enjoy your trip you need to be 100%. Start out by drinking lots of water and going to the market, where you can buy affordable and fresh produce. Also, start some kind of exercise routine, whether it be visiting a local gym, running through a park, or attending an active class of some kind.Take the pressure off yourself

When traveling, people often feel like they must experience every little piece of the city. And, if you’re only spending a short time in one place, the need to see millions of sites in a short amount of time can definitely be draining. Instead of trying to visit every single church, castle, museum, art gallery, park, and monument in town, narrow your list down to a few sites you’re really excited about and spend more time doing less.

Stay put

The actual travel part of traveling, the trains, plains, buses, taxis, cars, and boats, can be exhausting. While you may feel like you’re missing out if you’re not constantly on the go and seeing as many cities possible, you can also aim to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the city that you’re currently in. Instead of only skimming the surface of a destination, you now have the chance to really get to know the culture at a slower and less tiring pace.

Pamper yourself

It doesn’t matter if you’re taking a luxury vacation or budget backpacking trip; when you’re feeling travel fatigue, it’s important to make yourself comfortable. That doesn’t mean you need to buy the most expensive spa treatment on the menu or book a night at 5-star hotel, but adding a little luxury into your trip can help you perk up. Get a massage, relax in a sauna, or reserve a hotel room with a comfortable bed and cable.


At times, traveling can be stressful. Wondering how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B in time to catch a flight, dealing with lost luggage, or navigating a particularly confusing city can really weigh heavily on your mind. Try to find a way to relax and clear your thoughts. Meditation works for many people, as can taking a walk in a beautiful park or laying out on a nearby beach.

Connect with family and friends from home

Thankfully, it’s easy to stay connected on the road these days. Make a phone call, write an e-mail, or, better yet, video chat with your loved ones to help you feel closer to home. If you’re feeling really stressed, its also easier to vent to the people who know who best than complete strangers.

Do what you WANT to do

I find that so many times when I’m traveling, I find myself doing what I “should” be doing. Someone tells you to visit a beautiful church, a historical castle, or an educational museum and you suddenly feel like you have to do it. If you don’t like churches or museums, though, don’t go. When feeling travel fatigue, you need to focus on really enjoying where you are and what you’re doing, so seek out activities that you enjoy, even if they may feel less “cultural”.

Give yourself a routine

For some people suffering from travel fatigue, the endless days of sightseeing and wandering around can really wear you out. Giving yourself a routine, at least for a short period of time, can help give you a real purpose and a reason to be somewhere. Check the job boards at local hostels and see if anyone is looking for short-term help or find a volunteer organization to work with. If you can’t find a project on your own, SE7EN offers free and low-cost volunteer opportunities.

Make new friends

While alone time can definitely be helpful for relaxing and regaining your energy, you also don’t want to spend so much time alone that you’re bored and lonely. Seek out friends who feel excited about traveling and are not suffering from the travel fatigue syndrome. Their enthusiasm will hopefully rub off on you. Plus, simply going out for a drink, going for a walk, or getting dinner with new people can open you up to unexpected experiences.

Adjust your mindset

Although you may be sick of traveling, you have to tell yourself that it’s only temporary and don’t let it ruin your entire trip. Think about what a great opportunity you have, experiencing new cities and cultures, and try to spin any negative thoughts into positive ones. Wish you had a hot bath but the closest thing you can find is a bucket shower? Think about what a unique experience your having. Having trouble adjusting to the food? Remember you won’t be eating it forever and will also have interesting stories for your friends back home.

On long-term travel, snobbery & judgmental blogging

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.

Over on SoSauce, Alisha Miranda also expressed her disdain for judgmental travelers who view their opinions on the subject as the gospel. [Disclosure: I am also friends with Alisha] She wrote,

“…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.

South by Southeast: The Tao of long-term travel

Welcome back to Gadling’s newest series on Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Long-term travel is a topic with considerable baggage, both in the travel community and the world at large. For those tied to life’s obligations – jobs, children, mortgages – checking out to spend a few months (or years) on the road is irresponsible. For those righteously living out of a backpack on the other side of the world – nodding their heads smugly at their “enlightened lifestyle” – the people back home are afraid to take chances.

But both sides of this debate get it wrong. No matter your perspective on the issue, the decision to take a long-term trip must be grounded in personal circumstances and aligned with reality. To do it any other way is to fall victim to the same old travel cliches.

So what is long term travel really about? And how is it different than a vacation? The answer to this question is complicated – there are as many justifications for long-term trips as their are places to visit. But in order to give some perspective to the topic, let’s take a look at some of my own reasons for taking a long-term trip. Whether you empathize with me or think I’m an idiot, it will help explain why long-term travel isn’t just “another vacation.” Click below to see why…Long-term travel is not about “Escape”
Perhaps the biggest myth of long-term travel is you can escape responsibility and worry. Critics of long-term travel mention this as justification for why long-term travelers are irresponsible. To them, these individuals are all doing drugs on the beaches of Thailand and postponing the realities of life. Part of this argument rings true. If you hate your job and think going to Southeast Asia will fix your troubles, it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s leading to your dissatisfaction. The same issues that plague you at home will be waiting when you return.

But done properly, long-term travel has nothing to do with escape. Sure, there are backpackers out there “doing dope” and living off a trust fund. But to generalize all long-term travelers this way is an oversimplification. Instead, long-term travel is a life-affirming opportunity to open our minds to new ideas, new challenges and new ways of thinking.

Long-term travel is about slowing down
When I was working 9-5 every day, I treated my vacation days as precious gems. I spent hour after hour meticulously researching and planning my trips, scheming about where I would go and what I might do in order to maximize my time. If even an hour of the trip wasn’t enjoyable, it felt like the time had been squandered, lost to the ages. Instead of being able to live in the moment and enjoy my experience, I was too busy worrying if I was having fun.

Vacations are great, but we are all guilty of packing too much into them. Long-term travel allows us the luxury of time. We don’t have to rush from place to place, frantically taking in sights and acquiring painful new blisters on our toes. We can take our noses out of our guidebooks for a few seconds to look around. And if we find a place we love, we have the privilege of staying a few extra days.

Long-term travel is a challenge
It’s great when you plan every last detail of a trip. You know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. But aren’t our lives already orchestrated enough? The best opportunities for learning and personal growth is not when we succeed, but rather when we fail.

The spontaneous, think-on-your-feet character of long-term travel forces us to make tough choices. In the process you’re likely to learn a lot about yourself and your priorities. And if you can adapt to tough circumstances on the road, it’s likely you’ll be able to do the same when you return home.

Long-term travel helps us meet the locals
Thanks to the Internet, we now know more about the world than ever before. But there’s a problem with this. Humans tend to seek out other humans and information that match our own values and interests. When we travel, we tend to follow a similar pattern, staying in the tourist quarter and isolating ourselves in hotels. There’s nothing wrong with this behavior, mind you, it just makes it more difficult to meet anyone but other travelers.

But arguably one of the best parts of travel is meeting the locals. It helps break down the “wall” tourism frequently creates and helps us truly get a sense of a place. But when our visits are short, meeting locals is made more difficult. The the knowledge of your imminent departure impacts your relationship. Long-term travel, again, is about the luxury of time. It’s over these longer periods that genuine friendships are formed.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.