To Hell with the Rest: A Manifesto for Vagabonds and Daydreaming Travelers
If you dub yourself a ‘world traveler’, chances are you’ve experienced the mixed bag of emotions and reactions that comes with this title. While most mentions of world travel conjure envious sighs and dreamy eyes, there are those who just don’t understand why you may feel the need to travel.
Any truly determined traveler says “screw it” and moves on. But even the most secure adventurer will face moments of indecision. Whether it be small-minded coworkers, a fearful grandmother or friends who simply don’t want to lose you to a foreign country, there will almost always be someone pointing out why you’d be better off just staying home.
Most of the time, we’re not out to explain why we travel the world. It’s our reason, and our reason alone. To hell with the ignorant, to hell with the passport-less, to hell with the suburban squatters who consider long-distance travel to be a car ride to a city two hours away! We’re out to see the world, to taste foreign foods, to absorb the culture, climb pyramids and drink exotic beers!
There comes a time when the undercurrent of society begins to erode our self-confidence, when the cold glare of Expectations and Responsibilities creeps a bit too close to the sensitive underbelly of our hearts. Furthermore, post-graduate routine breeds comfort, and comfort breeds an idealized notion of what travel means once a full-time job has been established.
Suddenly, travel is a wild-bearded hippie who’s been hitchhiking for seven years. Traveling can commence only after certain levels of funds have been acquired. A six month stint lazing on the beach in Ecuador doesn’t bode well on the ol’ resume when applying for a computer science job. Excuses in the real world accumulate faster than the number of cities on a To-See list, and they especially plague those of us fresh out of college or just beginning to consider the traveler lifestyle.
It is the classic clash of Real Life and Fantasy with one small difference: the determination to demolish the invisible wall separating priorities and plane tickets. Some people don’t agree with this, believing Real Life involves hard work, no fun, and a submission to mortgages and misery. Others have strict expectations about what a life well-led looks like: college studies, degrees, a high-paying job, and a never-ending road forward from there. World travel never figures in, unless it’s within a two-week time frame involving a “safe” deal advertised at the nearest travel agency.
But for those of us out to truly taste the world, that style of living just isn’t enough. Going against the grain, then, in a world where “smart” equates to “amassing wealth” and “stable” equates to “steady job in one city”, means that we inevitably butt heads with someone along the way.
The most important thing to remember is your goal. Whatever it is – join the Peace Corp, teach English abroad, see every continent, climb all the pyramids in the world, or develop a sustainable living farm in northern Russia – keep it at the forefront of your mind and never grow complacent. It’s easy to slink into the mainstream, to let raised eyebrows and a quick inhale from another convince you that what you’re planning or striving for is foolish or irresponsible. Choosing an alternative lifestyle, or even an average lifestyle with certain “alternative embellishments”, is an invitation for commentary.
Don’t ever forget that your life is meant to be lived. Curiosity is a relentless human characteristic, so if you feel the itch to travel or learn about new cultures, you come by it honestly. If you have a nagging aunt who insists on reminding you of the safety issues in Guatemala without ever mentioning the culture or history, or a nervous friend who makes generalized comments about “the Asians”, entertain them with caution. Get educated about where you’re going and what you’re doing, but don’t let second- or third-hand warnings deter you from pursuing your dreams. Be conscious of the dangers, but temper this with a healthy rationale.
Looking down your nose at someone who chooses a corporate lifestyle is no better than them scorning your vagabonding, world connoisseur lifestyle.
Above all else: to each his or her own. What your small-town friends decide to do is their business, just like your decision to prance around England or Thailand is yours. Each decision deserves respect, and looking down your nose at someone who chooses a corporate way of life is no better than them scorning your vagabond/backpacking/flashpacking/world connoisseur lifestyle.
If you find that fear is your greatest enemy, remember this classic piece of advice: where there’s a will, there’s a way. If traveling is important to you – if you absolutely cannot survive this earthly existence without doing so – then you will find a way to make it happen. Ask yourself if you’d rather feel the satisfaction of leading a life full of accomplished dreams and satisfied curiosities, or the pervasive disappointment of letting time slip by and by until the spark has fizzled.
There’s no time to waste. Some people don’t get it. But those of us that do already have the plane ticket.
So, to hell with them. Just travel on.
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About the Author
Shannon Bradford is a twenty-something with a fondness for open air markets, ancient ruins and foreign tongues. She is currently living creatively in South America where she is completing several novels, mastering the Spanish language, and learning the ins and outs of the ex-patriot lifestyle. Check out her blog, Taking the Leap.