Confessions of an Expat: Is Traveling Selfish?

Confessions of an Expat: Is Traveling Selfish?

Is Traveling Selfish?
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Confessions of an Expat: Is Traveling Selfish?

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It’s funny to see how those around you act when you say that you are heading out to see the world, once you’ve finished school. Studying abroad for a semester, visiting friends or family in other countries, or saving up for and taking an exotic holiday once every year or two seems perfectly acceptable, but the idea of living a life of wanderlust much after the age of 25 just doesn’t sit right with some people.  This fact provides an interesting commentary on changing cultural norms if one considers the traditional time-honored image of the young man leaving home “to seek his fortune…….”.   While we write many personal accounts of our travels on this blog, usually keep much of our private lives to ourselves. However some of our most authentic posts do stem from something we have experienced ourselves, and this topic is no exception.

We knew that moving abroad together wouldn’t please every member of our families, but we decided that making the choice to see the world was one we were comfortable standing by, no matter the reaction from others.

 

Is Traveling Selfish?Marina and I only had a few days together in Los Angeles after returning from nine months in Thailand before I headed to Washington, DC for the holidays to spend time with my family. During that short period of time, we wanted to make sure to see all of the friends and family we could together, as we do not know the next time we will be in Los Angeles again.

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It was wonderful to see everyone, including old roommates, and even a few new friends, most of whom were extremely excited about our adventures, supportive and thrilled for everything we are doing and working on as we head into the new year. However, a visit to one of our close family members started right out with this question:  “So, after you’ve seen the world, when are you two planning to settle down?

 

The suggestion was even made that our decision to travel had disappointed certain members of our families who felt that it was time for us to “grow up” and settle down like responsible adults. Both of us were surprised by such a perspective, since we felt that we had made a responsible adult decision which could lead to life changing experiences, and which would harm no one. We actually think that our decision should be celebrated or at least encouraged in a world where it sometimes seems that an extended exploration of the world is less acceptable for young adults. The fact that we have made a decision to no longer follow traditional career paths and for a time to live instead where the wind takes us has been a most conscious choice. It is a decision, while partially brought on by economic struggles in the US, is also born out of the love for adventure, the mysterious, and the unknown.

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“..We were all put on this Earth for one reason, and one reason only, to reproduce. And so each day you are not working towards that you are simply being selfish, she said.” 

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It is of worth to note than Marina and I are completely self sufficient and make our income through this blog as well as other freelance ventures. We work a lot, we work hard and have just created a lifestyle which allows for that work to be done on a computer wherever we can get power and a little wifi. No, we did not win the lottery or have rich parents who give us credit cards, and when all is said and done, our cost of living is less on the road than it was back in Los Angeles.

 

Is Traveling Selfish?A final piece of unsolicited advice from this family member implied that we should really think about getting real jobs so that we could get married, start a family, and settle down, and that as long as we  are not working towards that goal, we are simply being selfish.”

The world have given me so much over the years. I didn’t truly know myself until I jumped out into the world and met life head on. The best education I have received has been through learning to interact with strangers, volunteering my time to help others in need, being placed outside of my comfort zone and outside my element. It is an education I am proud of and I do not regret a second of it.

 

I wanted to relate this experience because both Marina and I feel  comfortable speaking about our travel-related experiences with you, our readers and fellow travelers, even when they are challenging. We also want to hear about your experiences  as we attempt to better understand how, not only as travelers but as human beings, we deal with the reactions from others to our travel-related decisions. Maybe you have experienced a similar reaction from family members due to your wanderlust,  maybe you’ve felt a kickback from friends who simply do not understand, and maybe you, too, have felt hurt or offended by others simply because you chose to devote some time to seeing the world.

 

I’ll be the first one to admit that I travel not only to see the world but to feed my soul. The road, the unknown, the excitement of arriving in a new place, the smell of a new country, the smile from a complete stranger in a foreign land – THAT is why I travel. I strongly believe that we all have a duty of sorts to see the world around us, to explore that which is unknown to us and learn from others in an attempt, no matter how minuscule in the grand scale of things, to fully experience the world in which we have found ourselves.  Am I saying that you cannot lead a fulfilled or complete life without world travel?  Absolutely not, but it sure never hurt anyone, and I promise you that no one ever has returned from traveling and ended up on their death bed with the lament, “Oh Man, I sure wish I hadn’t traveled the world.

 

Is Traveling Selfish?So, what do you think? Is our experience due to the fact we are Americans and the traditional American dream is pretty provincial? Is it because of the generation in which we were brought up? Maybe people think it is unfair that we fled a bad economy and that we should have tried harder to enter the workforce here anyway?

 

Whatever the reason for any objection, my response is that life is not a dress rehearsal.  This is not a test.  This is the real deal. We only get one life, one world, and one chance to see it all, and no one will ever be able to convince me that there is a better use of my time right now than trying my hardest to see every corner of it, taste every new food I find, swim in every ocean I come to, and do it all with my best friend by my side.

 

So no, I do not think I am being selfish.  I’m lucky to have been able to break the mold, and even luckier to find a traveling companion that I happen to be in love with as well. I hope that you’ll consider breaking the mold with us, and head out into your own unknown, whatever that may be, regardless of what others around you might think or say.

 

So take a chance, be safe, stay happy and smile.  You never know who might smile back.
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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

30 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, I’ve been thru the same phase too. After my last world trip (my third) I decided traveling is the lifestyle for me, and I’ve been sculpturing my life around it since I got back about a month ago..

    • Good for you Victor! You know, some things work for people, some don’t, glad to hear you found what works for you, it works for us too!

  2. Well written. You’re absolutely not selfish. I think you have the right attitude, mindset and outlook. If you’ve discovered something that you love and makes you happy, good! And if you have the courage and faith to pursue it, and it doesn’t harm anyone, even better. I mean, that’s the purpose of life, quite simply to be happy and we know that happiness means different things for everyone. Anyways, all the best for your future ventures!!
    Nita recently posted…Travel Moments – 2013My Profile

  3. We’re lucky nobody has ever come out and said anything like that to us but people do often seem ‘confused’ by our decision to live such a transient lifestyle. I think for the older generation things like owning a home, job security and starting a family are seen as the most important things in life. The world is such a small place now, people have more opportunity. I agree it’s a shame to be complacent and not take advantage of this one chance we have to carve our own paths and not march to the same beat as everybody else! Great article, well said! :)
    Brian recently posted…Travel Tip #10: Why You Should Always Check Your RoomMy Profile

    • Very interesting, these generational difference…. Makes me wonder what I’ll think about the younger generation when I’m older. I just hope we are still traveling the world and making new friends and memories. Thanks for the nice comments though Brian, appreciate it. Happy 2014!

  4. Wow – I just wanted to say when I read this it hit home for me big time. I really thought that my husband and I were alone in hearing some of the comments you’ve mentioned. My husband and I have two children but we chose to leave the traditional American workplace/lifestyle and have found a way to do it. I think THAT’S the American dream, being able to embrace what you love, and make a life that fulfills that. Maybe 50 years ago it was settling down to a suburb house, with a white picket fence, and corporate job. Maybe for some people it still is. I don’t think you’re selfish and I don’t think you’re lucky. Those of us who have lives like this have made a conscious choice and work hard to make it possible. Good for you for making it happen!
    Amanda @ MarocMama recently posted…Driving in Morocco and Being IlliterateMy Profile

    • So glad you could relate to this too! We knew others might have had something similar happen to them. I think it is so amazing when people choose to raise their kids abroad, what a wonderful gift you are giving them. The American dream should be whatever makes us all happy!

    • To me, being selfish is simply looking at what is best for the “self”, which is most important. If we are all happy with ourselves, I truly believe we will be happier people on the outside and live more productive lives!

  5. Attitudes such as this truly drive me crazy. It is not just an American thing either (I am Australian).

    No one has actually used the word selfish with me, but I am sure they have thought it. I have had so many comments in the past about how it’s time to grow up when I come back from yet another long trip, and that I need to focus on buying a house or some other rubbish. I did still manage the traditional career while travelling on longer trips ( I took 2 x 1 year breaks to travel as well as a 6 month and some shorter ones!), but it didn’t stop the comments. We do own a house now, although we don’t live in it, so the comments just move on to how we need to buy a better one, or move to a bigger place (we rent a two bedroom apartment). Why is it anyone else’s business?

    It drives me crazy. What is makes it more “grown up” to fit other people’s molds of how I should live my life? I think it takes more maturity to make your own mold.

    Now that we travel with kids, I’m sure there are even more people thinking we are selfish. What the hell is selfish about giving kids amazing experiences and so much time with both parents, whereas back in Australia they barely see their dad? They love travelling, why wouldn’t they.

    Anyway, good on you and keep following your dreams. That is inspirational, not selfish :)
    Sharon recently posted…My ten worst experiences while travelling the worldMy Profile

    • They drive me crazy too! I think we are all “growing up” just fine out here in the world and I am always soooo thrilled when I see travelers bringing their children of families along with them. What a precious gift it is to give your children the gift of being raised on the road and flooding their early memories with experiences around the globe.

      Sure we’ll settle down at some point, but for now the best thing for us personally is to head out in the world and see what it shows us, and for that we will never apologize!

  6. I like this a lot! I recently had a tiff with someone who told me that she thought I traveled too much and should settle down and be more “responsible” since I’m not in my mid 30s. I felt offended. I don’t think there’s anything irresponsible about seeing the world. I might be in my mid 30s but I am happily married and successful with my own business and there’s no need for me to “settle” for anything actually! I am exactly where I want to be in life! I travel because it keeps me alive and I hope to stay fit enough into my 70s so I can keep traveling for my entire life! I don’t spend money on houses and luxury goods. I spend money on seeing the world and finding my fulfillment in meeting new people around the world and having this inspire my business! I don’t think that travel is selfish at all. I do wonder however if some people are just jealous or what else may inspire someone to be so bitter about people who live freely!
    Eva Gold recently posted…Lemon Poppyseed Yogurt CakeMy Profile

    • Exactly! And at the end of the day the only thing we have are our memories and the friends we have made along the way, not material goods anyway. So I agree with you 100%, spend your money on memories!

  7. I’m really glad I got to read this when I did. I’m currently in the process of writing out exactly what I’m going to tell my family and it’s not going to be easy. I’m sure I’ll have some support, but they are not going to understand for the most part. I’m okay with that, but more than anything…I don’t want them raining on my parade haha. So, anyway, thank you for writing this and I don’t think y’all are selfish at all :)
    A Southern Gypsy recently posted…When Traveling to Heal Doesn’t WorkMy Profile

    • Thanks for the message! I truly hope this can help some others deal with family and friends who simply do not understand the wanderlust we all share. Good luck with the friends and family, I promise more will be excited than confused and unsupportive!

  8. No one has called me selfish to my face, but I definitely do feel that awkwardness that comes up when I talk about my travels or my time living abroad. With my friends and family, I think it is a cultural thing. In a Chinese household they expect perfection as a kid growing up. They want you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Something respectful. And so when I left, many didn’t really get it. My parents did thankfully and they support me, but the rest of the family? Not so much – especially the older generation. They didn’t understand why I didn’t just want to find a job, find a husband, have a couple kids and settle down. Right now I’m caught in between both worlds. I hold a steady job and in many people’s eyes have “grown up” and taken hold of my life. But deep inside, I’m craving to be on the road again. I’m sure, it’s only a matter of time. I feel the itch already.
    Adelina @ PackMeTo recently posted…24 Hours in Victoria, BCMy Profile

    • We have felt unending support from our immediate families but I think the older generation just doesn’t understand that we can actually be a funcionting and contributing member of society and travel at the same time while supporting ourselves too! Its a different world today than 50 years ago for sure. At the same time, we have gotten some interesting responses from our own friends our age not really understanding what we are doing and why ha. Ohh well, we only hope they decide to come check out the world wihth us, we’ll all show them a great time!

  9. Screw the workforce. I am older than you and do wish I would have had these thoughts of travel when I got out of school. But I followed the “normal” American life and got a job, got married and bought a house. Now, I’ve enjoyed my path in life. I don’t believe in having remorse for lost opportunities or regrets. Every decision we make leads us to where we are today. And where I am today is happily married for 14 years with a a 7 year old. We travel often as a family, teaching our son about other cultures. But we also have a home life where we enjoy being in a city and being near friends and family. Unless you have a sick family member who really needs you around, I don’t understand how it could be considered selfish to be following your dreams. Keep at it.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted…Getting Older: 37 Life Travel Moments (the conclusion)My Profile

    • Thanks for the great advice Lance! So great to be able to live a life filled with travel and to show your family the world. I even wish I could have started traveling earlier, but like you said, no regrets. Everything that has happened in both Marina an my life’s had lead us here and we are pretty stoked about that. Cheers!

  10. I always find it funny how not living the same as most people is considered ‘selfish’ (by some). I personally think that people who take risks and follow their dreams (rather than convention) tend to be more empathetic and socially aware actually…and because they are living a life that makes them HAPPY, they have more to give back to the world in general. To me it makes no sense how ‘settling down’, working at a job that you don’t necessarily like, and accumulating ‘stuff’ is OK but travelling the world, continuously broadening your mind (and soul), and living with less is egocentric. I certainly don’t think that settling down is a bad thing IF that is what you want…but if you want something different, then that should be celebrated as well. Luckily for me my family is fairly non-conventional so I have never had to explain my nomadic tendencies to them. It would be hard if I had to, so I admire those of you who get resistance but still go for it anyway! The world needs more people who follow their hearts…
    Tara@Gypsy Shutterbug recently posted…-Just Picture It- US/MexicoMy Profile

  11. Great article!
    Although I am probably around the age of the relative that says you should ‘settle’ down I think you have to follow your heart, we are ALL individuals. I am a single lady in my early fifties and have had the house, routine, stress of being ‘settled’. My kids are all grown up. I sold my ‘settled stuff’ over 2 years ago, packed my suitcase and have lived out of it since, I am stress free, happy, healthy, loving life on the road and can not see me ever ‘settling’ down again. The one thing I get is ‘you are so lucky I envy you’ – I reply , it comes done to making a decision – what is important in life to your ‘stuff )’ (last often brings stress) or experiences. I choose experiences 😀 MANY people have children and continue traveling the world (check out Unstoppable Family, Brain and Rhonda Swan) … Wandlust on!! Namaste

  12. Here is my question for you. When you are old, and cannot travel, will you expect to tap entitlement programs even though you never contributed to them? That would be selfish.

    • We are Americans and still pay our taxes each and every year no matter if we are here or not, so yes, we are contributing to all of the benefits every American has the right to enjoy later in life if they so chose.

  13. No, you’re not selfish. You made a choice in your lives, that’s all. But I’m not sure it’s generational. I started travelling in earnest in my 60s. I should love to have done it much earlier but stuff happen. And in the 1960s, for all it’s glory of ‘free love’ and all that, having the wherewithal to get on a plane was out of the question for most people. Women were only just beginning to break out so it was the exceptional with a vision of the future who moved from their narrow confines. For the rest of us, life and death got in the way. But let me say this, it’s never too late. We recently ended 6 months camping around Africa, we’ve travelled the world (Dubai twice) and have no plans to stop and settle down! So for your older followers, I say don’t dream, do it. Downsize, get yourself going.

    • Such a great comment Dinah! It has been really hard for us to see so many of our parents generation slow down in the last few years. My parents retired and were so terrified of finding themselves still sitting around the house in 5 years that they sold the place and up and moved to South America. They are finally doing what they always wished they had done at 20 and I couldn’t be more happy for them. Sounds like you have had an amazing adventure to and it serves as inspiration to us all. Cheers and happy travels!

  14. This article really hits home for me. I feel like, after four years of non-stop travel, I’ve been incredibly selfish, but in a way in which I’m very gracious for. I’ve created a lifestyle that allows me to be whatever I want to be, and wherever I want to be.

    But, after returning to the United States last month, I’ve felt pressures and gotten looks from people who wonder when I’m going to stop gallivanting the globe and being irresponsible. What they fail to realize, though, is that there is another way of life, one which doesn’t involve Monday to Friday or stock options.

    I’m working on developing a lifestyle for myself that allows me to work all over the world, and it’s something that most people, here in America, simply can’t understand or relate to.
    Jeremy recently posted…How to Eat Like a Local in CroatiaMy Profile

  15. Hi Jeff

    Really fascinating article for me because I actually do believe I’m being somewhat selfish in leaving everything and everyone behind as my wife, son and I go exploring the world. We had to give our dog away (to an awesome home of a friend), and we’re taking Jack away from his grandparents at such a young age. But I actually believe that it is impossible to lead a full and satisfying life without being just a little bit selfish. How can you be completely happy if every decision you make is based on how it will make someone else feel? We’ve been fortunate in that everyone has been very supportive, but I’m sure someone has said something negative behind our backs. But that’s fine too, because I’m focused on doing what I want for myself, my wife and my son…and no one else.
    Chris Appleford recently posted…The hardest thing I have had to doMy Profile

    • Totally agree Chris! We all get one shot at this life and being able to stand up for ourselves and make a decision for us and our families is ok and should be celebrated! I’m sure it will be hard for both Jack and his grandparents to not be around each other while you are traveling, but this of the amazing life gifts you are giving him by traveling to young? Absolutely love what you guys are doing and cannot wait to tag along!

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