Dealing with criticisms on long term travel

A recent post at Matt Gross’s Frugal Traveler blog sparked a heated debate among readers. The post, entitled “Making Vacation Last for Months”, discussed the experiences of two long term travelers – Emerson Breneman and Sean Wallace. To my surprise, the article elicited the following comments:

Oh. I usually just called these people bums. But good for them. – Michael

Grow up fellas. – Bill D

There is no future in this life style. – R

Source: Comments section, “Making Vacation Last for Months” by Matt Gross

The above reactions aren’t new. If you browse other sites or blogs that advocate or discuss long term travel, you’ll find many similar comments cropping up. Even travelers who find themselves talking about their trips will encounter friends and relatives who may react this way.

After going through all those comments, the first thing I want to address is the use of the word “vacation” in the title of Matt Gross’s post. The word itself may have had an effect on the interpretations and expectations of his readers. I know many long term travelers, and few of them consider their trips as vacations. As travelers, we should be more careful of the words we use to describe what we do.

While I might just be nitpicking semantics here, let’s remember that for most people a vacation is a relaxing trip you take when you want to get away from the stress of your work or personal life. What comes to mind is a weekend on the perfect beach sipping margaritas while getting a massage. No wonder most people think that vacationing for months is lazy and unproductive.

But that is hardly the life that one leads when traveling for more than a month. The long term travelers I know are volunteering, writing, pursuing photography, making documentaries, or doing other kinds of work. This might not be the same as being an accountant in an office, but it’s not easy either. It’s highly judgmental to call these travelers “bums” and tell them they have no future.

At the same time, I understand where the negativity is coming from. Many – but not all – proponents of long term travel often have “familiarity blindness” with the topic, forgetting that it takes a lot of planning and a huge leap of faith to even reach the mentality that their kind of travel is possible. It takes even more effort to get to the point where you can step outside your door knowing that you won’t be back in months. As Vagablogging co-blogger Scott Gilbertson wrote:

“Anyone can do it, but it takes a hell of a lot more courage and effort for some than for others…. I think the “just do it” incantations are every bit as hollow as a Nike ad — even when they’re true.”
Source: “In Love With A View” by Scott Gilbertson,

We also have to remember that not everyone is cut out for long term travel. It takes a specific kind of personality to successfully travel for an extended period of time. While it’s important for people to go outside their comfort zone once in a while, most people do see vagabonding as an extreme. They might not necessarily be jealous of the lifestyle, it’s just something that they can’t imagine for themselves. For all we know, they might be truly happy with their regular 9 to 5 jobs and the occasional weekend trip. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t judge their choices as much as they shouldn’t judge ours.

Why do you think long term travel has several critics? Have you experienced such criticisms firsthand?

Posted by | Comments (6)  | June 12, 2009
Category: General

6 Responses to “Dealing with criticisms on long term travel”

  1. road schooled Says:

    I think most people are more jealous of the freedom than the lifestyle. Or at least the perception of freedom. People look at my travel photos and wish they could experience the things I have. Yet they don’t see the gritty realities of long-term travel on a budget in the photos. They would never give up the security of having a job and knowing where they are going to sleep day to day. Whenever I stop to get a seasonal job to pay for my travels I almost feel like I am on vacation because by the time I have traveled for several months I’m exhausted and a job is a lot easier than vagabonding, especially if you travel fast. The personal growth and subsequently what I can give back to society is far greater than if I had a regular 9 to 5. But to each their own…whatever works.

  2. Chris Says:

    Envy seeks to destroy the good in the other. We are often unwilling to see the potential for gaining that same good legitimately and are unwilling to realize that good things (that we judge as outside our own grasp; e.g., the freedom of long-term travel) often come after intentional, disciplined choices give birth to hard won, but enviable experiences.

  3. aaron Says:

    If you read the hitchhiking post that is 2 down from this.. that is me. I’ve heard this alot, especially in the first few years of traveling. Then, I took Pott’s advice from Vagabonding and found a way to include my travels in my resume. It works out for me because most of my travels have been on school breaks and I’m applying for teaching positions. In my interviews, I usually point out that “if you look at the dates I travel, its always on school breaks, so this shouldnt raise any “red flags”. So far, I’ve been offered every job I applied for. —- So, for all of those people that say you’re wasting your time, I think Vagabonding looks better on a resume than most other “real jobs”

  4. Lis Carpenter Says:

    Is it possible to interview you? I am working on the Wikipedia article on vagabonding and someone marked it for deletion because I did not have sufficient content. I was flabbergasted!

    Thank man!

  5. Mike Says:

    I have often encountered this reaction and it is mostly seated in jealousy. I am lucky enough (and have also worked very hard over the years) to have been able to put myself in a position where physical location is no longer relevant to my work. I have been on the road since October 2008 and am loving every minute. I had got trapped in the money/lifestyle thing previously and had turned into what I feared the most: a 9-5 drone. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but doing the same thing day-in, day-out, living only for the weekend is not my idea of having a life at 33. I still work hard, I still study (because I now have the time to), but more importantly, I have a life. Sure, I don’t earn as much as I used to, I don’t own a house or a car, but I am living my life the way I want it to be, and not how someone is telling me it should be.

    Absolutely anyone can do this – really – just on different levels. It is just that first step that is hard as Scott Gilbertson says, but once you have taken it, you view life, immediately, from a different perspective. I have taken this first step a number of times since I was the age of 18, so it is a little easier for me, but the last time I had to take that step, it was very hard as I had been swallowed up in the world of work. I recognised this, and this scared me enough into taking the plunge into the unknown again. I am better for it, and have met so many wonderful people and have gained many wonderful experiences as a result. Why work 14 hour days when you can have a life and only work four hour days? I know which one I prefer (and no, I don’t have a huge bank balance, or inherited wealth).

  6. Tara Says:

    I have been looking around online to do some research on the psychological effects of long term travel and stumbled on this site. I, as anyone on this site, have that travel bug in my heart and have since my first trip overseas at 21. I spent almost a year traveling solo in SE Asia about 2 years ago, which is the trip that brings me to try to gain some insight on how this long term trip has effected how I feel. I now have a hard time feeling like things are right, and like I am who i am supposed to be. At first I chalked this up to reverse culture shock, but after 2 years I still feel unsettled inside.

    Shortly after I got home the only friend I had that could relate to these feelings passed, and the fact that they still linger makes me feel like I need some sort of confirmation that they are not specific to me and my experience. Does this feeling of discomfort become permanent when you experience the ultimate freedom and then go home to establish yourself with a 9-5 and a retirement plan? Any comments on this subject?