Is Travelling Escapism?: Confessions of a Nomad

I love to travel. I really love to travel. I seem to do it a lot, for months on end. I might be addicted. I love seeking warm air, sand, sun, sea, jungle, mountains and desert. I love the feeling of freedom. I love exploration. I love the exhilaration of discovery and the feeling that I am truly alive. I love the fleeting friendships and romances that teach lessons of magic and impermanence. I love arriving. I love departing. I love being on the move and I love staying put. Nowhere is home. The whole world is my home. Home is inside.

No one has ever said to me that they think travelling is escapism. Yet I find myself asking the question often. I think the one really doing the asking is what Freud called the superego. I think it is the conditioning provided by the culture I’ve grown up in. The culture that worships accumulation of ‘stuff’, living according to convention, acquiring a good pension, and measures success by how far up the career ladder you can climb. I’ll admit I do like ‘stuff’ but I can do without a lot of it, and I’ve never cared much for a career. Maybe that’s because I’ve never found one that fits me but also because I’ve always treasured the value of subjective experience over external signs of wealth.

When most of your friends at ‘home’ are slugging away at their jobs it’s hard not to think that you’ve ‘gone wrong’ somewhere. Subtle guilt. I am irresponsible and will reap the consequences later. Not that it’s on my mind a lot but it seeps in from time to time, particularly in between trips. An older ex-colleague of mine from my pre-travel life used to say that those who travel screw up their lives. Maybe it’s just too risky… Mind you as soon as you leave your home country you realise the apparent folly of this way of thinking. The question turns on it’s head, becoming not ‘is it too risky to travel?’ but ‘is it too risky not to travel?!’.

Admittedly, many of the people you meet when you travel are indeed escaping in some way; many are there because something has gone wrong. People often go away to get over relationships that have ended, or because they’re dissatisfied with life back home in some way. People travel because they’re looking for answers, a better way to live, to get away from the shitty weather back home, or because they have a nagging feeling that the story we’ve been sold since school days about how to live our lives just doesn’t add up. Hell, I’ve travelled for all of these reasons and more. And there’s another reason why people travel – it’s just so much fucking fun! But does all this make it escapism and is it irresponsible?

It’s difficult to argue that travel is not escapism when clearly we travel to get away from certain things, but I don’t believe this necessarily makes it irresponsible or ‘bad’. Very often the trip itself is just the remedy. Humanity has a long history of retreat, of withdrawal from ‘normal’ life in order to spend time away, gain something precious and then return. In fact this – what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the hero’s journey’ – is the primary mythological story of the human race. I’m not saying that everyone who travels is on a glorious path of redemption and salvation, but for many their time away can facilitate important shifts inside (no I’m not referring to Bali belly), a widening of perspective and a furthering of psychological evolution. At the very least it will break the monotony of home living and blowout the cobwebs. It could even lead to a new more satisfying life miles away from where they grew up. Sound grandiose? Seriously, this happens. In more simple terms:

When people travel they tend to be happy.

Yes, happy. Travellers really are a happy bunch once they are on the road. So who’s to say that jacking everything in and going away is not actually just an intelligent thing to do? Sure, you might not be able to rise through the ranks of KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers like they tried to sell you at university, but you never truly wanted that anyway did you? Or maybe you did and that is fine too.

Of course travel, like drinking ayahuasca in the amazon jungle or jumping out of a plane, is not for everyone. Naturally, those with families or other commitments will feel a greater pull to remain at home. Many gain value and satisfaction from the lives they lead at home and feel no compulsion to throw caution to the wind and up sticks. I have a lot of respect for such folk and a part of me regrets I’ve never found a similar path that works for me.

Regular travellers choose to forgo stability and the pimped-out pension in favour of things they see as having more value – subjective experience and freedom. Yes, instead of a certain future travel has bestowed upon my life timeless moments of magic. It’s provided countless meetings with people and teachings I’ll never forget. It’s expanded my conception of what life is and means. It’s increased my wonder of and reverence for the natural world and enabled me to see life through a kaleidascope of different perspectives.

In a world that implicitly tells us to wait until we’re set in our ways and averse to novelty before we take time out to do something fulfilling, I’m following my gut and doing that something now.

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11 comments

  1. One should follow way which brings happiness into your life. It might be a way of Dharma.
    But when you travel not as packaged tour but on your own you are as you said ‘truly alive’. You live with one moment wich is indeed exist. No staying in past, no rush in future. Almost natural balance of mind.
    (And morning meditations out of hut)
    It’s written cool, keep on going dude, that’s awesome what are you writing…

  2. Whats the purpose of wealth accumulation? Safety. The feeling that your genetic line will continue. Both result in feeling happy. Striving all your life for an intangible feeling of happiness.
    Travel forgoes those, it focuses on maximising time to create happiness now and in ways that a 9-5 life will never create. I know which one sounds more appealing.

    1. Spot on! So do I! I think one of the best things we as humans can do is to let go of the attachment to safety and orient ourselves more towards doing stuff that is actually worthwhile. It’s strange how this is an unconventional idea!

  3. This is exactly how my life is, and I’ve also often struggled with those pesky little moments of ‘subtle guilt’. I have to say though, that with time it has gotten easier. I guess that’s as a result of coming to terms with what I want from my day-to-day lifestyle 🙂

    1. I’m glad it sounds like I’ve things are working out for you. My lifestyle is still a work in progress but I’m pretty sure I’ll get there in the end!

      1. I’m sure you will! 🙂

  4. Gerry Proctor · · Reply

    Thank you for a beautiful and fascinating insight into the concept of travel or journey. I have had similar thoughts but one area for me has been how in the west at least it seems to me that many of the places we inhabit or occupy are becoming places of transit or non-places of being and possibly what you have discovered is that you have had to move to places where you can become yourself and where being can flourish, In a wondrous way your becoming a world-pilgrim as it where has precisely given you the spaces and places where you could focus on being and becoming rather than doing and having. I ask myself what I have to do to create similar spaces and places where I am currently based/living.

    1. Thanks Gerry, you know I hadn’t really thought about it that way but you are spot on. In fact since returning from the last trip I’ve been inspired to explore how I can maintain these more inspired states even in the midst of busy urban life in a society such as ours. Once you experience a state of mind you realise that in some way it must always be available to you if you know how to unlock it…

      1. That’s funny, just last week I’ve finished writing a book that deals with exactly this: freedom vs security. In many ways I feel like you – is there anything more exciting than a one-way ticket? At the same time I’m also wondering about maintaining the ‘inspired states’, as you call them, no matter where I am. Not always easy, but worth the effort.
        I think travelling has a lot to do with feeling alive, and that comes with the excitement of entering unknown territory. So it’s a question of finding new impulses – abroad or at home, whichever you prefer.
        Great article!

      2. Agreed. Not always easy, not always possible, but always worth the effort! That sweet feeling of being truly alive… Thanks!

  5. travelling is ignorance.

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