Is Travel an Act of Irresponsibility?
It's a moment of decision - one that is signified by my nervous foot tapping on the floor board and finger tapping on the keyboard. Through my rearview mirror I can see the sun start to peek over the horizon as the day starts to awaken. Yet in this serene moment (In a McDonalds parking lot in North Carolina, but serene nonetheless), I tap away nervously, glancing between the clock, my laptop, and then back at the rearview mirror as the sun finally clears the horizon and continues its ascent in the sky. I give one last long look at the sunrise, close my eyes for a few seconds, and take a deep breath before hitting send on an email with the subject line "Resignation".
Are those of us who travel frequently being irresponsible with our lifestyle choice? I'm not talking about that summer beach vacation every Independence Day or Labor Day trip to the lake. I'm talking about frequent travel, whether several times a year on week-long trips or long trips like my 9-month trip last year. I'm talking about a lifestyle in which considerable amounts of time and money are spent traveling. Is that an act of irresponsibility?
There was an article in The Atlantic recently that discussed financial responsibility and travel. The article discussed how the IRS wants the right to seize passports from U.S. citizens who have back taxes of over $50,000. The article first made me thankful that I don't owe $50,000 in taxes, while also questioning the reasons for my travel. Is it truly for the experience or is it rather to escape? Maybe the statement "Do it while you're young," should rather be changed to "do it when you're not in debt."
Through observations, my own experiences, and conversations with others, it seems that the appropriate time to travel is either when you're young or when you retire. In layman's terms, if you don't get your traveling in right after college, then you'll just have to wait until you retire. Because of course anything else throws us off the correct life course. You're time constrained to move up your career ladder, you may miss the girl of your dreams, or you'll be late building your retirement. Travel evidently delays all of these things and doesn't tangibly offer a return.
When I talk to people about my past, present, and future lifestyle of travel, I get some interesting looks and comments. Many people ask about my job, dating life, and home, before telling me that they could never keep up such a lifestyle because of their responsibilities. The thing about travel though is that while it is a personal and concrete experience, so much of it isn't tangible. Each experience differs and has such a level of uncertainty, making it difficult to measure its return. We often measure our careers and homes using a yardstick of quality, yet there's no yardstick to measure travel. There's an underlying mysticism that goes beyond the tangible.
It was a year and a half ago that I was sitting in that McDonald's parking lot and sent off my letter of resignation to my boss in order to become a freelance travel writer and blogger and set off on a season of travel. I didn't know it then, but that unequivocally was the best decision of my life. Travel brings out my absolute best. While I now have a home base of San Francisco, I'm traveling more than ever, but just in spurts and not for months at a time like I did last year. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that this season of my life, is my very best. And if it took travel to bring out my very best, would it not stand to reason then, that it's the act of witholding travel that would be irresponsible?
I'm not telling you to quit your job and travel the world for months or years. It would bring me sheer delight, but that type of lifestyle and experience doesn't bring the same satisfaction and change that it did me. But I am telling you to take some risks and go. Go somewhere. Maybe it's just a long vacation with your honey or going to a state you haven't been to. Or even bigger, going to a country you've never been to. You won't grow your portfolio, add years to your life, or double your retirement, but like me, it may give you a life that no price tag can be put on.