Ever since I was a little girl my dream has been to move to a far away country. I got older and I kept on dreaming and fantasizing about either exotic islands or big urban cities. On a certain age I realized that it wasn’t so much that I wanted to live somewhere else. I just wanted to see a lot of different places. That’s how my dream of moving away from The Netherlands transformed into dreaming about travelling the world. Many people share this dream and, just like myself, more often pursue this dream.
Many people share their wonderful travel experiences online, and a lot of research is dedicated to the perks of travelling. I often see many (click-and-bait) articles about how travelling is great. Or how it’s the best thing in the world and it is often claimed that travel makes us happy.
Before I went on my trip, my sister forwarded me an interesting Dutch article about travelling. It is based on a research article by Scott Cohen and actually claims that travelling is not the key to happiness and even makes people unhappy. It intrigued me immediately. Because, what if travelling will not make us happy, while most of us think it is the ultimate dream?
Edit: This post was originally written 9 October 2015. Since then Jeff and I have travelled over 18 months together, so I can share some more personal experiences on the matter. That is why I decided to edit this article on 28 August 2017 to include more of our own views.
The dark side of travelling
According to Cohen, the author of the original research article called A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning, travelling for business and pleasure is glamorized in privileged societies. Vacations, short trips, backpacking or business trips; it’s all romanticized and encouraged in the West. Cohen says that he doesn’t have an issue with travelling itself, but with the idea that travelling is “the good life”. This while, according to him, there are psychological, emotional, physiological and social consequences of travelling frequently. He names issues such as jetlag, travel disorientation, culture shock, loosing your family role and feeling out of place once you return home.
Although the claims he makes in his article make sense, I believe these issues depend on a lot of factors and are different for everyone. Both Jeffrey and I haven’t faced a lot of these issues ourselves, not so much that it really made us unhappy anyway. We didn’t have any problems with a culture shock, travel disorientation, nor did we feel out of place once we returned home. But I do know others might endured these situations. Even though we haven’t had these issues, our travel life was far from perfect.
Do we glamorise travel?
Personally, I think it’s true that we do glamorise travel a lot. Not only (regular) travellers, also (professional) travel bloggers. We often hide negative experiences about locations, hotels or restaurants and only share the good things about a destination. Maybe because people often don’t even want to hear the bad side. Because, shouldn’t we all be happy that we are able to travel?
When I am travelling, I want to be as honest as possible and share negative experience here on the blog too. Not all of them, just when I feel like I really need to share a certain experience and write it off. The funny thing is that I actually got some backlash because of that. For instance, quite a while back I posted a simple and harmless 9 struggles of backpacking in Australia in a backpackers group, and many members told me how negative I was. Of course, I should just be happy all the time.
People only want to hear the good stories about travelling. And I get it. But that is the problem; if we all only share the good side, people that dream of travelling form this unrealistic image of travelling and it can only disappoint. There is nothing wrong with a little reality check now and then. Although travellers should realise that they are privileged that they can travel, for me it’s not a bad thing to share the bad sides once in a while. Some people scroll through Instagram, and see all these amazing edited photos and don’t realise there is a whole other story to that photo.
Instagram photos never tell you the whole truth
Take this photo I posted of the Bayon Temple in Cambodia. Yes, Jeffrey and I had a great experience at this temple and were amazed by the beauty – blablabla. I know people look at this photo and think: “I need to go there”. But it isn’t all perfect and even I forget and need to remind myself that while I was there, it was also crazy hot and really busy. This was a lucky shot without any people, but it took effort to take this photo. I was standing there, sweating my ass off, while Jeffrey was working hard to get the right angle. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how can it tell you so much if it’s just a posed moment and edited afterwards?
Why Travelling Full-time isn’t Necessarily The Dream Life
The thing is, nothing in life is perfect. I love travel and I loved being able to travel for so long with my amazing boyfriend. I will also travel again. But like everything in life, too much of something can just be too much. Eventually the novelty wore off, I got sick of packing all the time and just wanted to stay in one place. Sometimes I didn’t even really appreciate a beautiful location anymore, because after seeing so many different beautiful locations it just feels the same.
So why isn’t travelling full-time the dream life according to me? Well, because there isn’t such a thing as “the dream life” or “the perfect life”. I’m not saying you should not travel and if you want to travel full-time; do it! Because even though it’s not perfect, it’s still a great experience that you will cherish forever. And, I always think it’s better to do something than regret not doing it. But, before you do travel longterm it’s good to never have too many expectations and just realise it will not only be rainbows and butterflies. You’ll have problems too, just different problems.
We often chase this point in our lives were everything just makes sense. When we are in complete balans and harmony and there are no worries. Whether it’s with complete financial stability or while travelling the world (or both). But, we will never come to this point of complete bliss. Just moments of happiness and appreciation that fade away again. There will always be problems and there will always be something to fix. That is life. Just imagine life without problems, wouldn’t that be boring?
Ps. Please take a look at the article by Scott Cohen if you want to read more about the dark side of travelling: Cohen, S.A. & Gössling, S. (2015). A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning A, 47, DOI: 10.1177/0308518X15597124