As a traveler and as a young adult freshly entering the “real world” there is one phrase I hear way too many times. I do receive a lot of crazy comments from people about my lifestyle. Some are really uplifting while others I simply find funny. But sometimes, even though I completely understand where people are coming from, my blood starts boiling beneath my go-with-it facade.
Just last Tuesday night I was taking an Uber from the Morristown, New Jersey train station to my house. It was 11:15 pm and Morristown is a very safe town with a constant flow of charming hustle-bustle. My Uber driver asked if I was coming from the city in which I replied yes. A few seconds of silence passed interrupted by a gruff “alone?!” from Mr. Uber. Again, I replied yes. Then, he said, “You don’t get scared of being kidnapped?” and I said “No, not anymore than I would anywhere else.”
Mr. Uber proceeded to tell me a story. “I once knew a girl your age that traveled in Europe alone….”
…”I’m about to travel Europe alone for 5 months! That’s awesome of her!”
“YOU ARE?” He said.
“Well…” he replied, “all I can, uh, say is that you’re really brave” with an undertone of judgment, reservation, and shock. He continued to tell me that the young woman who traveled alone came back to her hometown, grew up, married and now has kids.
And then I was like, “dude is that like some kind of moral you’re trying to teach me? That I'm in a phase and the cure is marriage and children?”
Haha just kidding. I didn’t say that. But all I said was “oh ok. Good for her for doing what she wants.”
And while I got out of the cab he told me to have a good time and be safe in Europe.
That was my most recent encounter with a doubter.
However, other comments like
“What are your plans when you’re finished traveling?”
“Oh, did you get a job or something?”
“How are you going to make money?”
“I should have done that when I was your age”
“Must be fun to have your life!”
“I am so jealous!”
*let’s be real, I’d be jealous of me if I weren’t me, too. But that’s because I’m doing what I love despite the hardships*
There are 1000 more comments where those come from. Honestly, I don’t usually mind these questions and comments, especially when they are from loved ones who really are concerned or comfortable enough to say how they feel. I do understand. Solo traveling as a woman or even traveling as a lifestyle is unheard of to many people and it’s simply unorthodox. But it does get old explaining to people that it’s not all fun and games. Some comments like “what are your plans when you’re finished traveling?” just make me wonder what people actually think of a traveling woman. I truly wonder if people think I’m going on a long vacation and if it’s relaxing and nice to have so much money that I can afford to travel.
Alas, there’s the one comment that actually upsets me. There are a few times when I have subtly retorted because I don’t want to be a buzzkill but I also want to defend myself. This comment undermines my entire lifestyle and implies that the commenter believes what I’m doing is simply a phase and that what I am most passionate about in life is only a temporary, non-serious goal that will come to an end.
To clarify, let me take you through a realistic conversation with an imaginary person named Lydia. Lydia is the type of person that makes that one common, blood-boiling, comment. Lydia is a nice person. I like Lydia. But Lydia, like many people, assumes traveling is a once in a lifetime opportunity that only young people can achieve. Let me explain.
Lydia “so what do you do right now?
Me “Well right now I’m living in Morristown with my older sister for a bit. I’ve been up here for about a month and have a month left. I work for myself right now and am looking for a few jobs in other places while also building my photography website and trying new things”
Lydia (understandably confused/interested) “So…where were you before this?”
Me “Texas. That’s where I was born and raised. But my lease was up so I came up here. Then I’ll go back to Texas and then Europe”
Lydia “oh cool! For how long?”
Me “5 months”
Lydia “5 MONTHS?!!”
Me “Yep, I’m going to live with a family in Spain for a bit and then travel around”
Lydia “soooo…..are you looking for a job up there? How does that work? Are you just going to travel around as you go?”
So far so good. Cool conversation. We keep talking. I explain to her what my plan is. I love talking about travel with people. It makes it more attainable to them. Travel is awesome.
THIS IS WHERE THE BLOOD BOILING COMMENT TAKES PLACE
Lydia “Well that’s really cool. I’m so jealous!”
Me “Yeah, I’m super excited about it. I can’t wait to go!”
Lydia “Good for you! I wish I could travel. Do it while you can.”
*do it while you can*
Now, maybe you’re thinking I’m being overly sensitive or that I should just be rubber and not glue. Maybe I need to be more understanding. Maybe I should just get over it because *girl* it’s gonna happen.
But no thank you. I will not.
I have heard this comment too many times to not vent via Microsoft word.
Every time I hear this comment I just stop and think about it. Like what does that even mean? I’m 25 not going on 90 so I’m physically capable of traveling (*blessed*) so that’s not why people tell me to travel while I can.
And the more I hear it the more I begin to feel defensive and annoyed.
People don’t go up to my two sisters who are studying to be a Physician Assistant and a Lawyer and say “cool! For how long? Do it while you can!”
I know this comment seems harmless but it simply underlines the common idea that travel is not a long-term goal, feasible, or even considered a lifestyle. Many people assume that when I say I am traveling and want to continue it that I only mean for about a year or two. For people who have always wanted to travel, this idea is defeating! I have recently become even more inspired to pursue travel as a lifestyle and long-term goal by a few travelers I know such as Gloria Atanmo from The Blog Abroad and an online community on Facebook called Girls Love Travel filled with women travelers of different walks of life. Exposure to these travelers has shone a light on how feasible it really is but growing up in a world where everyone thinks travel is merely a vacation for young people or retired people perpetuates the idea that travel is not an attainable goal for a career and lifestyle.
Some people are meant to adventure and wander. Some people grow restless and are full of curiosity, constantly searching for connections and revelations. Some people need to try new things over and over. Some people need to live on the edge or disappear simply to know what it’s like. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing these type of goals and society needs to understand that just because someone does not look like a career person wearing a business suit or a medical coat or working as a teacher or holding meetings in their office does not mean that a wandering soul is lost. It also does not mean that those who look like said career persons cannot be travelers! Traveling is not exclusive to a personality type. Furthermore, travelers are full of stories, excitement, experience, and wisdom. After considering what type of resilience and creativity a traveler is capable of, do you want to tell her to her face that her dream and lifestyle are short-term to you?
I understand that many people don’t understand travel. It’s not common. But with the growing adventurers in the millennial generation and our access to technology, traveling is quickly becoming more common and I hope that between me and the million other travelers out there we can change perspectives like convincing people to stop telling us to “do it while we can”.