Real life as a writer on the road.
There’s a dream that many of us share, one of travel and adventure where we get to stroll exotic beaches, hike through tropical mountain ranges, and work only when we want to. The people who sell this lifestyle all say the same thing, “I love my work, and my clients love me so much that they practically push their recommendations at me! I have great reviews coming out my butt, so I never have to struggle to find new ones.”
Every day there are more and more articles and advertisements enticing people to give up the nine-to-five and commit to a life as a traveling brand name. We’re promised that we can achieve all our dreams if we’ll only start working as an Uber driver, or open our homes to strangers on Airbnb, or start a Youtube channel, or sell ad space on our blog. Due to the nature of my business, and my age & generational demographic, I’m often the target of such advertising campaigns. What they don’t tell you is that the proper conjunction is and not or.
Social media has given strangers a forum for bragging, and even though it’s easy enough to check facts these days, who among us has the time or energy? With a couple filters and some moderately priced Ikea furniture, a duplex in Small Town, Minnesota can become a cozy attached cottage with rustic charm. A cheap public shower and a storage locker for my backpack, I go from nearly homeless foreigner to home-free bohemian.
I won’t lie to you; you can do it. You can make enough money to subsidize a life on the road and a mild mojito habit. But it’s a lot more work than they claim. So, do you really want to?
Sure, you think you want to, but there are many different ways to travel. Are you sure this is the best way?
I’m not trying to discourage you, I am simply an advocate for honesty and full disclosure. I’ve slept on park benches because I couldn’t make my taxi driver understand where I wanted him to take me. I’ve arrived at five star rated hostels only to find I’d been duped into booking a dive. I’ve woken up to snakes in my shoes, screaming Airbnb hosts (unrelated to the snakes), and slept through bus departures. I’ve ended up in cities I was never meant to be in, and gotten lost in my own home town. These have all turned out to be wonderful adventures I can laugh about now, but adventure is stressful.
“Traveling messes you up, but in all the good ways. It leaves you always craving more, an addiction that can never quite be met.” — Unknown
And there are other ways to travel. You can work a stable job, save your money like a sensible person, and take a yearly vacation. As a traveling writer it, is nearly impossible to save money. And you might think, “but your life is a constant vacation, you don’t need to save money for trips!” Don’t be a fool. Travel is wonderful, soul expanding, mind blowing — but home nurtures the lessons we’ve learned and makes them part of our every day habits. Home gives stability, a return address, and built-in equity for the inevitable rainy day emergencies.
I love what I do, but as a wanderer your impact on the world is transient, so it can be hard to get a credit card or a loan. If I want to rent a more permanent accommodation in a strange country I have to send home to ask my parents to vouch for who I am, because homeowners are naturally suspicious of tenants whose recommendation letters have to be translated by Google.
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, A race that can’t stay still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove, What a deep mark I would make!” So they chop and change, and each fresh move Is only a fresh mistake.
— Robert W. Service
In my younger years I was part of the voluntourism industry, only to discover that I was actually perpetuating the problems I thought I was helping to resolve. Like many of my generation I thought I could be above the strictures of polite society. I was a frustrated rebel with a vague notion of what it felt like to be oppressed. I was sure that travel would free me from the constraints of societal expectations. Now I understanding that I am part of the consumer economy, not avoiding it. I was treated with deference, ignorant of my own privilege; scattering language and largesse for the natives to pick up; spreading imperial capitalism, and pretending I wasn’t part of the system.
At home you can take the time to see the differences you make. To learn from mistakes and correct them. As a traveler, sometimes the only thing you can do is move on, and hope you didn’t do too much harm. I rarely get to see the difference I may have made in another person’s life, if I made any at all.
There are other ways to live.
Contrary to the truisms in travel magazines, there are other ways to learn life lessons. Travel is a transitional mentor; great for dropping aphorisms in your ear, not so good at giving you the time to practice those lessons and make them part of your character.
I wander because my legs hurt more from sitting than they do from walking, and I get an ache in my heart when I stand still for too long. No doctor I’ve ever seen could give me a name for those symptoms, so I have to find my own cure.
“So, here you are. Too foreign for home. Too foreign for here. Never enough for both.” — Ijeoma Umebinyuo