We must become the change we want to see.
To someone who equates the idea of travel with that of escape, the prospect of long-term travel implies long-term dissatisfaction. This is implicit in the question, “Why a round-the-world (RTW) trip?”
What’s really being asked here is, “What’s so wrong that a two-week stint at a beachside all-inclusive can’t cure?” or “What are you running from?”
The pervasiveness of consumer culture has sold us the idea that we should ‘buy’ travel in the same manner that we buy refrigerators and automobiles. And that’s no accident, as consumer culture sustains itself on the premise of an unending supply of consumer goods. What kind of society does this create? One that views air-conditioned and pre-packaged travel as a commodity.
It’s clear to those who’ve committed to the idea of long-term travel that we’re not escaping from something, but rather escaping to something. Like Rolf Potts in his book Vagabonding, Kathryn and I view long-term travel not in terms of escape, but in terms of “adventure and passion”. This idea is cultivated by Doug Lansky in his book, First-Time Around The World. Doug writes that “travel is an urge best cultivated from within”. And we agree. Hence, we believe that long-term travel doesn’t imply the concept of escape—quite the opposite, it implies a notion of surrender.
Years ago, while travelling through Southeast Asia, we discovered that we were reinvigorated by travel through countries like Laos and Cambodia—compared with neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, countries which were relatively, in the western sense of the word, ‘underdeveloped’. We arrived at the belief that our joy of travelling through these countries was derived in part because a significant portion of the population had lived, or was now living, through underdevelopment. We were attracted to these areas precisely because the memory of hardship and deprivation was still so fresh. It seemed there was almost an ideological resistance to rampant consumerism—whether real or imagined.
Of course, we’re aware that we could be accused of class tourism. And we’ve struggled with this dilemma ourselves. Ultimately, however, we feel that our travels through developing areas are motivated by more than just curiosity or adventure. Ultimately, we believe that our aforementioned dedication to long-term travel implies that we seek more than a temporary or superficial connection to the values of the areas we visit.
Moreover, we’re aware of the irony and apparent contradiction that’s served up by an opinion piece such as this appearing within the margins of a site we operate—one that’s endowed with ample marketing banners and affiliate badges. Indeed, we’re aware that the action required to sustain human life is, in part, based on consumerism: everything we need is produced by our efforts. And we do believe in the application of responsible production and consumerism. Lest we forget, this is a travel blog!
Ultimately, we came to the realization that our desire to travel long-term was motivated in part because its ethos aligned more closely with the goals of conservation, social justice and sustainable development that we sought—and are seeking—to apply to our own lives. Travelling long-term allowed us a means to live, to paraphrase Duane Elgin, in a manner that is outwardly simpler yet inwardly richer.
Hence, we believe that long-term travel is a way of surrendering to the unknown and embracing the world on its terms. So the next time you are asked, “Why a RTW trip?”—the best answer to provide is that you’ve given up.