Lately, the Internet has become littered in a never-ending sequence of “You Should Travel Now” and “100 Places to Visit Before You Die” inspirational articles written by people who, like me, left their old lives/jobs/responsibilities behind for a life of travel and adventure. Pure existential angst has a role in the current spate of travel bloggers telling you to take the leap. Tales of late night debauchery in exotic places aside, we are normal people, and like most people ever we are afraid of death and the immutable sentence of eternity—nothingness, afterlife, or reincarnation, whatever you believe—that it brings. In the search to live a life that is not fraught with Cormac McCarthy-esque despair, we travel because it brings joy, satisfaction, and freedom to our lives that we previously lacked. Using my own experience as an example, I was stuck in a job I didn’t like and in an unfulfilling relationship. Crucially, I had never left North America despite my degree in Art History and general fascination for all things European. She broke things off with me because I was a miserable shadow of a person, and not long after I bought a one way ticket to Europe, where I’ve been ever since.
The moral of the story is not that everyone needs to quit their jobs or break up with their significant others and start traveling. There are a lot of other people who espouse travel as a silver bullet for whatever ails you, but they’re thinking in very narrow terms and fail to realize that just because a change in your life is needed doesn’t automatically mean that travel is the cure. Traveling makes them (and me!) extremely happy and satisfied with their lives, but while many people suffer from various forms of unhappiness, there is no one-size-fits-all cure. A lawyer who is miserable filing briefs but has always had a passion for BBQ doesn’t need to buy a one-way ticket to Thailand; he needs to buy a food truck (and maybe spend some time in Kansas City to master the art). A woman enduring the jealous rage of an angry boyfriend doesn’t need to spend three months backpacking around Eastern Europe; she needs to break up with that asshole and regain confidence in herself, by herself, doing whatever she loves most. It might be traveling, but it might mean running triathlons or taking up painting.
Looking at things on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are probably happy accountants out there that think spreadsheets are the greatest thing ever; more power to them if they do what they love. At certain junctions we may be fundamentally unhappy due to circumstance or lifestyle or any number of factors. While we can continue in our downward spirals of self-pity, there are always alternatives if we are willing to step outside our personal comfort zones. Just remember that when you’re preparing to leave your old life behind that you bought your ticket because it’s the thing that will make you happiest, not because you think that somehow stepping on a plane and watching home disappear beneath the wings will automatically make the world a sunnier place.