Ella, Sri Lanka

I don’t know about you, but I increasingly find these kinds of headlines and proclamations filling my social feeds these days:

“XYZ person visited every country in the world before turning 30!”

“I’ve been to 60 countries and counting!”

“Just wrapped up a week in Bangkok! Now off to Singapore!”

Do you get as envious of these super-travelers as I do? My bucket list seems to get longer every time I scroll through Instagram.

There are many super-travelers in my own life. I’ve cheered supportively as friends have departed for six-month backpacking tours of Asia and South America. I’ve seen people move abroad and wondered if I might like that, too. I’ve seen the Facebook posts and blog entries from people who bounce from place to place as I sit at a desk in my very routine daily life.

But I’ve also had the privilege of visiting 19 countries to date, including extensive touring of my own. Sometimes in my envy of others, I forget about my own accomplishments and why I treasure those memories so much.

This leads me to wonder, is traveling becoming this generation’s version of keeping up with the Joneses?

A traveler's world map with pins

This map in my apartment has pins for every place I’ve visited or lived. There’s a lot left to see!

Why We Travel

The thing is, travel is an intensely personal experience. Sure, you may be on the road with someone, but at the end of the day your travel experience is uniquely yours. And it should be. You’re electing to spend your time, money, and energy somewhere other than the comfort of your own home, in the hopes that you will gain something. And that which you are seeking to gain is the personal part. It could be knowledge, a tan, friends, even a hangover – whatever it is, your fulfillment and satisfaction will ultimately result from pursuing the things that will make your heart happy.

So I offer a thought to you today that I think needs to be stated, shared, and reinforced:

When it comes to travel, don’t compare yourself to others.

Don’t think that because you haven’t been to as many places, gone as far away, stayed for as long, trekked as high, dove as low, that your experiences are somehow less.

When I was about to start this blog, I chose to tell a couple of friends who have traveled much more than I have that I was venturing down this path. One of them just kind of looked at me before replying, “Well, you’re gonna have to travel a lot more.” As if suggesting that my being on the road for two or more months out of the year was not enough to qualify me to write about it.

Thanks for the support, asshole.

(And on that note, for anyone reading this who is very well traveled, there’s no need to look down your nose at those who aren’t the world travelers that you are. Not everyone can afford that lifestyle, and frankly, not everyone wants it.)

To me, it’s not important that I travel more or less than some people the same way it’s not important to me if you can bench press 300 pounds and I can only lift the bar. I’m genuinely impressed that you can do it, but I’m going to stick to what I can do. Besides, I prefer group exercise classes anyway.

Set Your Own Agenda

The fact is, everyone’s lifestyles are different. I travel differently than literally everyone I know. I have different goals. So why would I feel like I have to keep up with them, check some box, or one-up them and backpack for nine months instead of six? (I haven’t done any extended backpacking, by the way.)

If you love to travel or simply aspire to, that’s awesome. But before you chase the accomplishments of others, those nomads or adventure-seekers whom you really admire, consider taking some time to think about what you really want to get out of your experience. What do you hope to accomplish by traveling? How do you want to grow? What do you want to take back with you when you leave? (Memories and shopping bags are equally valid answers.)

The fact is, when you make your choices for you (or you + a partner/family), and allow yourself to set your own agenda, you will get far more out of the experience than if you followed someone else’s path. Do this, and your travel experiences will truly be incomparable. Because they’re yours, and yours alone.

What Lifestyle Do You Seek? 

Travel is a lot like money: You can have a lot of it, but it doesn’t always result in happiness and fulfillment for everyone.

We’ve all heard about the business travelers who have burned out from constantly being on the road. Or those people who planned to backpack for a year and returned home in the middle of their trip because it just wasn’t for them.

On the flip side, travel is a complete passion for some. It occupies their every thought, and they live from trip to trip. They seek greater cultural understanding and the identity of being a citizen of the world. That’s awesome too.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t set out to see every country in the world if you want to (I certainly do). Just try to be mindful of what you are really looking to gain from it. Do what’s right for you.

At the end of the day we’re all trying to live our lives to the fullest, right?

If you agree, then humor me for a minute. Think about the idea of a “bucket list” from another perspective. Is it possible that in someone’s pursuit of checking every item off of their list – especially if it’s one that’s heavily influenced by someone else’s experiences – they could end up with regrets for other things they didn’t do in life? I believe it’s very possible, the same way it’s possible that someone who never traveled might regret not taking that one trip.

Which leads me to my point: It doesn’t matter how much you travel, how many countries you visit, if you’ve done the most extreme version of this or that activity, or whatever else. What matters is that you are pursuing exactly what will make you happy. What matters is how fulfilled you are by your experiences.

Make them yours, and make them count.

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