I heard that question so many times in the past few months. You should think I’d know how to answer it by now. After all, if I’m up-ending my whole life at home to move across half the world for a year, I should have a good reason for that, right?
Well, yes and no.
More often than not, I find myself struggling to give a satisfying explanation for my travel plans. The problem isn’t so much that I don’t have my reasons, but that they are not quite so easily put into words. Most people understand if you move to a different country because of a job or because you want to learn the language. Or maybe because you have friends and family there. Those are valid, easily understandable reasons.
None of those applies to me.
Travel for travel’s sake
The short explanation is: I’m going to Chile because I can. Simple as that.
And yet, there’s nothing simple about it, because a lot of people will not be satisfied with this. But why, they say. Why Chile? Why so long? Couldn’t you just go on a two-week holiday if it’s only about seeing the country?
Other travellers, people who have lived abroad and travelled around the world long-term, usually understand that living in a country for a few months is not comparable to visiting it for a few weeks. They understand that living in another country and experiencing its culture first-hand, by really delving into it and not just stopping by quickly, is a whole different cup of tea than a „normal” holiday. They understand that some of us yearn to experience the world in this intense way, and won’t be satisfied with the occasional week-long getaway. And because they understand, those fellow travellers will generally not even ask you why in the first place. They don’t need to because they already know.
Explaining your travels to non-travellers
The people who ask the why are those who don’t share your travel enthusiasm, at least not in a long-term, living-abroad kind of way. Their dreams and aspirations focus on different things. Thus they don’t understand why you would break off everything and leave everyone behind to move to a place far away. Moreover, a place that you’ve never been to and where you don’t know anyone.
These people will not be satisfied with the short explanation. And yet the long one is very difficult to put into words. Because, in some way, I don’t even know myself where this yearning for exploring the world comes from.
Part of it is curiosity about the world, its different people and cultures, and a wish to get to know them. Part of it is wanting to see other countries and landscapes that often are so different from home. They can bring you experiences you won’t make anywhere else. Part of it is a wish for personal growth, for mastering challenges and conquering mountains, both in the literal and figurative way. Part of it is living the travelling life I dreamt of having for as long as I can remember.
All these reasons play a part, and yet none of them seems sufficient as an explanation. In German, we have a very fitting word for this. „Fernweh” describes the yearning for foreign countries and places that you haven’t yet seen. I think some of us are just born with a greater amount of it than others. We always long to get out into the world, without being able to say exactly why.
Travel as personal fulfilment
I have been called selfish for going away for so long, with the argument that this kind of long-term travel means I’m abandoning my friends and family at home. While I don’t agree with the abandonment part – I trust all my friends and family to be perfectly able to look after themselves, even without me being around all the time – I do admit that in some way my going away is indeed selfish. I’m doing it for myself. It’s something that I want to do and have dreamt of doing for a long time. However, I also believe that this form of selfishness is quite healthy. What kind of world would this be, if we were not allowed to follow our dreams? Even if not everyone we care about understands them?
I’m lucky that most of my family and many of my friends are travellers themselves who get why I’m doing this and support it. And to those who don’t, I wish I could give you a more satisfying explanation to help you understand why I need to do this. And that it is not a bad thing only because I do it for myself, rather than for anyone else. But I’m afraid this is the best I can do.
For some of us, travelling is part of our nature. We wouldn’t be happy without it. Sometimes, that explanation has to be enough.
Would you consider long-term travel? Why or why not? I’m curious to hear your opinion on this!