Despite my low-budget hostel travels, it’s been a long time since I’ve really felt like a backpacker. Sure, I travel like one (most of the time). I stay in hostels. I eat cheap. I do backpacker-style tours. I hang out with other backpackers. But I haven’t felt like a backpacker in a long time.
In part, it’s because I don’t have to travel like a budget-conscious backpacker because I don’t have a finite budget for my trip. I have a job and thus can be a bit more free-spending with my money. I eat out at nicer places more often. I don’t always stay in dorms. I take more tours. I sometimes stay in hotels. (When I travel on a budget, it is because I want to, since I don’t like luxury travel. I think it’s a waste to spend money on a fancy room you only see for a few hours.)
And unlike the backpackers I hang out with in hostels, I have responsibilities and deadlines to worry about. I have this website to run. I have stories to write. I have emails to respond to and questions to answer. I can’t just wake up and do nothing.
I often envy the other travelers I meet for their ability to be so carefree.
I promised myself at the beginning of this year that I would spend less time working and more time traveling. I’ve curtailed a number of side projects, I hired a few people to help me, and I outsourced more work. Yet, I still don’t feel completely worry-free.
At least not until last week.
Losing my passport caused me a lot of problems, but it kept me stuck in Amsterdam, a city I always go to for a “vacation.” It’s a place I hardly do any work. And spending extended time there with the same people in the same hostel, I learned to relax. I kept the computer closed and did very little work. And the world didn’t end when I slowed down.
And though it took me some time to “relax,” by the time I flew to Greece last week, I was feeling back to my old self. Back to the unburdened, carefree traveler. The one that went away in 2006 to travel, not work. It felt good to just hang out and just be.
Often, blogging feels like a giant albatross around my neck. On the one hand, I really love what I do, and I especially love the emails I get from people telling me my site has helped them travel or become inspired to travel. I love being able to share what I love. I love being able to help others. I love meeting people through this site. (Case in point: I am currently in Ios with two readers who happened to be in Athens the same time as me.) For all these reasons and more, I would never give up this website or change what I do.
But on the other hand, I sometimes hate what I do. I don’t take press trips that much, I don’t go to many conferences, and I don’t do a lot of “business networking stuff” because I simply want to travel. I like to do my own thing. This website was built in part to simply help me find a way to travel more. That’s really all I want. I do this because it’s something I can do from anywhere in the world.
Yet some days I just look at my computer and want to throw it out the window, nuke my site, and run off to the next stop on my travel list. I don’t want to worry about the post that needs to be written, or the emails that need to be answered.
My life is a constant pull between these two emotions. And it is often why I never tell people what I do. I’m not ashamed of it. But at the end of the day, I just want to be another traveler. I dislike the comments and questions that come with telling people what I do. We end up talking about me and how awesome my job is for 15 minutes, and from then on, I’m the travel writer, not the traveler. I’m very grateful for being able to have the life I lead. I am very fortunate. But I hate talking about myself and I hate talking about my “job.” And sometimes I feel like this “job” creates a wall between me and a carefree existence.
Which brings me back to Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam, my computer was closed. In Amsterdam, I was just the traveler for many days. I dodged the “what do you do back home?” question as often as I could, but eventually, I just let it spill out. However, I owned the answer in a way I hadn’t before. I said what I did, I answered a few questions, and then I just moved on. By not letting the conversation become 20 minutes about how awesome a job I have, I was able to not build it up.
After that, I was just a backpacker with a really cool blog.
I often say that the responsibilities that keep us from the road are illusory. Once we put them down, they are gone. Your bills, job, car, and house are gone once you just push them out of the way. In Amsterdam, I laid down my own burden. In my mind, I had this job that kept me from being a carefree traveler. It kept me from being the traveler I want to be — the one that just enjoys the moment, not worries about email. Yet it was all in my mind. The only thing holding me back was me, not some illusory responsibility. By owning my burden, I released it. I stopped letting it own me. I stop letting it hold me back.
And in doing so, I’ve again become the backpacker I always wanted to be.