It’s Not About Travel, It’s About Freedom

writing my name on the Tropic of Capricorn sign while standing on a busI’m a very lazy person. I’m also a very indecisive person. That combination usually means that I end up doing everything last minute. And then I usually change those last-minute plans because I get a sudden, better, brighter idea in my head. As a result, I always end up paying a ton of money in airline cancellation fees as I switch my flights around. But I guess that’s the price I pay for getting to do what I want, when I want.

Like how, originally, I was going to visit these amazing monasteries in Romania before I went to Moldova. After which, I was going to fly to Ukraine, where after that I would…well, I didn’t know where I was going after that. I can’t plan that far ahead.

But, when two weeks ago I got sick in Sighisoara, Romania (birthplace of Dracula but, sadly, not cheesy Dracula tourist traps), I became indecisive and changed my travel plans. I’ve loved Romania, and it far exceeded all my expectations. However, I spent a lot of time in little, quiet country towns, which as beautiful as they were, got a bit boring seeing alone. And knowing I was going off to the monasteries and Moldova alone, I realized I wanted more “excitement” in my life. I wanted a livelier scene. So I changed my plans. I skipped Moldova (see ya next year!) and flew to Ukraine, then to Finland, where I am now. Tomorrow I’ll take the boat to Estonia for a few days.

After that, I’m returning to Boston. No, I’m not ending my trip. It’s just for two weeks. My parents’ house will be a great place to start my book, I have a free flight there due to an unused ticket, and I received a free trip to Mexico. All great reasons to take a short break from Europe, though I’ll return next month for Oktoberfest and to see Central Europe.

I’m all over the place, and I love it. It’s times like this that I really appreciate my lifestyle. But not because I get to travel. I like it because I have complete freedom.

I remember growing up and always desiring to be “the captain of my ship.” You know, working because you like what you do, not because you need a paycheck, being able to jet off to some place you want when you want, having ultimate flexibility, time, and freedom for anything. But then you graduate college with debt, you start working, the responsibilities pile on, you start planning out life, there are societal expectations put on you, and before you know it, you’re stuck. You’re part of that vicious rat race, and it seems like time is never your own.

Then one day you just think to yourself, “How did things get this way? I want out of this box.”

And so I quit my job and went traveling. Though the leap was the hardest part, you realize everything else is easy, and it’s not traveling that draws you in, it’s the freedom and flexibility. It’s about waking up today and saying, “I’m going to Ukraine tomorrow.” Or you’re going to play golf. Or maybe take guitar lessons. Or start that bakery you always wanted to. Or move to Thailand to teach yoga.

I think this topic recently struck me because I’ve been thinking about the last five years of travel and reflecting a lot. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race. Doing what you’re “supposed” to do because that’s how you’re told life is supposed to be lived. You get a job, a wife, a house, kids, and then retire. But one day you wake up, and you’re 30, or 40, or 50, and you realize you never did a lot of the things you really wanted to do. Maybe that’s why so many people have a mid-life crisis. Maybe that’s why my dad decided he was going to take up motorcycles again. Or why he bought that car he always wanted. Or why my friend’s mom changed careers.

I think that feeling is what causes so many people to turn to travel. Yes, it’s great to see the world, but most travelers I talk to are really drawn to the sense of freedom and adventure—the endless possibility. While you’re traveling, the days seem to hold endless potential and opportunity. It’s also why I think long-term travelers have a hard time adjusting back into “the real world.” After you’ve been out of the box, it’s hard to go back in.

As much as I travel to explore new places and learn about people, I live my life because, everyday I wake up, I know I can open the door and do anything I want. For now, that’s travel. Exploring my world. Maybe a few years from now it’ll be different.

But no matter what I do or where I go, I’ll never really change how I live because I’m not giving up my freedom to do whatever it is that makes me happy anytime I want.

  1. When I was 24 I had a conversation with my housemate about how much we liked camping, which then turned into a conversation about how we could go camping forever. A year later 4 of us set out on a camping trip around Australia. People dropped out, others joined in and I ended up traveling for 18 months. I’ve seen a lot more of my own country than most Australians have and in caravan parks retirees would tell us how they wished they’d done this when they were young. I don’t think I could go back to living out of a car again (although you can fit a lot more in a car than a backpack) but it was a great experience.

  2. Understand where you’re coming from. I once cancelled a trip to Vancouver last minute to go stay in a Sorority house during rush. 1 British Guy, 150 Sorority Girls. It’s a hard life we lead…

  3. Mark

    Seriously? The Ukraine? You should know better, but do enjoy your stay in the Finland and the time home in the Boston before going to the Mexico…

    That’s all I got from this post, sorry….

  4. Hannah

    After high school I made it one semester in college before deciding to work as a flight attendant because I grew up pretty poor in central MN and never got to go anywhere exciting – beyond the bordering and somewhat boringly similar midwest states. This was the only only way I could travel. For seven years I worked for various airlines, making my way around the world, but never getting to stay as long as I would like or do what I would like in all of the places I went, and even though I got free flights and cheap international flights on my off time…I didn’t really make enough to enjoy them. After 7 years I decided to get a better paying job, save money for a couple years and then do exactly what I always wanted to do : travel on my own. I have 9 more months until my full fledged freedom, and even though all of my friends most of which are now married with kids think I am crazy (as does my family) I don’t care, and I can’t wait to get out there and do whatever I want, whenever I want at the grand ol age of 29!

    • Hannah, do not listen to the others, it is your life so go traveling if that is what you want. The same with me, everyone says I’m crazy but at the same time everyone gets jealous I do what I want 😉

    • amber

      Hannah, I am doing the same thing! And have been pleasantly surprised by those that support me, but many of my friends and family know me well enough by now to not be so shocked that I am going to travel.

      What shocks me are the people who have the nerve to tell you that you are crazy or making a mistake. I laugh at those people, stuck in their mundane cycle and I say that’s okay if you feel that way, you don’t have to go. :)

      Congratulations! Stick to your plan and in 9 months you’ll be free!

    • Marlana

      Good for you!!!! I am doing a small business selling oils to help pay for mine. Whatever works. BTW, have you ever heard of teaching English on world cruise ships? I wonder if its another hying that you don’t really get to see the world (like being a flight attendant) or if you do. But I always thought it was interesting, but I prefer to do it as you are doing. Congrats!!!!!

  5. Tina

    Hey Matt-

    Mark and I are going to Helsinki and Tallin for a long weekend in Sept. If you find any good restaurants/bars worth going to please let us know.

    Though I understand Tallin is very touristy, it apparently is quite lovely. We will be staying there for a couple of days.

    Enjoy your travels.

  6. Phil

    Great article, Matt. I’m 31 and planning to save up for another year before quitting my job and just go. I have a good job and get a good paycheck to live comfortably but I wake up miserable every morning knowing that I have to go in to an office from 9-5. I shouldn’t complain but it is not what my heart desire to do. I’m not getting any younger and I just really need to do this for myself. I can’t wait.

  7. This article couldn’t have been more timely. I spent 1 hour (yes! 1 hour) crying in my cubicle today. Something needs to change. Thank you for the inspiration!

  8. Some things:

    Scott and I spent our first Christmas together in Romania, driving through the frozen countryside, in 2005. We both were blown away by how much we loved the country.

    I took the ferry from Helsinki to Estonia in 2009 and became enamored with the Baltics. Tallinn is such an incredible and fun city. Hope you love it there, too!

    I’m going to be in Boston this week! Just missing you–again!

    I went to Oktoberfest in 2007. I needed a couple months (er, years) to recover. Too. Much. Fun

  9. I think I may have to forward this on to my parents. They, and most of my friends, don’t understand my constant desire to be going somewhere new and not be tied down. They also think that I just want to have fun and that it will all have to end sometime for a 9-5 desk job and a 401k. For me, like you, it’s having the freedom.

    Great post!

    • NomadicMatt

      it wasn’t until I did my taxes and my dad saw I actually make money that he stopped pestering me to get “a real job.”

  10. Shruti

    Your description of the kind of person you are sounds exactly like me – so does the fact that i’ve been thinking about travelling for a long time now – haven’t got into the execution of it yet though!!

    One ques – while freedom and adventure is what I yearn for – one does need the money to do what you are suggesting – once you quit and use up the savings for long term travel – what then?? how does one continue with the journey of freedom?

    any idea?

  11. Tony

    Glad to see someone else understands my philosophy on life and travel! I’m all too often asked by my friends why I’m not married, why I don’t have kids or why I’m not drowning in a mortgage. You hit the nail on the head when you say we get caught up in what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to live our lives!
    I see travel was once a dream for everyone at one point in their lives. Not everyone can attain it. Almost like someone is saying to you: “Here’s a taste of your dream, you can’t have it until you do what you’re “supposed to do” by that time, “Oh… you’re too old to do what you dreamed of doing”.
    Keep traveling Matt! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong. The only reason they hate you for traveling that much is they want to be just like you!

  12. I totally agree.. I’m still in the beginning phases of building my own business which allows me to work anywhere, any time, and even if its tough sometimes to know how to proceed as its all uncharted territory.. well, its like exploring a new city. Even if you have a map (or guideline of how others have done it) you’re still probably gonna get lost, but if you take the time to explore and keep trying, you WILL find your way eventually. You wouldn’t give up before reaching the world’s most renowned castle, you would just know that it would take a while. Same goes for building this lifestyle. It’s not always as simple as “get a job, have money,” but I think the rewards (your time is your own, freedom to explore the limitless possibilites of life) are just unbelievably worth it. Looking forward to meeting you in Berlin!

  13. No need to worry about getting back on the treadmill. Just do what you want to do and the rest will take care of itself. I know this to be true as things always turn up and if you want a job that travels with you they are endless.

    So long as freedom is your friend and you get to go where you want when you want then that’s all that matters.

    Have a great time in Estonia – watch out for all the British stag parties!

  14. Helsinki is the city where I studied for two years — in fact, I was there again last weekend. It’s practically home. Enjoy but shame on you for not making it just 300 km south of Tallinn – to Riga, my real home.

    Regarding “working because you like what you do not because you need a paycheck”, all I can say is that it is perfectly possible to like a cubicle job, too. I have one I am passionate about — and hey, get paychecks for. As well as plenty of undisputed holidays which I spend travelling with a luxury of steering well clear of hostels — indeed the screaming horror of life on the road.

    It is the change from the office that makes travel enjoyable. And the change from travel that makes the office life seem exciting again. I wouldn’t put myself on a pedestal if I were you; for we are all free. Free to vote with our feet if we are stuck — and not if we are genuinely happy.

  15. I have been traveling around Europe, especially the Balkans region and was going to go to Romania within the next month, but a skateboard and a broken arm ruined my current plans. But yea, I left home to do whatever I wanted, without any inferences from people back in the USA. I don’t regret it one bit and I will be returning to Belgrade in Serbia, where I have been the last 2 months and travel more of the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

    Even though I broke my arm, it won’t stop me from traveling and the freedom I so much love.

  16. Catherine

    this sums me up too much! I am addicted to freedom and choices and get horribly cranky and restless if I am in the same spot for more than 1 month or 2… Great blog! My very first travel experience was when I roadtripped to southern mexico and lived there for a month so i will look forward to your posts there!

  17. Thanks for writing this article. Bull’s eye. Freedom is the key to one’s happiness! :-) Let you know that I will share your blog on facebook and twitter.

  18. Colleen Setchell

    Absolutely!!!! That’s exactly why I quit my job too. I want to LIVE and experience life and the world and all it has to offer not get sucked into a corporate cubicle and drown in pointless reports and deadlines… There’s so much beauty out there to be discovered!!

  19. Post like these are the reason I continue to visit your site. Its like you know what I am thinking or more importantly what I want in life. Society does put all these expectations but its up to us to make the decision and choices for ourselves. It hard but in the end now one wants to look be and regret not trying to do something.

  20. Freedom is what it’s all about and more specifically, freedom of time.
    The more I experience what makes me happy the more I realize money is important because it allows me to free my time for efforts that I enjoy… like kitesurfing in Thailand for a month:)

  21. I also dream of that freedom that you are enjoying! I made mistakes especially in finance but I am trying to straighten up. It is difficult for me to live the life you live now that I am married and have a son but I know it is not impossible. Even if I don’t succeed to free myself from the mundane rat race I’m stuck in I will make sure my son will!

    In the future people will call me crazy too for living the way they wouldn’t dare!!!

    On a lighter note…I am also lazy exactly like you!

  22. Richard

    Your freedom is really slavery to yourself. It’s really a small universe you
    live in with self being at the center of it.

  23. Marlana

    My story: I quit my job a year and a half ago. Teaching college. Dream job for many people. I moved to Thailand where I have studied the language for over a year. Next year I am planning on touring Europe.

    I live with people and work for them to pay for my room and board. I am building a business selling essential oils to keep people healthy on the road as a way to pay for my travels. Its work, but it pays WELL, and it gives FREEDOM. Life is not worth being in a box all day.

    And travelers….I highly recommend Thailand. You can stay on Koh Chang, Thailand for $3 a night during rainy season. Pop up your computer in a cafe at night, eat a $3 meal, and blog at the same time. Its peaceful and amazing. See pictures on my blog.



  24. I can sympathise perfectly with this! I have just returned from a month long trip around central Europe, and had decided to cut it short to head to Italy for 2 weeks (I bloody love Italy). However, I had such a good time in the Czech Republic, I wanted to finish the story in Slovakia… so I just didn’t get my flight to Rome. Many people seemed to think I ought to take it just because I’d booked it, but I had an incredible time in Slovakia and Hungary, and as serendipity and travellers’ luck would have it, ended up getting a cheap flight home out of northern Italia anyway. Best of both worlds.

    Your gut is usually right.

    Listen to it!

  25. That´s really funny! Deciding to go to Finland because you want “excitement”, or “a livelier scene”! To me, Finland is the opposite of a lively scene! I´m Swedish, and even Sweden is not a very lively place. I live in Portugal now. Much livelier and much more exciting. I have a blog too, about our life in Portugal, but it´s in Swedish…./ Åsa

  26. I’m sitting in the couch in Norway, after travelling west from Asia to which ever country I feel like, at my own pace. I’m about to decide where to go next, to save some money and get some savings under my belt to continue.

    I think we know what freedom tastes like.

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