Two and a half years ago, somewhere over the Great Barrier Reef, Mike and I met a young British man who left his home in the hamlet of Cheddar to travel around the world. We listened as he animatedly told us about his experience obtaining his SCUBA certification in Malaysia, and then of upcoming destinations he was eager to explore. He was excited about life, and we were excited for him.
Though we asked questions and supported his trip, traveling around the world wasn’t something Mike and I wanted for our lives at that time — it wasn’t even on our radar. We’ve always loved to travel, but couldn’t imagine the life of a vagabond as our own. Even so, we didn’t criticize the young man’s dream and current adventure.
A year and a half after that experience, our own lives took a turn in the same direction as the young Brit’s. For the last year, we have been planning our round-the-world (RTW) trip and slowly telling family, friends and coworkers about it. Mike and I are lucky that those nearest and dearest to us have been supportive. But we have, unfortunately, come across some negative energy.
The RTW backpacker’s biggest pre-departure pet peeves, from what I can gather from the numerous blog posts I’ve read, are: 1) people whose reaction to the trip is some form of “aren’t you lucky” and 2) people who are unsupportive due to jealousy or a lack of empathy.
Mike and I have certainly received the “you’re lucky, did you win the lottery?” response. I don’t get offended because it’s mostly a good-natured reaction that is accompanied by genuine excitement for us. But sometimes the “you’re lucky” is said with the implication that the person can just pick up and go without any consequences. This is an incorrect assumption, and I completely empathize with the frustration it causes, because the trip isn’t happening by chance, but through preparation and hard work. The speaker simply isn’t aware of the sacrifices made to get to this point.
When someone says to us, “aren’t you lucky” or “that must be nice,” what we actually hear is, “wouldn’t it be nice to not have bills, debt, obligations and the luxury to leave your job to travel around the world.” Actually, we do have bills, obligations, job security, etc. Arranging a trip like this has more to do with desire, self-control, rearranging priorities and just making it happen. You have one life, and if you’re always making excuses for why you can’t do something, that’s your fault and not mine. I’m not lucky, I’m proactive.
Now, onto the snippy side comments a soon-to-be-RTWer receives. Remember how I said we made sacrifices to get to this point? Sacrifices like leaving behind job security, selling possessions we’ve made memories with and not being able to see family and friends nor spend holidays with them for a year. Oh, and all that money we’ve saved for the trip? It’s not going to buy us a house either. These are some serious things we’re giving up.
You can imagine our frustration when someone says, “Wow, I can’t believe you guys are selling your things and traveling around the world. That would be cool… for about a week.” I’m quite aware that the life of a nomad is neither appealing to nor a good fit for everyone. That’s fine. You are most definitely entitled to that feeling. What you shouldn’t do is belittle something that someone else is excited for and giving up almost everything to do.
Like our reaction to the young Brit’s journey, accept that everyone adopts a different lifestyle and has dreams that might not align with yours. And when you don’t understand, just ask questions. At the very least, you will have made an attempt to broaden your mind.