I originally wrote this post in November last year at the beginning of our 5 month whirlwind trip to Southeast Asia, Oz and NZ but didn't publish it. I then re-wrote it towards the end of my trip and yet was still reluctant to publish it because I still felt too new, too inexperienced and too uncertain of myself, my blog and my readers. I'm still fairly unsure about myself (and admittedly about you beautiful people too) but I now think it fits in well with my blog and other blog posts that I've written from the heart about how travel makes me feel. I'd love to read your feedback and comments if any of the sentiments below resonate with you.
The sun was setting on another beautiful day in Thailand and as I sipped my beer and dug my toes deeper into blindingly white sand I asked myself “How did I get to be so lucky?”.
With this question I admitted, to myself at least, that I had long been experiencing an uneasy emotion that I have come to label “Traveller's Guilt”; why should I be so fortunate to experience the sun rising on a deserted beach on a peaceful Thai island? Why am I so special that I get to bask in sunshine and warm temperatures, while my friends and family freeze back in London? Why am I the envy of everyone because I haven’t stepped foot in an office or even entertained the idea of a “9-5” day in nearly nine months. Why me? How did I get to be so lucky?
Before I progress I should explain that though I am new to long-term travel this being my first elongated trip and I am also relatively new to travel blogging, though in my “past life” (the cold one back in London) I was a hyperlocal London blogger. However, I am no stranger to travel, having already covered a respectable amount of the globe through holidays, short term travel and work trips. So although I may be the “new kid on the blog”, I am not completely wet behind the ears, and “Traveller's Guilt” is not a totally new emotion to me. Everytime I go snowboarding (which is at least once a season, God and bank account willing) and I find myself high on a mountain, above the clouds seeing things that only a minority of others do I feel my stomach flip with guilt; why isn’t this more accessible to others? I have marveled at sunsets on more Greek and Spanish islands than I care to count and most left me feeling uncomfortably lucky, if just for a short while. When work has previously sent me to Cairo, Budapest, Seattle and Copenhagen I counted my lucky stars even though sightseeing hours were disproportionately lower to office hours.
So, how did I get to be so lucky?
After musing on the subject on and off over the last few months of travelling, I have realised that though, yes, I am lucky to be travelling, my luck isn’t in the travel. My luck is to be found in the fact I was born into a world where I have choices. I would hazard a tentative guess that most people reading this are the same, give or take a few different circumstances.
I was lucky enough to have been born into a hard-working family whose priorities were giving their offspring more choices and opportunities than they had. I was therefore able to make education and career choices that led to finding work in jobs where I could travel and I was paid modest but respectable salaries. This afforded me holidays for additional short term travel and finally the savings for long-term travel. I am lucky that when my feet started to itch for longer-term travel I was able to realistically consider this financially, logistically and professionally. I was lucky that I chose a man who shared my passion for travel, and I am even luckier that we continue to choose to travel together. I am lucky to have further opportunities to adapt my career to long-term travel, though this is still a work in progress.
Therein lies another key word; work.
I have worked hard to get to this moment and I believe many long-term travellers are the same.
Be it more late nights (and weekends) in the office than I care to count over the years, or the long weekends moving, packing or selling personal belongings, as well as the often uncomfortably complicated process which was planning and researching my change of career, combined with long often difficult conversations with my family, friends and NewMan when announcing and planning our journey.
It's all been hard work and in a nut shell, I've learnt that I am not work shy.
I haven’t even mentioned the hours that we have worked on the road as we made the brave (and sometimes, maybe stupid?) decision to keep working while travelling on the other side of the world. And now we are adapting to slow travel so that we can find the balance between work and exploring the new, though of course often the balance tips and work must come first. This is not a moan. I enjoy my work and I'm not yet comfortable enough financially, to entertain moaning about work for some considerable time. Let's also get real, in global terms I also know that there are so many, many others who work ten times as hard and will still never have the same amount of choice or opportunity.
Besides I am confident that no matter how many hours I work on the road hopping from one new, beautiful spot to another, this will never stop the odd pang of “Traveller's Guilt” seeping in. And nor do I think I want it to. You could blame this on my Catholic upbringing, of course, but I am trying to interpret that inward sigh and squeeze on my heart less as guilt and more as perspective.
Travel is a unique way to open your eyes, mind and heart to different ways of life, and with this invariably comes seeing and meeting people who are not lucky enough to have as many choices as you.
From the displaced unemployed famililes I saw in Jakarta who live in man-made shacks along the intoxicatingly smelly and polluted rivers to the staff in a hot, sweaty Malaysian street restaurant who work 14 hour days for weeks on end, I have seen some humbling sights and though I may not like this, long may they continue. Please.
I know by now that for me “Traveller’s Guilt” isn’t going to be an emotion I can stop or block out, but it is one I can use by ensuring that it re-establishes my perspective so I value the life I lead as well as the lives others live and where ethical, moral and appropriate to do so I will endeavour to help.
Maybe us travellers can’t save the world, but we can see it in all its glory, sadness, inequality and beauty. We shouldn't let guilt stop us treasuring this.
Guilt will not help anyone, but perspective and positive action can.
That’s a choice we all have as travellers.
Frances M. Thompson
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