Even Travelers Have Doubts

July 31, 2014

I’ve been getting unusually high feedback from readers who tell me how jealous they are of my travels, and how they wish they too could be out there living their dreams. Ignoring the fact that long-term travel is accessible to almost everyone, there’s something my readers, particularly my younger readers, have a difficult time accepting.

As much as I need to believe Alan Watts’ words and as much as I do use them as an idealistic model for my life, there are several things of which everyone, especially people who read this blog and leave comments like the aforementioned, should be aware. When I was in college, I worked a number of jobs involving manual labor, citing lines from As You Like It (i.e. “I am a true laborer”) with a smile on my face. I had a place to sleep, enough money for food and leisure. And that was fine. I was happy with the arrangement, and couldn’t see the need for anything more, save suddenly winning the lottery.

Over the years, things didn’t change significantly until I started approaching thirty. I started feeling less satisfied from my travels, and wasn’t content with just a few bucks in the bank. Maybe it is just the perspective of a white American male, but as you get older, you raise the bar for yourself. And this too is a good thing, to not become complacent in your life and want something more for yourself, whether that means a career, a house, or a family.

But it also makes you aware of what you have to sacrifice in order to get those things. I would love to make a career out of writing and travel blogging, even cultural consulting for businesses looking to work in Asia. It’s possible; people have done it. However, in the present economic and social climate, pursuing dreams means not dealing with a very serious aspect of reality.

I’m 32, and I don’t know what I want, other than to say I want comfort and stability with the ability to jet off when the whim strikes. Apparently, that’s unrealistic, even by Alan Watts’ standards. I was, and still am, the traveler who can cope being dropped in the middle of nowhere with only a daypack and expect to thrive. But though I’m capable of living with less, I no longer want to.

Everything I’ve seen these past six months in San Francisco is evidence of how far I am from so many who chose to stay. To be able to afford my own place in this city, I’d have to be making upwards of $70,000/year. And that’s assuming I can even find a suitable job that doesn’t make me want to claw my eyes out; one friend just flew back to China after only a month stateside, facing few job prospects, most of which were for minimum wage or close to it. Another just left New York City because she didn’t want to kill herself working to provide for a shared living situation in an overcrowded city. Understandable.

I don’t know how anyone lives on less than $10/hour, let alone someone with a family to support. You can say all you want about what kind of opportunities I have, that I can base myself in another country and keep doing what I’ve been doing for years to come, and you’d be right. But such a lifestyle is, by its nature, ephemeral. Maybe I’d be able to keep it up for five years, or even ten, but in that time, I’d be well on my way to fifty and with little to show for it.

For while certain material possessions aren’t necessarily a benchmark for success or maturity in the US, the pursuit of them is universally considered so. Try though I might, I will never be satisfied until I have these benchmarks at my fingertips, because society demands I do so. And society contains those potential friends, a possible wife, and opportunities to gain more.

It’s easy to jet off. I still can. I still do. But it doesn’t leave the same taste in my mouth as it did when I first landed in Osaka eight years ago.

Let’s say I decided to return to Japan. Socially, I might be able to find friends in country who would stick around longer than a year; I might even be able to marry a Japanese woman. Economically, I’d be no better off than a convenience store worker, reduced to teaching with little possibility of advancement.

If I stay, I’ll be on a similar path as the one I am now. Working a job that is incredibly unsatisfying to gain the means to stay in one place. Socially, I won’t fit in with others who have no stamps in their passports, assuming they have them at all.

The bottom line is this: to try and pursue your dreams in America, you have to be willing to risk homelessness, starvation, and social isolation. And even if, even IF you have the mental fortitude to go forth, there’s no guarantee your passion will eventually produce a means for survival.

Alan Watts is right, but he’s unaware of the world in which we live today. There is a time to pursue your dreams, and that’s before societal expectations of economic stability and marriage overwhelm you. For those who have already passed that point, you can pursue your dreams, but, for the underprivileged, the risks are incredibly high.

“…We’re not living with my parents.”
“It’d just be temporary.”
“I choose death. I opt for death… I’d have to kill myself first.”
The Company Men

I’m unwilling to risk going home and humiliating myself by staying with my parents. Outsiders – those who are stable themselves or those who are truly stupid – who can easily put this option forth as a simple financial solution don’t know what they’re talking about; the fact remains, here, in 2014, in the United States, a man in his 30s who stays with his parents is a loser: undateable, immature, economically unsound. A share of stock to be dropped.

When your dreams go against the grain of everything everyone everywhere is screaming at you to do, it’s not an act of cowardice to acquiesce for a time to try and find a different kind of life. The irony is just how jealous those in the mainstream are of the outsiders; they want to travel and be free, but also want a place to call home. We’re two halves of the same coin. My dreams demand I reject money and working for The Man, but my gut tells me I should prepare for the future, and steady myself so those around can get to know me.

Despite the tone you may have read into this, I think, in the end, I’m going to choose the risk. That means a lot of credit card charges, a lot of sleepless nights, and a lot of personal sacrifices, all in the name of pursuing my dreams. I still don’t know if I have it in me, but these past few months have taught me just how unstable life can be. Jobs can be lost even if everything is going right. Friends can move away for no reason. I can drive myself mad putting energy into work that means absolutely nothing to me… at least, it does when I look at it as an outsider.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have wine to drink and writing to do.

Thinking... please wait
“Thinking” by karola

One Response to Even Travelers Have Doubts

  1. Jason Barry on August 3, 2014 at 3:34 am

    This is a very thoughtful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing.
    I am a 28 year old teacher and traveler from the United States. I left a successful career in publishing to travel for three months through Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania (I’d had several tastes of vagabonding before – trips through four continents). Once you live abroad, and experience the freedom that comes with international travel – you’ll always be a misfit in American society. It’s someone we must learn to grow with. At times it can be uncomfortable, and at other times liberating. I think it’s important to keep perspective: we only have one life to life, and we should try to fill it with broad experiences of our world, and the people who live in it. Every long-term traveler faces the worries you bring up. It’s threshold stuff, and real challenges.

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