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As I sit in the airport waiting for yet another jaunt to Asia I got to thinking about the ethics behind long-term travel and lifestyle design in general. I’ve been on the go pretty much since summer 2006 and since then I’ve been home 3 times – that means I’ve left my family, my friends, my country and my culture almost permanently. From a purely egocentric perspective I’ve had the greatest 4 or 5 years imaginable – the things I’ve seen and done, the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have, the new friends I’ve made throughout the world – all of it has been nothing short of amazing but today, having left my tear-stained mother for the 3rd time at Dublin airport, I thought whether or not long-term travel is ultimately selfish?

long term travel

No doubt when we travel for so long our families and friends miss us dearly. Of course they’d love to see us more often, more regularly but the lifestyle I have chosen prohibits that hugely – so it poses the question, should we forego the lifestyle we desire for a yearning to do right by the people we love? I often preach about the fact that we only have one life so we must strive to make the most of it while we can, especially while we’re young and I continue to live by that – but is that the right thing to do? Should we (I) do what society expects and live in one country, get a real job and, through that, be infinitely more available to them?

I guess we have to find peace with the decisions we make and I know for sure the people I care about would want me to live the life that brings me the most happiness so, for the meantime at least, I’ll continue to blaze a trail around the world with a smile on my face and be forever grateful for the support of the people I care about most.

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26 thoughts on “Is Long-Term Travel Selfish?

  1. I think people think long-term travels are selfish because those who go about don’t seem to understand why others don’t. The fact is there are MANY factors that prevent people from travelling. Some of us have elderly family we need to take care of, some of us need to make a steady income to support others, etc. It would be very fortunate to be able to just pack up and leave, but for many, it’s not that simple.

    Many travellers return and become very… “braggy”. They talk endlessly about their travels and seemingly like to rub in the fact that they’re so “cultured” and “knowledgable” and that those who haven’t done it are “drones”. We’re not drones, we just have other obligations that cannot be put aside for “travelling because it makes us happy”. Or perhaps some of us are more focused on moving up the career ladder.

    I don’t think long term travels are selfish so long as you are doing it with a purpose. Doing so just for the brag-factor is very selfish, and returning only to brag to others that your life is much more fulfilling is also selfish and narrow-minded.

    So do what makes you happy – but don’t hurt or offend others along the way :).

    1. hey,

      thanks for the comment =) doing what you really wanna do is never easy, not for me or anybody else. I’m fortunate in that i made the decision to follow my dreams at a young age before i got bogged down with debt, finance etc. I think the thought of traveling the world to brag to others is quite a negative mindset, surely noone would spend months or years and thousands of dollars just to brag to someone?!

      If moving up a career ladder is your genuine dream, the thing you wanna do most in the world, then good luck to you.

    2. Thank you Anan,
      I am in almost all the conditions you mentioned which block one person from long time travelling…Have a mother who has been seriously ill for the past year, need to provide for myself and my dog and I am as well trying to build up my career in such a way that it would allow me to have a rather stable future and maybe, bring more close to the job I desire in a country that can fullfil more my need for simplicity, nature and multi-cultural experiences. It’s hard when my ex partner with whom it did not work for various reasons (among which as well her need to travel more which for me was difficult to picture and my need for a more stable person beside me, giving me an idea of reliability and stability) is now actually travelling since two years..I miss her, and I probably still love her, but I guess this is the result of many incompatibilities…but yet, travelling, is something I wish one day I will be able to do, and for long enough to enjoy this Life as it is…real, not only work or provide for urself and others…

  2. Hey Johnny, firstly nice site dude ;-)…

    …and to the point of the thread…. The very fact that this issue ways upon you at all shows that your are not selfish…. a selfish person wouldn’t give a damn. You care about the impact of your decisions upon others, that is fundamentally as un-selfish as you like ;-)…. you have made the decision to follow a dream, your family and those closest to you are happy for you that you are leading a happy life…. of this you can be certain!

    Ultimately, is a person who decides to walk down the traditional career-marriage-kids-promotions route in life any less “selfish” just because they maybe closer to family? I mean surely someone doesn’t do that for their parents or their friends? No, they do it because those are the choices they made (whatever the circumstances), usually because they believe that is what will ultimately make them happy…. how selfish are they, striving for happiness eh? tut tut 😉

    Communication is key in my opinion, making those people who we care about most understand our decisions to the best of our ability. Anyway, keep up the good living man!

  3. Bit late on the weigh in, but doesnt selfish swing both ways? Surely them expecting you to stay in one place for them would be selfish on their part too? (Not that theyre asking you to but …you know…)

    I had a chat with my mum earlier tonight as i was contemplating going traveling and asked her what she did after uni (she’s a nurse). She finished training and went straight into work. That was 31years ago. She loves her job but would also like to win the lottery and go see the world.(I didnt waste my breathe explaining that she doesnt need to win the lottery lol). She’s has a great family/life/house etc but watching them leave for work at 8am and come home shattered at 6pm only to eat, watch the news, go to bed and do it all over again makes me realise how much I dont want that life.

    There are enough office workers and people with mortgages out there and just like jobs/chasing money/raising a family makes most people happy, traveling it what makes you happy.

    Goodbyes are always gonna be hard and they miss you like im sure you miss them but people who love/know you always know when something brings you joy and thats what makes coping easier.

    Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Thats what makes reunions that much more memorable, and the time you do spend together invaluable.

    Enjoy the travels and making memories. The guilt always take care of itself.


    1. hey nandi, you’re right – we gotta choose our own route but true contentment can only come when you know you’ve been true to yourself, and only a fool would turn their back on that.
      Your mum sounds great and I’m sure she has an awesome life, but you can go and explore what else life has to offer and still go back and get that life in 5 years time. What you can’t do however is recapture your youth and experience the world with no responsibilities the way we can now so lets pack our bags! see you on the road 😛

  4. Everyone in life does what they want – or at least, they try to. It’s their dream, their pursuit of happiness.

    Mine, is travel. Travel as a lifestyle.

    Humans are generally self-interested.

    I mean: is a couple selfish for having 6 kids and that level of consumption? A businessman for working everyday and making millions? A celebrity for their excessive, ego-centric life? A Christan NGO worker – spreading hope and help, with strings attached? These people are doing what they want.

    Some may help strangers; others won’t. It’s an individual thing … nothing to do with travelling long-term.

    Loved ones: Hey, I am 44 years old and my family may miss/worry about me; but they’d miss me too if I lived 700 miles away, or if in fact if I was dead.(Incidentally, I return every few years for short holiday, to NZ).

    Some say we contribute nothing to society? Well neither do junkies, rapists or tax-evading politicians in the West; at least travelers provide income to local people, and some do work, and interact decently, etc.

    This selfish travel notion is naive.

    the candy trail … nomad across the planet, since 1988

    1. Hey Michael, thanks for the input mate. I hear what you’re saying and that’s what i’ve come to agree with – we all have to take the choices that bring us most happiness, and if we do that then we can look at ourselves in the mirror and know we are where we should be

  5. This is the answer for my question, Johny. Will it be respectable for me to stay in Jakarta, working as a lawyer in one-big-reputable firm and so on.. just like any other typical normal Indonesian adults would do. But here I am in Lima Peru, alone, looking for part time job and enjoying life even if it’s just meeting people and talk. Maybe I’m selfish, maybe my mom and my sister need me the most. But just like you’ve mentioned: “I know for sure the people I care about would want me to live the life that brings me the most happiness” And hell yeah, this is what happiness is… make peace with your inner strength 🙂

    1. hey ayunda – wow, lima huh!? that’s awesome. By the way, i love indonesia too so you always have an awesome country to go back to should u ever feel the need 🙂

  6. if ultimately it’s what makes you happy, then no I don’t think it’s selfish at all. technically anyone has the freedom to pack your bags and go travel (well unless you’re from one of those countries with strict visa regulations haha)…although i think there should also be a purpose to your travels as well!

    1. hey michelle,

      just because it makes us happy doesn’t negate the fact that it may be a selfish act though :S although i wish it did!

  7. I’m lucky. I’ve been travelling pretty much since I left school, so all my friends are used to me coming and going. I’m also very lucky that my family enjoy travelling too so they understand that I’m not always local. They have also learnt how to use skype!
    I think it is more selfish for others to call travellers selfish, as if affected it means the travellers may give up their plans and perhaps their dreams. What do the non-travellers give up?

    1. hi Liv,

      so you go home a lot from ur travels? thats great that you get the chance to do that. I’m talking more about people who rarely make it back – people who travel for years on end, not 3 months trips here and there, people who rarely make it home to see their loved ones.

      I hear ya on it being selfish to call others selfish! It was just a thought more than an accusation though 🙂

  8. Just like Anthony said, we try to please others most of our lives, while slowly losing ourselves. I myself have reached the point where I was thinking “do I want this, or I do it because I am expected to do it and don’t want to disappoint?”…and there aren’t too many things that are worth sacrificing your dreams…just ask yourself – if your greatest dream is to travel, isn’t it unfair to sacrifice it just to stay with your family/friends? Of course, they are important too, but ultimately it’s a selfish thing on their part to be happy you are there, especially knowing what to sacrifice. My motto is – they should be happy if you are happy! So to answer your question – long-term traveling is not selfish…it gives you experiences which you will cherish for the rest of your life, experiences you would have not…ahm, well, experienced had you stayed with your family and friends…I’m just saying 🙂

    1. hi joseph,

      i think what you say is bang on the money, and it mirrors by thoughts pretty accurately. Although my worries stem from the hidden emotions of loved ones, nothing they explicitly discuss. Of course they are happy if we are happy, but there must be a small percentage of them that would love us to be around a lot more often :S However, if you have the chance to live your dreams, in my mind, of course you have to take it

  9. Not meaning to be awkward but I feel like answering your question with a question;

    Isn’t it ok to be a little selfish at times? In a world were people bend over backwards to please others just to fit in, we can lose sight of what we want. Meanwhile, you’re doing what you want and are generally happy with it. “The best 4 years of your life” highlights that, mate.

    I understand why you’re thinking this way though-I’m crap when I see a woman cry, but this woman wasn’t just any-she’s your mam! Here’s to your next adventure 🙂

    1. nice positive spin mate, cheers. I think you’re right for sure, we have to make the most of the opportunities we have, spurning those is a selfish act in itself i guess

  10. That’s the cool thing about consciously living your life – you can choose what your priorities are at this point in time, and actively pursue them.

    We’ve been on the road full time for about the same amount of time you have. One of the benefits we’ve designed into our travels is being able to spend extended quality time with our families throughout the year. Previously, family time might have been limited to long weekends and/or holidays that we could afford to squeeze in around our careers – that were mostly rushed and chaotic. Now, we can come into town and spend weeks – because we can work from anywhere. We can share in the day-to-day with people we love, and not have it be rushed special time.

    We average about 2 months a year spent with specifically with family. Overall, I’d say our relationships and time with parents and siblings is better than before we became full time travelers. And, we feel our wanderlust is being sustainably fulfilled too.

    It’s all about finding the right balance.. for you.

    1. “finding that balance” – couldn’t agree more Cherie, it’s awesome what you guys have done and it’s great to hear it’s been so successful too 🙂 the world isn’t such a big place anymore and you’re only ever a day away from the people you love

  11. I find video Skype has made a huge difference here. Even if it’s only once every few months, it really has a major impact on feeling connected to family.

    1. absolutely! Skype is a great tool, one of those that makes you wonder how u did without it huh?! We’re lucky to be travelin in an age where technology removes that physical distance 🙂

  12. I’m struggling with that very question right now. The money we’re going to spend can be used for much greater purpose (helping animals, helping less fortunate people).

    And like you said, not to mention the burden we’re going to place on people who care about us (and we care for)… they’re going to worry about our safety, our future, our well-being. It sucks thinking about it.

    I tend to say that yes, it’s a little bit on the selfish side… but like you said, we only live once.

    1. it’s so true Jill but traveling has opened up my eyes to so many different things that i think, in the long run, i’ll make more of a difference due to my lifestyle choice than if i had never hit the road at all

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