If you ever read sites like Buzzfeed or Thought Catalogue, you have come across articles with titles like this:
Or maybe this:
Or even this:
“There are Literally NO Consequences to Your Actions”
OK, so I made that last one up. But the point is, twenty-somethings like two things:
2. Talking about how cool these things make us.
The world of travel blogs uses this language a lot as well. Bloggers simply love saying things like right now is the time to chase our dreams, right now is our chance to have an adventure, and right now, we’d better see the world, before it’s gone. It’s all about us.
As I look back on the past few months in Prague, I’ve been a bit embarrassed to realize how much I’ve done this in my own writing, and how I’ve lived for essentially no one but myself.
As a teacher I’m not making a lot of money, and my “adventure” hasn’t been all fun and games. But why did I come here in the first place? To run away from the fact that I didn’t know what else to do? To make myself seem more interesting? To be able to boast about the experiences I’ve had to people who will envy me and read my blog and one day pay me the big bucks because I’m a cultured world-traveller? (I’m still holding out for #3).
When I think about how else I could have spent the money it took to get here, or what I could be doing to contribute more to the world around me, I feel a little guilty. Yes, I may be 23 with no real responsibilities except my job, but in my life right now, am I living just for myself, or am I looking for ways to make other peoples’ lives better?
It’s a question worth asking, and one I challenge my fellow globetrotters to consider. It should humble us and remind us that there are many different paths to leading a fulfilling life. I can’t stand the myth that anyone who chooses to get married at a young age or save their finances for future opportunities is missing out on the experiences of us “bolder” people. In the ordinary, every day grind, they’re having their own adventures, loving their families, and/or contributing something to a community they don’t want to leave behind. We should recognize the goodness of a less “exciting” life.
At the same time, it really is a matter of perspective. For every moment I feel a little selfish about gallivanting across Europe, I actually feel selfish for not seeing more, for sitting on my couch on the weekends watching TV when I could be traveling to Germany or Hungary, or seeing the Bohemian countryside. I feel selfish for wanting to return to the States where it’s comfortable, or possibly staying in Prague for another year, when there are so many things in this world to see. To experience other cultures and try to learn something from global humanity, to witness the world’s natural wonders in all of their terror and beauty and majesty — this is selfish, if only because our tiny “self” is our main frame of reference for realizing how incredibly big this world is.
Yes, we are primarily serving ourselves by having adventures. But if we travel with an open heart, and a mind that’s receptive to learning whatever we can in our wanderings, we will recognize our own smallness — and maybe even come home better people for it.
Rebekah Lee Mays is an American fiction and freelance travel writer. Originally from Austin, Texas, she’s lived and worked in various parts of Europe for the past three years.
Rebekah’s short fiction has been published in Hobart, the Forge Literary Magazine, and the Still Point Arts Quarterly. Her travel articles have appeared in LinkedIn, France Today, and Misadventures Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @smallbeks.