Ever since I was a little girl my dream has been to move to a far away country. I got older and I kept on dreaming and fantasizing about either exotic islands or big urban cities. On a certain age I realized that it wasn’t so much that I wanted to live somewhere else. I just wanted to see a lot of different places. That’s how my dream of moving away from The Netherlands transformed into dreaming about traveling the world. Many people share this dream and, just like myself, more often pursue this dream.
Many people share their wonderful travel experiences online, and a lot of research is dedicated to the perks of traveling. I often see many (click-and-bait) articles about how traveling is great. Some even claim that traveling is the path to happiness or the good life. I do hope that traveling the world will make me a happy person. However, my sister forwarded me an interesting Dutch article about traveling, which actually claims that traveling is not the key to happiness, and even makes people unhappy. Because I’ve learned to be a critical thinker, I would never just ignore such an article. No, it intrigued me immediately. Because, what if traveling will not make us happy, while most of us think it is the ultimate dream?
The article in the Dutch newspaper, the Volkskrant, is an interview with British tourism-expert Scott Cohen, who has conducted a literature study towards the darker side of hypermobility. Luckily, I’ve found the article by Scott Cohen on Academia.
The Traveling Way of Life: Not the Good Life
A darker side of hypermobility
According to Cohen, traveling for business and pleasure is glamorized in privileged societies. Vacations, short trips, backpacking or business trips; it’s all romanticized and encouraged in the West. Cohen says that he doesn’t have an issue with traveling itself, but with the idea that traveling is “ the good life”. This while, according to him, there are psychological, emotional, physiological and social consequences of traveling frequently.
The most commonly discussed physical impact is jetlag. Jetlag seems to be an innocent phenomenon, but repeated jetlags can lead to exhaustion and chronic tiredness. Other consequences of jetlag are: aging, heart attack and strokes. Frequent flying can also lead to developing deep-vein thrombosis, you are often exposed to more germs, and you get dry eyes and dehydrated skin. Lastly, once you arrive at your new destinations there are many safety concerns, such as infectious diseases.
Psychological and emotional consequences
A jetlag is not only a physiological consequence, but it can also impact a traveler on a psychological and emotional level. Cohen claims that the geographical and cultural displacement can lead to travel disorientation. This disorientation can happen before you even start your flight; you can get stress from the anticipating, organizing and preparing for a trip. Cohen also states that traveling can cause travel stress, or pre-trip stress, which includes the disorientation of preparing of being away from friends and family.
There are other sources of stress because of traveling, such as transportation to the destination (travel delays, security checks at airports), arriving to places that are very different in temperature, humidity or pollution, as well as different smells, sound and tastes. So basically: a culture shock. Some travelers can also get anxieties over health, personal safety and security when they go traveling or when they arrive at their destination. What can be hard emotionally as well is that traveling can be an isolated and a lonely experience.
Despite the advances in communications technologies, when you travel more you have less time for a social life at home and where you currently are at (because you’ll probably leave soon again). You will miss key family milestones and events, such as birthdays – meaning you are kind of losing your family role.
The same accounts for friendships, if you are away for a long time, it is difficult to maintain your relations with friends, despite the virtual interactions. You will meet new people, but these relationships are often short-lived and are not lasting. These short-lived friendships are at the expense of deep and personal relationships with your family and friends. In another research Cohen noticed that backpackers who travel regularly have a difficulty to adapt once they are back home. They have adapted to the “norms and values” of the backpackers community, such as a strong anti-materialism. At home, they will feel out of place.
Is traveling a bad idea?
I have to say that this article did not really focus on the kind of traveling we have in mind, because it focuses on frequent traveling with an airplane – either for leisure or business. Yes, this article made me realize that we do glamorize travel a lot. It’s pretty logical that not everything can be perfect. However, I think it also depends how you travel. The physiological consequences are mostly because of frequent traveling with the airplane. This while a lot of backpackers and longtime travelers will go to a certain country and from there on they will use other kind of transportation. Also, sometimes you do stay somewhere for a longer period of time. Once we are in Australia, we will travel for a few months, but we will also take on a job somewhere for a few months where we will also stay.
Psychological and emotional consequences such as a culture shock is also something temporary and personal. Some people may really have to get used to certain habits, while others can embrace it immediately. I do understand when you travel alone, you might have the feeling of loneliness, but I always hear you easily meet new people when you are traveling by yourself. I guess this is also personal.
The social consequences is something I already thought about a lot. We both have a lot of friends in The Netherlands, that we will miss. I will miss my sister, brother, father and my little nephew. I also wonder what it will be like when we finally get back. This is something that time will tell.
We will always be honest
Today our website went live. We intentionally started our blog with this post to let you know that during our travels, we will be honest about everything. Not that we will share every little detail, but; when a place sucks, when it gets hard or when we are homesick, we will tell you. And no, we will not be whiny bitches and complain about our troubles, but we share our experiences and how we cope with it to help you with your travels. We will try not to glamorize it – although we do love to show pretty pictures.
We will work hard during our travels and are not a rich couple that live a jetsetter’s life. A camper and a small savings account is all we have.
Hopefully you will join us on our adventure!
Ps. Please take a look at the article by Scott Cohen if you have time, as I didn’t include every single consequence: Cohen, S.A. & Gössling, S. (2015). A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning A, 47, DOI: 10.1177/0308518X15597124
Pps. Not every blog post will be this long.