A couple months ago I had an enlightening conversation with my dad. It a while after I had written this bitterly honest and emotional blog post about my tendency to end up in the emergency room on a yearly basis (titled, My Greatest Regret).
He said, “Your mom and I were talking, have you thought about paying extra when you travel?”
“I know you don’t have a lot of money lying around, but you don’t have to stay in those super budget hotels and make lunches from the grocery store in your hotel room. You can cut your trip short a day or so and use the difference to stay in a nicer hotel. Or pay and extra $50 to upgrade your seat on a flight, so you get adequate leg room and the ability to sleep. Your mother and I do that all the time.”
“That’s a waste of money,” I replied, because why would you pay extra for an unnecessary expense? That doesn’t even make sense.
“Not really.” He replied, pressing the matter. “That might really be the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘great’ trip.”
“But dad,” I countered (because really, he wasn’t listening), “Real travelers don’t do that. That’s not the millennial way. People like you can drop an extra ~$100 on better accommodations, but people like me go on budget airlines, sleep in tiny hostels, get discount 13 hour bus rides, and eat only at cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants. That’s just how we do travel.”
“Yes, but why?” He asked. “Why do you do that if it’s not fun and it makes you get sick?”
It got me thinking.
My definition of how I’m supposed to travel, as a twenty-something millennial (especially a self-employed twenty-something millennial) comes, of course, from the internet. Every travel memoir I’ve read on my Kindle and every travel blogger I follow roughly my age does travel this way. That’s just how it’s done.
One of my all-time favorite bloggers is Agness from e-Tramping flourishes at this kind of travel. Her and her travel partner see the world on $25 a day (including hotels). The least I’ve ever been able to do is like $50 a day – and even then, that was only when we were crashing with some of my friends.
In fact, when you compare my travels to those ‘hip, twenty-somethings’ who are really seizing the day, I look pretty pathetic.
It’s not my fault (I think). I’m just bad at that particular brand of travel.
I live in Japan.
I spent six months doing laundry by hand in my bathtub. I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji, cooked my way through several cookbooks, dug up baby bamboo plants from the mountainside, haggled for fish at the fish market, and ended up in the newspaper/on TV a handful of times…
but I’ve never befriended a “local” on the road and ended up crashing at their house for a week, while learning all sorts of secret, insider knowledge about the city I’m travelling in. Or hitchhiked across a country. Or met a university student on the street and joined their posse for a wild night of drinking, clubs, and taxi rides.
Or any of that cool stuff people with travel blogs seem to do effortlessly.
Compared to all the other stories I read online, about twenty-somethings who work part-time, saving up for their next big trip or freelance full-time, bouncing from one city to another or spend a year discovering themselves while travelling around the globe… I’m remarkably tame.
For a long time, I felt like I had been given an amazing opportunity and was squandering it by being so “lame” and “predictable.”
- I have a savings account.
- I make soy lattes at home and buy all my food locally (and know exactly where to go to get the best price).
- I’m friends with the local, little-old-Japanese farmers, who ring my doorbell and give me bags of rice, fruits, and vegetables each season.
- I do my best work at my desk at home, not longing on some hidden beach without wifi.
- I like going to bed early and waking up in time to watch the sunrise.
- I have absolutely no desire to go on an overnight trip with anyone aside from my husband or a close friend (hey, I’m a picky traveler).
Basically, according to any listicle or article about global twenty-somethings, I’m a failure of a traveler.
But somewhere between that phone call with my dad and a chat with my husband, I realize that there is more than one kind of traveler. And I can’t believe it took me this long to figure that out.
Just because the only type of traveler on the internet is this global twenty-something, doesn’t mean that any other kind of travelling (like my brand of travelling) doesn’t exist. And it sure as heck doesn’t mean that my type of travelling is in any way, shape, or form inferior.
It’s not “wrong.” It’s just different.
I wish someone had told me this before my honeymoon. I was so determined to finally be a mature, global adult, backpacking through South America with my new husband. Instead I ended up almost dying, getting my appendix removed, getting another infection, and flying back to Texas with my tail between my legs.
So much for being an adventuresome, global traveler.
Hindsight is 20-20, though.