Is long-term travel about avoiding responsibility?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 16th, 2012. Updated on November 12th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Long-term travel.
Monks watching on

Thinking of breaking away from the rest, solving a problem first can help

Is travel or long-term travel about avoiding responsibility?

I’ve met many people from all walks of life and ages in my travels. There’s a little niche group I keep bumping into that seem stuck on a roundabout in life and can’t seem to find the exit. But are quite happy to keep going back to that endless circle.

They are the people who travel to find something better than life back home.

Generally they can be broken up into many categories but for me these are the four most common ones I’ve come across who want to travel long-term. The Twenty-somethings. The mid-life crises. The relationship issue.  The senior citizen on one last adventure.

What is the something all of these people who are continually wanting to travel have in common? Nearly all of them will have at least somebody back home saying: “Stop running away and face up to your responsibilities”.

Who’s right? Is travel the great getaway from facing up to your responsibilities? Or are you just doing your own thing?

The twenty-something’s great travel escape

Who can argue that in your twenties life is your oyster. Anything is possible and nothing can’t be taken on. For many they’ve spent the majority of their lives being told what to do and how to do it in school and at home. The sheer idea of escaping into the great unknown to see the world without any constraints is a lure that few could or should avoid.

Foam partying in Spain

Party like there’s no tomorrow

Unlike running away from the responsibility of getting a job and having a career some of these twenty-somethings are in fact about to become very responsible. They will see, hear, taste, touch and experience things that will make them into adults faster than any educational facility back home.

Perhaps the person back home beckoning you back to a “responsible” life is the same person who’s stuck in their own world

The twenty-something crossroads of responsibility

Some will go on package tours and never veer off the nightly alcohol fueled parties and hostel bed swapping. Aside from some that evolution will take care of due to obscene acts of stupidity many will return just as ignorant and a lot more cocky than before they left.

Other’s though will veer off the beaten path. They will see the hungry street child, the Chinese guard hissing at people to stop photographing, truck loads of armed men on the streets, and they will question it. They will ponder over the delicate art work on a temples gilding and think of the reasoning being it.

They will eat food that will be unlike anything else they’ve tasted. Some will end up clutching their stomachs but remember exactly why for next time. They will grasp this responsibility: learn and become better people.

The danger is never wanting to let go of this feeling of true knowledge and freedom

The parent funded twenty-something traveling with no responsibility

I’ll interject one small note here about some of the twenty something’s I’ve met. Only a few have truly stood out. The ones that have are invariably the one’s who’ve paid for it all themselves. The very worst I’ve encountered are the ones on year-long round the world trips sponsored by their families.

I know of one father who sent his son overseas upon graduation. He gave him a few hundred dollars in cash and told him to come back with a thousand. The son said it was the greatest learning experience of his life.

He was a very interesting twenty-something traveler to meet

The mid-life crises traveler chasing after their tails

They left school. Found a career. Got married. Bought a house. Had children. Woke up one morning saw grey hair and said “Where’s my life gone?”

A shrill of panic envelops and they begin to think of ways to instill some form of passion or accomplishment back into their lives. Affairs, new cars, a second home, a new career, and the great escape of long-term travel whilst throwing caution of lessened responsibility to the wind.

Traveling to find themselves or find the big answer

Next to the twenty-somethings this is the biggest group of long-term travelers I’ve come across. Many don’t openly say any of this. They push their former lives to the back of their minds and invent a big adventure when you meet them. And for the most part it works. They do enjoy themselves. They find the holiday romance. They take up the mantel of adventure sports and feel alive again.

They live in a house in Italy and write that book.

They volunteer to help others and end up realizing it actually helped them more.

They traveled and woke up from the 24/7 grind of life. They escape a prison from one world and enjoy complete freedom in another. They re-awake old passions. And hopefully they return home embracing them rather than going demented trying to get out again.

Coming home to the same old drag after long-term travel

Sometimes they come back to the depressing grind of a job they no longer like. Debts, bills and the trauma of some family crises that pales in comparison to what they saw only last week in a faraway place. And so they grind away saving and dreaming of another escape. The midlife crises of travel for no-responsibility roundabout has begun.

The solution to mid-life crises travel

Sea sunset in the Philippines

Paradise feels much better if you know that you have to leave … your choice

It depends on the person and their circumstances. But generally what people fail to grasp when escaping is the responsibility of actually solving the problem rather than leaving it. Sure it feels good to just get up and go. And if you can do it indefinitely then yes, problem solved.

However for most people you can’t indefinitely keep moving. Solve the problem of what’s wrong with your life first. Otherwise it will just be waiting for you when you get back.

Be honest about it. Sick of the daily grind. Great, what do you want to do? Don’t know? Well, figure it our before you travel otherwise you’ll get caught up in the rush of travel to figure it out. And before long you’ll be back at square one again. If you can’t figure out what you want from life before travel then there’s a strong chance travel will only be a temporary solution.

For those who drop and leave everything to go traveling at this age to find themselves I can tell you now – you are back at home. All that’s happening is you are seeing and experiencing new things. Maybe it’s an aid to you. But remember the people you are leaving behind too.

Travel can be a cure but first you need to know what your  disease (problem) is.

Traveling due to relationship issues

Very similar to the midlife crises. I’ve met many people traveling after a divorce, separation or break-up.  Some are traveling with the mindset of the twenty-somethings trying to reclaim their “lost years”. Other’s are trying to “find” themselves again.

Many generally find a solution by volunteering somewhere. They quickly realize that life wasn’t too bad back home. Or they find something new to envelop their lives around.

There are also those that set off to travel together. Either to solve a relationship issue or to celebrate their relationship.

The truth is: travel will put your relationship to the test more so than just about anything else in life.

Travel will make or break a relationship for better or worse.

The senior citizen on one last big adventure

Lastly I’ve met a lot of retiree’s taking on all manner of great travel adventures. Be it the elderly Everest trekkers or the round the world pensioners. They are coming out in force to see the world.

People traveling in Nepal

Older couples traveling together are great to watch and talk with

Their days are counting down and they have every intention of making the most of them.

There are some strange older travelers out there though. The old men having one last fling with a much younger girls in Asia. Or the mature women that head to West Africa for their twenty-something adonis’. Though stay a while and you might see that there is a small percentage of good happening here too. Education being paid for, medical bills and lonely people finding comfort.

Not everything is as it seems on the face of it.

One last solo adventure

I’ve met older travelers whose partners have died and they are out traveling by themselves. At first when they tell you it’s a little sad. They seem lonely and mournful as if wanting their partners there with them.

Sometimes if you catch them alone you’ll even see them talking to someone. And while this might seem strange it’s actually quite beautiful. Almost like they are taking their partners with them for company. Sharing the experience. Maybe it’s just me but this is heartwarming to witness.

The beauty of senior citizen couples traveling

Of all the categories I’ve mentioned it’s the senior citizens in couples I like the most. I’ve met some outstanding older couples traveling together in all parts of the world. It’s a joy to see such team work. They know the in’s and out’s of life. They know their limitations. They enjoy each other’s company and go about things at their own pace.

They are taking care of their own responsibilities. And one of them is to enjoy life as much as they can, together.

They are making the most of their remaining time together and that’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Is long-term travel about avoiding responsibility?

Yes, there are many exceptions to the above such as the person who just “wants to travel”.  But from what I’ve seen these are the four main groups of people where avoiding responsibilities and travel often run side by side. In all cases it’s important to realize that problems you left will still be there when you get back.

So if there is any hint of dread on returning home then I suggest you tackle them first, and then travel.

The responsibility of travel will then be embraced in a much better light that few can question.

Michael Robert Powell from The Candy Trail says:

“If there is a God – then Life itself is an irresponsible joke. Being a good person is the only responsibility on earth. I mean, one could say “normal life” – having a family and endless assets is irresponsible in terms of over-consumption and overpopulation against finite global resources; so if there’s any shit to be thrown, it should NOT be towards the simple life of a humble traveller.”

Christine from Grrrl Traveler says: 

“What is responsibility? Only you will regret what dreams you didn’t pursue in your life. If you fail to attempt your dreams aren’t you avoiding  the biggest responsibility… to yourself?  When I took my gap year(s) and left my career to live abroad and travel, it was a choice I knew there might be consequences for and I was still responsible for making my travel dreams work. In Korea, I worked as an English teacher, had a savings account, budgeted my expenses, etc… “

Will life be the same when I come back from a life of no responsible travel?

Bottom of reclining Buddha's feet in Thailand

At the end of the day the answers you seek might be found right where you are

For the first few weeks or even months no life will not be the same. You’ll either be bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box full of life about the excitement of the world and telling everybody to live their lives more. Or you’ll fall into some form of depression.

Because yes, you will have to go back to the same old routine again. Yes, you might not be watching television now nor care about the show everyone is talking about but in a few months you’ll start to watch it just to fit in again.

Is it that bad when you come back from a life of travel with no responsibility?

Well, if you really did travel well. Hopefully you’ll have created and brought back something pretty amazing.

Something that’s able to put a better perspective on your lot in your life. Something that’s got new goals and new aspirations. Something that’s got the ability to make a difference in the world.

That something is of course you.

Long-term travel planning is not something many people have written in-depth about from beginning to end. I’ve been long-term traveling for over 7+ years. And I’ve been long-term travel planning for most of my life. Read more of my articles on long-term travel

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38 Great responses to Is long-term travel about avoiding responsibility?

  1. This is a cracking post, Dave. Definitely my favourite in this long-term series .. razor sharp analysis of the scene.

    My quote seems a little odd now that I’ve read it within the context of this article … so I’ll add this: we are responsible for own lives and I believe we all strive to be happy, content, fulfilled; so if travel is the answer, take it. Don’t bow to societal pressure. Life is too short, too insignificant in the greater scheme of things to take it too seriously, so enjoy while you can.

    In my case: I don’t think I fit into any of these categories – maybe you can add “Freak” for folks like me.

    I set off after graduation in the 20-something-seize-the-world-mode … but never stopped being nomadic. I believe I’ve now pushed thru my mid-life crisis without having any of standard crisis issues – except, should I keep travelling? – and am probably heading into the crazy old guy wandering-still syndrome in coming years …

    the candy trail … an nomad across the planet, since 1988

    • Cheers Michael. No worries about the additional quote. I think it’s nearly impossible to categorized all the types of people who want to long term travel. So I just tried to focus on the 4 main groups I’ve come across.

      Are you a freak? No I don’t think so. Much like the young backpacker I met who’s father sent him out with only a few hundred dollars you would surely fit into the realm of very interesting people to meet en-route!

  2. Laura says:

    Dave, What a thoughtful and respectful post. In a few years we will start our long term travel adventure. We are both looking forward to leaving behind careers which are no longer suit either of us. When I talk to my peers about my dreams of selling all our belongings and our houses I get funny looks and comments about how “irresponsible” this is. Irresponsible how? My bills will be paid and my kids will be on their own. What other responsibilities do I have?

    We’re only given one life and it is irresponsible to squander it living your parent’s ideal or societies notion of what your life should look like.

    Safe travels to you, Laura

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Laura. Yes, I’ve heard people say the same thing to both me and others. You’re right the real act of being irresponsible is to squander your life away living up to your parents ideals or societies notion of how you should be living.

      It’s not easy to break the mold. But when you do, you’re one of a kind! Enjoy.

  3. BB Travels says:

    Great to get so many perspectives on this as it’s something close to my heart. There’s a strange guilt people put on you if you go traveling for more than a few weeks in a year. Maybe its jealousy?

    • Jealousy? Yes, partly I think. But perhaps Laura in the comment above has hit upon another reason. Perhaps people are just raised to think that anyone not living a life that societies and culture have dictated as responsible is irresponsible.

  4. Nate says:

    Interesting to read. Would really like to read from someone who thinks travel is running from responsibility

  5. debbie ann says:

    I don’t think we fit these categories exactly – we’ve been “travelling” for 6 years(from the US) – but it is more like moving than travelling. Found a job that allows for living in other countries for extended periods – a year in India, four years in Australia and now in Africa. Sold everything in the US, there is nothing to go back to. got all our worldly possessions down to 80 kg and working on reducing that. Even if we moved to the US, it wouldn’t be ‘going back’, it would just be a country on the list of countries.

    We are as responsible as ever – no debt, no mortgage, no storage units – not avoiding anything, but instead embracing being out in the world.

    • Victoria says:

      Love your sense of adventure! It’s really cool that you’ve got your material footprint down to 80kg. Kudos. I’m curious about your thoughts on getting older, and travelling when you’re perhaps not as mobile?

    • Indeed Debbie Ann, there are many categories. But to avoid a long drawn out list I stuck with the 4 categories I’ve come across the most.

      There will always be people like yourself who through great travels break the molds and create your own paths!

  6. wftristan says:

    I love Christines quote – “What is responsibility? Only you will regret what dreams you didn’t pursue in your life” – I am 40 now and still getting told “you will regret it when you are older” regret what,when?
    We see loads of people going on that last hurrah – We have just insured an 82 year going……..rockclimbing what an inspiration.

    She is certainly not going to regret going

    Inspirational piece of writing


  7. Stuart says:

    Loved this. I wonder if the people saying travel is running away from responsibility are the same one’s who are afraid to even try? Or do they really think we should all live the same lives? Very boring if we did.

  8. Sue says:

    I’ve travelled since I was 18 & it helped mould my route through adulthood. It made me see my qualities, wants, weaknesses & gave me the confidence to think & be independent. It also taught me about tolerance, acceptance, patience & awakened my ‘Jimminy Cricket’ that is called conscience.
    Running away? No way!

  9. I really like this article but like some of the above I don’t think I fit into any or maybe I do which is worrying. I turned 18 in 1986 and left the country, Ireland that is. I did my first international flight alone at 11 and I was sold on traveling. I’ve since lived in 8 countries and traveled to almost 60, I returned to Ireland 7 years ago so my son could finish high school in same country but I cant seem to stay in the one spot so we moved house 6 times in the seven years and I averaged one trip a month overseas and traveled the length and breath of Ireland on a boat during this time. As my son gets ready to head off for college now he has turned 18 at 43 I’m getting ready to hit the road again, starting in Croatia sailing for a month. Friends and family think I nuts I’m sure, they don’t believe me when I say after October I’ve no idea where I’m going? I’ve never had anyone pay for a single trip for me and I’ve supported myself on all of them. I’ve made amazing friends along the way, but there is still so much to see and I’m afraid the group I probably do fit into is “got the taste of traveling to amazing places and just keep going”. Im not the type of traveler who does Europe in 10 days and I seem to spend a minimum of a few months in each place. However I find myself unable to ever say, oh yes Ill be here or there next year? because I don’t seem to be able to plan that far ahead, and I really don’t want to live a lifestyle where I do. Now if only I could find a career that paid a salary for this as for the first time ever I will have to support myself but also someone in another country, so be the world traveler and pay for a kid in college, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm we shall see. Love your blog,

    • I think it’s good that you don’t fit into all of the above. It means you broke free of the mold and made you own!

      Who want’s to be just another clone? When the world is out there to elicit a far more interesting adventure.

      True though, finding a way to sustain such a lifestyle is not so easy. Yet another challenge to overcome to make it all worthwhile!

  10. guy says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. I personally don’t fall into any of those caricatures. Most of the people I know on the road are just traveling. Trying something different with their lives. Expanding their horizons. They travel because they want to travel, not because they don’t want to not travel.

  11. trevor says:

    nice article…… i travelled when i was 24 for the first time… i hated it…. went again at 29, loved it and have been on 4 long trips since then and another is in the pipeline starting next spring… am 44, i work in switzerland, in the mountains which i love BUT there is the feeling that there is always some thing more and better and simply more exciting when ‘being on the road’.. 10 kilo pack with a small day sack…. nothing more…. happy as a bunny…..

    i ask my self of my sisters…. 2 kids each, house, 2 cars each…. who is happier??? i am for sure…. but its what they want and what i do is what i want…..

  12. Keira says:

    Dave, this is a marvelous article. You’ve hit the nail on the head.
    “For the first few weeks or even months no life will not be the same. You’ll either be bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box full of life about the excitement of the world and telling everybody to live their lives more”. . . HA! That was definitely me! And I remembered vowing never to watch tv again! I held out for about three months and then got tired of not being able to join any conversations. People love their tv.

    • Hey Keira,

      Do you know the interesting thing? In all my travels and time in other countries things like the TV, coming back to avoid the monotony of it and then picking it up again just to fit in, happens everywhere.

      I guess it’s indicative of human social nature to do as other do!

      • Keira says:

        Well okay then, as long as it’s part of a worldwide social trend and not just me betraying my ideals . . . :)

  13. Victoria says:

    Another great article Dave. Our favourite saying is, “wherever you are, you take you with you!”
    I especially liked the bit about older couples travelling together. My hubby and I love travelling, and can see ourselves walking hand-in-hand through foreign streets for many years to come :-)

  14. doi says:

    I guess I belong to the group that indicates travelling to run away from responsibilities. I got sick with the daily grind. I got fed up with having to live up to what my parents want me to do and become (a rare disease common to typical Filipino families), which was why I tried to embark on what was supposed to be my epic backpacking trip as I try to lead a location independent lifestyle. However, I had to cut my travel plans short and go home due to a family emergency. For now, I am placing the travel dream in the back seat as I try to please the family. It’s just sad that my homesickness for the life I lead while travelling increases day by day. I am afraid I’m headed for that great depression and may never recover.

    • Hi Doi,

      Reading your comment must ring memory bells for many people. It’s very difficult to live up to other peoples expectations. Add in cultural aspects like the strong Filipino belief in the family and you are surely in a hard place to find independence.

      I say independence more the responsibility as it sounds like you were actually very responsible and returned home due to a family emergency. The irresponsible thing might have been not to return. So take pride in that!

      I know very much what it’s like to try and accomplish your dreams when others around you may not be supportive. Or in some cases even seem to fight against you. It’s not easy.

      From my own perspective all I can say in support is to use some of that negative energy of depression that’s building up into realistically planning your next venture. You have time on your side now. You’ve experienced what it’s like out there. You know the obstacles. Now is the time to start working on overcoming them!

      • doi says:

        Thank you so much for your message, Dave. It means a lot to me. It gave me a new perspective and inspired me not to lose hope. You are right. Living away from home is not that easy and I’m glad I experienced it. I have the uppperhand now and will have more time to prepare for that ultimate adventure in the future.

  15. Good topic. Yes, traveling long term is an exchange of one type of responsibility for another. You give up a large amount of your responsibility to other people when you begin traveling. To a large extent you toss away family, friend, community, and work responsibility. But you take on a lot more responsibility for yourself. When on the road you need to keep yourself safe, healthy, intrigued, and on the path you want ot be on 24/7 without the help of other people. It is up to you to make decisions that can make or break you daily, to decide how to budget money, how to communicate with people in a way that will get you what you want, how to get out of bad situations, and how to fend for yourself emotionally and psychologically. As far as these responsibilities of self-sufficiency are concerned, many people who stay sedentary are as children. While it is true that the traveler gives up a large amount of their community responsibility they take on far more responsibilities that will teach them lessons they will carry with them through anything they do.

    • Very true Wade when traveling long-term one can often surrender one set of responsibilities for another set. It’s one of the reasons I “had” to break down the categories listed above into the 4 most common one’s I’ve come across and just deal with them.

      Unearthing their reasons and responsibilities both before and after can only go far other than to highlight the obvious.

      A more in-depth look at through an individual case study would be interesting. Thereby looking at all the scenarios in one persons choice of rebutting societies responsibilities, their own, their family etc and then go full circle into the their new found responsibilities.

      I think even in writing that, it sounds like something a novel would be better suited at! Getting writing your life story!

  16. Conrad says:

    I do.

    Responsibility, meh. Give me a ticket to anywhere, hopefully with great weather and not too many people around nagging at my head, and I am fine.

    Back home i have these moments when I start to think a little bit about my place on this planet and my sense of purpose, on a long trip though I find the answer: my life is futile, and nobody gives a %#%# if I succeed to excel or not.

    Nothing beats watching a perfect sunset with nothing on your mind. To the world I might merely not excist. Bliss!

    Yours, a true curmudgeon.

  17. Surminga says:

    I’ve just finished Uni and spent my 2/3 months of summer periods travelling, but have never been for longer, I’d love to still do some travelling, but I’ve go a while to go before I need to settle down with a job as I’m only 23

  18. Jenny says:

    I think an important point to consider in defining ‘avoiding responsibility’ is whose definition of responsibility you are going by. Especially for the younger set of travelers – responsibility is often chosen by parents and other authority figures against what the 20 something really wants. “You should go into science, you should go to grad school, etc.”

    So, while you might be ‘avoiding responsibility’ by someone else’s terms, you may be in fact, being quite mindful of your chosen responsibilities and priorities.

    And having grown up listening to “I wish I had traveled…” stated clearly over and over; I do believe I’m tending to a personal responsibility that I’ve watched many others completely neglect.

    So, I’m not starting graduate school yet. I’m not going to go to medical school. Big deal. I’m seeing the world; building my career and actually trying to plan for graduate school when I feel I’m ready for it – not just because the economy is down but everyone would feel more comfortable if I stayed in the zip code I grew up in rather than ventured abroad. Oh, just wait tables! Right – now that’s avoiding responsibility – I took the bull by the horns and made my way into my chosen career on another continent.

    So I have to say – whose responsibility is being avoided, mine, or the perception other people have for me?

    Of course, the perceptions and misgivings others have created for me will still be there to deal with; it’s hanging over my head. But I wasn’t getting it done at home and I wasn’t getting it done waiting around to start my adventure – have to start sometime. And the longer I’m away, the better equipped I feel to face what does wait for me back home – the aspects of it that can be prepared for at least.
    Some I’d be no more ready for at home than abroad – I will never be ready for it. But I can follow my dreams and grow as a person as I need to instead of waiting around for the other shoe to drop.

  19. You sure do meet a lot of interesting people with issues when you travel, Dave. j/k. Everyone has issues. It sparks to mind the first international springboard I had– was due to a big relationship breakup. Within a week or so I’d booked a ticket to France and was off to heal my heart. It didn’t heal it completely but that was a phenomenal trip and it gave me so much more of myself and the world than I imagined. Best escape from my life–or maybe I was dealing with it perfectly.. I needed inspiration, a change, to rebuild my inner romance. Maybe attempt this, but don’t quite execute it well. Just a thought.

    I like what you said to @Doi about using the depression to get you thru to the next dream. Good advice. I believe in making negative things work for me. It’s not easy but if that negative keeps building and you keep pushing, you’ll find a way to flip that head.

    Good article and inspirational wrapup.

  20. Drew says:

    I actually never think about why other people travel, or engage in some other activity they’re passionate about. I just assume/hope they have their own valid reasons, and I applaud them for going for it.

    But I do agree with you about underlying problems. Travel won’t make them go away. YOU have to make them go away, so that you can get down to the business of living the life you want, whether that includes travel or some other worthwhile pursuit.

    My second principle of travel is to live in the best place possible. That way it’s never hard coming home. Because you can’t always be on the road.