Ever since I was a child a large emphasis has been placed on the value of new cultural experiences and perpetual personal growth. My parents instilled an appreciation of travel in me from an early age; at 8 years old I went on my first trip to Europe and although I spent the majority of the time with my nose buried in a comic book (and thereby nearly missing a view of the Swiss Alps) I was still taught that travel is essential. Not only that, but even on a tight budget, making room for new experiences is a necessity. Growing up my parents made sure to allocate a portion of their savings to seeing a new part of the world, a practice they continue to this day. Without explicitly voicing their belief, they showed me the benefits to spending time and money on memories rather than things.
At 11 years old I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in Naples, Italy with my family for the better part of a year. I was uprooted from my hometown in Kingston, Ontario and thrown into a culture that was unlike anything I had experienced before. Naples was loud, vivacious, dangerous and undeniably alive. I was homeschooled for the year, but most of my education consisted of walking through the streets with my mom and little sister in tow, visiting historical sites and museums and, admittedly, eating a lot of pizza. Upon returning to Canada it wasn’t long before I was once again plucked from home and moved to Pennsylvania for several of my high school years. While the cultural experience was not nearly as rich, I did become used to a dynamic living environment and the new normal became a constant change of scenery. I saw nothing out of the norm with packing my items and hauling ass from one abode to the other. I think these upheavals ultimately solidified my desire to stray from the ordinary and constantly explore. Seeing that these changes were possible, my mentality shifted to always see the extraordinary as within my grasp. I credit my mother with this belief as she has always valued travel and encourages me to see as much of the world as possible.
Several subsequent trips to Europe and the Caribbean in my late teens and early 20’s proved to me that travel is an invaluable experience and instills a childlike sense of wonder in the world. After completing my university degree and starting a full time job at the relatively young age of 21 I had a mild existential crisis and realized that I could not tolerate a measly two-week vacation a year. I didn’t want to have to coordinate vacations with a significant other. I wanted to go wherever I desired, on my own terms. Selfish? Probably. Arguably, I suppose it is a testament to middle class privilege that I can have this way of thinking. I was raised in the depths of a North American culture that values work ethic over everything else; while I possess the capability to work 80 hours a week, I do not possess a burning desire to scale the corporate ladder or shatter a glass ceiling (though I support and applaud those who do). I simply cannot stare at the walls of a cubicle from 9-5 before slumming back home through a sea of commuting zombies. I’ve done it and I did not find it particularly fulfilling. Another hundred, thousand or ten thousand dollars in the bank account do not make much difference if you are miserable. Studies have repeatedly shown that once basic needs are fulfilled (food, clothing, shelter) any additional money doesn’t make much of an impact on overall happiness. It is for this reason that lottery winners often report that they are not any happier a year after winning a jackpot. Money is not everything. I have substituted my savings account for new experiences. I have within me a strong desire to live. I harbor the innate urge to explore.
I understand the value of a good career and the importance of money in today’s society. However I strongly believe that placing an overemphasis on money buying happiness is the root cause of the imbalance in North American society. The work-life balance is, in my opinion, completely skewed, and it seems like a waste to spend what are arguably some of the best years of my life slaving in an office. I figure it behooves my soul to wildly bounce around the planet during my 20’s while my body is young and capable and I have endless resources of joie de vivre and no qualms about spending full days on cheap buses throughout Europe or showering in questionable youth hostels. Using sites such as Workaway & WWOOF I find host families and exchange several hours of work each day for food and accommodation. Using this travel method I am able to save thousands of dollars in expenses, meet new people and learn more about the way of life in other countries. I typically travel alone and I find this allows for more safety precautions than simply backpacking with an open agenda.
As it is, I intend on spending the majority of my 20’s gaining life experience and cultural knowledge before focusing on a career path. I am choosing to step away from the expected trajectory laid out for me and veer towards the direction of my dreams. Instead of putting of my goals and dreams aside for a day is the distant future, I am choosing to pursue them now.
Safe travels, always.