While I'm traveling all 54 African countries, the two most common questions I get in my email inbox are:
1. “Where are you?”
(Click the question to find the answer.)
Far less often, someone will try to play Freud with me and say that all my travel indicates that I’m “running away from something.”
In fact, Ryan Holiday, a guest blogger for Tim Ferriss, wrote that "most travelers . . . are fleeing themselves and the lives they’ve created. Or worse, they’re telling themselves that they’re after self-discovery, exploration or new perspectives when really they are running towards distraction and self-indulgence."
If I'm running away from anything, it's that I'm running away from things I don't enjoy that much, like:
A boring life
A standard 9-to-5 job
Living in the same place all the time
- The 3-weeks-of-vacation-per-year job
But that's a negative way of looking at what I'm doing. What I am really doing is running TO things I love:
Discovering new cultures
Seeing places that few get to see
Learning about the world, geography, life
Enjoying the beauty of our planet
Moving my body every day
Exploring cities, villages, and wilderness
Understanding the differences and similarities across humans
Speaking foreign languages
- Camping in remote areas
- Climbing mountains
Nobody accuses a ballerina, actor, or musician of "running away" from something. They're just doing what they love. Some of them have to travel extensively for their profession—that's just part of the job. Same goes for my profession. I just travel a bit more than most.
If anyone is running away from something it's people in stable, safe, high-paying jobs who are doing something they don't really want to be doing. Often (but not always) lawyers, accountants, and stockbrokers stay in their jobs because they're running away from what they really want to do. They're afraid of trading the security of their high income for the insecurity of pursuing their passion. Some of my Harvard Business School classmates are guilty of this. They may not be moving much physically, but they are running away from their dreams.
Yes, of course, there are some travelers who are running away something, like having to raise their kids or take care of ailing parents. Or perhaps they are running away for the lousy reputation they have in their town. But in all these cases, there’s no need for them to be a nomad. All they need to do is move to a new town far away and be done with it. No need to keep traveling.
But you are running away from commitment!But you don’t have to travel in order to avoid such commitments. You can work a few years in a variety of towns and in a variety of jobs and have a variety of relationships throughout that time, never committing to anything. Between each move, you are stable for a few years, yet you avoid committing to anything. There’s no need to be a nonstop nomad to be a commitment-phobe.
I admit I have commitment issues. I’ve never been married partly because I’ve never had that much confidence that in my predictive powers. How can I predict that in 40+ years I’ll still truly and deeply love someone? How the hell can I know what will happen in those 40+ years or how she and/or I will change? Nobody knows that. Nobody can predict that. Ultimately, marriage is a leap of faith. I have yet to find a woman who has inspired me to have that much faith. One day I hope I’ll find such a lady.
I’m not running away from falling in love. Yes, my way of life is not conducive to finding a wife, since most women (and men) don’t want to be nomads. Therefore, one can either conclude:
a) I travel to avoid having to commit to anyone.
b) I travel, and one of the unfortunate side-effects of traveling is that finding a lifelong partner is hard.
In fact, I’m not running away from marriage—I’m running TO find a wife. I generally prefer non-American women, so by traveling outside of America I increase the likelihood of finding my wife. I come from international parents (Chile + France), and I’ve always thought that I would marry a foreigner.
Moreover, during my travels, I sometimes bump into single female nomads. In some ways, they’re easier to find in Africa than in my hometown of San Francisco. (Then again, I have only met one in the first 6 months, so maybe this is not a great theory.)
Many women have told me they dream of being a nomad, but the ones I meet in the middle of nowhere are doing it instead of just talking about it. Perhaps one day one of these nomadic women will actually like me.
In other words, I’m not running away from marriage, but instead running to where it’s most likely that I’ll find a lifelong partner—in some strange foreign land. One day, I hope to commit to a special lady.
Well then, you're running away from other commitments!
I avoid other commitments, like buying a house, not because I don’t want to buy a house. On the contrary, I do—I almost bought a house in Montenegro and in San Francisco.
The main reason I don’t commit to buying a house is that I lack the money to buy a house in a place I love AND to travel nonstop. Many who marvel at my ability to travel so much have bought a house and/or car. I simply traded such possessions for the experience of nonstop travel.
Sure, I can buy a house in Guinea or Guinea-Bissau (they cost about $1,000). But I don’t want to live there for long. If a nice apartment in Venice or San Francisco cost a tenth of what they actually cost, then I’d be happy to buy it. I’d love to have an attractive place to crash after my long voyages. I’d love to have a consistent place to leave my few belongings so that I didn’t have to hear my mom nag me about storing my crap. However, since the places I’d like to call home are so expensive, I’d rather use my savings to travel—which is what I’ve been doing since 2006.
For those who think I’m running away from having a stable job, I’d point out that I’ve never had a more stable job as my current one. I’ve been a writer for nearly 10 years—that’s far longer than any other job I’ve had. And I’m totally committed to remaining a writer for life. I love it.
In short, while I have some commitment issues, I’m not as bad as I seem.
But you're running away from responsibility!
- I'm not married.
- I have no kids.
- I have no debt.
- I communicate with my mom nearly every day.
- I'm not hurting anyone.
- I pay taxes.
But you're self-indulgent!
Some may say nomads are "selfish and hedonistic." Some certainly are. Some are also moochers. They're those proud nomads who say, "I left my house with just $2 in my pocket and traveled the world!"
They live off the generosity of strangers by hitchhiking (without offering to pay for gas), getting free meals and housing wherever they go. I scold them in my couchsurfing article. They are the worst travelers.
However, other travelers:
- Are generous ambassadors who inspire and touch people everywhere they go.
- Change lives in positive ways.
- Open minds.
- Build cultural bridges.
- Increase understanding and peace.
- Share and transfer knowledge.
In conclusion, being a nomad can be a noble profession if you act correctly.
And that's a career that I am happy to run to.