Is Travel Always An Escape?

by Brenna Holeman
Climbing the Pyramids of Lamanai, Belize

As I sit here by the pool, the sun shining, the wind just barely rustling the palm trees, a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice beside me – yes, I’ll admit, this is infinitely better than being in cold Winnipeg and waking up to go to work. My week in Phoenix is coming to a close (we fly home tonight), and it was a great week; we did little more than shop, eat, relax, watch movies, and drive around in a little red convertible. It fulfilled every expectation of a vacation.

But is all travel considered a vacation? Furthermore, is travel always an escape? I started thinking about this this morning when I read a quote in my newsfeed on Facebook; the quote, by Seth Godin, says, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” I understand what he means – if you get two weeks off a year, and those two weeks are your only salvation throughout the year, than yes, perhaps something is amiss. However, what about people who cannot afford to change jobs or change lifestyles? And what about people like me, and, I’m guessing, much like you, people for whom travel is an entirely different beast?


Dressing the Part in Lake Titicaca, Peru

I travel for a lot of reasons; escape is rarely, if ever, one of them. I’m sure I can speak for most people who consider themselves avid travellers when I say this: we travel to experience the new. We travel to meet new people, to try new things, to dress up in new clothes or to eat a new dish.


Shared Lunch in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We travel to learn – learn languages, learn customs, learn history, learn culture. We travel to see and experience things that perhaps we didn’t even know existed.

A Student Interview at the top of Borobodur, Indonesia

We travel to teach, too. Whether we mean to or not, we inevitably share our own cultures and our own knowledge with others we meet. I can’t even imagine how many stories I’ve told about Canada, how many times I’ve talked to a group of people and discussed what I know about my country and my home.


New Year’s Eve with my mum in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Sunny Days in Varna, Bulgaria

We travel and take vacations to spend quality time with people we love. I haven’t lived in the same city as my mum for eleven years, so I only see her when one of us visits the other or if we travel together. Last year we took a holiday to Belize and Guatemala, and we’ve travelled to another twenty or so countries together throughout the years. Similarly, my friend Kerri and I haven’t lived in the same city for over six years, but we use vacations and travelling as a way to spend time together. Without plane tickets, I’d rarely see two of these very important people in my life. And even now, even though I’ve been in the same city as my dad for the past three months, we’ve used this last week in America to just hang out together, talk, enjoy each other’s company. There are always distractions, whether at home or away, but, in my experience, we tend to spend a lot more time together when we travel than when we’re living a day to day life at home.

Dancing in Cali, Colombia

And let’s not forget – we travel to have fun. I have fun at home, of course I do, but I’ll never tire of the exhilaration of having fun in a new country, with new people. We’re exposed to different ways of having fun, and we can choose to take that home with us or not.


Home for Christmas in Winnipeg, Canada

We also travel to appreciate where we’re from, and to realize that, sometimes, home is the best place in the world. I personally could never maintain a permanent state of travel; I’d always need a place to call home and to unwind. I think most people, even those who call themselves nomadic, feel the same way. A home of their own, a childhood house, or even a familiar hostel – I think most of us crave at least one place to feel comfortable and safe, a place we know will always be waiting for us if we need it.


Making Friends in Bhaktapur, Nepal

In the end, I think that Mr. Godin’s quote has a valid argument – learn to love the life you lead, don’t rely on travel as a way to make you happy. But, no matter what, no matter how happy my life may be, I will always be wondering when my next vacation is. Travel is just as much a part of my life as anything else, as work or my hobbies or my social activities. Travel is not an escape from life, but a bonus. It’s not a way to forget the lives we lead at home, but a way to add to them, to make them richer and fuller. Whether it’s a week holiday to Mexico or a year-long stint around the world, travel is so much more than just getting away from the daily grind – it’s education, it’s entertainment, it’s growth of the mind and the spirit.

I encounter more than my fair share of people who seem to think that my lifestyle is just one long vacation. The word vacation is defined as an extended period of recreation, especially one that is spent away from home or in travelling. By true definition of the word, than yes, most of what I do would be considered a vacation. Right now, by the pool? Yep, a vacation. But this lifestyle is also really hard at times. It’s not for everyone. It’s full of high highs and low lows, just like any other life. It’s full of adventure and experience, yes, but it’s also full of confusion, sickness, sadness, heartache, and any other misfortune that falls upon the average human. Just because someone is travelling all the time does not mean they are exempt from bad days; some days, all I want to do is stop travelling and go home.

There will always be those who say things like, “Must be nice,” and “Wait until you enter the real world,” – I just ignore them. This is MY real world. In my opinion, a good life is one that is balanced and fulfilling, and if, for you, that includes travel…well, great. But to write off a vacation or travel as an escape is doing a disservice to all of those things that travelling can do for you, the learning, the appreciating, the expanding of your horizons.

Even if those horizons include little more than a sunny day by the pool.

What do you think? Is travel always an escape? 

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expatkerri April 2, 2013 - 11:02 pm

People say to me “I wish I could just pick up and go like you do”… but it’s not as simple as snapping your fingers and being gone. It’s a lifestyle built around mobility, driven by an unending curiosity for the world in which we live. You and I have crafted our lives and prioritized our spending so that we can afford the plane tickets, the guidebooks, and the experiences. It could be an escape for some people, but for you and I, this is our real world. Excellent topic, and discussion!!!

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:12 am

Very true, my friend! This is our real world, and it sure is a great world to be in. xx

Hannah Margaret Allen April 2, 2013 - 11:22 pm

Impeccably written. Just lovely.

I think it allows for an escape in a way that allows us to be a better person in our home. In that way escape probably isn’t the right word. We are allowed to grow beyond what home has taught us. Learning and having fun is hardly an escape from real life, however, and I wish people didn’t think of travel as that. Very interesting thoughts.

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:13 am

Thank you! I agree that escape was the wrong word here. I also agree with your opinion! Thanks for the comment!

Silly Medley April 3, 2013 - 12:39 am

I couldn’t agree with you more! Although I agree with the Godin quote in that you shouldn’t live a vapid life whenever you aren’t traveling. You can learn, appreciate, and expand your horizons at home. That’s something I’ve been trying to do more of lately, to be a traveler when I’m home, to get out and explore new things in my city. You’re right, travel isn’t an escape for everyone, especially avid travelers. One of the first things I learned when I was away from home traveling for a long time was that there is no escape, problems will follow you. Yes, traveling is thrilling and brings a lot of happiness but as you pointed out, all the negative human experiences happen on the road just like they do at home.

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:14 am

For sure – I think it’s really important to maintain a healthy and active (both physically and mentally) life at home. I think that it makes us better travellers! I totally agree with what you said about problems following us. Thanks a lot for your comment!

Nells April 3, 2013 - 1:24 am

I would say personally, travelling is an escape from the known and monotonous. I love experiencing something new and exciting because while it terrifies me; I know that I would gain an understanding and appreciation for the world that we live in.

I must say, I have been reading your blog for a year and your travels are AWE-inspiring and your posts are beautifully written. I am currently living in Jakarta for the next 10 months teaching English. If you are ever this way stop by!

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:15 am

Aw, thank you very much! I’m so happy that you like my blog. I will definitely look you up the next time I’m in Indonesia!

Antastesia. April 3, 2013 - 7:54 am

There seems to be in most people’s minds, a very clear distinction between life and travels/vacations, as if travelling wasn’t a part of real life.
I wonder if that has to do with the misconception of “true” things having to be somehow difficult and painful. But to me, travels and vacations can’t really be an escape from your life, as it is a part of your life, and one that is so important! As you said it makes you realize, understand, discover and learn so many things … it just adds to your life, just like reading a good book does add to it too! It’s an experience that makes it fuller and more colorful.
Just like you I do need a place I can be really familiar with, a place I know is 100% home. Sometimes I get so tired of hotel rooms, not having a proper bed and own bathroom, having to share the kitchen with everyone. In those moment I miss the comfort and just privacy of my own place.
To add to what Kerri said, even if I travel far less than both of you, I already get that a lot. The oh you’re so lucky to travel! I wish I could do it too! or “you have no idea of what life is really like” or “you clearly don’t know what it’s like having to deal with real life and its issues”.
People apparently like to think that people who travel are not the same as those who don’t. Just like they had a special gene, that allowed them to travel without pain nor sacrifice/effort. I get told that by people of my age, really well off, when I am not at all. And that’s always a bit annoying. Obviously we’re lucky, because some people can really not afford travelling, my parents never did for example, and some don’t have time either. But we’re not only lucky. We are making choices to be able to travel. We are saving, organizing and prioritizing around trips! That, a lot of people don’t want to hear about it…

Once again, very nice and interesting post!

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:17 am

Thank you so much for this comment – you always leave the most thoughtful and honest words on my posts. I really like what you said about travel adding to your life just like a good book!

It is indeed very annoying when people assume that we have a lot of money to live this sort of lifestyle. We’ve chosen this path for ourselves and been very fortunate along the way, but in the end we’ve made some sacrifices and made choices that have allowed us to keep travelling, just as you said.

Thanks again for your lovely comment! xx

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 3, 2013 - 1:38 pm

I agree and disagree with you! I agree with every single point you’ve made, absolutely 110%!!! BUT, I also think that for most people the stuff you’re seeking on the road fun, new experiences, making friends…for some reason they can’t do that at home…so in a way they are escaping their daily routine, their reality.

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:11 am

Oh, TOTALLY. I agree. I guess what I didn’t like about the original quote is that is was too much of a blanket statement, as in, all travel must be some sort of escape from a dull life. You and I both know that that is not always the case – our lives are amazing at home, but travel just adds to a well-rounded and unique way of living!

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 3, 2013 - 1:39 pm

Woops pressed publish too soon! So, what I dare travelers to do is to try and travel when they’re home!!! Explore your backyard.

Christine April 3, 2013 - 2:58 pm

I agree! I love to learn when I travel and not just to escape my daily life at home.

This Battered Suitcase April 4, 2013 - 4:11 am

I think it’s the most best thing about travelling!

Georgia Christakis April 5, 2013 - 8:34 pm

What a thoughtful post.

To me traveling is an addiction. I am not satisfied or content unless I am planning the next step, the next adventure. I guess perhaps I am a little unsatisfied with life but anyone would be as a second year in med school- all the book studying makes me restless!

When I moved to Greece it started as an escape- an effort to get away from the safety of ‘home,’ to explore a new place and gawk at all the beautiful life around me. I made friends from all over the world and did things I never thought I’d do.

But it doesn’t take long for reality to settle…soon you see the shadows behind the ancient temples, the anarchist graffiti on the picturesque church, the angry shop owner in the narrow alleys. I don’t think I grew up until I moved to Greece and stayed there for a good long while.

And oddly, I think I love that country better now that I see its flaws. I mean, I was friends with the street kids who hustled travelers in the town square- that’s knowing a place. And since I moved back to the states I have been craving that feeling, of being in a foreign place long enough to understand it like that. That is what I miss the most.

This Battered Suitcase April 7, 2013 - 5:52 pm

Wow, thank you for your comment. I love hearing these kinds of stories from other travellers and expats, and I think you highlight a really good point – no place is perfect. There are always flaws. I’m currently in London, and while, I love it and want to settle here, there are still a few things I really don’t like about the city. I hope you get to travel again soon, and good luck with med school!

Georgia Christakis April 7, 2013 - 6:15 pm

best of luck in London. I might try to move over there at some point after I get my degree; perhaps I can email you for some advice 🙂

Katie April 9, 2013 - 1:34 am

I love this post! I love to seek out the new – even if it is just a new restaurant, or a new hiking spot in my hometown. But I also love the feeling of coming “home”, or back to something familiar. And one of my favorite parts about going new places is that once you have been there, they are no longer new: if you go back again, you get that familiar feeling and memories of the last time you were there.

This Battered Suitcase April 9, 2013 - 9:55 am

Absolutely! I love revisiting a place and feeling like I (slightly) know where to go or have something I’d like to do again. Thank you for your comment!

Alana Morgan April 24, 2013 - 9:26 am

I think often traveling is an attempt to see more of life, not escape it… If you want to escape go hide out somewhere with a bottle of wine…much cheaper.

This Battered Suitcase May 1, 2013 - 1:06 pm

Ha ha, amen!!


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