“You’re Doing Travel Wrong”: Struggling With Traveler’s Self Doubt

Tranquil contemplation time is about to get a rude interruption...
Tranquil contemplation time is about to get a rude interruption…

Every once in a while, all bloggers, irrespective of our amount of experience or success, experience doubt, uncertainty, and a sense of inadequacy as to the direction and legacy of our blog. It’s a human thing: a perfect state of self-confidence is unreachable, since the wiser you get, the more you realize you don’t know.

I’ve discovered that those same feelings occur about one’s travels, as well.

You never know when the zing of doubt will get you. It could be that you meet a fellow traveler your age who’s visited three times as many countries as you have, and you think, Damn, I should get a move on instead of spending one more day uploading pictures from the comfort of my riverside hammock.

Or, in a hostel common area, you get to talking with someone who’s just cycled through three countries, looks at the “banana pancake trail” backpackers with disdain, and relates nonchalant stories about forging a flooded mountain stream with the help of some local truck drivers, who eventually took the cyclist home to visit their families and attend the wedding of the village chief’s eldest daughter.

Or you look with envy upon your female Brazilian dormmates, who, despite their annoying habits of talking only to one another, have somehow managed to backpack for four months and emerge with perfectly unblemished legs. And meanwhile you look at the mosquito bite scars that decorate your own legs like Bedazzler experiments gone wrong, and the quiet, much-dreaded refrain starts again in your head: Is there something wrong with me? Am I doing this—travel, life, whatever—incorrectly?

Feeling improbable, imperfect, a little out of that focused frame.
Feeling improbable, imperfect, a little out of that focused frame

My own big moment of travel (and blogging) self-doubt occurred in mid-December, when, one night, I let a stranger read a draft of a blog post I had been working on. I wouldn’t have done it at all—we writers like our readers to believe that our published products came to being perfectly formed and sprinkled with diamonds and glitter—except that in retrospect I realized I must have been making a failed attempt at flirtation.

Well, I paid for it when the guy not only started giving me advice about how to blog, but also implied that I was “doing travel wrong”—that I was complacently floating along the overrun tourists’ trail of Southeast Asia. He suggested that what I should do is to get my own motorbike (I considered telling him that that’s what I had just done, but decided it wasn’t worth it) and go exploring the countryside, and stop at random villages, chat with the villagers, get invited into their homes, live with them for a while, etc. Once I had done things of this nature, things that, as he said, “No one has done before,” only then I could come back and write about them, and my experiences would be read, and emulated.

“Um,” I said, trying to regain some shreds of my dignity. “Isn’t that kind of, well, disingenuous? You’re valuing these experiences, such as befriending a local, or participating in the local culture, for their potential to become a good story for others.”

He paused. Shrugged. “Sometimes you can start out with the wrong intentions, but then you discover something that truly ends up defining you. For example, I had a buddy who first decided to go cliff jumping because of a girl—”

I couldn’t help it; I laughed.

He finished, still serious: “—but then he ended up loving the experience for itself, and now cliff jumps everywhere he goes.”

“And how did things with the girl work out?” I asked.

“Oh. It didn’t.”

Darn you, Negative Nancy!
Darn you, Negative Nancy, Patty Party Pooper!

I try to write lightheartedly about this conversation, but I can’t entirely laugh it off. (Obviously not, as a whole blog post arose from it.) Because while I can see parts of his point of view (I did rewrite that blog post draft that I let him read—sigh), I’ve been living with myself for almost 26 years and haven’t even come close to understanding myself enough to give myself good advice, and it hurt that a stranger presumed to know enough about me in just ten minutes of acquaintance to criticize what he assumed were my intentions for traveling.

We all travel for different reasons. At the most basic level, we travel to learn—but to learn what, is up to each of us. There is no one “right” way to travel, and how ugly are the souls of those who believe that their beliefs are the only right ones.

Maybe we're all just trying to find ourselves in the world, and a little bit of the world in ourselves
Maybe we’re all just trying to find ourselves in the world, and a little bit of the world in ourselves

It’s true that I’m still trying to work out what I want to do with this blog. It’s also true that I’m constantly reexamining my reasons for traveling. Both my blogging and my traveling are merely pieces of my bigger question of what I am doing with my life.

Recently, I’ve narrowed down my travel goals—really my life goals—into two basic principles:

  1. To learn how to be happy
  2. To influence others for the better

Yes, they may sound too simple, but I’ve spent far too long not doing enough of either that they’ve become rather good goals for myself, goals that help me stay focused on mental well-being and leaving a positive footprint on the world. Some people may think that these goals are not “New Year’s resolutions”-ish enough, but these are a lot easier, and more satisfying, for me to work towards.

So maybe I’m not at the point yet where I can waltz into a random village and cozy up to its inhabitants. Maybe I’ll never get to that point. That’s okay. There are other ways that I am growing through traveling, other ways through which I am learning about myself, other people, the world. Just because I’m not traveling in the same way as that stranger doesn’t mean that either one of us is traveling better or worse than the other.

I don’t need to change the very core of my nature when I travel. I’m just trying to find a way of traveling that balances who I am with who I could be.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Seems to me that you are doing life right in a lot of ways. On your pursuit of happiness, there are going to be a lot of critical armadillos and faster flying kiwis, but if you are content in your current setting, enjoy. As the great Swift one said, ” the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
    Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, “shake, shake, shake it off”

    1. Stephanie says:

      lol Dong, I can’t even.

  2. What a thoughtful and well-written post. You may doubt your direction but don’t doubt your skill as a writer. It’s not often I am compelled to read an entire blog post these days. This one echoed my own feelings about travel blogging but I never apologize for my travels — mainstream or off the beaten path, every experience teaches.

    Global Girl Travels
    Travel like a lady. Budget like a boss.

    1. Stephanie says:

      Thank you so much, Jessica. I’m heartened to hear that my own thoughts on the matter are reflected in others’ experiences as well. I like your creed of never apologizing for your travels; that’s something I’m slowly but surely working on!

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