To the outsider, it may sound odd, perhaps even obnoxious, for me to say that I needed a vacation. I understand that and, believe me, I’m not some spoiled travel blogger who takes anything for granted. But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that a big part of my job is making what I do for a living not look like a job at all. Travel bloggers exist in a weird universe; we travel the planet, highlight some amazing experiences and encourage people to explore as much of the world as possible. Travel is happy and so I keep things happy and, for the most part, they are. But what I do is a job. It’s a great job, but it’s still a job and I’ve honestly never worked harder in my life at anything. I’m a freelancer, which means when work is offered to me then I need to take it. Lately I’ve been fortunate in that a lot of work has been offered to me, but I have a problem. I can’t say no. The result is a travel schedule that threatened to drive me insane and a massive backlog of work that is still staring at me from my desk. So, yes, I needed a break. I needed a vacation and two weeks in Thailand and Myanmar is exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.
Can’t stop, won’t stop
I’m a proud American, but I do recognize we have our foibles. Brought up with what was very much a Puritan work ethic ingrained into my soul, I’ve never once questioned whether or not I should be working. The answer is always yes. That’s part of our problem as Americans, we don’t know when to slow down and, in fact, many of us can’t slow down. On average, the typical American gets around two weeks or so of paid time off. That’s not much and, when compared to other Western nations, is nothing. But the shocker is that we don’t even take the full allotment. I was telling a fellow American about a friend who just returned from five weeks off. The immediate American reaction was, “Well he must be doing something wrong if he wasn’t needed for five weeks.” This is just how our hard-working, Puritan brains have made us I’m afraid. Throughout our history this incredible work ethic has paid off, catapulting a young nation to the top in a relatively short period of time, historically speaking. But now I fear that it’s killing us and as the world gets more hectic and as we live longer and longer, our inability to relax will ultimately be what hurts our economy and our people, not help it. But I’m getting away from my point.
By the time I left my traditional 9-5 job, I was miserable. I felt stuck in a career, a profession, a life that I hated in almost every way. That depression also affected every other aspect of my life, from health to personal relationships and beyond. When I decided to follow my true passion in life, to give up the stability of that career and do this for a living, I promised I would never repeat that mistake. But, a few months ago, I noticed that I was dangerously close to the line. While I love my new job in every way, as I said, it’s a job and as a Type-A personality I treat it as such. That meant I was working 7 days a week, traveling far too often and stressing out because I wasn’t getting my work done. In turn I was eating poorly, not sleeping, well, you get the idea. It wasn’t good and I was nearing a breaking point. I wasn’t finding joy anymore, and that terrified me.
Resuscitation through travel
Luckily, months ago I had planned a vacation. Two weeks exploring Thailand and Myanmar. Sure, some work elements were involved, but my overall goal was to enjoy myself and relax as much as I could. At first I was a little dubious, but before leaving home I set up everything on the web site so that I wouldn’t have to pay a lot of attention to it and gave myself every opportunity to enjoy the trip. And you know what, I did. Everything I did, every experience I enjoyed brought me back to basics. It showed me once again the power of travel, why I love it as much as I do and the amazing benefits it can give us. On the last day of the trip, I was standing on the top deck of a river cruise boat on the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar. I felt as far away from the real world as I could be and suddenly an incredible smile crept up on my face. I love that feeling of visiting remote places, learning new things and traveling to the ends of the earth. That’s why I do what I do and at that moment I remembered that important fact.
Unless we are independently wealthy, we all must find ways to support ourselves. I have chosen a slightly unconventional route, but it’s still very much a career. I take my new profession very seriously and while I don’t know if it’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life, I do know it’s perfect for me at this moment in time. But I’m also human, I need to step away from work more often and rediscover the simple joys in life. Hanging out with my dogs, walking along the National Mall in my hometown of Washington, even watching a good movie – these are things I haven’t been doing lately but which I should in order to regain some semblance of balance in my life.
While we never really got along, my mother did have one phrase that I still remember. “Everything in moderation,” and while it belies that Puritan ethos I hate, I can’t disagree with it. Finding balance in life is important for all of us, even if your job is to travel the world.