It seems like every night for the past two months my mind has been sprinting through a mental marathon that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe it’s the coffee I consistently slurp down each day at work or the 5,000 IUs of D3 I started taking to feed my sunlight-starved body due to my cave-like office and northern climes. Maybe. But I’m fairly certain it’s good old fashioned excitement. You know, the 8-year-old on Christmas morning variety that teeters between joyful exultation and crushing disappointment.
Standing in the way of that joyful possibility is the sheer number of tasks that need doing and problems that need solving. The maelstrom is paralyzing. So I’ve been setting goals and attempting to approach this monumental effort in an organized fashion. There’s been a lot of thinking, too. Like sitting on the couch staring at the floor thinking. As I contemplated my ultimate goal I started to feel, of all things, guilt. Guilt on several levels. Was this the residual effect of a Catholic upbringing? Was it my internal editor’s latest Machiavellian attempt to bump me off this trajectory? I don’t know, but at least there’s a silver-lining: if you’ve ever felt the hot ember of guilt burning inside, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re probably not a psychopath.
Without further exposition, here are my 5 guilty travel thoughts and how I defeated them:
1. My carbon footprint will crush the planet. All that flying from country to country, bus rides, rental cars – you name it. If it makes travel easy then it’s probably waging war on the ozone layer. And as a green-conscious citizen the thought of a Shaq-sized carbon footprint causes me some severe cognitive dissonance. Thankfully, there are many organizations dedicated to helping people maintain carbon neutrality, such as BeGreen and Carbon Footprint (please post other reputable orgs in the comments, folks!). I needed to level with myself though: was I leading a carbon neutral lifestyle now? Honestly, no. Day-to-day it’s equally–if not more–important to keep your footprint small. It’s really easy to not notice or ignore how much CO2 your lifestyle produces. Start with your daily driving habits, heating schedule, recycling practices, and purchasing decisions. Traveling is a great time to consider your impact on the environment, it’s just not the only time.
2. If I tell anyone about this place I will ruin its sanctity forever. There have been times in my travels when I could have mistaken my surroundings for Valhalla, Elysium, or any number of other conceivable heavens. They are moments of perfection that could only exist then, with the specific mixture of events that lead you to that place. Sometimes it feels so magical that your presence alone taints it! If you’re a travel writer/journalist/photographer the feeling is magnified: how can you tell anyone about this place without forever destroying it? First, get a hold on your ego man. People will come regardless, despite your best efforts to persuade or dissuade. You might hasten the arrival of some, but your words hardly have the power to defile so thoroughly and permanently. Phew…relax and be thankful that you don’t possess such awesome power.
3. I never ventured off the pages of my favorite guidebook. I’ve had this trip. In fact, I’ve been the type of traveler most guidebook publishers love. I usually buy 3-4 books for a place, cross-check recommendations, and I generally feel safer choosing an option found nestled in their pages. This one’s pretty easy to dash from you mind though – set limitations for yourself. Make it a goal to only use guidebooks for certain purposes. Ramble around when you go out looking for dinner or drinks. Even if you wind up eating or drinking at a place mentioned in a guidebook, the fact that you found it on your own will be immensely more satisfying.
4. I’m not broadening my horizons. “Oh, you’re going back to [insert country here]? Huh…yeah, didn’t you go there last summer?” How many times have you heard that? For me, more than a few. Look there’s nothing wrong with repeatedly going back to your favorite place, but it can cause turmoil if Jiminy Cricket is telling you to go someplace new and challenging. If you decide to follow your heart and return, the trick is to make sure this visit is sufficiently different from previous visits. If you think you won’t learn anything new or grow as a person because you’ve been to a country or city before, then you are seriously underestimating the complexity of the destination and horribly wasting your own creativity.
5. I don’t deserve this experience. I thought about this one a lot and, well, who does? If you put in the work and dedicate the time needed to make this dream a reality, then you officially deserve the experience. What about all the people loaded down with debt and locked into their ho-hum 9-5ers, trading years of their lives for chunks of paid-down interest? The fact is that consistently traveling for extended periods of time is feasible–not easy–for everyone. Regardless of your situation, if you make it happen you deserve it.
At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
Has guilt assailed you during your travels? What flavor did it come in and how did you get past it?
Original photo by sergeant killjoy via Flickr.