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Joel Falconer at Lifehack asks a fascinating question – what’s your answer?

Travel on a shrinking globe / Photo gadl

Thanks to technology, our presence is unparalleled: we can hear whispers around the world, and be anywhere on the globe in less than a day.

Transportation and communication have developed at an incredible pace in the past 100 years, and have had staggering impact on who we are.

Now that the doors to the global village flung wide open, how do we meet this reality?

Joel Falconer frames the new dimensions with familiar terms: perpetual traveler or world citizen. His definitions are summarized here:

A perpetual traveler is:

“…a person who designs their life so that they’re not the legal resident of any of the countries in which they actually spend most of their time…. Whatever the reason (for becoming a perpetual traveler), it means disowning your allegiance to your home country without giving it up to another. It means becoming a citizen of your own empire.”

While a world citizen is:

“…someone who decides to stop seeing the world as something segmented by nation, and look at it as the home of humanity where we’re all entitled to enjoy, and mandated to be responsible for, the territory of each nation. The world citizen doesn’t see any sense in national citizenship and decides to stop seeing things through the lens of patriotism or from the perspective of the country they grew up in.”

Which Do You Consider Yourself?

Both roles reject borders, but the difference between them is subtle.

A perpetual traveler discards the sense of home – often to avoid paying taxes, or for a more profound sense of privacy or non-affiliation. The world citizen sees the entire planet as home, and one’s citizenship as only a historic formality.

As Falconer says, “The concept of the perpetual traveler is about reducing your dependency and responsibilities and the world citizen is about increasing (them).”

If the question really is about dependency and responsibility, let’s look at each facet separately:

  • Dependency – What cause or group do you belong to? If borders are truly irrelevant, how do you define yourself? Is your identity determined by affiliations, or something else?
  • Responsibility – What are you accountable for, and to whom? Who do you feel deserves your loyalty? What works do you put your energy into? Who or what do you protect or care for?

The choice is about the significance of two groups of people: those in your life, and those in your community.

Defining Your World

Perpetual travelers minimize their influence confining it to their immediate location. Because of this, a perpetual traveler is always based in the present experience – the past is irrelevant and the future is unscripted.

Perpetual traveler focuses on their undiluted contact with life, and is less concerned with being the fixture of a culture.

World citizens broaden their scope to an unlimited degree – a degree that will most likely never be realized. Being so conscious about cause and effect places them within a wider consideration of time. They draw from the rich palette of borderless relation, basing their experience by the potential to connect through social schemes.

Because the judgment is shaded by personal bias, it’s shortsighted to judge one way as entirely right or wrong. Together, they reveal a variety of meaning that’s invisible under normal conditions.

To see the consequences of these roles – or disregard them entirely – is an attitude that may suggest which emphasis you lean toward.

Do you see yourself as a world citizen or a perpetual traveler? What importance does one role have versus the other? Let us know what you think.

Culture + Religion


About The Author

F. Daniel Harbecke

F. Daniel Harbecke (just call him Daniel, the F's a family thing) is currently working on "A Philosophy of Travel" which envisions travel as a metaphor for the meaningful experience of life. Daniel has lived in Europe, South America and Asia and is trying to fund his tony lifestyle in Sweet Home Chicago.

  • david miller

    excellent post Daniel

    both notions of perpetual traveler and world citizen ‘resonate with me’ somewhat

    both notions of perpetual traveler and world citizen make me ‘roll my eyes’ somewhat

    i think most people take for granted their citizenship

    today Lau is going to take her “oath” so she can become a US citizen

    by becoming a US citizen we can live outside the US without violating a ‘residency’ status

    in so many ways the paperwork and rules are f’cked

    my daughter is a dual citizen (argentine / us)

    now my wife will be a dual citizen

    i’m the lone fullblood gringo of the family

    i wonder what chief seattle would think of this question

  • Eva

    Wait, let me guess…

    Someone who sees themselves as neither is called a “tourist”?

    Only kidding. Mostly. :)

    Really, though, I can’t relate to either of these outlooks, at all. I certainly don’t discard the notion of home — it is one of the most important ideas in my life, even if it’s not precisely a reality at the moment — nor do I see my citizenship as a a historic formality. Again, it’s something quite important to me.

    And yet, I am deeply curious about the world, have an ever-growing list of countries I’d like to call (temporary) home at some point, and don’t plan on giving up on travel even once I do put down roots again. I suppose this might be a question for another article entirely, but where do I (we? I know you’re out there, brethren!) fit in?

  • Turner Wright

    Perpetual traveler.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Great response Daniel. I think it ties in with my previous post about nationalism being outdated.

    I quote Carl Sagan, who wrote “…we live in an extraordinary time, when technological advances and cultural relativism have made such ethnocentrism much more difficult to sustain. The view is emerging that we all share a common life raft in a cosmic ocean, that the Earth is, after all, a small place…”

    Since both perpetual travelers and world citizens opt to ignore the concept of borders, it comes down to how are you “contributing” to the world.

    For the perpetual traveler, this can take the form of being a “mindful” wanderer. Your inner peace will radiate out even if you’re not volunteering or giving money. For the world citizen, perhaps their way of contributing is more engaged, but should also come from a place of inner peace.

  • jilly

    The idea of a perpetual traveler, as so defined, is more inclusive – it’s open to refugees and the disenfranchised. World citizenship, as defined, is ironically not an option for most of the world. You need countries that will let you in, and to come from a country that will let you out.

    The other thought I had, when reading this, is how it might be perceived by those who have taken on new citizenship at great cost. Many of my friends weren’t born in Canada and some of them value part of the relationship totally absent from the notion of “world citizenship” above: certain fundamental protections provided by the state, aka “rights.” Because they’ve lived without these protections in parts of the world. For them, citizenship is not a trite thing to be abandoned in favor of warm thoughts and individualistic ideasl, and multi-culturalism accomplishes the same goals of tolerance and openness.

    A hypothetical: you’re in a foreign country and a civil war breaks out, shutting down transport and borders. Do you go to the embassy or consulate your passport will get you inside of, join the fight, or hide? How would each option fit with “world citizenship” ideas? Or was the idea only meant to be applied to happier situations?

  • DHarbecke

    They’re both extremes. I’m not sure most people can commit wholeheartedly to one or the other, but there certainly are those who can (like Turner, et. al.). I also don’t believe these identifications are set in stone. People change, and so do situations. That said, there’s always somebody notable for their choice of extremes!

    We tend to forget, but anyone who’s gone through reverse culture shock will tell you that at least half of travel is trying to figure out home again. If travel is half journey and half homecoming, this scale makes more sense: PTs focus on unlimited travel, WCs on unlimited home.

    @David – If home is the land itself, I’m inclined to say closer to world citizen. I say this because even though the tribe was mobile, they still moved together. That affiliation to me argues against perpetual traveler. On the other hand, neither title may apply to a people that didn’t have a concept of border to begin with.

    @Eva – Not necessarily. The opposite of travel isn’t tourism. It’s “not travel.”

    Is “brethren” being sexist? :) I’m sure you mean no offense to the sistren.

    @Ian – Nationalism being outdated – maybe; but certainly how we view affiliation is under construction!

    You really seem to dig Carl Sagan. That’s the second time you’ve quoted him. Good choice. Smart cat.

    @jilly – Being a world citizen is more attitude than actuality, I think. I can consider borders irrelevent even if others don’t.

    I also think your hypotheses demonstrate these really are extremes. Love of country is important to most of us, and trying to measure everyone the same way as at home is difficult to say the least. It also assumes, as you say, that you have the freedom and luxury to make these kind of statements.

    It was fun working on this response. I’d never thought of the distinction before, and the titles are mighty colorful. I’m grateful to Mr. Falconer for the brain exercise! BNTers, don’t forget to check out his article at the link above. I’m as much a respondent to his thoughts as you folks are.

  • Eva

    Brethren – plural noun.

    1. fellow members.
    2. [Archaic] brothers.

    Consider me a user of the word in the first, modern sense.

    A bit of snark aside, I did have a serious point/question. What do you think, is there a third category here? Or is that a whole other question?


    I guess I could be considered more of a world citizen who would like to dabble in being a perpetual traveler. Even though I am a citizen of the United States, I am open to becoming a citizen of another country (UK). However, sometimes I think I would prefer not to be connected to anything or anyone — just go with the flow.

    What importance does one role have versus the other? I think that are both important. I resonated with this line, …”Because of this, a perpetual traveler is always based in the present experience – the past is irrelevant and the future is unscripted.” I do my best to stay in the present; I’m always in the future. This is why I am working on short-term goals for myself. It will help me to be more focused in the present.

    I do like to broaden my scope and think about cause and effect. If we ever have borderless relations, it would be a miracle!

  • DHarbecke

    I think there’s more than just a third category here, let alone a fourth or fifth. What this scale addresses is how we consider national borders, but that isn’t the only facet that defines people.

    We’re social creatures – we need one another to grow. We also need to express ourselves meaningfully for the same purpose. I’m not convinced that adhering to one way or the other will guarantee either goal. But to see things from this view does show a little more than we saw before.

  • Carlo

    Unfortunately, borders are a reality. I like to think of myself as an inhabitant of this earth, sharing it not only with all other humans, but with all plants and animals. Recognition that we are all part of the natural order of things is important – we aren’t “above” anythng else, we are a part of the whole. And, as Daniel Quinn (Ishmael) suggests, we are not living in accordance with the inherent laws of nature, and this is why our civilization is doomed.

    I may have skewed off topic there. Sorry. Back to it: I call myself a proud Canadian, but I no longer consider it home. I have a million happy memories in Vancouver, and I may again call Canada home, but I really don’t know. No matter where I am, I will always cheer someone on who’s wearing the maple leaf (especially hockey players) and will always get a shiver up my spine when I hear the Canadian anthem.

    I don’t understand why anyone has to be anything. By categorizing ourselves we merely create separation, which kind of contradicts the essence of travel (as I see it).

    I am me.

  • DHarbecke

    It’s not that borders are a bad thing. They’re healthy and necessary, as long as we understand them for what they are. We use them to identify things and ideas, but they’re our inventions. When borders becomes so opaque that they obscure the landscape they attempt to define, then we’ve got the mess Quinn talks about (though I’m more hopeful – “doom” is a pretty strong diagnosis).

    When you say “I am me,” you have to differentiate from all the things that aren’t “you.” But at the same time, I know where you’re coming from when it comes to labels being too rigid. I think travel helps show that a lot of concepts are more flexible than we suppose.

  • John Bardos

    Great Post!

    I am definitely a world citizen.

    Perpetual travel requires an almost ascetic lifestyle that is not for everyone. There are many occupations and lifestyle choices that contribute to humanity but require more permanent roots to a particular location.

    Perpetual travel opens yourself up to global experiences but unless those stops are semi-permanent, there will be little connection to real people and real causes. Focusing on the present is nice for yourself, but it limits your opportunities to leave a legacy to the world.

    A perpetual traveler is the person visiting a museum and looking at all the artwork for a day. The World Citizen is the person on the street in front painting murals for several months at a time.

  • ben

    I think David Byrne had it right when he said, “I’m tired of traveling; I want to be somewhere.”

  • Pete Sisco

    Very thought-provoking, Daniel.

    My wife and I are almost to our third anniversary of perpetual travel. I only wish there were paperwork for “World Citizen” status as I think these two are not mutually exclusive at all.

    Regarding, “past is irrelevant and the future is unscripted”; I have to say the while our future is largely unscripted I could never concede that the past is irrelevant. In fact, as we go along I’ve discovered the past is so full of wonderful memories and experiences to which we would enjoy returning that it colors the future noticeably.

    One of the dilemmas we have is choosing whether to experience something completely new or to return to a favorite place with cherished new friends. And that is one more reason this is a wonderful way to live.

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