Photo: Shutterstock/Jacob Lund

Don't Tell Me Travel Isn't 'the Real World.' Here's Why I'm My Truest Self as a Traveler

by Dayana Aleksandrova Apr 15, 2016

FOR THE MOST EXCRUCIATING six months of my life I was stuck working a corporate job at a bank in Boston with zero travel. On paper it was the “dream” for every fresh-out-of-college twentysomething. I got paid enough to live in a nice apartment in a vibrant neighborhood and to drink myself to oblivion on the weekend. But something wasn’t right. I found myself getting angry at the smallest things, like my laundry taking too long or asshole drivers (which is as much a part of Boston as the Freedom Trail). I felt suffocated and wondered what ever happened to the carefree, energetic and curious person I thought I was. Was this really who I was?

So I thought back to the last time I felt like my true self. It was the summer of 2014 when I lived in Barcelona by myself and constantly traveled both inside Spain and around Europe. Those were the days I enjoyed running, had insatiable appetite for food and drinks and the energy to stay up club-hopping till sunrise, occasionally waking up on the beach, head propped up on a stone as a pillow. I couldn’t for a second recognize or accept the jaded, disillusioned girl running on treadmills at 5am every morning like a hamster, eating bland spinach and grilled chicken salads and going to bed at 9pm.

Over margaritas one night when I shared this grim observation with a friend.

“Travel isn’t real life you know,” she told me.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because we’re not really ourselves on vacation.” She took a big gulp of her spicy drink and continued. “I met this awesome guy on that trip to Martinique three weeks ago and thought about calling him, but then I stumbled upon this article that says we shouldn’t date anyone on vacation because we’re not ourselves there, so I changed my mind.”

What a stupid idea. For the majority of us, vacation is pretty much the only time that we’re happy, relaxed, and open to talking with strangers, eating fried grasshoppers, or bungee jumping. What the hell is wrong with that? Are you trying to tell me that our nature is that of stressed-out, paranoid worker freaks?

I don’t buy it. I don’t think that living under the series of excruciatingly-mundane events I perform when I settle somewhere brings my true self out. In fact, I believe that the true self comes out exactly when I find myself somewhere new, lost in the streets of Copenhagen or stuffing my face with samosas in London. The weekend trips to the Costa Brava, hikes in New Hampshire and spontaneous beach cruises in Greece provide a fresh change of pace and a perspective of my lifestyle, other than the robotic reality in which I’m trapped, abiding by schedules imposed on me by jobs and bosses, following “dreams” of stability and conformity. If you do something for a long enough time, it becomes the norm. A Gallup Poll shows that a staggering 70% of Americans hate their jobs, even with perks. Sadly, when those people, my friend included, find themselves vacationing on an exotic island, enjoying beaches, food, romances and sports, they assume that it isn’t real because it’s too good.

So I decided to perform a little experiment. I knew a buddy of mine was traveling to San Francisco and LA to visit friends and get away from Boston, so I quickly faked the most epic sickness of all time in front of my boss and asked to tag along on the West Coast trip. I kid you not, the Dee who boarded the plane at Logan Airport was not the same girl who got off in San Francisco. Mere hours into the trip, I had brightened up immensely. I was all dressed up and in a great mood, which was a visible change from the “resting bitch face” I had been hiding behind at work. Even my friend noticed and made a comment: “Look at you, I haven’t seen you lighten up like that since that summer in Spain.”

Over the next four days, I was both the scientist and guinea pig, observing the difference in behavior between my traveler self and the stagnant one. My appetite for food came back (hello, tacos!), I walked for 10 hours straight up and down the San Francisco hills and splashed in the Pacific Ocean. Holy shit — I was fun again. That’s when I realized it is travel that makes me into my truest self. I’m not here to be a 9-to-5 zombie and pay bills till I die. I don’t believe that anyone is, for that matter. I need to feel free and to be challenged. I want to enjoy life every day and to get excited like a kid who just saw snow for the first time. I need to travel.

So the next time you tell me travel isn’t real life, answer me this: would you consciously choose to be engulfed in anxiety and worries, pressured by deadlines at a job you don’t give a shit about, or would you rather discover a foreign culture, sip cocktails on the beach, and do what you love for a living? Think about that next time you’re island hopping in the Mediterranean and dreading your return to the London stock market or corporate America. Think about who your true self is and try to bring forth that person some more.

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