I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really care about physically traveling.

I don’t care about seeing the Mona Lisa, or the Taj Mahal, or the Great Wall of China someday.

I don’t care about riding a camel in Egypt or taking dumb first-person photographs of girls taking my hand and “leading me into the wilderness.”

I don’t care about all that.

That’s not why I travel.

That’s not even the half of it.

Travel bloggers are selling you bullshit.

Every picture you see on Instagram from your favorite travel bloggers is capturing one moment of an 86,400 second day. It’s not real. It’s real for a moment, sure, but they know full well what they’re actually doing. They’re selling you on the idea that traveling is always this beautiful with absolutely zero setbacks at all. They probably get through customs without a hitch, walk outside to sunshine and rainbows, then get in a cab and speed off (without traffic) to whatever 5-star hotel that’s paying them to stay there. Right? Then they get massages and chill by the infinity pool where they take a picture of the most spectacular sunset anybody could imagine.


This way to look at traveling is really doing nothing to prepare you for what’s actually going to happen to you on the road.


Last summer I went on a road trip from Orlando to San Francisco and back.

One sentence summary: I fell in love with San Francisco.

But let’s not get carried away. I made about 10,000 mistakes while I was out on the road. I mean, I didn’t even get a first-person picture of any girls taking my hand and leading me into the wilderness, and I actually hated traveling on many different occasions.

My best picture.

The first night in New Orleans I had to hold myself back from crying big ol’ man tears. I was all alone in a sweltering hostel on a bed that felt like a brick. It was great — exactly what I thought traveling was all about. Then in Arizona, my car’s entire brake system failed. I had to spend $1,000 to get it fixed. Oh, then I quit my remote job in San Francisco and didn’t get paid for two weeks of work because my boss decided to be a total dick.

Sprinkled throughout my trip were a ton of occasions where I despised traveling. I despised turning on my car to drive one more mile. I even despised the people I was with!

Then why did you do it, Tom? Why are you writing this article and totally putting a damper on my day? I can hear you all asking that but let me ask you this: traveling can totally suck, but why is that bad?

The real reason I travel

The other day I was interviewed for a podcast and my interviewer asked me why I like to travel. Contrary to what I just wrote, I do LOVE to travel, but it’s not to snap interesting pictures of myself drinking out of a coconut in a hammock on some island in the Pacific. I travel because it’s challenging.

Photo by the author

Photo by the author

I travel because I very willingly like to put myself in situations where I have no idea how I’m going to respond.

The biggest lie you’ve ever been told about traveling has never actually been said by anybody. It’s been shown through the Instagram-filtered pictures of the travel blogging legends themselves. Why don’t they ever take a picture of themselves in an airport during the middle of a 26-hour commute back home?

I honestly don’t know. If I was ever some Instagram-famous travel blogger I’d send content like that out all the time.

Traveling means nothing without earning it. That’s why I really want to hike to Machu Picchu one day. It takes 4 days to get there. Would you have more fun looking at Machu Picchu after a quick helicopter ride or after a 4-day hike through the jungle? Would it mean more, at least, if you hiked it? The answer is fuck yeah, and that’s why we travel in the first place.

My aunt keeps telling me to go on a European cruise because then I’ll hit all the most interesting places without having to deal with the logistics. She’s a nice lady, but that’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s like the NFL deciding to skip to the Super Bowl and throw the Eagles and Patriots in because, well, they just didn’t want to deal with the logistics, right? It’s stupid.

Traveling is just like anything else. You get out what you put in. If you want to take the shortcut and take it easy because you’re tired, then you’ll get a piece of the pie, but not all of it.

When you’re traveling, expect the bullshit.

Embrace it. Love it. There are supposed to be hitches — that’s what gives your trip a little bit of character. And oddly enough, you’ll remember the tough times from your trip more than anything else.

I loved seeing the sunset in Sabino Canyon near Tucson. It meant that much more because I had to drive 2 hours into the canyon to enjoy it after a full day of driving (and getting my first ticket). I had to earn it.

The true spoils of traveling are only given to the ones who earn it.

Remember that.

Put in some effort, and it’ll make the trip 10,000 times more memorable.

This article originally appeared on The Mission and is republished here with permission.