Are You “Traveling”…or Running Away?
Tld;dr: traveling is no longer about the pleasure to travel, but about gathering IG likes, making friends jealous, getting a dopamine rush, and escaping life problems.
Excuses for Traveling
As my 25th birthday was getting close, I felt an urge (almost a panic) to learn Spanish.
I had always wanted to learn it because it annoyed me to keep on meeting people that spoke it on top of 15 other languages while I only spoke two.
At the time, I was studying an evening master in management, and since the evening was a period traditionally reserved for Tinder…I wasn’t going to any of the classes.
Considering that, it wouldn’t make much of a difference if I left Brussels for 3 months, I thought.
So I moved to Medellin, Colombia.
I was back to one of my favorite activities:
traveling running away from my problems.
Finding a Destination (Anywhere but Here Will Do)
My choice to go to Colombia had been influenced by the fact that I had never been to Latin America before.
So I chose Medellin, Colombia.
The Paisa capital sounded cheap and amazing to visit.
However, what I had heard about safety was contradictory.
Foreigners had assured me it was safe. Locals warned me I’d probably get killed.
I chose to believe locals. When I got out of the airport, I expected nothing but to be shot at.
It was raining.
Look at How Happy I Am
My extensive use of Instagram at the time (I had quit Facebook in 2018) used to greatly influenced my daily life choices.
There was an irresistible desire to do like the cool people I’d see on social media. Many of these people were the so-called “digital nomads”.
If you type digital nomad in Google, you learn that they blog, vlog, write, consult, take pictures, own bullsh*t dropshipping e-commerce or (the smartest and rarest) code.
I know some that have an online marketing agency. Others set up a business and hired a manager to handle the details. This enables them to travel the world 10 months out of 12, scooping customers with $1 Facebook ads.
These digital nomads have on appearance, all the ingredients to appear successful. They’re young (no one has ever seen 80 years old Freddy selling an online marketing e-book), have good bodies, own a kickass camera, and developed great Instagram skills.
This led me to come up with a rule to judge someone’s success based on their Instagram: the neater it looks, the bigger the scam.
If you attentively observe these people’s page, you can only guess the time they take to place their laptop perfectly perpendicular to the edge of the table, with the recycled notepad and pen on the left and the sustainable vegan chai latte on the right.
They snap the shot, post it on their Instagram (then on Unsplash) and harvest thousands of likes as a return.
That sounded so cool. I wanted the same.
I Want to Look Cool Too
Disregarding my awareness of the emptiness of such a lifestyle, my self-esteem still wanted to broadcast to my 3 followers audience that I was going to be a digital nomad for three months.
I wanted that costume and I wanted it bad.
After all, digital nomads and I had many things in common: behind all these nice pictures and posts, we weren’t doing anything of our lives (although I’m not being fair to myself, I was hitting the gym four times a week, studying my Spanish, discovering keto and writing my thesis).
So, I moved to Medellin, found a trendy cafe, and took the exact same annoying “digital nomad pictures” with my laptop perpendicular to the table, the hot chocolate on the right, and the phone on the left.
I hit upload. And…nothing happened. I looked at myself. I was feeling empty.
There I was, in Colombia, in the trendy digital cafe, “living the life” (or so it seemed) and I just felt…bad.
My attempts at making myself feel like I was better than my audience left me with nothing but intergalactic emptiness.
The feeling was to some extent similar to the one you get when you manage to date someone you thought was way out of your league.
You think dating them will make you happy, that from then on everything will be different.
And then no.
Life is still the same.
Deep down you know you didn’t make that choice because you wanted it. You made it to get some sort of external satisfaction and validation out of it.
We Want What We Don’t Have
We have this uncontrollable impression (probably given by social media) that things are better in exotic places than they are at home.
When we feel empty or sad, we believe that traveling will make things better.
Yet, moving place to escape your life problems is the equivalent of drinking alcohol to go over a breakup: it’s not fixing anything. It is only making you run away from these unwelcome feelings.
The recent cheap cost of traveling and the possibilities to render your entire social circle jealous with one pic has made traveling the new “quick easy fix” of emotional emptiness.
You change the settings which in the short-term, does make you happier. The digital likes you receive gives you confidence that in the end, your life “is better than theirs”.
And just like that, you get hooked.
How do I know that?
I used to be that guy. I’ve taken trips because I was addicted to the number of different countries I had been to.
Traveling was no longer leisure and pleasure. It was an intense social competition, both online and in real life.
I thought somehow that the emptiness and lack of meaning in my life at home would stay home, and that I’d board the plane and arrive happily and fulfilled. I wanted to be as cool as the digital nomads, with my cap backward on my head and a pretty girl on my side.
That did not happen.
Instead, the troubles I was running away from had jumped onto my luggage and weighed about twice as much abroad than they did at home.
The Bottom Line
As I was paying for my hot chocolate in the trendy Medellin café, I was thinking about my Medellin roommate that I hated, the thesis deadline I wouldn’t meet, my Spanish that didn’t seem to improve and above all, the loneliness I was experiencing.
Medellin, a city famous for having the best weather in the world all year long, great food, good security for Latin American standards, and an affordable cost of living, was failing me.
As the end of my trip approached, I couldn’t wait to go home.
I left for the airport 5 hours in advance and was already thinking about all the things I had to do in Brussels upon my return.
Mind that it wasn’t the first time I was experiencing this feeling, but it was now too big for me to keep on ignoring it.
Running away from my responsibilities was no longer a solution. Faking a lifestyle online either. It was time for me to get back to work.
It was time to face decisions I had been putting off for years.
And just like that, that cool trendy digital nomad traveling lifestyle appeared as a fraud.
I didn’t want it anymore.