Is Travel Self Indulgent?

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An anonymous commentator dropping their venom under a fake email address felt the need to call our travel lifestyle self-indulgent after we were stranded at an airport recently. Thanks, so nice. These trolls and bitter keyboard warriors maybe don’t realise there is a family of sensitive souls at the other end of the internet just doing life to the best of their ability. We probably needed a good kick in the teeth. Kind of them to oblige. So is travel self -indulgent? Is that the truth of it? What is self-indulgence and is it actually wrong?

kite surfer on beach Is travel self indulgent kite surfing
This is a friend of ours kite surfing. We went to watch her this week. She is doing something because she enjoys it, this is pure self-indulgence. She’s not on holiday, she lives here, she kite surfs when she’s not working. Is her self indulgence wrong? Is anything we do for pleasure wrong? We went to watch her because we wanted to. This is also self-indulgence. I’d been working since 4am to provide for my family. We finished up around 4pm and hit the beach. Many would see this photo and associate it with “holiday”. Nobody here is on holiday. We’re working just like everyone else has to, just in different locations.

Millions around the world dream of full-time travel, extended, or extensive travel.

We all claim it’s through a love of adventure and mind-broadening.

But is it really an escape from reality? Maybe grass-is-greener-syndrome and depression drive the urge?

Or do we all simply aspire to pure, never-ending, self-indulgence?

You may be new here, so briefly, here’s the back story. We sold everything to travel back in 2012. We travelled full-time with the kids to benefit them, us, and their education. Our family gap year turned into 7+ years. People call this method of educating while travelling “worldschooling.” We created this travel blog along the way. It’s one of the biggest in the world and it’s how we make a location-independent income. We love what we do.

The Self Indulgence of a Travel Lifestyle

Travel came to us through privilege of birth, for sure. That’s not lost on us.

We, in the industry, all bang on about how anyone can do this, work hard, save up, do it budget.

The reality is that a lot of people can’t.

But that doesn’t detract from our reality and that is that we had to work hard to get to where we are. It wasn’t handed to us on a plate and it took resolve, dedication, know-how, and delay of pleasure.

The latter is not something self-indulgent people can do, in psychological terms.

So is it? Is travel self-indulgent?

Maybe it is, I actually don’t see that as an insult, nor anything to be ashamed of.

Travel is seen as deeper, cooler, more intellectual and worthy than holiday-making.

Obviously, I’m generalising here, but it is actually true. There are plenty of deep, cool, intellectual holidaymakers as well as travellers who are in it for pleasures of the flesh, but broadly, this is true.

The problem is, some non-travellers see travel as “holiday.”

I often travel for work, people know this, and still, they think I’m going on holiday.

It’s a misconception that all lifestyle travellers have experienced from friends and family.

I don’t know if it’s ignorance or deliberate mean-spiritedness, but we all come up against it.

Wherever we wanderers are, we’re just doing life.

Nobody can be on holiday 365 days per year unless they are independently wealthy and can pay people to handle everything for them.

I don’t know any traveller or travel family in that situation.

Evperiences vs Possessions

There’s a popular cliche about measuring your life in experiences not things.

We travellers tend to be experience collectors but is this simply another form of consumerism?

We exchange our cash for adventures instead of new shoes.

Does that make us more worthy, or the same as everyone else?

possessions vs experience everything we own in a bag
Everything we own, we carry on our back. Travellers choose experiences over possessions.

Travellers love minimalism and living free from possessions but are we actually just shopping for shopping’s sake? Are our toys the latest jungle adventure rather than the giant TV and fancy mountain bike?

Are we flaunting our wealth in the face of our social media audiences in the same way that some need to flaunt unnecessary possessions?

I guess it depends on your motives.

I’m not Mother Theresa nor do I want to be. But let’s just analyse that term “self-indulgence” a bit, because rant posts are what I love best after travel.

Thamel Khathmandu OR2K restaurant
This week we are living our pointless, self-indulgent lives in Kathmandu. It’s lovely here!

What Does Self Indulgent Mean?

 I looked it up. Self-indulgent is an adjective “characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness.” Self-indulgence can also be doing whatever one wants, whenever one wants to. It is not doing what one wants to do when one doesn’t want to do it.

Yes, we have a self-indulgent lifestyle. We made it this way so that we could enjoy life on our terms. We could, so we did.

Life is to be enjoyed, life is there to get as much out of as you possibly can because it is short and you only have one.

This is exactly the thinking that lead us to jump into this new lifestyle back in 2012.

Of course one will do exactly what one wants, one is looking for freedom not a prison sentence and drudgery during whatever time we are granted on this planet.

Unfortunately doing what one wants, in this instance, travelling, takes hard work, resolve, and effort.

These three are not characteristics of self-indulgence.

Can we not make our lifestyles as self-indulgent as we can? Why not?

What is it that we’re supposed to be doing that isn’t self-indulgent?

Are Travellers Self-Indulgent?

In our case, no harm comes to anyone else in the making of our particular lifestyle, and actually, I scatter enough fairy dust in my wake to make myself really satisfied with my life’s sum.

I know a lot of full-time travellers, all of them put back wherever and whenever they can while doing their best to have a nice time on this planet.

My husband taking a self-indulgent break from chopping wood. He could stop when he wanted to, not when somebody told him he could take a break. He still got all of that winter’s wood chopped in time. Because we know what needs doing and when it needs doing by, we can be as self-indulgent as we like. Maybe some people don’t have that same discipline and that’s where the confusion lies. Is chopping wood being on holiday? We enjoyed it, sure it was pleasure, and it was good for us, but not without hard work. Had we not loved it we would have left. We know that’s privilege.

Should we be giving every cent to charity?  Maybe I do, you don’t know if I do or not.

Maybe every traveller does and doesn’t need to shout about it.

Should we be getting involved in volunteer work? Likewise. This is our favourite volunteer organisation. We love working with them.

What makes commentators such as this poisonous individual think travellers do less than the stay-at-home types?

Should we be doing “random acts of kindness”? I hate that expression.

People who claim to be doing just that tend to have a need to tell the world how kind they are immediately after the random event.

My “kindness” will never be publicised. And likewise, nobody knows

Should we be working (for a salary) for some worthy cause? I did, for 20 years. For the great and glorious NHS.

I was one of those healthcare workers everyone has been applauding lately. I quit because it was soul-destroying and I wanted to be there for my kids.

All travellers have to earn a crust in some way. I don’t see many on the road with trust funds, just a lot of very determined, resourceful, smart people who have taken a big chance and worked hard to make it pay off.

Should my life be spent in serving my family? I have 2 kids a husband and an octogenarian great-grandmother who come first in everything. But again, you (meaning the comment dropper) wouldn’t know that.

I don’t know the circumstances of every traveller but I really see this as a non-issue.

I honestly don’t know what we in the travel community should be doing to not be seen as self-indulgent, please let me know in the comments.

Do you, any of you see your life as not self-indulgent, not pleasure-seeking, not striving for personal and close family happiness and progression? Again, the comments are all yours.

This is a bit “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.” isn’t it?

Trouble is, self-indulgence isn’t a sin, a crime, nor an insult.

Why Single Out The Travellers?

This is odd, why does this keyboard warrior single out travellers, or maybe me in particular, as being world-leaders in self-indulgence?

Is it? Is it just me that you have a problem with?

Is it all nomads?

Is it every self-employed person?

Is it everyone earning more money than you or enjoying life more than you?

I’m not saying that any of those things are true, but I’ve seen this sort of bitterness before in relation to nomads and it wasn’t pretty.

Why let anyone else’s lifestyle bother you? I don’t get why you would.

Words like jealous, bragging, boasting, all those mean-spirited angry words, I just don’t use them, why do you?

bus life glamorous travel lifestyle
Bus life. Our glamorous Instagram-worthy, self-indulgent lifestyle. If you didn’t love it, you just wouldn’t do it. For the locals, this is just daily life.

You know, the impression you might get from the glossy Instagram accounts isn’t real life.

A lot of people joke that their job on social media is to make their lives appear better than yours.

It’s not real, behind the scenes all but the super-rich are working outrageously hard to make their lives so Instagrammable. We don’t.

I am perfectly happy in this moment. I’m working, in the garden of a low-budget guest house in Kathmandu. We just got back from Swayambhunath. Chef and the kids are happy, we’re just thinking about going for some dinner, some cheap, filling, tasty Nepali food.

Why does what we do bother you so much?

On Idleness. A Self Indulgent Lifestyle is Defined by Idleness

Self-indulgence is often characterised as bubble baths while sipping glasses of champagne, poolside lounging and other such pursuits. 

We definitely don’t do any of that and never have.

But these things go down very well on Instagram. Maybe you have us confused with somebody else?

You’re having a laugh maybe? Me, idle? I’m the most high energy person I know.

You have to tie me down to stop me being busy, but again, you don’t know that. Because you may think you have a window on our lifestyle, but actually you don’t.

When I was younger I went “on holiday”, I went on holiday because social conditioning had convinced me that relaxing was what holidays were all about.

I never quite got the point but I went along with the tradition to fit in with nearest and dearest.

To me that is idleness. Flopping on a beach or by a pool. Not my scene thanks, and luckily I met a man who didn’t see life that way either.

I get that people who work for other people or feel burnt out by life, like to relax on holiday, that’s fine, it’s just not what we do.

Nope, nobody idles here. Every waking second is spent in work, getting by, exploring, enjoying, exercise, learning, researching, child management and nurturing, and all the regular things that make up a life.

That’s a big fat nope to idle. I’m not a believer in the un-busy movement.

On the Pursuit of Pleasure, The Other Aspect of a Self Indulgent Lifestyle

I’ll pursue pleasure till I’m blue in the face. Surely you (anonymous commentator) do too? Or have you given up on life?

Are you so bogged down in the mundane to think that pleasure isn’t for you? Maybe you find pleasure in watching TV or going to the pub every Friday night?

I don’t. I’ll find my pleasure in the high Himalayas or the back streets of Bangkok.

I’ll find my pleasure in owning less and living more.

I find pleasure in seeing my kids and husband do the things they love and have incredible, mind-expanding, experiences.

I take great pleasure in not being a consumer, in living for experience not possessions and in being able to give my kids those experiences too.

My work is pleasurable, or I wouldn’t do it. So is my work a self-indulgence? Maybe I should go back to working 9-5 in a job I hate, would that make you feel better?

I’m enjoying writing this post, I enjoy taking photos even though I’m pretty bad at it, I enjoy creating websites and all the technical challenges that go with that. I enjoy learning.

I love the bloggers I coach, that part of my job has been insanely good fun. I also enjoy teaching.

I love that I can help other families with their travel and lifestyle choices. I enjoy helping.

I love that I can give a business a plug, without asking for money in exchange. I love that we don’t do sponsored travel (unless invited, which is pretty rare).

I love teaching my kids to do all this stuff and facilitating whatever projects or goals they have.

I also love hand washing clothes, cutting grass with a scythe, chopping wood and building fires all through winter. I love it because it’s a challenge. My life has to be a challenge or I am bored. I can’t be unoccupied.

It’s been awesome that through our lifestyle we’ve been able to let my husband indulge his Ironman habit. He’s a happy camper and is it doing anyone any harm that he likes to compete in the toughest single day sporting event on the planet? Is it?

That man is so self-indulgent, but a winner for having the balls to get out there and do something so immense.

I also love that I can open eyes and minds. I read so much negative stuff about countries and peoples, there is so much fear and mis-information in the media and I like to think that I’m helping to break down prejudices. I know my kids won’t be racist or xenophobic and that, to me, is enough. Anything more is gravy.

Self Indulgence can also be called “me time”.  My “me time” occasionally involves staring into space, people watching over morning coffee or evening beer, but mostly my “me-time” is my work.

It’s widely believed that me-time is good for you, therefore so is, by default, self-indulgence.

So I don’t see why my self-indulgent lifestyle is a problem to you, anonymous commentator. I’m not harming anyone. In fact, I’m helping one heck of a lot of people and my family is thriving. Over 6 million individuals have found the information they needed on this site so far, that’s important. My family is more important to me. My purpose in life is to raise happy, confident, highly-educated kids who’ve had the best childhood I could give them. I need to provide for my family and keep them safe. So please pack up your venom and take it elsewhere because my life, my website, my readers, my friends, and family, are none of your business. Now I’m going for some dinner.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

12 thoughts on “Is Travel Self Indulgent?”

  1. Great response. Cannot see how self happiness can be self indulgent! Isn’t that what we are here for, to live life to its fullest especially given that it is so short?! Its like that sayng ‘you can’t give to others if your own cup is empty.’ Whether it is a hot bath, a new pair of shoes, a night in the pub, a hike up a hill whatever – why is it ‘wrong’ if it makes you happy and helps others along the way? No one is ever going to say ‘oh that person was great at self flagellation’!!!!!! But they will say, they lived life to its fullest and gave their best.

    Keep being self indulgent!

  2. My husband and I frequently wonder aloud at the vitriol directed toward those living in a way that is “different” or outside the narrow cultural norm. My response is “What do you care and why is it your business?”…..Cheers to you and the boys. Have an amazing journey up the mountain.
    PS-this is my real email. 😉

  3. Love your response, and I am totally stealing “I scatter enough fairy dust in my wake to make myself really satisfied with my life’s sum” for a daily thought.

  4. This person obviously didn’t know who the hell they were dealing with! You?? Idle??? Hahahaha! Loved the post, I DO love it when morons wind you up… you’re like a little terrier that won’t let go.
    Don’t forget to thank that lovely commenter for making you even more money in ad revenue so that you can fill your bath with champers while your maid does your toes ????

    • “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? ” lol
      My toes and feet are extremely unlovely right now, hiking boots and a distinct lack of showers.

  5. Being self-indulgent sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to get started :). And actually aren’t you impacting the world in a significant way? You’ve certainly inspired us. How funny that your hater totally missed the point. Have an amazing, self-indulgent time in Nepal 🙂

  6. Love the rant and I totally second the lifestyle you’ve chosen as a family! People are always saying things to me like “you mean you’re actually working today?” or “are you on holiday AGAIN?” and I’m like “Yes” and “Yes”!!

    We don’t travel as much as you do (yet) but I love that you have embraced this lifestyle! I’m about to launch my blog on portfolio careers (which allows me time to travel too) so I empathize!

    Are you doing EBC as a family this time? I think I recall reading that plan some time back when I was planning Namche Bazar with hubby and the kids.

    • Yes. Last time we only went as far as Tengboche, but this time, hopefully, EBC and Gokyo lakes, then Tibet, then Annapurna Circuit…maybe. And thanks!

  7. ???????????? Poor person wouldn’t have expected a loaded cannon to be aimed & fired at them!!! ???????????? There are 2 sayings that my mother always quoted, & they are, “live, and let live” .& “if you don’t have something nice to say……then don’t say anything at all!!!”
    Enough said!!! ????

    • By that mantra I probably should have kept my big fat gob shut. Actually Bek, I delete most stupid comments ( we get very, very few negative ones) but because this person went to all the trouble of creating a fake email address just so that they could leave an anonymous comment. Well…how could I resist? I’ve never seen anything more cowardly and pathetic.


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