Do We Travel Because We’re Unhappy?

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A new year is just around the corner, all sparkly and shiny and waiting for you and me to enjoy. It’s there, like a gift full of surprises, fun and excitement. I feel like that about mornings too. Guess I’m lucky. 

But, and this is a big fat BUT worthy of capitalisation, I’ve been having an unexpectedly tough few days. Somebody close to me questioned my happiness. She said it was written all over my blog that something wasn’t right.

It was obvious to her that we travel because we’re unhappy. Not just a bit of low mood but deep, crushing unhappiness, depression, worthy of therapy or even medication.

Be crazy! But learn how to be crazy without being the center of attention. Be brave enough to live differently.

Paulo Coelho

This amateur diagnosis from the other side of the world, from someone I’d seen maybe 3 times in 7 years shook me up somewhat.

Do We Travel Because of Unhappiness?

christmas bench 550
My morning walk on a crisp London morning brings me joy and time to think.

I guess it’s that old chestnut that keeps cropping up, grass is greener syndrome. It’s not why we do this but some assume it is.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.


As you might expect ( because it came as a mule kick in the teeth from the blue), this friend’s unexpected judgment got me thinking, self-analysing and reading old posts looking for this alleged sadness or depression.

 I couldn’t find it on the blog so I started checking the inside of my head.

The navel gazing lasted a couple of days, I’ve been thinking about everything in minute detail, searching everywhere. I asked a friend here who I see regularly if she thought I was unhappy, depressed or delusional, (she said I was of, “Above average happiness.” )

I asked other friends through the miracle of Facebook (some real-life friends, some long-standing virtual associations). No, nobody else thinks that. My husband doesn’t think that and, a few days later, neither do I.

I fully admit that we’re weird. Normal people don’t pack up and travel round the world for a few years with the kids, but it’s what we love so it’s what we do. Who wants to be normal anyway?

I also admit that I have suffered from anxiety since childhood, I’ve seen a doctor about it and had it formally diagnosed. I do not have depression, never have.

I rarely have major anxiety these days and when it comes I know how to manage it without drugs.

But self-doubt is a funny old thing that can turn you upside down and inside out. In this case. I think I feel better than ever after a few days of deep thought.

What Makes Anybody Happy?

I turned to Wikipedia.

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.[1] .

Yep, that sounds fair enough.

We all have ups and downs, some days are amazing, others see you reaching for the gin, but that’s human, normal. If we all existed in a constant state of averagely content, immune to real emotions, the world would be a pretty boring place.

The highlights are the best times, the memories that last, far more so than the average days. Unfortunately the bad times have a similar propensity to stick around.

I have a few of those too, but I keep them in a box in a bottom drawer and don’t go there unless absolutely necessary.

I focus on the good times and always have. Is that healthy? I don’t know and I don’t care, it works.

Yesterday I read a post by Wandering Earl, he says I’m Confused About Life Just Like Everybody Else, and it rang absolutely true. Nobody knows the answers and we all have to do what we need to do to be happy right here, right now.

And that thing changes, life never stays constant and who we are doesn’t stay constant. As we age each day, so do we change.

I’m the queen of changing plans because something better or different always comes up. Our plan to stay in Asia long-term changed to exploring the Americas and a new-found passion for cruise ships.

Our plan to emigrate to Australia wasn’t right for us after the first few years, but was essential at the time. Our current life may not be right for us in future. So we’ll change it again.

And that’s OK.

This mind changing, to her, was a symptom of my alleged unhappiness. I see it as going with the flow and being flexible.

We’re not stuck with our choices. That’s a fallacy.

I thought I was once, I thought that, like school, work was there to be endured, a constant, boring time-killing necessity. It’s not, I woke up and never looked back.

There are people out there who get fulfilment through work, good for them, I never did. I hated having my wings clipped and my time evaporate.

I always wanted to be doing something else. Now I have two jobs, two amazing kids to raise and help educate (a job that I feel I was born to do) and this, my website. I like both one heck of a lot.

We are the only ones who know what we want and what we need and we are the only ones who can change our lives. Nobody else is going to do it for us. We can move on. Growth and pushing forward are what it’s all about.

Life is the result of the choices you make. If you don’t like your life, fix your choices.

Trying new things is good. Finding you like them is great, but finding you hate them is fine too, you’ll know for next time what it is you don’t want.

The best education you will ever get is traveling. Nothing teaches you more than exploring the world and accumulating experiences.

Mark Paterson

As Earl says, the key to personal happiness is being true to yourself and having the confidence to be that person. You are who you are, never try to be someone you’re not. I’ve tried it a few times to fit in with the normals, it didn’t work.

Ignore the knockers, the critics and the doubters because you only have one life and it’s there to be lived, by you, nobody else.  Clichés are clichés because they are true. 

Real friends and family love, support and understand. They don’t judge, criticise and try to force change to suit their own expectations.

Sometimes People Just Don’t Get It

Friends and family don’t always understand a change of life such as ours. They won’t understand why we left home, why we left them and why their lifestyle isn’t what we want for ourselves.

I think they try to justify our behaviour in their terms, this particular friend obviously thought we were acting out of unhappiness.

She probably can’t understand our love of travel and exploration, she won’t understand our need to be around other travellers and alternate educators and she doesn’t get why her lifestyle choices could never work for us.

I’ve lost contact with family members because they don’t accept our choices. I took a bitter, nasty attack from a close relative. I’m starting to understand why they feel that way, they feel abandoned and rejected.

We never meant to abandon anyone.

The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.


I’m trying to live in the best way I know how. I want to enrich my children’s lives and give them a phenomenal world view that could benefit them and others in future life.

My kids are amazing, my husband is too (did I mention how proud of all three I am, they totally rock) we are a family, we love each other, laugh together, poke fun at each other and sometimes get on each other’s nerves.

That is normal. I think we have more laughing, cuddling, tickling and loving times than the other.

We’re off again soon (we still don’t know where, that announcement will be coming any day). London has been AMAZING. But we’re done, we’re off, time to go, we can come back any time we like, severing old ties but keeping a few newly made ones. We’ve met some amazing people this year and last.

We just had the most beautiful Christmas card from our new friends at Our Whole Village and from new friends in London. We’re making room for more new stuff in our lives.

Happy New Year and I hope you’re happy with your life too. If not, you can fix it. Maybe you’d enjoy our post on why people travel?

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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.

22 thoughts on “Do We Travel Because We’re Unhappy?”

  1. This post is obviously a few years old, but reading it in 2019, it resonates with me after a year of full-time travelling. I love how honest and real you are because I struggle to put this into words myself, even now as I am going through this exact same thing. Your blog is inspiring and not sad. I try to understand why they feel the way they do and I’ve come to the conclusion that no amount of explaining and arguing will really convince them that full-time travel and world schooling is not ‘selfish’ or an ‘extravagant’ waste of money, but it is hard to accept the inevitable rift that follows.

    We’re now back in the big house with the big car and every day I think that we don’t need this. Kids are in school and we’re going on holiday only when school is out and although I know we are blessed and I should be happy, I feel trapped. It is comforting to read your view, so thank you for that. Happy travels.

  2. I love your blog Alyson, and this is my first comment.

    Your writing does not give off the feeling that you are depressed, sad or running away from anything. Not one bit! I even have a psychology degree to back up these assumptions 🙂

    Your stories have encouraged me to rethink my attitudes towards schooling and travel. My son (three!) and I are off to the Gold Coast in ten days for a short adventure, and then to Brisbane to see family. We’ve also made plans to see Kakadu next year.

    Hopefully our short trips give me the confidence to take a longer trip.

    All the best, looking forward to the next instalment…

    • HaHa, thanks Renee! A professional diagnosis. You know, I was talking to a schools’ psychologist yesterday, a fellow diving mum, she was talking of the pain endured by so many kids ( particularly boys) in schools. They just hate it and don’t want to do it. So two psychologists in one week. Bonus!

  3. I’m on your website reading your blogs as I try to seek comfort in knowing that there are others out there like me who can’t stand the daily grind of work and school. We have plans to up and leave next year and I’ve already been told that I’m selfish and how it’s not all about me for even considering uprooting our childrens’ education/routine/lifestyle etc. Yes, I get that I’m trying to fulfil a deep-seated desire of my own to get out of the rat race, but the benefits I think my children will get out of long term (potentially permanent) travel will be immense (I hope!). I have been following your family for a couple of years now and I remember reading early on in the piece that your decision to leave was met with rejection from your family and friends. I’ve even referenced you and your family when I’ve shared my travel plans with my family!!
    Anyway, really, really love reading your blogs!! Thank you

    • Thanks Karen. It goes like this…”they” have routine, school and a lifestyle, “they” think it’s the only way to do things. “they” will defend their choices to live that way, “they” can b**** off and live their own lives, we’ll live ours. Nobody here has any interest in routine, why would we? We have a heck of a lot more fun and opportunities than them. We think we have the best lifestyle on the planet, so no idea what they’re talking about and the kids’ education is too important to be trusted to the school system, we want more, not a one-size-fits-all mediocre half education. If “they” don’t like it, tough! You will find new friends along the way, ones that get it. Can you tell I’m feeling feisty this morning? I’m not in a very diplomatic mood sorry, bit fed up with negativity and idiots. You do your own thing, cherish your kids, give them as many opportunities as you possibly can, they’ll love you for it. I think I have the happiest kids on the planet, one is sitting here programming in Java, the other is reading, later we’ll go out, play, go to a museum, meet friends, eat whatever we feel like. They’re begging for another trip to Thailand, we’ll organise that soon. Dad will be home around 6pm, we’ll go out tonight and stay out as late as we like because nobody has to be up for school. This is living, not routine and schedules.

  4. Alyson I have been reading your blog since you were preparing to leave Port Douglas, and I’ve never thought you sounded ‘sad’. It just isn’t a word that I would use to describe your writing. I have noticed posts where you were pissed off with one thing or another, and I LOVE that warts and all style of blogging that you share with your readers. Full time travel isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, but without the lows, the highs would just be meh. Both hubby and I (who also enjoys your blog) have always thought that your website made it abundantly clear that you travel for the experience, not because the grass is greener. But I guess some people just don’t get it. We had a family member ask which of us had a brain tumor when we announced our decision to sell up and travel 😉

  5. Good for you! Too many people seem to fall into the trap of thinking that “this is all there is?” I know people who have real problems being unhappy all the time, but I also look at the choices they make. Not the major ones of life, but the minute, everyday, very changeable ones—what do they read/watch/listen to; where do they go/not go; with whom do they spend their time, and doing what? All of these choices do make a difference, and even if they need medication to help with anxiety or depression, are the choices they make every day helping the medication do its job, or hindering it? First-hand I watch this, and observing is learning in my book. Shame on me if I don’t learn the lesson.

    Incidentally, we are finishing up our Christmas holiday stay in London, and I actually thought about contacting you ahead of time to see if there was the chance of a meet-up, but we had so much going on already that I decided it might sink our boat, not to mention yours! As for homeschooling our two youngest girls, we had a lovely impromptu lunch (snack, really) with Steve Hackett and his wife at the British Museum one day (former lead guitarist of Genesis in their way-back days—amazing), and we squeezed through the front door of the Charles Dickens Museum as Helena Bonham-Carter and her family/friend/nanny (not sure) were coming out. All in the same day! Who wants to be sitting in a desk when things like that can happen?! My thirteen year-old cried with happiness, and my eight-year–old asked incredulously if that was actually the woman herself. No need to explain to them, and they will always have Charles Dickens to thank for the momentary thrill.

    Cheers, and back to Washington, DC after the New Year holiday!


    • My Potter mad 10 year old would hve been so thrilled, I do like Hlena, my kinda girl! Glad you had a great time Melanie, we keep bumping into Peter Davidson ( Doctor Who), he lives near us. Yes, it’s a big day out for us when we go into London, we only do it once or twice a week.

      • Yes, I think that by the time we leave tomorrow, we will ll be glad of the rest from our vacation! Wonderful trip, though. 🙂

  6. Love this post!! You are so right. Being true to ourselves is of utmost importance. Only we can make the changes we want to see in our own lives and find our own happiness. Happy New Year! Best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2015, wherever it may take you.

  7. Hey there Happy Travellers.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed your adventures and your outlook on life in general. We haven’t explored the countries you have but I totally get you, because we have packed up, sold up and just left jobs, houses, possessions and people and walked our own path. We have travelled about doing our own thing for 5 years and although we have been settled for a few years in the one spot now, our adventures are by no means, over. We always change our minds and our choices and our ideas. Not because we are unsure or flippant, just because something better or more appropriate at the time, comes along. Keep on marching to the beat of your own drum and those who judge or criticise will fall by the wayside when they are meant to exit stage left. Others will stay on because they are happy for YOU and they are happy for themselves also. It is a great thing to be truly happy for someone else even if the other person is not living the same level of happiness. Happiness is what you make of it. I like the definition that it can range from contentment to pure joy. It doesn’t have to be monumental stuff that makes you happy. Happiness is within and if anyone drags you down, it’s because you let them. Happy New Year Alyson, James and your two beautiful children. I will continue to be inspired and encouraged by you. And perhaps I will take that dryathlon challenge myself in the New Year. Best of luck with everything. xox

  8. It is healthy to experience all emotions and to be happy all the time would be impossible. You certainly do not drip sadness, yet like many of us , you get angry, bored, frustrated, run out of food, have writers block, meet odd people (and they are probably the most interesting). And are mostly happy. Can you imagine being insanely happy all of the time? It would give me a migraine, I am sure of it. Most of all you inspire and share. You write really well and offer support and encouragement to your family and your readers. And I am one of those who is fulfilled by the work that I do. Lucky me, as I am possibly in the minority and it has not always been that way. I used to think there was no choice. I don’t now. I just wished I had found this out 20 years ago. Good luck with dry January (that may take the smile off your face 🙂 ) I may even join you.

    • I’ve got emotions in spades! Life would be awefully boring without them. I could never medicate or drug myself into a state of averageness. Being dry is going well so far, 1 week today. Cheers Coral, Happy New Year!

  9. After following you for a few months now, never once have I thought you were not happy! You always sound positive and share about how much you enjoy what you are doing! That’s why I love to read your posts!!

    So glad you had a nice Christmas. Have fun planning your next adventure! 🙂

    • Y’know, I find joy in crazy little things, things people don’t even notice are beautiful to me. I cry when I’m happy, and when I’m sad, heart firmly pinned to sleeve. I think I’m normal and of generally sound mind. Must be to have survived marriage to a Chef for so long, less self-reliant people would be running for the hills by now. Have a great new year Emulsified Family!

  10. This may be my new favourite post! I too meet with projection and I now find it interesting… like someone has blindfolded me and put something interesting in my mouth to try and taste. Only they say it’s chocolate but it’s an olive… it sounds good, it tastes different, not expected, but it ends up good anyway. Advice or comments come towards us like a gift but it may not be at first apparent as they don’t look like gifts. You were happy and now feel even better after time reflecting.

    I love watching where you wander, mentally and physically. The energy you have as a family towards your goals is inspiring. Thank you!

  11. Dear Alyson,
    I don’t really know you … and still it feels like I know you a bit. I started reading your blog because I love travel – but I continued reading it because you are so positive, so absolutely human, so full of surprises. Nobody in his right mind would continue reading your blog if you were unhappy. How can your “friend” say your blog drips sadness???? Of course you had your ups and downs, luckily, I’d say, that’s what allows us all to connect to you! Keep up the writing!!!
    And here’s something I read last month : “Children are fragile stuff, most adults are glued kids.” (by Johan Anthierens) Makes me think …
    HAPPY NEW YEAR to all your followers!!

    • You’re practically part of the family Talitha, even Boo knows you by name! Thanks for all your support and have a brilliant year. The big secret will be out in the next couple of days, I know you’ve been waiting!


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