I was floating in the Tiffany blue waters of the Galapagos off of San Cristobal, letting the swells rock me teasingly toward the sandy beach. I want to do this forever, I thought. What if I just don’t return back to life? I would just float. Yes, float for the rest of my life.
Being buoyant among the sea lions was clearly better than working on PowerPoint back in the office or managing interoffice squabbles like a guidance counselor. Everyday I read blog posts and tweets from people who travel the world, claiming the rest of us are part of the rat race. It’s as if they’re heroes or people who have reached the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, waving down to us poor, downtrodden corporate slaves with shackles on our ankles, rowing like the prisoners in Les Miserables, singing, “Look down, look down / Don’t look ‘em in the eye / Look down, look down / You’re here until you die.”
Yes, being held up by water in the Galapagos is way better than copyediting corporate fact sheets or taking mandatory online legal compliance courses. I imagined the ridiculous—texting my boss with a picture of the the turquoise water with the words: “Not coming back. Thanks for everything,” and proceeded to work out in my mind how I would have a little shop selling Panama hats to tourists, customizing each hat with a different color grosgrain ribbon. My husband, Steve, could also chuck away his career and become a bird guide on the islands and we’d eat banana chips by the bagful and my mayonnaise-white skin would turn a lovely cocoa brown and that knot in my right shoulder that I get from working at a desk job would go away forever.
Floating in water like a little piece of jagged driftwood makes you think crazy things.
But I do that every time I travel. In Belize I was going to have a bed & breakfast. In Panama I was going to be a writer. And in the Yucatan I was going to sell tickets for boat rides. Steve, of course was going to be the bird guide in all those places. I can see why those who make their place in another corner of the world, away from office politics and the daily structure at a desk are in a state of bliss, but by no means am I an unhappy occasional traveler who happens to have a demanding job in the corporate world. Full disclosure here: I really like working.
Is traveling more noble than working?
I certainly regret not traveling more when I was younger–especially international travel. I had neither the resources or the chutzpah to do it sans resources. I’m certain it would have changed a lot of who I am in a positive way, particularly in the areas of confidence and empowerment, and at times I do regret missing out of the romance of making mistakes that make for great story telling as a more mature adult at dinner parties. But I chose a career working for large corporations as my path and took advantage of having my graduate degree paid by my employer. It was a sacrifice, indeed, but I chose the $40,000 free education over backpacking across Europe. Yes, a Master’s degree instead of some wild stories at dinner parties. I’m okay with that.
For me, it was financial security first and travel second. I know nothing is 100% secure. We all watched our hard-earned savings unravel like an old sweater right before our eyes in 2008 and 2009. I admit, it squeezes my heart when I open up statements that show significant losses and I catapult immediately to those daydreams of just walking out of the office and heading right to the airport to fly off to sandy beaches and a hat shop waiting for me.
But I remain committed to working in my career. I remain because I look at long-term advantages and have come to realize that the glamorous life portrayed in travel blogs is truly an edited life of showing the ups and rarely the downs. We all can’t be traipsing around the world with a backpack. Someone has to be back holding down the fort. Who is making the stock market operate and keeping the economies of the world in tact so that there are places to see, vessels to take you there and roads to be maintained and order created in the world? Should we all just up and leave our jobs and wander the earth? Is that the essence of nobility? I’m suggesting that it’s not. There are noble acts both as a traveler and as a financial supporter. Both are doable and it’s not a race of who’s the awesomest.
The economy of travel
For many countries the primary contributor to their GNP is tourism. These countries have tremendous reliance on those of us willing to spend a portion of our salaries in their countries. There are also so many places in the world that need funding and support–the Galapagos Islands is one of them. It takes people with money to do that. Corporations and economies with means to keep forests, jungles and archipelagos in tact. While progress and humans have negatively impacted a lot in the world, funding is helping to restore some of what we have tampered with. If we were all backpacking the world, who would fund the research? Who would be able to financially support change?
The economies of the world are indeed complicated and society as a whole is not mature enough to kindly hold hands and contribute in an orderly manner (nor be able to agree upon structure) to preserve endangered areas and keep National Parks pristine.
It’s okay to travel the world and make that your life. But it’s also okay—actually necessary—to be a part of the world from a desk. It’s not a rat race to help keep the lights on. I’m happy to participate in the process, not just for my sake and my future, but to keep the cogs and wheels moving. Sure, there are days I feel shackled, but it’s not all the time. It’s not even most of the time. You don’t feel shackled if you take a break and travel. We all need breaks. Even travelers, I suppose, need a break from traveling. I’m a big believer in the need for opposition. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Work versus play. It would be impossible for me to understand—to appreciate—one without the other.
I’ve played for the past 15 days and it’s changed me forever, just like all my travels do. My normally mayonnaise skin is now a light cocoa. I snorkeled and played with sea lions, swam with a penguin, ate more banana chips than I should have, and I didn’t answer a single work email and I didn’t get fired. By the way, that knot in my shoulder? Gone.
I walked into the office after the 15 glorious days abroad and everyone commented on my tan and my big smile. How do I get back to work after these fantastic 15 days? I wondered. I shared my stories around the water cooler and as people dropped in my office to welcome me back. But I had a long, scrolling list of emails to hammer through. And meetings to get to. And problems to solve. It was time to get back to work.
I uploaded the photo of the Tiffany-blue waters to my computer for the desktop wallpaper. Yes, that will help me remember that there are beautiful places in this world that I can support all the way from my office. That, and I’ve already got our next adventure booked.