Finding Your Identity as a Full-Time Traveler
I first realized I had an identity issue while scrolling through my Spotify music playlist. I started by listening to Black Flag to connect with my anti-establishment punk roots from my teenage years. Next, I was listening to the Irish folk and pro- Irish Republican Army music Go On Home British Soldiers, sang by the Wolfe Tones. Following were songs about Latin American politics and life sang by the Puerto Rican reggaeton band Calle 13, summed up with some Merican’ patriot country music by the Highwaymen.
In the space of 20 mins, I had shifted my musical identity multiple times from one contrast to another. I felt like I was suffering from multiple personality disorder brought upon by my constant travel.
When I was 19, I left my small rust belt town in the mountains of Pennsylvania and began traveling and living around the world. Now 27, I have traveled to over 24 countries, lived in 4, spent months living in tents in the mountains of Montana, spent six weeks at Army Leadership Training Camp, married a beautiful Ecuadorian girl in Ireland, got my bachelors and masters, and have had about every odd job you can imagine.
But through all this life experience, the one thing I have not been able to grasp is a sense of identity. When I return to visit my small hometown, I find people with identities who know and are content with who they are. I find the guy known as the farmer who is happy farming and loves it. I find the truck driver who loves the work and the lifestyle that comes with it. He doesn’t plan on changing anything. I find the town drunk, mumbling politics at the local bar with some out-of-towner off the highway. He is completely content being the drunk.
One benefit of staying in the same place for an extended period of time is, at some point, you find your place and where you fit into the whole scheme of things. Full-time travelers, on the other hand, do not have this luxury. We are and shall ever remain the foreigner.
They call it the “travel bug” like it’s some type of cold that will go away. But, if you’re like me it’s more of a “travel addiction” that is more powerful than any junkies drug of choice. We get somewhere and it’s exciting, adventurous and fun for about the first three months, but then the new and shiny feeling of everything begins to fade and you fall into a routine. You start noticing the problems of the place you’re in. Maybe its the homeless guy that begs in the same place everyday, or that you’re kinda fed up with always looking over your shoulder, because some robber might mistake you as an easy target, or maybe the country’s politics are beginning to bother you too much.
These are things that send many people with that short term “travel bug” back home packing to their home country, where they can comprehend everything in their safe space. But, for those that want and need to chase the adventure life, moving to a new location is a must. This has been my life since I started traveling at 19. Stay in one place and once I’ve over stayed my welcome, pack the bags and move on to the next location. And so on and so forth.
So if you have established that you are going to be a full-time traveler, how do you answer the “Question” that everyone faces and deal with the stereotypes that follow?
I am regularly asked, “Where are you from?” I usually respond with “the States.” Then the stereotypical conversation begins that you have repeated many times. It’s not necessarily bad stereotypes, but questions come like “Which football team do you like?” …”I don’t know, I haven’t been able to follow football for the past few years of traveling.”“Are you Democrat or Republican?” “Neither I like and hate aspects of both parties.” And the most annoying of them all, “You must be rich if you can afford to travel” “Sorry, I’m not a trust fund baby and you probably have more money in your bank account at any given moment than I ever have had.”
Many times I wish that when I am asked where I am from, I can just reply “nowhere” and that would be a satisfactory response. Yes, I am from the United States, but I don’t feel like the stereotypes good or bad fit or even define who I am.
First off, let me say that stereotypes do sometimes have basis in truth, but you should never base your assumption of a person ,that you have just met, based on stereotypes. Many of the foreigners that the average person are accustom to meeting are tourists who are planning on staying a short time and have no plans on changing their personality, beliefs, etc. That is fine, but that is also where stereotypes come from. Yes Chinese tourist can seem rude, because they don’t have the same personal space. The Spanish don’t understand queue’s (lines). Chileans talk too fast. The Irish drink too much (or just enough ;). And the Americans (Estadounidense) can be quite close minded and defensive when its comes to questioning the “greatness” of their country.
In contrast, traveling is and always will be a stereotype breaking experience. Full-time travelers many times find that their home country’s identity and stereotype doesn’t fit them anymore. Their mind has been molded through an array of different beliefs and experiences, to a point in which they can’t actually give a place to where they actually “belong to.” Sure you can still be English, American, French, Colombian, Filipino etc; but does that really matter if your personality hardly resembles these places anymore?
I’m not saying it’s impossible to identify with where you grew up. I know I still identify as a country boy in many aspects of life and am proud of my hometown; but there’s been a lot more added and changed with my personality that fits more to the other countries I have lived.
But, at the end of the day, what is my identity then? Our world tends to give identities to locations and jobs that people have. But, “traveler” tends to be too broad of an identity, because it lacks a mission. In the past, there were adventurers and explorers that were travelers, but had missions to discover new parts of the world. In the current world, there is not anything really left to “discover.” Google maps has pretty much mapped out the world, including islands that used be just mere legends. Traveling tends to be seen as something like backpacking for a few months after college to “find yourself” and then return to the real world.
Are we, as full-time travelers, really all just wanderers with no reason in life except to travel and will some day return to the “real world.”
I don’t think I’m in the position to give all full-time travelers an identity and to say what they will or won’t do with their life. I will leave that open to discussion and let the individual choose. But, I can find solace in knowing that I’m not just aimlessly and selfishly wandering the globe. I truly believe that for those of us who are lucky enough to have these vastly different and eye opening experiences about culture, race, travel etc can share them with people to help make a better world. This may seem too idealistic, but if you really look at it, understanding amongst different peoples around the world would probably do more good than bad. We are not going to stop war, hunger, greed, but we might lessen it a bit if enough of us speak up.
So come on all ye travelers, adventurers, wanderers, vagabonds, nomads, ramblers, globetrotters and explorers; we do not have a specific identity for ourselves, but we can all unite under the agreement that we all will remain as “identity unknown” and wouldn’t trade this life for any other.
Maybe, in a way, our lifestyle is selfish. We distance ourselves from our family, friends, professional careers etc, but we are actually living life. I completely respect the people who wish to remain in the same place doing the same thing for the rest of their lives. Different people are content and happy with different things. But for me, for you, for us we need something more. We need to grab life by the reins and not be kicked off until its finally done with us.
So travel on mis compadres. No one said this was going to be easy. You might not be able to define your “identity,” but at the end of the day you know exactly who you are and that’s all you’ll ever need.
About the author: Evan is the co-owner of South American Outdoors. He, currently, lives with his wife in her home country of Ecuador. They have no plans of stopping the full-time traveler life anytime soon.