The Push Factor: Less-Awesome Reasons Why We Travel

There’s no debating that my dad is my number-one fan. He reads every article I write, and often helps me brainstorm topics. He hands out business cards for my travel memoir, It’s Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker, to everybody he meets, from the baristas at David’s Tea to the bikers at his motorcycle mechanic’s. When I surprised him with a copy of my book, he sat down and read the whole thing—then rushed out and printed the cover image on a T-shirt, which he later sported at my book launch. In short, he’s amazing.

It was therefore no surprise when he told me his reaction to a recent podcast I’d been interviewed on. “I came away with a different thought about your reason for travelling,” he wrote in an email. “Maybe it was not that you went looking for yourself but to escape from the person you were afraid you were becoming.”

I tried to respond with a light quip, but couldn’t come up with one. He’d unwittingly instigated a very weighted conversation.

“My travel history sounds quixotic: backpacking through more than 50 countries in a decade. Yet occasionally someone finds that notion a little too romantic and bluntly asks me what I’m running away from.”

As S. Bedford the writer, I have polished answers for big questions regarding my nomadic lifestyle. “Travelling has taught me to measure my life in electric moments as opposed to quantifiable achievements”—it makes for a poignant pull-quote, sure, but sometimes I wonder whether I’m trying harder to impress my readers or myself.

When it comes to events, it’s easy to separate fact from fiction. But when you’re a character in your own story, it’s harder to discern what you really think from what you think you think.

My travel history sounds quixotic: backpacking through more than 50 countries in a decade. Yet occasionally someone finds that notion a little too romantic and bluntly asks me what I’m running away from.

It’s a question that makes me uncomfortable (and one I often run away from), particularly now that I’m 30. While my friends have masters’ degrees, rewarding careers, life partners and starter homes, I’m flitting between shared apartments and low-paying McJobs—the side effects of living by the motto “dessert first.”

Don’t get me wrong, my twenties were phenomenal and unquestionably worth the tradeoff. But on the threshold of a new decade, I’m faced with the decision of whether to continue as a vagabond. The pull factors are obvious: adventure, discovery, those “electric moments” that make for compelling travel writing. However, there are push factors, too, and these are darker and scary to admit—to my readers, my dad and especially myself.

It’s something to think about on that long, transpacific flight.