Why Full-Time Travel Won’t Make You Happy
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Why Full-Time Travel Won’t Make You Happy

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Despite my overjoyed and goofy smile in the featured image above, full-time travel won’t make you happy.

At one point I thought it would. I was sitting in a small cubicle, perusing through Instagram and busy being jealous of people who had the freedom to travel the world.

I wished that was me. 

And then one day it was me. Alyssa and I left our jobs and started our year long trip of adventure. It was awesome and the grand adventure I had been hoping for… until one day it wasn’t.

It was four months into our quest to visit all 50 states. Money was tight. We traveled for nearly a month without a refrigerator after it had blown up and we couldn’t afford to replace it. One night we put our groceries outside because the Maine night was cooler than our ice-packed freezer box.

Alyssa and I were planning to launch a Kickstarter to raise enough funds to finish our project and fingers crossed buy a new fridge. But the idea of a Kickstarter only elevated the stress.

I hate asking for money.

I kept thinking, What the hell am I doing? Why did I think this trip was a good idea? 

I was hurting, stressed, and frustrated.

travel won't make you happy

Screenshot from Hourly America where I’m removing our fridge

In an argument and fit of unwarranted anger, I punched our shower door to the point of hurting my hand.

Alyssa and I had been married for four months and this was the first time I lost my temper. I was beyond embarrassed, my hand hurt, and I was immediately sorry (it’s even really embarrassing to write about this now).

How had I let myself get to this point? This was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime and I was more stressed than I’d ever been in my life. What gives?

Travel was supposed to be the light and fun time of our lives. We had left our office jobs so that we wouldn’t have to feel stressed anymore. Now is the time to be happy, or so I thought.

After my hand finished throbbing, Alyssa and I went for a walk on the beach to talk things over. While walking and looking out over the ocean, I realized the stress wasn’t worth it. The stress of worrying about money, our broken fridge, things outside my control, and everything else was stealing away my happiness. It was stealing away my time with Alyssa, and more than I cared to admit.

Travel was trying to gift me something special, but I was turning it into another chaotic day at the office. Something had to give.

I needed to remove some stress points in my life. We decided to nix the idea of launching a Kickstarter on top of working a job in every state, driving the RV multiple days a week, writing blog posts, and exploring new places. If we ran out of money, we ran out of money and we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

Once making this mental decision, I began to feel a little better.

I decided that even if our financial situation wasn’t great, worrying about it was never going to change the situation. I needed to enjoy the time we had left on the road, while we had it.

This was my first brush with feeling a high amount of anxiety while traveling. Up until this point, I’d mostly associated travel with vacation and happy times, but the idea that travel is always peachy is obviously a lie. I wish I could tell you that ever since my “freak out” day that I haven’t stressed and have 100% enjoyed every moment of our travels for the past three years.

But this would also be a lie.

Lately, I’ve been stressed out about CampgroundBooking getting traction and how things aren’t moving fast enough. Last year while we were exploring Banff National Park in Canada I was stressed about finishing my book and how I’d let my podcast episodes fall to the wayside. I’m constantly finding new things to be stressed and worry about, despite living my dream of travel.

I think there is this illusion that if you are able to go and hit the road in an RV, travel for an extended period of time around the world, or move to a beach somewhere, your life will finally be filled with intense purpose and meaning. We see people living this elusive lifestyle via Instagram and wish it was our life. But I’m on the other side of that Instagram post and I’ll be the first to tell you that anyone who says this lifestyle is awesome 100% of the time is full of it.

Travel isn’t always a dream.

Travel isn’t going to carry you through all the hard times of your life. Travel isn’t going to turn an unhappy or unhealthy person into a perfect specimen. Waiting for travel to make you happy is like waiting for money to make you generous or a child to make you less selfish.

Travel is just part of our physical surroundings, which only quantifies a small percentage of our overall happiness (10-15% according to this study). The rest of our happiness comes from genetics, mindset, health and well being, food intake, and our own individual world views.

I’m not trying to be a downer about travel. But just to paint it in a realistic light. Yes, travel gives us a chance to explore the world, gain insights into different cultures, push your comfort zone, meet new people, and have incredible experiences in nature. But travel doesn’t give us happiness. Happiness is something we choose, despite our situation or what is happening in our lives.

If happiness was a light switch, travel couldn’t have turned it on. Alyssa and I still have to wake up everyday and make the choice to be happy and to stay focused towards our goals and dreams.

Travel also didn’t help me remove my tendency to overwork and over stress. I wish it did, as it would make things a lot easier.

I didn’t write this post to turn anyone away from travel. Heck, I host a podcast that’s entire purpose is to help people craft a remote business so they can travel. But I just wanted to share this in case anyone was in a similar situation that I was in a few years ago — sitting in an office, dreaming about travel and waiting for it to solve all of your problems.

It won’t.

Instead of waiting for travel to be happy, make the choice to be happy before you reach that dream.

A Few Ways I’m Working to Stay Happy and Stress Less About Dumb Stuff

Practicing gratitude.

I’ve been doing this a lot lately in my journals. Writing down all the areas I have in my life to be grateful, big and small. Alyssa and I also have daily “family time” where we say a few things we both are grateful for. Gratitude has a way of putting things into perspective.

Exercising.

Pushups in the RV, a walk around the campground, hike, kayak or anything to get my blood flowing helps me worry less about dumb things and enjoy the day.

Getting outside.

It really doesn’t matter what I do outside, I just enjoy being there.

Giving myself permission to celebrate.

Recently, my friend Chris made me realize that I do a terrible job of celebrating in my life. Sometimes I feel as though celebrating too much of any goal I achieved means I will be content (which is dumb and not true). So I’m working to do a better job of celebrating the wins in my life.

Note: March was the first month the RVE podcast surpassed 25,000 downloads. When I first started the podcast last year, this was my goal metric. Woohoo! <– practicing celebration, 5 points for Gryffindor!

If there’s a hidden lesson in here, I think it’s the importance of knowing your personal limits. I was terrible at this when we first started traveling. I overestimated the amount that I could get done, how quickly we could travel, and my ability to balance my new marriage with a million other things.

This was my fault and I know it won’t be the same for all travelers.

Travel is the experience you make it. Too often, I make it stressful and unenjoyable. I think my experience should serve as a warning for others who are venturing down this road to have realistic expectations.

Chances are, you will spend more money than you realize on maintenance and you’ll cringe every time you have to fill up your RV with gas. You will be less productive in your work (especially when first starting out) and struggle to find a good balance for your time.

Slow down.

Get outside more.

Work less.

Enjoy more.

And lastly,  remember that if you made the leap to full-time travel, then you no longer have to live by everyone else’s rules that says you should work “x number of hours per day” and make $X a year.

Give yourself the permission to go out and experience the world and enjoy it.

Follow Heath:

Husband to Alyssa. Host of The RV Entrepreneur Podcast. I love RVing, that's why I talk about it so much.

  • Whoa! This blog has so many great points that we can all take away no matter where we are in life. The biggest take away being “Choosing Happiness.” It can’t be found in x y or z. It is choosing to be happy in whatever it is that we are doing and that no matter what it is there will be stresses, that’s life, but how we choose to handle them will make all the difference. Thank you for the reminder. Your tips are spot on with my favorite being getting outside. It is my all time favorite de-stresser. Giving myself permission to celebrate is the one I could use the most work on and shall make a consorted effort to utilize more often. I think it is easy to let ourselves get worked up and overwhelmed but with some effort we can make it easier for ourselves to enjoy the journey if we choose to.

    • Thanks Kristen. Obviously I empathize with not being able to celebrate as much as I’d like but I think putting a face to some of my personal shortcomings has helped in moving in the right direction. Glad it could be that for you too. 🙂

  • Kemble Hildreth

    Hi Heath,
    I have been following your blog for almost a year now. Your stories and photos inspire me, and at the same time I beat myself up for not living the life you blog about; I pour over your website and articles daily. My wife and I are newly married and out of school, we have 7 acres of paid for land in the country, a new mortgage on a house near Atlanta, a half-finished tiny house on the 7 acres, and a 9-5 software job to pay the bills… I often read your blog and see the path I am *not* currently on but wish I was. This article has helped me so much, thank you for your candor and honesty. My wife and I really want to go mobile, but I can’t let that desire ruin the good times now. We are working hard towards that goal. I am guilty of letting dreams ruin the moment. Please know that you really really helped one of your fans have a mental release just now. Thank you for this article. We hope to see y’all one day, and until then will practice being content with the blessings of the moment.

    Sincerely,
    Kemble

    • Hey Kemble,

      That makes me so happy. It’s a little scary to share some of the ridiculous things that pop in my head from time to time… but comments like this make me glad that I do. Think we all could use reminders to live in the moment and not so much in the future.

      Thanks for reading and we may be in your part of the country soon (coming from Alabama to Charleston for a bit). Would love to meet up!

      Heath

      • Kemble Hildreth

        Heath,

        Please let us know when you’re passing through our neck of the woods! We would be absolutely thrilled to have ya’ll over for dinner. We live in Smyrna GA (Northwest Corner of ATL).

        We’d be thrilled to hang out with you all. Ruth ( my lovely wife) hears enough about what you both are up to I’m sure she’d love to finally meet you both in person! Haha.

        Best Regards,
        Kemble

  • Great post Heath! I can relate on so many levels. Totally agree about the way Instagram makes it seem . . . but the reality is a whole other story!

  • Melanie Knott

    Thanks so much for this one. For all of them, but especially this.

    There are so many points in life were we think “if I can do this, then I can get that” and anyone who has been through a time like that will usually say it did not pan out as planned. I appreciate the transparency of you and Alyssa’s journey.

    Recently, I’ve been thinking about our motivations to get on the road and leave behind “life as we know it.” I think those on the outside think traveling full time is one big vacation (because traveling is normally associated with vacationing), but little do they understand life on the road is the way the community we’re a part of lives every single day. It’s just life.

    We’re not even there yet and it’s hard to wrap our brains around this one. It’s not pessimistic, it’s realistic. Moments like a fist to the wall are times you can look back on and think “no matter where I am, I’m still a human” and in those moments learn to have more patience with yourself. Being on the road full time will be a challenge, but with an honest and real community like you guys I think the journey will be worthwhile.

    • Beautiful Melanie :). Thank you for this and your friendship!

  • D Wendal Attig

    “Worry is a waste of creativity.” I saw that online somewhere earlier this week, and your post reminded me of how hard it truely is to squelch it. What you shared mirrors much of what we are experiencing in our first year of full-timing. Yes, we work (and worry) onboard and yes, we have gone through quite a transition as we adapt to this lifestyle. i have learned that nobody’s life is perfect. Some are just better at spinning the stories they choose to share but everyone has stuff. Being openly honest about it takes courage. Thanks Heath for yours.

    • I love that quote, so true. All of us are working through similar transitions/struggles and it’s helpful to work through it together. Appreciate the kind words and you reading.

  • Hi Heath,
    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your struggles. I envy the “instagram” life of others too. However, most people don’t share their broken refrigerators.
    I will slow down.
    A good reminder to enjoy where we are.
    Best to you and Alyssa.
    xo
    Pamela

    • Thank you Pamela :). We miss you and hope you are well.

  • Dan Gaskell

    Heath,
    Great post! Thanks for opening yourself up to all of us. I understand where you’re coming from because we did something similar with similar goals – travel happiness. We sold everything, packed up 7 suitcases and moved to Costa Rica for a year. We loved our time there but we moved back partly because it didn’t provide us complete happiness. We missed family, friends and the USA in general. For us, happiness is not enough. We seek joy because it lasts and doesn’t depend on circumstances in life.

  • Dan Gaskell

    Great post! Thanks for opening yourself up to all of us. I understand where you’re coming from because we did something similar with similar goals – travel happiness. We sold everything, packed up 7 suitcases and moved to Costa Rica for a year. We loved our time there but we moved back partly because it didn’t provide us complete happiness. We missed family, friends and the USA in general. For us, happiness is not enough. We seek joy because it lasts and doesn’t depend on circumstances in life.

  • Mike Gray

    Heath – you and Alyssa have been on fire with the posts lately :). I am definitely in the “Worry too much” camp. My employee is letting me go in 2+months because I am “technically” breaking the telecommute policy since our House moves :). They gave me a year…but not a day more. And all I am doing is worrying about Money – and NOT enjoying Charleston, SC, where we are parked for the moment.

    My partner(sarah) sent me this, I think as a bit of a reminder to let go a bit, and enjoy the life we have and where we are….Thanks for the perspective…glad its not just us!

    Mike – seeyasuburbia.com

    • It’s weird because I know sometimes our comfort zone expands the more crazy stuff we do… but I also feel my worry zone expands too (which sounds counter intuitive). For example, a few years back we took a way bigger risk with hitting the road, had way less money and potential income and still made it work. Today, I find myself still worrying about those same dumb things despite our financial situation being in a much better place than it was then. All perspective I suppose and working to improve that.

      Side note: Where are you guys camping in Charleston? We are headed there next week and haven’t found a solid place to stay yet?

      • Mike Gray

        RE: The comfort zone thing. I think that’s absolutely true – We often joke that if we can get through this together, we can do anything together as a couple. Whatever it is – it just can’t be as bad as sitting in a Walmart with a broken furnace huddled around a electric heater hoping the generator doesn’t fry because its running out in the driving rain :p. Yet despite the fact that we have gotten through so much – I continue to worry about it all. Sarah has a much more lassez faire attitude I wish I could replicate: Her response is “We’ve solved every problem so far, we’ll figure the next one out too. Why lose sleep over it?” She has such a good attitude…you and I will keep working on it. HAH!

        RE: Charleston, SC. I am BUMMED! we are going to miss you again, we just departed Charleston and are at Myrtle Beach, SC for the week. We stayed at the Charleston KOA north of town off 26. It was the only one available, all the rest in the area were booked (we book last minute too). The campground was fine, little spendy as KOA’s are – but we’re finding we left all the cheap campgrounds back west…

        • Bummed we’re gonna miss you guys as well :/. Also, that sounds appropriate for leaving all cheap campgrounds west.

  • Teresa Rosche Ott

    Thank you for sharing this, Heath. It’s an important dose of reality. We’re not on the road yet. I recently wrote a bit about how the free life I seek (via FT RV life) has to begin with a free mind. Your thoughts reinforce that notion.

    I don’t want to crash your party, but it’d be awesome to see you and Alyssa if/when you come through Atlanta. We are on the west side of Atlanta in Douglasville, not far from I-20, I-285 and Smyrna. We also have a fairly level driveway (IYKWIM 😉 ).

    • Hey Teresa!

      What a great offer. We are currently planning our route/itinerary this week so I will definitely keep you in mind, thank you so much :). Driveways are always a welcome stay in our family.

      Will keep you posted,

  • ChelleandDonnie Coffee

    Great perspective and thanks for the reality check. Thankfully we’ve lived long enough to realize gratitude is key. And getting outside. You are blessed to have discovered it at a young age. I love reading, listening to your blogs. They give lots of good advice. I learn something every time. 😊

    • Thank you so much. Gratitude is a great antidote to stress 🙂

  • My Dad always stressed celebrating all of life’s wins and I continue to carry on this tradition. Celebrate can be whatever is special to you. He also made sure I understood that I need to be HAPPY and that I have to make my own happiness. While I learned this at a young age, I’m not perfect at creating happiness every day. I also know it’s okay to have bad days or down times. It’s how you work through and learn from them that matters. Paul is the opposite. He didn’t grow up with the celebrate everything mentality and I work on him all the time about that. He’s growing though and learning to celebrate with me. FYI: We will be celebrating next Monday after all the hard work on his software contract has been put to use in the real world for the first time at the Boston Marathon and I’m officially done with tax season! Soon enough we will be celebrating the first customer for Campground Booking! I can tell you the past few weeks have been super stressed over here and not enough celebrating. I always knew life’s ups and downs would stay with us even through our travels. However, now that we travel we find it easier to get outside and enjoy life more often than not.

    • Love this Heather. It’s also good to hear that Paul struggles with this the same way I do…. well, perhaps it’s not “good to hear” but good to know. This way, we can both push each other to celebrate the little wins together. I can empathize with the past few weeks/couple months being a bit chaotic, your husband decided to bootstrap and launch a new business probably doesn’t take away the stress of a new lifestyle & tax season :). Either way, I think your dad offered some awesome advice and grateful to have you guys as friends + partners. Will be thinking of y’all tomorrow as Paul’s software debuts!

  • Jennifer “JT”

    Heath & Alyssa, I totally understand where this post is coming from! Last summer I was on the road for 4 months, just me, my dog, my truck & a camper trailer. The unexpected struggle for me was balancing work (which got crazy busy) + sight-seeing + taking good care of my dog. When friends & family asked how it was going, I’d say “It’s 90% good but the 10% bad is REALLY BAD.” The truth was probably more like 75% good 25% bad, and there were some serious meltdown days, but things did get better.
    Slowing my travel pace was a big help in relieving my stress levels…interestingly that change wasn’t obvious to me, it came to me as very helpful advice from other FT digital nomad travelers, after I got brave enough to share my struggles.
    So kudos for sharing the challenges as well as the good times! As you’ve said in regards to the RVE summit, its great to know we’re not alone, and that there’s a community of like-minded & supportive folks out there. I agree wholeheartedly with gratitude as one of the keys to worrying less & enjoying the lifestyle more! Safe & happy travels!

    • Hey JT!

      I think that struggle is common among full-time travelers who are also working. It’s really not an easy balance and the term balance seems elusive and slightly lost on me. That being said, I think we have much more adventure in our lives than we would if we were stationary. So while there isn’t a “balance” that is equal between work + travel + play, I think we’ve found a way to integrate more adventures than if we were sitting still (or at least this is what I tell myself).

      Either way, appreciate you sharing your experience as well.

  • Kim Jennejohn

    Hi Heath and Alyssa! Great post! Happiness is definitely a state of mind that can’t be purchased with any sum of money. Being thankful for what you have at that moment has always helped get me back on course when feeling discouraged. Love that you guys are practicing gratitude. Seems like that’s something that has been lost in today’s society. I love following what you guys are doing. I’m sure I speak for others when I say, we’re pulling for ya! Keep up the great work!

  • Great blog!

    Sure, travel like anything else wont make for a perfectly happy life. It takes balance. Even then, nothing is perfect, there is always ups and downs.

    There is an old Latin saying…’you can run away as far as you like but you can never get away from yourself.’

    Be happy, you got s pretty gal, got enuf $ for a roof, shower, flush toilet and nice wheels to travel and live in. You don’t need a lugaloo anymore right? When I go to NYC to shoot, this is how I have to travel.

    nsfw

    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/you-broke-and-wanna-shoot-in-nyc-no-problem-you-can-do-it/

    Good luck with your travels and work!