Wanderlust and the American Dream

Wikipedia definition: Wanderlust is a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

I’ve been bitten by the wanderlust bug. This isn’t a recent development; I’ve always been a wanderer, dreaming of exploring distant lands, meeting new people, and trying new things. Part of the reason I write is because I can create those places, people, and ideas on the page. It opens up a new world, an escapism, for others to enjoy.



Writing, though, isn’t a replacement for the desire to travel. In fact, I’ve realized my impulse to just go somewhere gets stronger every day. I find myself checking airline prices and reading travel blogs, daydreaming about when I might be able to stop living vicariously through other peoples’ pictures, stories, and happiness. Wouldn’t it be great to just get up, hop on a plane, and fly to Japan? Or backpack through the countryside of France and sip wine with the locals? I would, in a heartbeat, snap up a ticket to Thailand to visit a place that has different thoughts, experiences, and attitudes than my own.

One day, as I sat at the computer reading travel blogs, I realized something: I will never travel the world if I don’t make it a priority. I will never go to England, Asia, or South America if I don’t make the conscious decision now to get there—and commit myself to that decision full-heartedly.

This article from the Huffington Post talks about why it’s important to make time in life to see the world. The opening question the author, Emily Verdouw, asks is “What’s sitting at the root of so much that we do wrong in this world?” What indeed, in a world with little good news in the media, biases and materialism, and a whole lot of selfishness?

Her answer? “Prejudice, ignorance and bigotry.”

While growing up, we’re constantly told that we need to pursue a few important things in life: a college education (you can’t get a job otherwise), a career (you need to make lots of money), a marriage (you need to start a family), a mortgage (you need to spend the money you make in your career), kids (you need to continue your family line), and retirement (you need to enjoy the few remaining years of your life before you die). This is the ever-sought idea of the typical, white-picket fence American Dream.

The holy achievement of the American Dream is what we’re supposed to look back at fondly when we’re on our deathbed. “I did my duty,” we’re supposed to think. “I had my kids and climbed that corporate ladder, and I’m content because of it.” Sure, for some people, this may actually be what makes them happy. Marriage and kids and retirement are great things to pursue if that’s what you want to do with your life.

But what about the things we miss out on? What about personal growth and expanding horizons? What about ditching social norms and social thoughts and realizing that there’s more to life than the comfortable, materialistic, selfish bubble we live in?

Travel teaches us many things. It teaches responsibility, independence, and compassion … and teaches us that we don’t need the American Dream to be happy.

“When you push yourself out of your comfort zone and take the time to really see a different culture,” Verdouw writes, “you start to sip at the antidote of life’s poisonous attitudes. Travel exposes you to different perspectives, experiences, history, culture, religions and ultimately, a better self.”

Why should we continue to chase after the idea of a dream life—dream belongings and dream achievements—if we all end up unhappy, exhausted, and regretful of the things we didn’t do in our lives? What if taking the time to travel, especially while young, helps boost our attitudes and leaves us more peaceful, open, and content with what we have?

In this article from the Huffington Post, Shanzeh Khurram writes about her perspective of the American Dream after moving to the United States from Pakistan. While she praises the idea of the American Dream for allowing people to work hard for an achievable goal, she ultimately questions how happy it makes Americans. “There is no end to the product that people want: the latest iPhone, expensive cars, designer bags—the list is endless.”

While Khurram doesn’t knock the American Dream completely, she encourages people to leave behind the need to “keep up with the Joneses” and instead work toward a personal dream or goal—such as bringing awareness to issues to make a change in the world.

What better way is there to do this than to travel, see different cultures and communities through your own two eyes, and resolve to make a difference because you’ve experienced the world firsthand and want to leave a positive mark because of it?

Personally, I think many people don’t realize is that chasing the social norms of the quintessential American Dream isn’t their only option in life. Life isn’t a list of milestones to reach; it’s an ever-flowing, fluid, and changing environment. If your goal is to move to South Korea to teach English, don’t let the fear of leaving your corporate job, coach purse, or clique of friends behind keep you from taking the leap.

Do it because it’s your goal—a personal goal worth far more than that corporate job might ever be.

After all, jobs will always be there. Who you are, and the time you have left, won’t.



As for me? I have the education, the husband, the house, the job. While I don’t regret any of them, I love travel, and I work hard for every opportunity to travel that I can possibly grasp in my hands. I want to grow as a person, experience and understand other cultures, meet new people and share a bottle of wine over a great conversation.

Travel, self-expansion, and global awareness? That is MY American Dream.

What will yours be?

4 thoughts on “Wanderlust and the American Dream

  1. Hi Anna,

    This is an amazing post and I think I love it so much because I have the travel blues too. I am itching to travel. I haven’t done much of it my entire life at all and the only thing holding me back is school and money. I graduate this December so I can wait another 6 months, but the money part is the tough part. I really want to teach English abroad in Thailand while volunteering to teach in Luang Prabang in Laos with the Hmong population. I worry about where I would live when I come back and I worry about starting from square one. I’ve always put the “American Dream” first and my personal growth in the back-burner so you can see why I am so concerned about where to live, having a job when I come back, starting from scratch, being behind in the rat race, etc. However, I have recently decided that it’s time for me to find myself and allow myself to grow. Upon graduation, I plan to teach English abroad or take a year long road trip around the United States. I want to live “tiny” so that I can live to experience the bigger things in life.


  2. I always take an opportunity to travel – I can pay for it later. It saddens me when people wait to retire to take that big trip and then something unexpected happens. I have never regretted traveling, but I sure would have regretted not going.

  3. Travel is part of what teaches us who we are and our place in the world it teaches us respect and diversity. I say go for it. Different lives are what create the uniqueness of our melting pot.

  4. This is something I want to teach my son as he grows, the importance of travel and seeing what other things are “out there”. We started a vacation fund this year and hope to go to Italy in two years to see my aunt and uncle. I want Raef to see a different culture and know how big the world is! Let’s move our focus from buying STUFF to buying experiences! 🙂

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