A Shaggy Gentleman
September 26, 2008 3:11 AM   Subscribe

What is the difference between liking travel and being a global bum?

From the tender age of six months, I've been rambling around the world nonstop. I'm considering departing my current location and settling in another, but I'd be sacrificing yet another relationship, yet another job, yet another life. So on. What do I have to look forward to, anyway? Finding out that girlfriend #n has yet another exotic STD?

Can someone else with a compulsion to move every so often tell me what's going on? When I was 18-22, I was fine in one place -- take a road trip, the itch left me just fine. When I was 23 and 24, same deal but longer haul. I had to really put my soul into escape. Last year and this one have seen me jumping like a flea between continents and countries, doing what I please, in every sense of the word "do." I can't make myself stay still or feel happy, and something is very very wrong.

Yes, I understand the acceleration of time as one gets older. It hurts, but that's not the question.

Am I becoming a bum? Whereas before I had to have a specific Dansk flatware set, a full set of Bodum Bistro glasses, Great White plates/bowls/teapot from Pottery Barn, a full 1000 thread count dining set from Linens and Things, and a bedroom set from Crate & Barrel ... now I feel like I'm happiest living on the street with long underwear and a toque, programming websites on my eeePC for booze money.

Can someone else along this path answer my next question: am I an entrepreneur for hiring other people to do my jobs for me, or am I entirely insane? I'm fairly sure this business venture is illegal, but it seems like if I make enough cash, I can immigrate here.

And dear sweet internet, spare me from romanticizing my ordeal, like this dude here, k?
posted by electronslave to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A bum neither travels nor works. Since you do both, you qualify as a hobo. Perhaps this site will be of value to you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:21 AM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you find out, I'd like to know. At the start of this year I had a job, bought a new HD tv, was thinking of buying a condo and now... I'm living out of a suitcase in Paris and London, thinking of going to Vietnam and going round the world, trying to do photography and writing because it's something that can be done quite well in transience. I don't have answers but I think, in part, it's a response to seeing all my peers and people of my generation finally "settling down", buying homes, getting married and starting career paths. In some ways, by doing this I'm escaping that expectation for staying put for life.
posted by mkn at 3:33 AM on September 26, 2008

You zeroed in on the root of your conflicts in your final sentence--romanticization. You conjure up romantic stereotypes--the effete, wealthy yuppie versus the bohemian vagabond--and try shoehorn your life into them.

These stereotypes appear to you as opposite, convincing you that you're making a willful, conscious decision to transition from wealth and bondage to bohemianism and freedom. Yet they're the same--empty states of existence that you've conjured from worn-out cultural models.

Your post reminded me of that from another famous AskMe poseur, the "fedora geek", but substituting the fedora with a toque.

Can you see how your decisions are based on fantasy rather than the reality of what you really desire to do in life? Think and meditate deeply on this. The escape you should search for is one from the romantic ideals that have infected your head. Jumping headlong into these ideals will only worsen the problem.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:42 AM on September 26, 2008 [8 favorites]

I'm a young expat and I own my vagabondage, wear it like a badge. I don't see myself ever going home to live, really - and can you go home again anyway?

I move every year, but like you, my skills are portable and I'm in a field people respect here, teaching English. Imagine that: respect! At 25 I am respected by my colleagues and students - and even their parents! And not respect as in lip service-respect, but as in being paid enough to enjoy life.

Something else that blows peoples' minds is that I am a professional - a well-qualified, constantly-improving practitioner who attends (or even puts on!) 20-odd training seminars a year - but I make $8000 a year. I live in a free apartment; I walk to work so I don't really have to get a car or even a bicycle. Food is cheap here, bills are a non-issue. For my friends at home, who are used to putting people into income/class categories and measuring themselves and others against those categories, I don't fit their schema of How Things Are Supposed To Be; these are the people saying "but you could be a lawyer!".

Does that mean I'm cheating the system by earning too little to have to pay taxes back home, or being smart by not accumulating more debt? Some people choose to justify their own existence by saying

Do what you love, wherever it takes you. Take along those you love, leave the rest behind. Keep going.
posted by mdonley at 4:49 AM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Some people choose to justify their own existence by saying

Whoops! That should say Some people choose to justify their own existence by saying that I'm doing something wrong when to me, I'm doing everything right.
posted by mdonley at 4:51 AM on September 26, 2008

You're romanticizing your ideal. 'That dude' you linked to was discovering the principles of Buddhism. This might help you, too...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:51 AM on September 26, 2008

Response by poster: Gordion Knott: Oops. Nope, you've got the wrong guy. You're describing a very real problem, and one that I've encountered during my travels, but I'm not the guy you're looking to unload on, sorry.

mkn: Oh man. Honestly, I never got to that point. I was uncomfortable with any kind of money, just like I'm wishing I had $$$ to pay for a plane ticket to a warmer climate right now!

FOB: A hobo, I thought, was a transient who traveled TO his work, not created work where he was. I'm making people work for me and give me money. I feel dirty about this.

Okay, so with this three response chorale, I've felt: slimy, dirty and fake. Maybe that's what I wrote, but that's not who I am. I was looking for resolution, not a cosmic-scale putdown. Perhaps this is why I need real counseling rather than internet group counseling.
posted by electronslave at 4:53 AM on September 26, 2008

Response by poster: game warden: Siddhartha considered suicide before judging his own brother. Big hint: never condescendingly recommend Buddhism, ever again.

mdonley: My first reaction was to respond with a story of the English schools I've seen all over the world. How shady and scummy they were. How their employees were hapless backpackers roped into a slave wage. But no. You've hit upon the romantic possibility that kept my uncle in Thailand. He owns a great number of English schools, and generally, backpackers are who he employs. He has a love for supporting the Strines, Brits, Merikans and Canadjins that he meets.

I want to do more than all that. I wish I was UNESCO, really.
posted by electronslave at 5:20 AM on September 26, 2008

So you are about 26 or so, yes? What you write sounds pretty normal for someone in their late twenties/early thirties, who has always moved around, but is now finding it both harder to settle where they are and also harder to scratch the "need something new" itch.

For most people, in my experience, this resolves itself with time. Give it a few years, you either start putting down some roots, or you find a way to make moving work for you.

am I an entrepreneur for hiring other people to do my jobs for me, or am I entirely insane? I'm fairly sure this business venture is illegal, but it seems like if I make enough cash, I can immigrate here.

There aren't nearly enough details to begin to answer this sort of question, and it doesn't sound like you are looking for a direct, factual answer anyway.

I will point out, though, that if you look around at older expats, they kind of fall into a few categories, and it's worth taking five minutes to look at your life right now and see who you'll end up as if you stay on this path. Is it the alcoholic guy, leading an amoral and misanthropic life, or is it the flexible free-spirit who fits in wherever he goes and whom people genuinely like? Or someone else?

That right there will tell you if you are living the way you want to be, moving and work questions aside.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 AM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

>I was looking for resolution, not a cosmic-scale putdown.

I'm sorry you feel this way, but recognize that all people succumb to romanticization in some ways, not just you. Hence the profitability of Bodum Bistro and Crate and Barrell--and of airlines promising an escape from the torments of yuppiedom. Even vagabond purists are suckered into the system.

Even though you resist it, clearing your head of these blandishments is the first step to your recovery. Not therapy.

It's also the first step to resolving your question on hiring as an entrepreneur, which demands level headed, rational thinking. For the record, it's okay and necessary to hire people as an entrepreneur, but stay away from any business that smacks of illegality.
posted by Gordion Knott at 5:57 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you need to really take a step back and look at what you want from life. I know it's a cliche. But you talk about jobs and girlfriends and locations, and about not being able to feel happy or stay put. This lack of happiness and inability to settle down might come from a lack of satisfaction or sense of fulfilment in life - which is where you have to start asking yourself what it is you want from life and why you aren't getting it at the moment. You mention wanting to be UNESCO. I know you didn't mean this literally but it suggests maybe a desire to contribute to the world, do some good or live more altruistically than your current lifestyle.

I'm sorry if this is all rather obvious. But the thing is, no one here is really going to be able to tell you what want from life - it is a reflection of you as a person. It's up to you whether you feel you need the help of a professional to explore this. Time is also pretty effective at sorting this stuff out, but I think since you're asking this on metafilter you're not in the group that's willing to let time sort it all out.

Also, when asking a question like this, defensively responding to answers isn't going to help get constructive answers no matter how much you feel someone has missed the point or misinterpreted your words.
posted by atmosphere at 7:01 AM on September 26, 2008

I'm not sure what you're asking. Are you saying that the itch for change is no longer being scrathed by travel and you want to know what other options there are? Or is it that you know you want to keep living life on the hoof, but need to find some ways of maintaining a consistency of employ through each transition?

I can't help with the latter but if it's the former I think you're just looking at one of the big questions we all hit somewhere along the way - basically 'what am doing this *for*'. Are you looking for check point to say 'hey yeah, you're headed in the right direction'? Well, there just isn't a road map for your own life. If you don't want to be a 'global bum' don't be one. Engage with the people around you, whereever you are and give something of yourself. Be a micro-UNESCO, share what you learn, keep transactions legit and don't exploit people. Get some balance on the give and take. You don't have to settle in one place, but building a sense of self which includes having something to learn and something to offer could provide you with more purpose and direction.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:03 AM on September 26, 2008

Why do you care if you're a bum?

You felt the need to list your specific material requirements. I don't get that. Why should we care what thread count your sheets are? What are you trying to prove to us? That you're really genuinely a member of the middle class and that this is just a lark?

Are you ashamed? Is there something to be ashamed of in living below your class of birth? Or are you ashamed of exploiting an oppressed lower class while pretending to be of them? Are you ashamed of taking on the romanticized burdens of the poor without sacrificing your class privilege, knowing the entire time you're on the streets with long underwear that you could wake up tomorrow and land an interview for a 40k?
posted by sondrialiac at 7:52 AM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Can someone else along this path answer my next question: am I an entrepreneur for hiring other people to do my jobs for me, or am I entirely insane?

After your reply to GM you seem more like an arrogant kid.
posted by Spurious at 8:00 AM on September 26, 2008

If that was the question then it makes no sense, is impossible to answer and should be deleted.
posted by ninebelow at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

are you seeking advice or confirmation?
posted by dawson at 8:40 AM on September 26, 2008

jumping like a flea between continents and countries, doing what I please, in every sense of the word "do." I can't make myself stay still or feel happy, and something is very very wrong.


I want to do more than all that. I wish I was UNESCO, really.

Shift the focus outward, from yourself, onto others.

If you wish you were UNESCO why not join an international NGO and help other people? You can move from country to country, and volunteer to help others as a main motivator. Your basic living needs will be covered, and you will have all the satisfaction (and all the pain and despair) of helping those afflicted by war, poverty or both.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:13 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

are you seeking advice or confirmation?

Confirmation, it looks like.

If the question is: "Should I do something illegal?" the answer is, well, it depends: is it also unethical? What are the ramifications for this illegal business venture in the place where you live? You've told us almost nothing about your actual problem and instead filled your post will all sorts of stuff hinting at how awesome you are, so it's a little hard to help you out here.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

life inevitably goes up and down. Whatever path you choose. What level of control over that (emotional variability) do you want? I say go for it. Try to live your life like life has never been lived before. I know thats probably impossible, but it sounds exciting, doesn't it?
posted by Gregamell at 11:48 AM on September 26, 2008


second that. Thinking about your own problems magnifies. Helping others does the opposite.

some alcoholics talk about 'geographics' happening when you get too tied up in your own problems you can't get out of your head. They deal with it by focusing on people with problems similar to their own, where their experience can benefit. That's their cure.
posted by Gregamell at 11:52 AM on September 26, 2008

Dude, you managed to read a lot of negativity into people who were responding in pretty reasonable ways. No one was putting you down in any of those responses- certainly not even on a global scale, let alone cosmic. If you feel people are reading you wrong, then clarify your question. No one cares about your thread count. Really, no one cares if you are a bum, either. Maybe if you actually explain why you think these superficial labels and material lists are important, you might get answers that are more tailored to your situation.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:07 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not in your league but I've gotten around a good bit too. I'm in my mid-30s and up until a few years ago I had never lived in one place for longer than two years. And that pattern only changed because I came home to be be with my parents when one was diagnosed terminal. Perhaps because of the frequent shifts in setting, I was scornful of routine, habit, convention, and since I changed social contexts pretty often, I thought of myself as flexible even though now I recognize I did a poor job of adjusting. These are adolescent values and still, they have some validity. Many people do spend a lot of their day in a kind of trance, mesmerized by their own monologue. But I knew that when my family picked up and moved somewhere else, or we went traveling, for the first few days - time grew long. My awareness was heightened and I had the time and attention to be responsive. When I say I had the "time", it wasn't a matter of being less busy, but that I was distracting myself less because the new environment pulled my attention. I knew this was something important and I latched onto it. I still think that sense is important but I know there is no necessary connection to relentless travel.

I don't know if any of that applies to you. It came to mind when you wrote, "I understand the acceleration of time as one gets older". It isn't just a matter of age, it's the world getting stale because it's taken for granted. That's what makes us hungry for novelty and stimulation. I suspect you're distracting yourself. The difference between a bum and someone who is content wandering, is that the bum is denying his issues and using travel to ignore them, the other hasn't lost his sense of wonder, he'd still have it if he was at home. Eventually the bum is going to find less and less to entice him and he goes on misery full time.

Ignore the term "poseur", but do look at how you imagine various lifestyles. OK, you've already said neither of those is the real issue, so I'll go ahead and complete the trifecta. Take a look at Buddhism, not the dogma or the superstitious elements, but the practice. I think if you become more grateful for what you have, for whatever is in front of you, you'll become more happy and less reactive. Then, when the impulses to flee diminishes it won't be such a torment. You'll just decide.
posted by BigSky at 3:31 PM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

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