Kristin Addis told me this post came about after she had been traveling around Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget for the better part of a year. A good chunk of her friends from back home kept telling her how jealous they were of what she was doing. “I remember feeling that way too before starting my trip and have come to realize something about American and western culture as a whole: we prioritize consumerism way too much.”
After living out of a carry-on backpack for the better part of a year, she started to understand that what holds most people back from realizing their travel dreams is buying stuff they don’t need. That inspired her to write this post about the American dream and what it has morphed into. “The only way to travel long term is to give it up.”
It’s often said to travelers that they are lucky. It is often assumed that they are rich, or must have some kind of bravery that others lack.
I agree, travelers are brave. They’re brave enough to say ‘no’ to the lie that has become the American dream.
What the American Dream used to be is not what it is today.
The American dream in its purest form was to be comfortable, to support a family, to own a small house on a modest plot of land, to be able to put food on the table, to own a refrigerator and perhaps a TV set.
The American dream was a promise to immigrants who were struggling to survive that there was something better for them on a farm plot in Iowa, a factory in New York, or a bayou in Louisiana.
Maybe it involved owning a car or starting a business. The opportunity was there because the country gave us the freedom to own things, to have a chance at equality, to worship openly, to talk about politics without fearing repercussions, and to build something lasting, if we so chose to put the work in.
But to own numerous flashy cars, designer purses, Cartier watches and to parade these things around so that perfect strangers can be impressed for a nanosecond? Stop telling that story. Stop permeating that lie. The American dream used to be about having enough, now it has become having more than him or her.
What if we all stopped and asked why?
Why should I care what Joe on the 8th floor of my building at work thinks about my country club membership? Why is the treadmill at the premium gym superior to the packed wet sand at the beach or the smooth pavement of the sidewalk? Since when did the time a Rolex told matter more than the time the sun told by its position in the sky?
No, the American dream was never about racking up credit card debt, buying $2000 toy Maltese puppies, or owning a house with 20 rooms. It was never about polluting the sky with Hummer cars that are way too big to be needed or houses on the temperate coast running air conditioners all day and heating their pools mere meters from the ocean.
Happiness is not a Chanel handbag.
Happiness is putting that money towards a month of travel in Cambodia, watching kids with nothing but a deflated ball and an old tire create a game so entertaining that they fall over in fits of laughter when they manage to get the ball through the tire in some sort of fabulous, makeshift basketball game. Happiness is seeing that they come from nothing, but they realize that, by virtue of being alive, they have everything.
The new American (or English, Canadian, Danish, Uruguayan, Australian, the list goes on) dream is to simply be happy. If happiness comes to you through traveling, abandon the consumerist dream that was packaged and sold to you, and embrace what makes you happy.
Don’t buy the car, the purse, the house in the hills, or the $50-per-plate dinner to impress Dan down the street. He is so busy worrying about himself and how he’s going to buy an Armani suit that he couldn’t care less if you’re parading around in Valentino or thrift store pajamas.
Say ‘no’ to the lie.
Stop telling yourself that you can’t do it, because you can. Re-evaluate what is important in life and be OK with not having possessions, because that kind of freedom can give you the world on a silver platter.
Guess what? A $350/month BMW payment can buy a month’s worth of accommodation in Thailand. A $50 plate of food in a fine restaurant can buy 50 plates of street food. The $1000 that goes towards rent easily covers an entire month of expenses in Laos.
So don’t say the American dream is holding you back. In fact, it’s easier than ever to let it propel you forward.
Kristin Addis is the Chief Blogette at Be My Travel Muse, a website geared towards independent travelers who like to head off the beaten path in Asia and Australia. After traveling solo throughout Southeast Asia for ten months, she has dedicated her foreseeable future to seeking out unique adventures in Australasia and beyond. There is almost nothing she won’t try! Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.