The first time someone told me they were living vicariously through me, I felt a little thrill inside. It meant I was doing something admirable and, dare I say it, worthy of jealousy. And then I heard it a few more times. And a few more. And each time, it rang a little differently in my ear until it wasn’t so thrilling any more.
And then at some point, it switched to this: “Oh, must be nice.” I’m sure the phrase was never uttered with malice, but my ears heard hostility. Maybe the tone was conscious, maybe not. Or maybe the tone was merely a figment of my own insecurities. Regardless, there comes a point in almost every traveller’s life when they start to feel like travel is the elephant in the room.
I know “travel editor” is a glamorous job title (even if it does mostly involve sitting behind a desk). I know I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have seen the places I’ve seen (even if most of those trips have drained my bank account). And I feel a bit sick every time someone reminds me how lucky I am, as though fate is waiting to make me pay.
“I’m living vicariously through you.” I hear it and I feel ill. I feel like a braggart or like I’m about to topple over the tipping point of good fortune. And while, sure, some of it is luck—like my recent trip to New Zealand or my upcoming trip to Vietnam—most of it is hard work and harder choices.
I could tell you to go do it yourself rather than living vicariously through me. But I’m not that naive. I know travel isn’t possible for everyone—that money, responsibilities, accessibility and other issues can stand in the way of packing a bag and taking off. But I also know that life is about choices and sacrifices. I’ve sacrificed relationships, steady jobs with pensions, and owning a car, a house or even a pet so that I could pursue the only career that ever felt right.
And it’s a weird career, isn’t it? Taking what’s vacation for most people and turning it into work. It’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re doing something wrong. But therein lies the irony of travel writing. Its very purpose is to inspire, whether it’s to set armchair travellers dreaming or to motivate aspiring and active travellers into motion. As writers, it’s our job to make people want to visit the places we’ve seen, meet the people we’ve met, try the things we’ve tried. To live vicariously through us.
“Must be nice.” We bring it on ourselves—I know we do. I’m guilty of posting obnoxious status updates to social media, checking in on Facebook at airports and Instagramming selfies with other travellers I meet on the road. And then, when I realize I’ve bombarded my feed like it’s an ad for a tourism board, I cringe at myself.
But that’s the role of travel media today, right? We’re not Paul Theroux, off the grid and writing stories from trains to be published after we’ve settled and collected our thoughts. We’re in-the-moment reporters, capturing on-the-fly thoughts and sharing them as fast and wide as we can.
But I also think this is where we, as travel media, need to step back and remember that we are not the story. We are just the means for the destinations, the characters and the stories to reach the masses. Of course, we’ll still share our selfies and travel moments with friends and family, but there’s a fine line between showing off and reporting.
I’m still trying to balance it. Trying to balance my life on the road with my life at home. Trying to share my stories and excitement without triggering my own gag reflex. Trying to weigh what I’ve given up against what I’ve gained. And that’s why I don’t want you to live vicariously through me. Because for me, travel and writing isn’t about luck or bragging rights; it’s just a path I took—the only one I could.