Is Travel a “Break” from Life?

In Europe, Thoughts from the Bus by Mallory13 Comments

When I first started telling people about my journey, I heard a lot of this:

“Good for you to take a break from life!”

“So you’re off to go find yourself, eh?”

There is a stereotype that long-term travelers are all wanderers on a journey of self-discovery. Although self-discovery may be a thrilling bi-product, there are many travelers (myself included) who view it a bit differently.

I didn’t start my trip with the intention of discovering myself or to take a break from life. In fact, I never understood why travel is considered a “break.” Calling it a break from life assumes that you live a life that you need a break from. This is the same train of thought that turns vacation into more of a countdown to the real world. That makes vacation so much harder to enjoy, doesn’t it?

Travel: Life Optimization

I categorize travel under “life optimization.” A bit vague, I know. Let me elaborate.

I’ve started looking at my life through an 80/20 lens. If you aren’t familiar, the 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of outputs result from only 20% of inputs. This principle, also known as the Pareto principle, has a lot of implications for the business world, but this imbalance of inputs and outputs exists elsewhere.

Applied to life (and travel), this would suggest that 80% of our enjoyment and success in life only occurs in about 20% of our lives. That sounds kind of depressing, but the good news is that if you are cognizant of this imbalance, you realize there is a lot of room for improvement. It’s worth it to take time to examine that 20% in your life, identify the context for it and try to replicate it in other areas of life.

When I examine the circumstances/context of my periods of happiness and success, these are the recurring themes: high level of individual responsibility, out of comfort zone, an unconventional way of doing things, lack of structure, time for reflection, a good mentor, and intellectual stimulation.

I can get most of that through travel. So no, this is not a break from life. This is my chance to optimize it.

On Finding Passion

Through most of college (and post-college), I put a lot of pressure on myself to find my passion and do it fast so that I could be successful while I’m young. I’ll admit that, as a self-proclaimed over-achiever, I still struggle with this.

I don’t know how to “find passion,” but I think that overworking yourself to find it will inevitably result in burnout and/or disappointment. I’m starting to learn that for most people it happens organically. It’s a matter of knowing your 20%, constantly evaluating your options, and improving existing skills or learning new ones.

The thing about long-term travel is that time seems cyclical, which paradoxically has made me think more critically about how I spend it. I use the 80/20 rule to determine how to spend my time. Every day, I wake up and think about how to spend my time on the 20% that will add the most value to my trip, and my life.

I’m aware that I am privileged to be able to build a life in this way. I am thankful for that. I didn’t quit my job to “find myself” or discover “my passion” but perhaps those will both be bi-products. As opportunities come my way, I will take them, curious about where they might lead. I don’t know what 1 or 2 years from now looks like, but I’m excited for what will come up next.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I read your reflections with interest. I am glad that you are not viewing your travels as a ” break from life”, but rather as the very essence of life. Whatever you experience helps to enrich your life and live it more fully. I pray that your travels fulfill you more than you even realize. Love you! Having a very pleasant time in MO with the family here. Looking forward to see you at the reunion!

  2. I love reading your posts. I agree with your thoughts on traveling to enrich your life, not as a “” get-away.” My two trips to Europe (despite being only two weeks each) enriched my life so much and truly changed me as a person for the better. BTW I have one of your Spain photos ( wall of Girona) as my wallpaper on my phone!

    1. Author

      Thanks Meg! And yes, I agree – I’m only one month in and I’ve learned and experienced a ton already. Really looking forward to what the next four months will hold.

      LOVE that picture! Those flowers are everywhere. 🙂

  3. Love reading your perspective, Mallory! What an exciting adventure – physically, spiritually, emotionally – may your adventurous heart continue to draw you to deep insights and beautiful experiences!

  4. Mal, love your writing style and content. You demonstrate wisdom beyond your years…or maybe not, since you have the DNA of some very wise individuals. We think and pray for you often; for safe travels, and for enjoyable and fulfilling experiences.

    1. Author

      Hi Rex! Thanks for the message, and thanks for keeping me in your prayers. 🙂 I’m pretty lucky to come from a couple of wise humans, aren’t I? 🙂 My dad and I are meeting in Amsterdam and Athens and I’m really looking forward to sharing some travel thoughts and stories with him!!

  5. Wise words. Couldn’t agree more!! Really proud of you. The student has become the teacher.

  6. I love the 80/20 Analysis over here.

    I like to consider traveling as accelerated learning. You go to new place, meet new people, learn from them, and gain new perspectives and insights that would have not been possible staying in the same place.

    My recurring themes are: writing,personal development,physical activity, community. I can do all of these when traveling making my 20% complete. Never thought about it this way and let me tell you it makes it sound less stressing than it seems.

    Looking forward meeting up in Peru and chatting more about this 😀

    1. Author

      Cesar, I love the 80/20 analysis and I’ve been applying it to everything lately – including the work I do on the road. It’s crazy how when you actually focus your time and energy on the FEW critical things, you can actually accomplish more in less time. Just found another awesome article talking about this:

      You are really talented at building community, so I’m glad that was on your list. Thanks for all you’ve done for U30Xers. 🙂 Really looking forward to meeting up and hearing more about your thoughts on this in Peru!!

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