Read traveler Mallory Van Waarde’s view on what travel really is.

“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.


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.”