Traveling and Existentialism

Traveling and Existentialism

Written by Emilie

Topics: Lifestyle Design

A little disclaimer before I begin: I am currently on day 2 of a very intense 7-day detox. One of the side effects of these kinds of cleanses is that your cells release a lot of toxins and you feel like a physical and emotional wreck. So keep that in mind as you read on.

Perhaps it’s due to my current state of delirium, but this process has really got me thinking about the last few months and where this is all leading.

Last year I had this tremendous urge to run away from Montreal. Everything was getting to me. It was all too familiar, too comfortable.

Law school was ending and it seemed like a good time to make drastic life changes. So I packed up my stuff, tied up my loose ends, and moved to a totally foreign country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. I wanted to be lost in the world a little. I really viewed my departure as a rebirth of sorts. Goodbye old life, hello new life that I design myself. From now on, I am who I choose to be.

But over the last few months, I’ve noticed something interesting while walking around Copenhagen. I often feel disconnected. I mean, I love the culture and everyone’s really nice. But there are all of these people going about their daily routines- picking up their kids from school, taking the bus, going to work. It’s so strange… I don’t feel like a tourist but I still feel like I’m observing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m SO happy to be here. I feel much more positive and confident. It was the best possible choice for me. But I am starting to miss that sense of belonging that I was running away from. This wasn’t something I was expecting to feel.

I don’t want to move back home. I think that would land me back where I was before I left. In fact, I don’t think my traveling is even close to being over. But eventually I do want something… Some sort of community. Some place that feels less.. transitory.

Ultimately I think this was the purpose of my trip. I needed to get some distance from everything I knew so that I could properly assess what I value most and start building from there.

I think it’s important to ‘clear out the clutter’ so that you can figure out what you value and what you don’t. Only then can you consciously select the influences you want in your life. And that makes all the difference between feeling empowered and feeling powerless. So that’s where I’m at now- assessing more concretely what it is I want and putting future plans into action.


Whew.. hopefully you got something out of this feverish little ramble. If you have any of your own stories about running away from home, traveling, reassessing life, etc. please share them. My thoughts are a little half-formed on this subject, but it’s obviously something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Would love to hear about your experiences and insights.

p.s. A little word of advice… It’s really not a good idea to watch David Lynch films when you have a fever. They’re just confusing.


  1. Celia says:

    While I value your insight, I can’t help but notice that this ‘decluttering’ exercise is only possible where life has afforded you some comfort and good fortune.

    When you are struggling and concentrating your efforts to keep afloat, it becomes quasi-impossible to devote any of your time to this type of self-introspection.

    It seems, to me, like all this is a great luxury that very few can actually afford.

    • Jenny says:

      I hate to say it, but you’re wrong. It is a lot of hard-work to get to the point where you can move abroad or whatever it is you want to do. Just because it seems out of reach for you, doesn’t mean that it is or that the only reason someone else was able to do it is because they were fortunate.

      If you are struggling to keep afloat maybe you should reevaluate some of the life choices you’ve made to bring you to that point. It’s all about CHOICE and what you choose to do with your time, money, and resources. If you choose to sell everything to travel or move abroad then you take action towards that. If you choose to work everyday, over spend, then that’s what your going to do. If you dont’ take action on what you want to do, you’ll never do it. The question is are you making the right choices for you, or the wrong ones.

      Don’t sit here and say she has the luxury to do what she does or that she was even lucky. She took a RISK and worked hard to have the experience she’s having. Don’t take that away from her because you feel as if it’s out of reach for yourself. Nothing is.

      • Megan says:

        No, it does require privilege. The privilege of age, ability, education and institutional connections, as well as access to enough income (or loans) to actually buy a plane ticket. Also, freedom from obligation – I can’t pick up and leave if I have a child or a disabled family member that needs my care. I don’t think that detracts from the work that goes into picking up and moving to put it into perspective and acknowledge reality. Confidence and hard work might be necessary, but they aren’t sufficient.

      • A. says:

        Hmm, I don’t think it should be perceived as an attack to recognize that the opportunity to move abroad and go to university is a privilege. There are a lot of people around the world who don’t have the good fortune to live in Europe, or even have the educational background to study on exchange.

        It might help you feel grounded or put things more in perspective, especially when you’ve had a shitty day or are feeling down to remind yourself that you’re getting to live out a really cool experience that others wish they could.

        I do have to disagree with the notion that people who are struggling are doing so as a result of their own life choices. Some people are born into families where they have to work to support their parents or siblings; some people simply aren’t born with a skill set that will earn them a lot of money or resources. I think we should recognize that privileges we enjoy sometimes come as a result of hard work, but usually as a mix of our own effort and a bit of luck.

        • Emilie says:

          I agree with your comments.

          I absolutely come from a privileged background! I apologize if I came off as insensitive to that, I just didn’t see a reason to go there because I was responding to someone who is in a very similar privileged position. I think Jenny was responding with this context in mind as well.

          We should absolutely be aware of and grateful for our privilege in life. But at the same time, I think that being so privileged means we have an added responsibility to give back to the world. I also think that people do their greatest work and inspire change in the world when they are striving toward their own dreams and doing what they are passionate about.

          • Celia says:

            Is this a community forum where people can actually share or is this a space where I should refrain from participating if my contribution doesn’t amount to flattery?

            I have to disagree with the position that someone’s struggle largely relies upon personal choice. Good fortune and a bit of luck does come into the mix. Malcom Gladwell illustrates this point quite well in his most recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success (go check it out, I don’t want to bore you with the details).

            In my previous post, I was merely sharing the general observation that self-introspection appears to be a luxury that is largely unavailable to ones less fortunate than most of us (I too am privileged, yet I fail to understand why that’s pertinent).

            Beyond hard work, planning, and a leap of faith, lies a world of hidden advantages that we should identify and never lose sight of.
            Doing otherwise and fostering a false sense of entitlement for all of our achievements (where depression apparently ensues) would hinder the creative pursuits you have been advocating for thus far.

    • Megan says:

      The Gladwell book looks really interesting – thanks for throwing the title out! (And I feel you on the kneejerk reaction syndrome that happens whenever privilege comes up in a discussion.)

  2. Emilie says:

    Comfort and good fortune? It took planning, hard work and a huge leap of faith. I had to wait out 3 years of law school where I was indeed tied to Montreal. I agree that it helps that I’m single and have relatively few obligations tying me to one place, but I don’t think freeing yourself from your circumstances to reassess what matters to you takes either comfort or good fortune. You could do it.

  3. Rebecca says:

    wow… i commiserate with this on so many levels. i think it echoes a lot of what i felt when i was in reykjavik last year and earlier this spring. it really only started to subside when i started making some really solid and meaningful friendships with people who live there and i can build a routine with. incidentally, they are almost all expats!

    i especially understand the feeling of not wanting to go back but not being in quite the right place. i find comfort in humour, so i’ll leave you with the awesome quote from the simpsons that gets me through those moments:
    “we must move forward, not backward. upward, not forward. and always twirling, twirling, twirling into the future!”

  4. Emilie says:

    It also occurred to me that maybe this is less a “traveling” issue and more a “living abroad” one. I bet if I were moving from place to place, the fact that I’m an outsider wouldn’t bother me at all. I also agree with what you’re saying about finding a group. I bet I’d meet lots of cool people at hostels and stuff if I were moving around too.

  5. Celia seems to have a POV that is solely based on your fortune & comfort. Any large stones we upturn in our lives involve internal struggle. It’s not easy. You felt a need for something different than what post-law school entailed and you gained the courage to do it. Kudos to ya!

    As for a sense of anchor over wandering, those daily tasks you observed doesn’t mean it anchors someone. I use to do daily tasks constantly and felt adrift, seeking something else. You obviously long to contribute in a bigger scope and it’s wonderful to take this time to figure out what it is you want to give to the world.

    As for privilege, it’s obvious all of us are pretty damn lucky to be able to travel. I’m sure even Celia’s had her share of trips – local or not. People in certain countries will never see beyond their village or the end of the block. So “lucky” could be applied to all of us here.

    A suggestion, you might want to begin a couchsurfing profile and look for couchsurfing events in Copenhagen. I guarantee you’ll meet locals and other travelers, which might stem that outsider feeling.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Nomadic Chick. :)

      I have a couchsurfing profile and I’ve met some cool people off it. Actually I’ve made a few close friends here. But maybe it’s time to get out there and make a few more, reach out to some new peep on CS, etc.

      Perhaps this is also partly induced as a result of being at home all day, doing a crazy detox. Thankfully that’s over soon. Isolation can make us feel like we’re more alone than we actually are.

  6. When I first moved to Japan, I guess I felt the same feelings as you did. I was here, but I wasn’t really here. It didn’t help that I work a pretty non-traditional job in the eyes of most Japanese. I work noon to 9pm with no real overtime (ok sometimes I stick around out of guilt, but seriously overtime?).
    I’ve started to feel more apart of Japanese society now, mostly because I got married and started doing Japanese ‘stuff’ like visiting shrines for special ceremonies and giving gifts (Japanese are constantly giving gifts). I’ve started to learn there is a whole nother world that we simply don’t get exposed to as people that simply live in the country. I’m not saying you have to get married, but well, I don’t know what I am saying.
    As for this is something for only the ‘privileged’. I have to say that yes, as an English speaker I’m privileged. Being able to speak native English has opened a tremendous amount of doors that would otherwise be closed. But, it is our duty as privileged people to experience other cultures, to bridge gaps, to fight ignorance, to work together so that we can give these opportunities to the world.
    I mean we could be using our privileges to start unnecessary wars and further neo-imperialism, but instead we are breaking down borders and sharing ideas. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that compares to living in a foreign country. There are no books you can read, no movies you can watch. It’s the real thing.

    Cheers Emilie, good article/rant!

    • Emilie says:

      Very interesting.. Sounds like you’ve really found a place for yourself over there. Guess it just took time and building those connections.

      haha I SHOULD marry a dane. They’re ridiculously good looking! :P

      Thanks for the insight Neal.

  7. Marco says:

    What Celia said

  8. Emilie says:

    One final thought. I’d like to point out that there are other ways of ‘clearing out the clutter’ besides moving abroad. You can do it in little ways in your every day life. From eliminating toxic friends to spending less time checking your email. The idea is to clear out all the things you can that you don’t care about or that hold you back and then to be as deliberate as possible about what you DO want in your life. That’s the ultimate idea I was trying to express.

  9. james says:

    I’m afraid I’m late to the party, but I thought I’d add my own two cents.

    I grew up in a very shut down, semi-toxic family, the kind where things aren’t right but no one wants to acknowledge this fact. I ended up pretty disconnected, and had the very curious experience of realizing at about 15 that no one really knew me. I was very deliberate about keeping my ‘true self’ secret, and only showing a carefully crafted persona to everyone around me.

    It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve learned what it’s like to communicate openly, live with honesty, and be a part of community. I really, really understand and relate to the feeling of disconnect, because I spent whole years as ‘the observer’. Life is nothing without relationship. If there is a God, such a thing is there to be found in the shrinking space between two people as they get closer together.

    I’m mainly saying this because… my little journey of realization, healing, and self discovery was hardly visible at all from the outside. I love the whole ‘into the wild’ thing and have had my share of adventures since making my transition, but I’m really passionate about doing my best to communicate this to everyone I can:

    the world doesn’t change when your feet take you somewhere new, it doesn’t change when things happen to you, when you move, or when you change jobs. The world changes when you discover new eyes to see through, and to a great extend… I believe the best life you can find is one centered around community, personal growth, and helping others by contributing in things you’re good at. It’s too damn easy to say ‘if only I could go to Europe, then things would be different’. I was heading towards suicidal before I realized that was a bullshit cop-out. Excuse the language, but it’s important. Everyone not only /can/ engage in this kind of introspection… I’d even go so far as to say that a life spent ‘just trying to survive’ is the greatest tragedy a person could ever endure. It is admittedly much harder to make the commitment to do such a thing when you’re still in the same circumstances you’ve always been in… I’m definitely proof it’s possible though.

    one little side note:
    who says traveling is expensive? I have a friend who volunteered on cruise ships to do his traveling. Apparently there are too many old women and not enough old men, and a young man who can dance is valuable enough to give free passage to. Never tried it myself, but there is usually a creative solution available to those willing to find it: ). Course, you’ll have to find someone else if you want creative ideas on how to travel that cheaply when you’ve got a child in tow, or a disabled relative.

  10. Emilie says:

    James, thanks so much for sharing. Very wise words. It’s amazing how overcoming something big in our lives can really teach us what we value and also how much stronger and more empowered that can make us feel.

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