Haters Gonna Hate

The internet has been making me cranky lately. I’ve been sensing this growing resentment towards travelers and it’s making my skin itch. There’s the snotty comments scattered across the interwebs, there’s some weird infighting drama going on in the travel blogosphere (which I’m not going to touch), and then there’s the Eat Pray Love backlash. That’s the one that I can’t escape and can’t agree with.

Now I haven’t seen the movie yet but I did read the book a couple of years ago when it came out. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was pretty entertaining and I liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s personality and her emotional honesty. So I’m somewhat stumped over all this criticism. On twitter, in the mainstream media, even on my favorite feminist blog Jezebel people seem positively offended by the book and movie. Why?

Some people, like my mom, just didn’t care for Gilbert’s voice and writing style, and that’s understandable. Some found her story boring, which is fine. Some people don’t like the way she glamorizes third world countries (although in my mind Bali was already pretty glamorous, so whatever). The majority of criticism seems to be about Gilbert herself. People are offended by her “rich white girl problems” and her solution, which is essentially “navel-gazing.”

Here’s where I start to get offended.

First off- there’s something hollow about that accusation. Gilbert was NOT all that rich to begin with (although I’m sure she’s doing well now). Anyone who read the book will know that her world adventures were supported by a writer’s advance. She had a dream, she figured out a way to work and make that happen. Personally, I find that admirable.

As for the “navel-gazing” accusation, maybe I’m biased due to the nature of my own writing, but in what world is insightfulness a bad thing? Who wouldn’t love to spend some time getting to know themselves better? The book is a memoir- really what else is she going to talk about?

I’m not writing this to defend Elizabeth Gilbert, because she seems like she probably doesn’t care what people on the internet think of her anyways. And I’m not writing this to defend the book because I didn’t even LOVE it all that much. The reason I’m talking about this is because when I read these criticisms about her, and about full time travelers, they are not so secretly criticisms of MY life choices as well. After all, I’m a (relatively privileged) white girl, I’m eschewing societal norms to go travel, I’m writing about it. Hell, I really love pizza too; Gilbert and I are practically twinsies.

Eat, Drink, Sleep

Luckily I haven’t gotten a lot of push back on the issue. Most people I’ve met have been friendly, supportive and curious about my trip. Part of this may be a facet of age: it’s far easier to understand a young twenty-something traveling the world then a middle aged woman who leaves her marriage to do the same. Is it okay because I don’t know any better? Or because someday I’ll “get it out of my system” and settle down and be normal?

But that’s not really true either. It’s not just ageism, and it’s not just sexism either. Just look at the internet thrashing 29-year old Nomadic Matt is getting. Some of the comments on that piece are downright venomous criticisms of his constantly traveling lifestyle. Every long term traveler will have at least one story of encountering serious criticism. The internet now makes it easier to judge each other’s life than ever.

There is a certain self-policing aspect of society that has a real problem with people doing things outside of the norm. It’s threatening. When that someone is a major blogger, or a bestselling author, or Julia Roberts, well then it’s that much easier to want to tear them down and put them back in their place.

My major life philosophy, that I am constantly reminding myself, is to live and let live. You want to quit your job and travel the world? Right on! You’re happy with your life and career and content to stay where you are? That’s great too! More power to you. I have my own goals and desires but I am not so one track minded that I can’t see that DIFFERENT people need DIFFERENT things to make them happy.

I think that last thing is what’s hard for a lot of people to grasp. My happiness is different from your happiness. More importantly: it’s not a threat to your happiness.

There is no veiled criticism of you in my choice to quit my job. When I joyfully talk about my travel plans, I’m not implying that your life is boring. Just because I want to backpack around the world doesn’t mean I think you should (unless you want to- in which case: YOU SHOULD).

So in the end it’s probably a waste of energy to get myself worked up on the comments of anonymous internet users. I’m going to keep on doing what I’m going, and people can keep on hating if they want. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a lot easier to knock people down for their choices then it is to look at our own lives and examine whether we are living them as effectively as we can.

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94 thoughts on “Haters Gonna Hate”

  1. Well said, especially “My happiness is different from your happiness. More importantly: it’s not a threat to your happiness”

    To be honest, i love the travel stories for vicarious pleasures… i know i cant do so much of travel and not coz i am no more 20ty something.

  2. I read the book and I enjoyed it. Although I have few comments on it, I appreciate it more. Maybe people are just too judgmental and they think that whatever they have in their lives or whatever they think is good applies to everyone.
    And there are comments to travelers, indulgence. People who are ‘privileged’. And they sometimes refer themselves as “less fortunate” and all negativity. Sometimes, I get affected with these comments but I just ignore them.
    As travelers, we just want people to know that there is a world bigger out there. And if these people cant get through your senses, well, nothing will be lose to us either. Because we’re just doing what makes us happy. And we just want to share the joy of travel to people. If they dont get it, we can just leave them.
    I just try to look at it as there are still people who we can inspire to do great things, not just by traveling, but taking the risk of getting out from their comfort zones. Traveling is adventure and it takes a lot of courage to do that. And we all live by our own means.
    People, sometimes, likes to be haters.

  3. Steph-
    Great post. I admire how you’ve expressed your thoughts here…thank you.
    I won’t say much here as it has obviously all been said.
    I didn’t love the book – but so what? I’ve read many travel memoirs and of course like some more than others.

    I have been labeled in many ways: privileged, lucky, con huevos, courageous, crazy, etc. But overall, i have actually mostly felt a true sense of support from friends and strangers for my choices to go travel.
    And I try to stop and appreciate my good fortune and what i HAVE earned by being able to work to travel and make the choice to GET OFF the well worn path…for nobody else but me. Selfish? Self-indulgent? Well, yeah…it’s for me.

    I couldn’t have said it any better myself and feel your words bear repeating/pasting:

    My major life philosophy, that I am constantly reminding myself, is to live and let live. You want to quit your job and travel the world? Right on! You’re happy with your life and career and content to stay where you are? That’s great too! More power to you. I have my own goals and desires but I am not so one track minded that I can’t see that DIFFERENT people need DIFFERENT things to make them happy.

    I think that last thing is what’s hard for a lot of people to grasp. My happiness is different from your happiness. More importantly: it’s not a threat to your happiness.

    Perfect. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Lisa_ I like that you get that it’s not about hte book per say. It wasn’t a favorite of mine either, but the criticism has more serious implications than just that.

  4. I think it’s AWESOME that you love traveling. I think some people don’t understand how amazing it is to see the world and experiences new cultures. I LOVE it! It’s addicting and expensive, but so eye opening and rewarding! I am single, in my 20s and taking advantage of it while I can! =) You never know what life will bring, so enjoy every moment to the fullest! I hope you have awesome travels! =)

  5. I just wanted to update and say that I finally got a chance to see the Eat Pray Love movie last night. While it certainly wasn’t my favorite, and I thought the book make more sense, I STILL do not get the antagonism surrounding poor Liz Gilbert. I think what a lot of people – both fans and detractors, fail to notice is that the movie isn’t really advocating travel as a life changing experience. Travel is just the lense Liz uses to work on her life and problems. Some of the message gets lost in the scenery, but it’s really a movie about self-improvement, not travel.

  6. Hey!

    Thanks for this blog post. I’m another 20-something white girl, expat, traveler, and I also just don’t get what the critics want from Elizabeth Gilbert. Would they have preferred that she stay in an unhappy marriage? Would it have been better to stay in the US? Are you mad that she traveled to Italy and ate a lot a pizza or mad that she went to India and did yoga or mad that she went to Bali and fell in love? Or all three? I mean, seriously. I want to be like WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM?! And then I remember what you said. Haters gonna hate.

  7. I’m partly with you here Steph. Yep, haters will hate, and there’s not too much point in worrying about it. I didn’t realise your travel plans would be considered to be outside US societal norms – in the UK no-one would bat an eyelid at RTW gap years, with just the odd raised eyebrow if they’re using daddy’s amex rather than working to pay for it.

    That said, I wouldn’t like to see is the whole world turning into an early 70s coke advert love-in with everyone agreeing with everything – a bit of an EDGE is good in the blogosphere. I’m British, which means an average night in the pub means trash talking, cynicism, sarcasm and downright cruelty – it’s just the way we roll and partly explains why we’re one of the most creative nations in the world.

    On the Nomadic Matt issue, I don’t think this would have kicked off quite so much if he’d titled the post “Why I travel” rather than “Why WE travel”. I enjoy his site and his perspective, but he did kinda put a target on his own back in the middle of the post – it’s difficult to empathise with someone with only a few years’ of work experience talking about the crushing ennui of mortgages and driving the kids to soccer…

    So, ignore the haters – you’ve earned it – learn some good put-downs and use them!

    1. Hey Christian,

      I worked in the UK for awhile and was very impressed with the British and Australian attitude towards gap years. It’s definitely not true of the US at all. Most Americans would never dream of taking a year off of work- plenty manage to not even take the standard two weeks a year. It’s definitely an attitude in need to changing. Matt is American too so I can kind of see how what was probably defensiveness came off as condescending.

      That said, I can certainly be snarky at times and I do think the blogosphere is an important place for argument and debate. What I’m not so into is petty personal attacks in the public sphere. It’s not fair and it’s not right.

  8. The biggest problem I have are with boxers. Often travelers get put in a box as people running away from the world or just unsure about the direction of their lives. And I’m sure this is true for some people but it’s really not fair to generalise that across all long term travellers. But the thing that irritates me the most is travellers putting other travellers in boxers and playing the game of who’s the better traveller. I think this is so petty, pointless and really just feels like high school, it’s like please people grow up! No form of travel is more superior than others, not all travellers travel for the same reason and certainly all those people who choose to only travel for short periods of time or not at all don’t have any less of an enriching life than any one who travels. Enriching experiences come in different forms the same as travel can be done in different styles. And at the end of the day who really cares, I wish everyone could just let everyone be and get on with their lives in the way they choose without criticism and playing the superiority card! Lets just drop the labels, no travellers, no career breakers, no gap students, no 9-5 workers, just people living their lives!

    End Rant

    Oh n BTW haven’t read the book but i’ll c the movie just because Julia Roberts is in it! lol

    1. I believe these so called Boxers are generall those with no desire to learn or don’t “Think” they have the means to do so.

      Sorry, but people like that are weak minded and have no drive to enlighten themselves through travel to enhance their Life Experiences. So, they critize and hate on those of us who do make the jump and free our mind of everyday routine life. Screw that, I left Corp. Management to travel. Yea, the cash flow is a huge drop, but guess what, “Jimmy Crack Corn, my Master has gone away.” Now, I’m a Happy Camper!

  9. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, so can’t really comment on that. As far as the haters, I think the best thing to do is just ignore them. It really doesn’t matter who “gets” what you are doing, except you and opinions are like noses, everyone has one. 😉

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