The Problem With The American Dream


I’ve struggled a lot in the past six or seven years with the idea of the American Dream. It seems like everything in our lives pushes us towards the same inevitable outcome: start a career to get paid a ton of money, find a heterosexual relationship, get married, buy a home, have kids, pretend you have more money than you do so your kids can have every new product they see on the market….You see it in movies, in advertisements, and in the lives of your friends. It’s so mundane and, for myself, depressing.

When I was younger, I wanted to become a lawyer or a veterinarian so that I could make a lot of money and rise above the circumstances that I was born into. This mindset is something that I gained from television, school, and my parents. The capitalist system in America relies on this mindset to continue its revolving door system. But as the years progressed, I came to realize that I didn’t need money to be happy (as cliché as that sounds), those jobs are more and more difficult to come by, and a 9-to-5 job would drive me crazy.  I ended up going to college and getting a degree in Studio Art because I found that photography was a subject that I enjoyed and thought I wanted to pursue.

However, what truly sets my blood on fire is traveling.

Being in a new place, meeting new people, hearing new sounds, seeing new sights, smelling new smells… all of it brings me more joy than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t have to stay in expensive hotels and spend time around pretentious people who have to buy all the latest fashions. I can stay in a hostel, or crash on a strangers couch; eat the cheapest food on the streets; only window shop for fancy clothes; take the bus/train to every destination; spend no more than ten dollars in the span of a week. It doesn’t matter what I do, who I am with, or where I am when I’m travelling.

The paradox, of course, being that it takes money to travel. I see so many people spending their lives getting “good” jobs and chasing careers that will pay well “in the future”; the intent being that they will travel when they are older and they have money saved. How many people do you think ever actually get around to spending the money they save? Or saving as much money as they want?

As capitalists we always seem to need more and more. In reality, advertisements, social pressures, and a inane need to appear wealthy leech a lot of our funds to satiate unnatural desires. I have never made more than $6500 in a year. With that, I have managed to travel to Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. I never spend money on an excessive lifestyle (the most expensive product I buy is local/organic food covered by my SNAP benefits). I split rent with housemates, sometimes even renting out the living room couch. I don’t have expensive clothes and I wear them for years, my car is a 1997 model, my shoes get worn until they are completely useless, I don’t have cable or satellite, I have spent the last 13 months in volunteer positions that paid little to no money. Yet, I find that I am one of the most optimistic people in my community.

I recently bought a plane ticket to Tokyo to visit a friend who is teaching English there (there are ways to positively use credit cards). After that, I plan to roam around Europe and figure out a path that will lead me to do nothing more in my life than travel.

My problem with the American Dream is that it does not account for the psychological need that I have to travel the world now. I hate the waiting game. I despise the idea of domesticity. I don’t feel like I need another person in my life for it to be stable. I don’t want children. A job that is repetitive and mundane would drive me crazy.

My dream is to travel and photograph the world.