A Dirtbag's Lessons From Suburbia

A Dirtbag’s Lessons From Suburbia

My sister and I couldn’t have more different lives if we tried. She’s busy working full time, raising a tiny human and planning her wedding with her fiancé. I live in a sweaty hostel in El Zonte, El Salvador, where I shower outside under cold water, live off fifty-cent pupusas and wash my undies in the sink.

But prior to my current living arrangements, I found myself actually living in that sister’s spare room for about four months.

When a hobo and a suburbanite live in close quarters for an extended amount of time, you start to notice a clear distinction in values and ideas on what it means to do life “the right way”. Hobos generally believe travel and adventure are the only things that makes you rich. Suburbanites generally believe in creating a secure and stable foundation for themselves and their families. These two strong ideologies have the potential for serious friction when under one roof. But I learned that with an open mind, a hobo can learn a great deal from a fellow suburbanite without even having to trade in their bread-clip mended thongs for office shoes or passport stamps for promotions.

Travellers aren’t all hippies, and not all suburbanites are slaves to the system.

Young travellers have been made to feel like irresponsible hippies by their loved ones since before the beginning of time. Constant questions about money, career goals, when we’re going to attain a consistent form of employment (like, something that doesn’t involve finger-bashing pinto beans down an industrial-sized drain each night – Zambreezy’s represent). And as a sort of defence mechanism, travellers in turn have started to demonise the mortgage-family-nine-to-fivers as sheep, sellouts or slaves to the system. Hop on any pretentious traveller’s Instagram and you’ll drown in quotes like, I’d prefer a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff. And to a large extent, I do believe in this. Currently, I own the contents of my backpack, two surfboards stashed in tool sheds in two different states and a box of small rubber goods I’d rather my sister not find hidden in her spare room wardrobe lest she never be able to look me in the eye again.

The travel quotes aren’t just waged against possessions, but anything remotely related to the suburban life. Mortgages, banal jobs, the grind, marriage… Not too long ago, I kinda felt the same, like choosing these things was choosing the lesser life, a cop out life for those afraid to truly follow their dreams. But those months living with my sister, I started to see some real value and beauty in a lifestyle that, as a traveller, I feel like I’m supposed to automatically oppose.

Normal people value security

My sister has four walls in every room and familiar household items her daughter can find in the same place each day. Understandably, this pacifies my niece. The routine and familiarity make her feel safe, soothed and loved.

I saw how sometimes it’s not as simple as abandoning your job cause it “drains your spirit”. When you’re working with this little team of people to build a life and ensure they’ll be safe and secure forever, you’ve got to sacrifice some shit.

I saw that true love actually might not have anything to do with having someone who sets off fireworks in your nipples every time you look at them for the rest of your life. That maybe it’s more about having this person you wake up next to every single day, choose to love them to the best of your ability and make a concerted effort to not be an arsehole to them when you’re stressed. Because they’re choosing you right back. They’re kind of giving you their entire life, and that in itself is actually pretty amazing.

We all have our fears

Sometimes I wonder if I travel because my single greatest fear is waking up one day and I’m stuck in debt, stuck in a relationship I can’t escape because financial concerns have my ass on a hook, stuck in a 9-5, Groundhog Day nightmare. I guess my sister’s fear is the opposite of that.

(Surprisingly) being a hobo isn’t all glam and glory

Us hobos usually don’t have much cash. While it’s easy to romanticise, being poor doesn’t feel nice sometimes. In a world that values productivity and achievement and career status, being a person who’d rather just rack up the shifts at our retail or hospitality jobs until we can set off on our next adventure and start again at square one when we return can make us feel kinda worthless in the scheme of things. We aren’t going to stop by any means, but the strong societal disapproval impressed upon us does make things harder.

Both lifestyles have their perks and drawbacks

We need to acknowledge we all get shit moments, no matter what path we chose, and it’s unrealistic to assume there’s any way of life that spares us those moments of existential panic, and for that reason there is no universally “better” path to choose than any other. So we need to stop competing as though there is. We are human, and we all have to constantly question our choices, question our happiness, question our existence, our relationships, and the direction our lives are going.

And every lifestyle comes with a particular flavour of shit sandwich. Some people choose to eat their shit sandwiches driving home from work in crawling peak-hour traffic on a Wednesday afternoon after a ten-hour day. Others choose to eat theirs when they have a constellation of mosquito bites on their calves and can barely afford their flight home. But at the end of the day, we all eat shit sandwiches.

Cover by Gabriel Santiago