Over the weekend, Buzzfeed posted a video called, “10 Trips You NEED To Take In Your 20s“. It’s silly, and meant to inspire travel, which I don’t deny that it does.
This video solidifies this notion most of us have that your 20s are the time to travel, as you have potentially fewer responsibilities in life. Moreover, your 20s are the time to do crazy things when you travel: skateboard behind a car, party recklessly on spring break, jump off of a cliff (twice).
Despite writing online about my travels for eight years now, I’m relatively new to the travel blogging community and the subsequent social media. Since signing up for Twitter and Facebook in the past year, I’ve come across a lot of fellow travellers, and I’ve read a lot of biographies. One line that pops up a lot? “I’m a twenty-something traveller.” Recently, when reading another Twitter bio with the same line, I had a sudden thought: I’m not going to be a twenty-something traveller for much longer. I turn 30 next spring.
Depending on where I am in the world, these days I’m often the oldest or one of the oldest at the average hostel. In my experience, this rings true for Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia, but I found more people my age in Central and South America, Africa, and the Subcontinent. The thing is, I really don’t care about age; if someone is fun and interesting to talk with, I will talk with him or her. I’ve travelled with 19 year olds and travelled with 57 year olds – it really doesn’t matter, as long as that person is respectful and genuine. I think it’s quite healthy and important to have friends of all ages.
We all know the typical questions everyone asks on the road: where are you from, where did you come from, where are you going, and how long are you travelling for. A lot of people also ask about age.
“I’m so jealous,” one young woman told me in Rome. “I wish I had done as much travelling as you.” Well, at her age (22), I had done probably the same amount that she had already done. It’s not rocket science: with more years comes more experience. In my case, with more years comes more travel. In the past 11 years of adulthood, I have finished a Bachelor’s degree, visited six continents, and had such varying jobs as a bartender, a textbook writer, and a red carpet assistant (remind me to tell the story of when I had to interview Brad Pitt). Yes, I’ve done a lot, but it’s taken me eleven years to do it all.
So what does it mean to be a 30-something traveller? I’ve been on the road or lived abroad since I was newly 22, so my 30th birthday will mark 8 years of nomadic life. Plenty of my friends are in their 30s, and some of them are travellers, too. Some of them have steady careers, some are married. Katka recently wrote about another Buzzfeed article that was making the rounds, one titled “30 Signs You’re Almost 30” – I definitely laughed at the article, as I related to some of the items on the list: having a bum knee, being really excited to stay home at night, eating fibre, wearing sunscreen, and my inability to digest Taco Bell. And today, I really did chuckle when I was asked for ID (only because the legal age here is 18, and I was buying a bottle of Malbec. What 17 year old goes for Malbec? Just saying). The thing is, I’m pretty sure I related to all of those things ten years ago, too. Katka brings up some great points, though: why bemoan getting older? Why not lead an amazing life, no matter what your age? And, as she highlights, travellers in particular often have “a thirst – and an appreciation – for life”.
When I started travelling, I was a dorky, inexperienced kinda-virgin (long story). I bought expensive hiking boots I never wore and followed my guidebook like a bible. I look back on that young version of myself and honestly, despite the insecurity and the naivety and the mistakes I made, I am so proud and so thankful for what I did and who I was. Through travelling, I forced myself to learn, to grow. I spent my 20s finding out what I was made of while finding out about the world around me. I discovered how far I can push myself, and what challenges I still need to overcome. I learned new skills, I cultivated my ambition and my creativity, I became a better friend and a better traveller. And yes, I did eventually have sex. But I needed all eleven years to do these things, to discover all of this for myself. I spent a huge portion of time flailing about the world with no direction and no focus, but I always knew that what I was doing was genuine and important, that it would shape who I was. I had rough plans for my future, and, for the most part, I achieved them, even if that plan was “lose myself in Southeast Asia”.
So what’s next for this almost-30-something traveller? Do I have one of those lists, the “30 Before 30” lists that you see all over the internet? No, though I have a list of my overall life goals. Over time I’ve learned that age really doesn’t mean anything at all, that, as incredibly trite as it sounds, we should count our life not by our years, but by our experiences and our friends and our personal satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if we’re young, but if we’re young at heart; groan all you want, but it’s true. My mum is in her 60s and regularly travels around the world, often solo, and I’ll be sure to follow in her footsteps. We should look at life not as a series of things to cross off a list or candles to blow out, but as something in our control, something that is malleable and nonlinear, no matter our age and no matter our priorities.
I had the best decade I could have possibly had, but I fully expect my 30s to be just as fun – better, even. I’m so much happier now than I was 10 years ago, so much more confident and driven. I balk at saying that I’m wiser, but there’s no other word for it: I know a bit more about how the world works. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve also learned that there are so many things I still don’t know: how to manage my time efficiently, how to not sweat the small stuff, how to retain some mystery and not be such an open book (hint: don’t blog), how to spell Reykjavik without Google. I imagine those things will come with time, and I look forward to learning even more as each year passes.
As for that Buzzfeed video: I’ve actually done all ten of those trips. Did I NEED to do them in my 20s? Absolutely not. I’d like to redo some of those journeys as a more experienced traveller, in fact. You don’t NEED to travel – we say we do, but the truth is that travel is a blessing and a privilege. Travel isn’t a priority for everyone, nor is it an option for everyone. If and when we do travel, no matter the destination, all we NEED to do is to remain open-minded, grateful, and reverent.
I remember preparing for my solo Eurail trip in 2006, and reading about a particular hostel that only admitted people aged 18 to 30. 30 seemed so mature; I couldn’t have imagined that, 9 years later, I would be that 30 year old booking hostels, buying train tickets to places I can’t pronounce. And what do my 30s hold? A Master’s Degree in London, which means some permanency, but a lot of smaller adventures, too. A lot of flailing about the world, sure, but perhaps with a trifle more direction and focus. Maybe I’ll find a career I really love. Perhaps I’ll fall in love, perhaps I’ll even have a baby (or maybe a dog). What my 20s taught me more than anything else, however, is to not put a timestamp on anything, to not base success on anybody’s goals but your own. Travel in my 30s will be very similar to travel in my 20s, only I’ll have even more experience to guide me (and more crazy stories to tell). Life is short, but it’s my life, just as yours is yours. And if we want to ride a skateboard behind a car at 35, or go on spring break at 50, or jump off of cliffs at 80, nobody and nothing can stop us.
Well, except for that bum knee.