For some the ultimate question is: “Do I blow all my money travelling or shall I keep saving for a house, get a proper job and settle down” This was the question I asked myself before leaving home at age 21, strapping on a backpack, and flying from Auckland, New Zealand to Europe for what was the start of over 17 years of travel.
What I assumed was a decision which could have gone either way was actually predetermined. No matter what age I started travelling, I would have got infected by the ‘travel bug’, now it’s pretty much ALL I think about ALL the time.
Travelling when you’re young
Travelling at a young age before the sensibilities kicked in taught me a lot about how life works, people and myself. But what’s more, it meant I was young enough to face challenges and compromises in standard, for incredible experiences without it phasing me. As I get older the standard of hotels I prefer has improved, the thought of an overnight bus to save on accommodation doesn’t have quite the same appeal and a hostel bed is my worst case scenario. Plus I have commitments now which take more time to work around.
Why you should travel when your young
1) Sense and sensibilities
It’s no secret that as we get older we develop sensibilities and consider the ‘what if’ scenarios. Things we didn’t bat an eyelid to before stop and make us think twice. Activities like cycling down the ‘world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia, jumping willingly out of a plane in the UK, diving with leopard sharks in Thailand and swimming in the same water where I had just caught piranha were done without a thought of safety. It’s also worth noting that these experiences have become some of my fondest memories.
2) How to finance the travel dream
“How can you can you afford to travel?” Well the ability to save is the obvious one, that and travelling on a ridiculous budget. But we can also enrich our experiences and supplement our income when we travel, how? By teaching English, leading tour groups or writing travel blogs for magazines. There are so many ways to get more from our ‘local’ experiences and top up the dwindling travelling funds.
3) Committing to a lack of Commitment
It’s true the older we get, the more responsibilities we take on and although it’s obviously still possible to travel, perhaps not for months on end as we did when young and fancy free. It’s hard to hit the road for 5 months when a mortgage needs paid, or kids to look after. At the age of 23 I would think nothing about quitting my job, filling a backpack and hitting the dusty trails, absolutely guilt free from commitments back at home. Ahh those were the days!
4) When things get rough
I really have slept in some utter shit holes, rattled around on some questionable Indian buses and compromised standard in favour of the lowest price so as not to sacrifice my experience. I didn’t let the dirt, noise, lack of air-con or risk of infection stand in my way if it meant ticking off another of my ‘bucket list’ goodies. It’s funny how when we are younger, we don’t consider these as negatives, but a necessary and fun part of the experience.
5) What to do with my future?
Personally when I travel and have a big decision to make, it typically results in me making plans for more travel and not dealing with the big question at hand. I was a machine printer when I left New Zealand and was unsure if I would continue down that path. I started travelling and have worked in travel now for 17 years. I probably wouldn’t make any big decisions when travelling, but it certainly helps younger people realise if the career path they chose was the correct one.
6) Where to rest my head
I’ve slept in some pretty atrocious places but never actually thought they were, why? Because they were cheap and fitted my purpose. There has only been one place in Thailand when I didn’t need any convincing. It was a room with a sweat-stained mattress and literally crawling with bed bugs but I still stayed the night, why? Because I was young, on a budget and tired. In Egypt I stayed in a place for GBP1 a night on a regular basis which had only a mattress and cold salt water showers. Now that I’m older my style has changed and tolerance levels are lower, but I look back fondly on those days and just how far I could stretch my money and still be truly happy.
7) Before the effects of climate change
How many times do we hear wildlife documentaries explain how the Antarctic ice is melting, polar bears are losing their natural environment, and that various animals and ecosystems will not be around in the future? What are you waiting for? That’s one of the best reasons to travel and not rushing to commit to a mortgage. I was shocked to see how far Franz Josef Glacier had retreated on a recent visit to New Zealand, and it’s has been said in 100 years the glacier will have gone entirely. If you need a little help being convinced to book your trip now, here is a little video.
8) Life is too short
Yes; life is short so make the most of it instead of making plans for the future. If you look back a year ago, then this is the future and if your ‘plans’ still haven’t happened, then you need to ask yourself when? You’ll have plenty of time to buy the house, find a partner, and climb the career ladder, so grab the proverbial bull by the horns, pick the place you’ve always fancied and book that ticket!
9) A unique way to learn about the world
Throw your geography books in the rubbish, that’s what I did with my marketing and advertising course books before tour guiding my way around Asia and the Middle East. Sure we can learn about cultures and dates from a book, but to stand in the desert and feel the Saharan dust blow on our face, to taste the ferocious kick of Sichuan spices, and float on the salty waters of the Dead Sea is priceless.
10) Story telling
Everyone loves a good story and when you invite your friends over for a dinner party and try recreating that night you enjoyed in Cuba’s old town, you can run through as many of your favourite stories before your friends manage to chew through the restraints. Good story tellers are ideal to have as friends so my advice is travel as much as you can when you’re young, and build up a database of them.
11) Learning to manage money
This is an important life lesson and all the better when we are young. One thing I learnt about travel is I never want it to end, so as soon as I arrive I’m already booking my next trip. This taught me how to effectively manage my money on the tightest of budgets, but also how to cut back on ‘luxuries’ to get back out on the road. Saving money takes dedication and travelling young taught me this very quickly. MONEY = TRAVEL
12) Appreciating what I have
This is one of the most important lessons travel has taught me, and better to learn it from a young age. I left New Zealand fairly naive and wet behind the ears not knowing what to expect. After encountering people from different walks of life, different cultures, rich and the very poor it humbled me and made me thankful for all I have. It gave me the gift to see the same situation through different eyes which in this day and age, can only be a good thing.
13) Taking an international stand
The holiday one night stand is like a badge of honour and hooking up with a local before we become partnered up is almost like a rite of passage. Whether you’re in the throngs of Rio Carnival, the depths of the jungle in a tent, or lazing on a beach, the one night stand never gets left out of the travel diary.
14) Depending on independence
The art of being independent for me first came when I left home with my pack, and ventured out into the world with a guide-book and keenness to explore. Putting our faith in the gods can be a tough decision to make, but independence applies to all aspects of life and better to have this one nailed young. I will happily set off by myself because I know I’ll meet people, I’m happy to trust people because I know I’m a good judge of character, and fine to stand behind my decisions even when they don’t go according to plan.
15) Fit, looking good and able to do anything
We look better when we are younger, have beach bodies and can pull off the usual travel garb like fishermen’s trousers. We can eat what we want and not put on weight, drink all night and still get up and hangover free for an early bus. More importantly we aren’t short of breath and ready to keel over when we hit the hiking trails. When I worked as a tour guide, I would see some seriously out of shape people who struggled on hikes when I wasn’t even breaking a sweat. It made me appreciate how lucky I was at the time to be younger, fit and healthy.
16) Experience the world’s most incredible places
There is something words can’t describe I stood at the Sun gate watching the mist clear to reveal Machu Picchu, the first time I saw a pack of lions roaming the Serengeti plains, or went night diving with moray eels. For many years, I viewed America as a country to see when I was older but the truth is, to take full advantage of the American national parks I had to be fit and able to hike the trails, go rough camping in Alaska and climb up to Angels Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.
17) Amazing experiences in hostels
Hostels are a cheap way of keeping the travel dream alive for longer, but they are also the perfect place to meet loads of fellow travellers who share the same dream. It’s easy as a younger traveller to accept showers that don’t drain, early morning plastic bag rustling in your dorm room and noise from boozers returning back late from the pub, in exchange for a cheap place to rest our heads and a bag full of amazing memories.
18) Foreign food and booze
Eating and drinking my way around the planet is actually more fun than it sounds, and it sounds awesome. Drinking local beers in strange countries is pretty excellent, but to be young enough to wake up without a hangover is the icing on the cake. Food is another one, although if I’m being totally honest, for me I would sacrifice good food for cheap food, to keep the travel dream alive for longer.
19) Because travel is awesome and why not?
Happy travelling folks!