If aliens descended on Earth and decided, for some reason, to take stock of the travel blogosphere or even the landscape of travel related content on social media, they would quickly surmise that travel was only for younger people with 6-pack abs or a bikini that exists in theory only. The truth of the matter though is that the average age of both Twitter and Facebook users is in the late-30s and there are just as many 30, 40 and 50-something travel writers and bloggers out there as there are younger 20-somethings. (Henceforth referred to as KIDS.) But the media seems to highlight just the younger folks, those whose living is made from wearing a bikini in various areas of the world or by living on $5 a day in Thailand. And that’s too bad, because it makes the average, normal traveler (99.9% of the world) think that exceptional and amazing travel experiences are out of reach for them. That it’s only by taking a gap year when you’re 22 that you can embark on journeys that will shake you to your core. That’s not true, and so I thought I’d share some words of (hopeful) wisdom from this newbie 40-something on what we should all keep in mind about the travel experience as we grow older.
Don’t Be Afraid
If you stop to think – really think – about your life, I believe like me you’ll realize that a lot of what we all do is fear based. We’re afraid of making our significant others angry, so we don’t criticize when perhaps we should. We’re afraid of being wrong, so we don’t always speak up at work. We’re afraid of making big decisions, because of the ramifications they could have; and so on. A lot of what we do, from the small stuff to epic, life-changing decisions are all based on fear and that is especially true when it comes to travel. Whether people admit it or not, what keeps many of my fellow Americans from traveling more isn’t budget or time off from work, it’s fear. It’s a fear of the unknown, fear of the other and fear just for the sake of fear. The great thing about the travel experience though is almost immediately you realize how silly all of those fears are, but you have to take that all-important first step. We also fear making mistakes. Travel experiences are an investment, big investments, but investments all the same. We want the vacations we take to be perfect, and it’s this fear of disappointment I think that keeps many folks off the road. They think that a dream trip is too far fetched a concept, when in actuality there really is no such thing. Every trip can be a dream trip if we plan it right. So don’t be afraid, save your money and book those tickets – believe me, you won’t regret those initial baby steps into the wide world of travel.
It’s Ok To Travel With Kids
Most of my friends all have kids and of varying ages, from high school to newborns. But almost all of them say the same thing to me, they don’t want to take any big trips with little kids. What I don’t necessarily understand is why not? Sure, there may be some extra hurdles for families that I don’t have to deal with, but I see families traveling all the time. Not only is it good for the parents to travel with their kids, but I think it’s essential for children to be exposed to the travel experience as early as possible. There’s an inherent education we receive when we travel and that’s especially true for young kids. Trying new foods, seeing alien landscapes and meeting people who speak different languages aren’t just nice things for children to experience, it’s vital in their development. By traveling from an early age, your kids will be smarter, more socially and culturally aware and more patient than their friends of the same age. Travel at its core is all about education, so why wouldn’t you expose your kids to that?
Embrace the Fact We’re Not Cool Anymore
1994 was a great year. Bill Clinton was President, grunge music and flannel were all the rage and we were in the prime of our lives. For me, I had just graduated high school and was starting college, embarking on a new and exciting chapter in my life. We could do no wrong, we were the champions and heroes of the 1990s. We didn’t invent the Internet, but we perfected it and helped usher in the tech-driven 21st century from which the kids of today are now benefiting. But guess what, we aren’t those Doc Marten wearing, Columbia House CD buying, friendship bracelet wearing people anymore. We’re older, greyer, maybe a bit pudgier and we would prefer not stay up too late if we can help it. But many of the values that defined Generation X in the 1990s, continue to define us even in this new and slightly confusing millennium. We saw what our parents did to the world, the Cold War and the excess of the 1980s and we wanted no part of it. Whenever folks of my generation want travel advice, it’s for the unexpected, the offbeat and the non-touristy options. That’s fine, but sometimes we have to realize that we aren’t Ethan Hawke or Winona Ryder; we aren’t the cool kids anymore. Instead we have kids, we’re soccer moms and dads and drive minivans. When you travel, don’t try to be someone you’re not. So in addition to those offbeat places, also embrace the corny and the touristy, go to the major sites and have fun. I’ve said it a million times, but popular sites are popular for a reason. They’re usually amazing. By falling back into our counter-culture, anti-mainstream ways we deprive ourselves sometimes of amazing experiences for no good reason.
Stop Wasting Time
Let’s be clear, I don’t consider 40 to be old and I’m hopefully many decades away from being any more doddering than I already am. That doesn’t matter though, because the truth is that none of us really know how long we have until we shuffle off this mortal coil, and instead of putting things off or waiting for a better moment, we need to live the lives we have today and not the ones we might have tomorrow. For years, years, I worked in jobs I didn’t like because I felt like I had to. I felt like there was no other path in my life and that I just had to learn to deal with the unhappiness and lack of motivation that came from that lifestyle. That was wrong. What I failed to realize that none of us are on a rigid path, we all zig and zag on a daily basis and that to accept these deviations in our lives isn’t only ok, it’s necessary. Looking at the kids today, Millennials, they seem to understand this in a way that my own generation (Gen X) and definitely my parent’s generation (Baby Boomers) do not. It’s a matter of the times in which we live, no doubt there. My mother was raised by parents who were always haunted by the specter of the Great Depression and World War II, which meant finding a job, any job, and working at it as hard as you can until you die or retire. If you do retire, that’s when you can have some fun. That lesson was handed down to me and I accepted it for a long time, too long. It was only when I was thankfully pushed forcefully off of that path that I saw it for what it was. Not a single lonely road, but part of a great collection of paths and avenues, all waiting for me to try them out. If we want to change our lives or if we want something more in our lives, we have to act on that today, because tomorrow is frankly far too late. Go, plan that trip you’ve always wanted to take and don’t look back. Life isn’t about the past, it’s about continuously moving forward.
I like being 40 more than I ever thought I would and while some of my friends have had “issues” dealing with this new decade in our lives, I’m excited by it. I don’t want to be 20-something, that wasn’t a terrific decade for me. I was poor, inexperienced and while I thought I knew everything, looking back at it I knew precious little. But those of us who are now in our 40s come from a very special generation of people. We changed the way the world works and through our cynical, overachieving ways we and no one else created the information age that we all enjoy today. We may not have the retirement money (yet) of the Baby Boomers or the bizarre “live for the moment” ethos of the Millennials, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some time off of work and go experience the world. Travel is not reserved for a special time in our lives, it should be a major aspect of our lives no matter our age. So don’t count yourselves out, don’t fall back into our shared cynical thought patterns. Be optimistic and realize that travel and life is all about the present, not the halcyon days of the 90s and certainly not for an undetermined and never promised future.