Last year, I went to Italy and Indonesia, and a handful of other places. In two weeks, I leave for Paris and Rome again.
Traveling has given me some of my fondest memories. It has helped me build confidence, and has certainly improved my quality of life. I have done some great work while traveling, and I hope that I will continue to. But it was not my first priority, and it never has been. Building my career was. Making sure I could afford it was. Making sure I had a life I wanted to return to was.
This “travel for the sake of it, ‘figure out the money’ and go because you’re young” narrative is corrupt. Traveling for the sake of it – city jumping and racking up passport stamps – doesn’t necessarily open your mind or make you a better person. There’s a level of fiscal privilege assumed. Being obsessed with escaping your life is usually a sign you’re deeply dissatisfied with it. The hardest part of traveling (that nobody talks about) is the fact that eventually, you return home. After all of the excitement and fanfare subsides, you’re left right back where you started.
“You have to travel while you’re young to make the most of these years” sounds a lot like the sister belief to “high school is the best four years of your life.” You better hope high school was not the best four years of your life, and maybe you should stop taking advice from people who think that life sucks after the age of 18.
The extolled virtues of travel, “See the world! Figure out who you are!” are only applicable when you’re actually in the process of creating a life you don’t need to escape from in the first place. The stories we read, the ones that inspire us most, are almost always about someone who radically uprooted their good-but-not-great life and set off on an adventure, liberated and free.
How about not getting to that point in the first place? How about building lives that we don’t feel stuck in to begin with?
I sincerely hope that everyone who has the desire to see the world gets to live that dream, and I also sincerely hope that we recognize doing so is not the most important thing happening here.
Traveling is a privilege, not a rite of passage.
And if this hasn’t occurred to you, I say with confidence that you are the exact kind of “privileged” I’m talking about.
You won’t ever be in your 20s again. That doesn’t mean planes will cease to take off and land in 5 years, or that you’ll be so strapped down with crap you won’t be able to get on them. It does, however, mean that your brain is going through it’s last and final growth spurt. Who you become now is who you are going to be. You’re determining 2/3 of your earning potential, and (statistically speaking) more than likely meeting your life partner.
If jet setting around the globe is an integral part of this growth process, that’s great. But most people are using travel not to capitalize on growth, but to avoid the responsibility of it. If your first instinct is to deny that this is true, perhaps you are more guilty of it than you’d like to believe.
Everybody feels good when they’re away. They are completely detached, and are being constantly stimulated by new things. They’re stroking their egos with ideas about what it means to be someone who travels. Of course traveling has become the ideal millennial goal.
And that’s also exactly why it’s become such a widely-desired escapism of sorts.
My point is: you don’t have to travel the world to figure out who you are. You can have a beautiful life now. If you get to see the world on top of it – amazing. But don’t confuse “backpacking through Europe” for being the crux of what will make you who you are going to be.
When you’re traveling, you’re consuming: things, people, places, sights. There’s a time for that. What determines the person you’re going to be is what you create, and there’s a time for that, too.
Look, I hope you travel.
I hope you travel with the knowledge that you’re seeing parts of the world may people could only ever dream of. I hope this brings you awe, and gratitude.
But I hope you don’t let it eclipse what’s really important: your life. The life you will return to, and the life you will have to continue to live. The life that was still happening, even when you were being distracted from it. The life that traveling helped build, not helped you run away from.