A couple of months ago I spent a night on a boat in the Komodo National Park. The experience was part of a bigger trip that had been organised by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. Also on board: eight other travel bloggers.
What I came to realise while I was on that boat with these lovely people was that I was the oldest of the lot. This had never happened to me before in any social situation. I had always been somewhere in the middle, yet now it dawned on me that I had arrived at an age that many would consider “oldish”.
As a matter of fact, I was also the only one on board to have children. My lifestyle was so different from the other travel bloggers on board that I was glad that we could all at least relate over our common love for the great unknown.
I have to admit that I was a bit under shock once I had realised that I did not quite fit in the general age bracket of a travel blogger, at least not those that were on board on that night. I am 38. I am married with two kids. Yet I do not feel old as such. I feel a bit wiser than I had been with 22, and I am certainly more comfortable in my skin. But up until then I had never considered myself old.
Yet here I was, the oldest of a group, and while I still belonged I felt that there was something that set me apart from the other travellers on the boat. For a minute, I felt disqualified, as if my age would stop me from being a fully fledged traveller like the younger generation.
After all, when you read through a variety of travel blogs, and let’s face it, these are the filtered multi-faceted voices of the internet generation, you will see that most writers are somewhere in their 20’s.
They are backpacking, digital nomading and making life-changing experiences. They are sharing this with their receptive audiences all over the world.
Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong about this. I really think: Good on them!
But it can be intimidating to think that this is the only valid way of travelling and experiencing life on the road. The more I thought about it the more I realised that there was no reason to be intimidated at all. The over 30’s surely can be proud of their travel experiences too.
In fact, I am convinced that once you are in your 30’s you can actually have more satisfying and valuable travel experiences than when you are younger.
When I compare my younger self to myself now then I am glad to realise that I have finally grown up. I know what my place in life and society is, at least half of the time. Gone are the days of uncertainty and angst. I have my own family, my career, my identity. None of this existed when I was 22. It was an exciting time for sure, but it was also a time of self-doubt, worry and loneliness. These days I feel so comfortable in my skin that I don’t have the urge to prove myself anymore, not to myself nor to anyone else.
I don’t need to climb the highest mountains to stand out from the crowd.
I don’t have to put pins on a map to count the number of countries I visited.
I don’t need to expose myself to any risks.
And this holds true in particular in the age of social media where everything you do needs to evoke envy among your internet friends and needs to surpass the last big thing that happened.
Luckily, travelling for me these days is pure enjoyment. No matter where I go and what I do all I need to do is relax.
And I don’t want to boast but I have to admit that I do appreciate the financial security that comes with age. Don’t get me wrong. I too have dined from a cold can of ravioli watching a beach sunset. I too have bought my booze at a bottle shop to have a couple of cheap drinks with mates in a park. I too have gone hungry in London to save money for the attractions and flea markets.
And there is a lesson to be learned from this that I think is extremely important. I think budgeting and making your dollars stretch to the limit is a valuable experience that also helps you in other areas of your life.
But these days I do also appreciate the comfort that comes with a healthy travel budget. I love that I can travel in style, that I can have sunset cocktails every night at a trendy bar and that I can book rather exclusive experiences that may be out of reach to many other travellers. Unlike many younger travellers I don’t need to beat the system and feel proud of myself for doing so. These days all I need to do is make the decision on how to spend the money, not figure out how to make the most of my travel budget.
I am amazed to see how many people in their early twenties are on the road these days. Back in my day we would travel too after graduating from high school, but normally it would not extend beyond a boozy two-week stint no further than an overnight bus ride away.
The affluent twenty-something generation of today however is grown into the expectation of a globetrotting lifestyle. A year jetting around the world seems to be the standard these days.
It’s the coming of age of the jet-setting generation.
And that’s ok. Travelling is very educational. Most kids will return home more self-confident, more resilient and more mature. The challenges of travelling can help tremendously in setting you up for adult life.
But here’s the thing: Travelling for these kids comes with an expectation, it comes with a purpose.
Travelling needs to be life-changing or it doesn’t really count. Your experiences on the road need to expose you to new situations, new people, essential challenges. There is a lot of pressure on these young people, from society, their families, their friends, and themselves.
Travel just for the purpose of enjoyment for the younger generation is not a thing.
One thing that is really clear to me now is that I have a very different perspective on things when I travel compared to how my experiences were at a younger age. There is no denying that with age and life experience you have acquired a set of values and beliefs that might not have been there before.
Even more: I am now simply more knowledgable of things. I can connect dots more easily, I remember things about the history of places, I can refer to world events that happened during my lifetime.
I find that it is an invaluable and powerful source to draw from as it helps me understand a destination and its people better. Things become more accessible.
If you think about it, being in your 30s is just perfect. You have the disposable income you need to book the holidays of your dreams, yet in all likelihood you are not limited by the aches and pains of old age. If you want to you can still jump down waterfalls and cross the desert on a bike. Our generation has been healthier and stronger than ever, and only our own mind and courage set the limits. It’s the perfect combination of independence and freedom.
But wait – aren’t we also the generation to raise families with young children? Where is there the freedom and independence, you may say.
And I say, the simple fact that you have children does not need to slow you down at all. There is plenty to do out there that you can see and experience even with young kids. The trick is to plan accordingly and manage your expectations.
You may not want to climb Mount Everest with your four-year old, but there are still plenty of other experiences that are not just satisfying for yourself but also for the little ones. I firmly belief in the benefits of family travel for the development of children and the strengthening of family bonds.
But what makes travelling with children much more powerful is that you will learn to see the world from a very new perspective: through your children’s curious, innocent and inquisitive eyes.
It’s the most beautiful thing.
I don’t think there is any reason why valid travel experiences have to be reserved for the 20-something generation. Just because someone screams the loudest in a room doesn’t mean that they are right, the most convincing or the only voice in the room.
The 30+ generation is in the most ideal position to experience the world in all its beauty. We shouldn’t be ashamed of being tied up in a 9-5 job, married and with kids.
There is no reason to go ‘all in’ and spend your life on the road to be a globetrotter. Experiences are what you make of them.
Now over to you – are you in your 20’s, your 30’s? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – please leave a comment below!