I’ll let you in on a little secret. I haven’t always loved travelling.
There, I’ve said it.
Saying something like this must seem pretty odd. Surely, as someone who has his own travel blog, and who will freely admit to anyone who listens that travel is his favourite thing in the world to the extent he plans his calendar/life in general around it, I’ve always loved travelling?
To add to this, I was fortunate to be brought up by a family who, once I’d got to the age of four, tended to take me overseas once a year or so. Indeed, I credit this – and am grateful to my parents – for instilling me with an intrinsic, instinctive love of travelling. If they hadn’t, I probably would never have an interest in travelling at all.
But I guess that, at the same time, it also had a detrimental effect on my desire to travel in the short term. Because you see, I was associating travel in my mind with doing things on their terms. I was associating it with package tours, endless rounds of museums/art galleries and the countries they wanted to visit.
It’s a curious contradiction, as I realise that last paragraph suggests that I’m actually ungrateful and even resentful. But it’s precisely because it’s such a complex issue that I spent much of my twenties shunning travelling (beyond the occasional short trip overseas) for the more conventional route of career development and the like.
When did things change? That would have to be when, several years ago, I spent a month volunteering in Uganda. I don’t want to go in to my reasons behind why I signed up to volunteer here (that’s another blog post in itself), but suffice to say it opened my eyes and mind to a very different way of travelling, and the different possibilities that lie therein.
Now, I’m sure that anyone who has undergone a similar transformative experience at a much younger age – the classic ‘gap year’ in one’s late teens/early twenties, say – whilst on the road will tell you that as much happened for them. And I don’t deny it. But for me, I’m glad I fell in love with travelling at a later age.
Quite simply, I don’t think I was mature enough when I was in my early to mid-twenties to have got as much out of my experience as I did aged 30. Sure, I was one of the older volunteers in Uganda, and I’m not claiming that it’s not possible to be profoundly affected when you are in your early twenties. Far from it – there are people in their early twenties who are wiser and more mature than those of my age, that’s for sure.
But from my point of view, I did not have the life experiences and sense of independence aged, say, 25 to then inform how I reacted to, reflected on and moved forward from a month spent out of my comfort zone in Uganda. Which is why I tend to react to these memes with ‘life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ or some other similar ‘just go travelling’ type message with a bit of scepticism. Because not everyone is at a point in their life where it would necessarily be beneficial to them.
Again, I want to stress that travel can be a wonderful thing for people of all ages. I’m certainly not one of those grumpy older travellers who grumbles how ‘travel is wasted on the young’. For one thing, I’ve led and continued to lead a project that provides 14-18 year olds with an expeditionary/humanitarian experience in Tanzania, with precisely the outcome of their personal development in mind. I also know that the ‘gap yah’ stereotype can be as misleading as much as it has a more than a small grain of truth in it.
But I also want to stress that it’s never too late to start either. I’ve met people decades older than me who are travelling extensively and acknowledge they are fortunate to be able to do so. Which, I suppose, is what it all boils down to. OK so if I’d been ready to travel extensively in my early twenties then that would have been great. But I don’t regret not starting until my thirties at all. I’m happy with being a ‘late developer’; and others who are in the same boat, I would like to think, can see the benefits too.