Age is a strange thing. Many of us reckon that we’re still exactly the same people inside as we get older. I don’t think that’s true. Our experiences, both good and bad, make us into a different version of ourselves. There’s a lot of received wisdom out there that we should travel when we’re young. I certainly did. But is travel wasted on the young?
Now there are a more visible group of people who hit the road once their domestic and professional responsibilities lessened – children, house, career. There’s a thriving group of older travelers out there. I say that we should continue to travel no matter what our age. And here’s why.
Travel While You Can
This takes on a new meaning with the passage of years. In my teens and twenties, it meant traveling before I was tied down by career progression, mortgages and family. Now it means seeing the world while I’m still well enough to enjoy the experiences it brings.
For some people, responsibilities at an early age meant that travel couldn’t happen then. Some had their children early. Others were carers for family members. Those experiences will have shaped them the way travel at a later stage may shape them further. It’s not all over because you didn’t do it while you were young.
I was lucky enough to be with my mum on her first flight. It happened to be accompanied by hydraulic problems, leading to a guard of fire service personnel and the airstairs in use at Boston Logan. She eyed the double ranks of uniformed personnel and told me later that she thought it must have been normal, as no one seemed panicked. She’d been a carer all her life: her father, her brother, my stepfather. Fifteen years after that memorable Boston touchdown, she’d worked in Madrid, Sacramento, and was on her way to Australia to live the expat life. Never say never. Just grab the chances with both hands.
Travel’s Good At Any Age. For Different Reasons.
Travel While You’re Young
I checked out some articles inspiring people to travel while young. You’ll be in better physical condition, they explain, and you won’t mind roughing it, backpacking being for the younger generation. You’ve got fewer responsibilities and you’ll learn how to manage your money. Your life will be enriched, and you’ll meet new people. You’ll be more appreciative of what you have. Travel teaches you to be adventurous, makes you compassionate, gives you the power of empathy and allows you to experience different cultures. It alters your relationships with yourself, others and the world at large.
Travel While You’re Old
I have news for you. All of those things are possible later in life.
Your physical condition is different. There are pros and cons attached. Age can lead to better treatment of the one body you have, and a vow to care for it by nourishing it well, boosting its endorphins through exercise and appreciating more all the work it does for you. Roughing it is still possible.
All those things that you’re meant to learn and appreciate in your twenties? That still applies in your fifties and beyond. There’s a theory of learning that includes a term known as being consciously incompetent. We know we still have plenty to learn. And one of the joys of traveling later in life is that you appreciate how much there still is to discover and understand. It renews you over and over again.
Why Travel Is Wasted On The Young
Life Experiences Can Make Travel Poignant
Sadness is by no means confined to later life. But when you’ve faced some of life’s challenges over many decades, the sweet experiences are sweeter. You become more conscious of your own fragility and your own mortality. You realise that all things pass, and you come to appreciate the present more.
You Try To Live In The Moment
I find that I experience things more now. I’m more present in the moment. My senses are far more open to taking things in. I can let the background noise of my everyday life go, and appreciate what is happening now. You might have learned that earlier than I did.
You Take More Pleasure In What You Can Do
I appreciate more what my body is doing for me. The one time in my life I took a parachute jump, I was way too busy being scared and trying not to show it. I didn’t accept what an incredible thing my body was doing way higher up in the air than it will ever manage again without some form of conveyance. Now when I hike somewhere or go wild swimming, I’m conscious of the sensations and the skills involved.
You Leave Your Comfort Zone Behind
Travel makes you bid farewell to your comfort zone. Of course, you can travel in a cocoon-like space, blissfully unreceptive to what is going on around you. But what a waste! I like to go to places and have experiences that challenge the way I see the world and myself. I want it to make me a better person. Do I want snuggly slippers and my sofa? Oooh yes! But I also want to see so much of this beautiful planet, and to appreciate it while I can.
You Appreciate Your Resourcefulness
Lost in Brussels without wifi? Retrace your steps and try again. Broken your arm before a key event? Take a backpack, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things that would have frazzled me earlier now don’t. Life’s for cracking on with things.
Is Travel Wasted On The Young?
Of course not. My tongue was firmly in my cheek. But it’s not wasted on the old either. Most of us still have room for plenty more miles on the clock. The bodywork’s not what it used to be. The engine runs rough on a cold morning. But we vintage machines can still purr our way along the road as sweetly as the sleek models new from the production line.
I wrote everything I learned in 50 years on the road. What has travel taught you so far? What do you hope it’s got left to share?