Does Travel Have an Expiration Date?

“Your twenties are a time of exploration, not certainty. Get out and try, don’t sit at home thinking you should already know.”

As I approach my 24th birthday (in April), I am constantly reminded of time and how quickly it passes. At this time last year, I was stuck in a job I hated, unsure what to do with my life, and depressed with my options. When I decided to move, it wasn’t a terribly thought out decision, and one that was essentially made in a day. I had my boxes packed in a week and a plane ticket booked the next. I took a risk moving to Thailand, but that risk has become one of the best ‘mistakes’ I have ever made. I was terrified up to the point of getting on the plane. Then I realized, as I had on my first backpacking trip, that letting go was easier than I made it out in my head to be. Letting go of my material possessions, of my comfort, of my routine, was only hard until I realized what I had to gain. Letting go seemed difficult until I looked out the plane window and saw possibility before me.

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However, my year-long teaching contract will be up in March, and the ever-present question in the back of my mind is “What next?” As a young adult, you are granted that one year of freedom and exploration by your parents, peers, and potential employers. There is even a term for it- a ‘gap year’. The year where you ‘get it out of your system’ and then settle into ‘real life.’But I can’t help thinking- what is ‘real life?’ What if I’m not ready to go home yet? There are so many things I want to do, places I want to see, and people who I have yet to meet that I know will inspire me to grow and become a better person. Yet, why do I feel this looming shadow of ‘Grow up! Get a real job! Get a mortgage!’  When does my traveling cease to be seen as brave and adventurous, and cross the line into irresponsible and reckless? When is that deadline? Sometimes I feel as if traveling has a use-by date on it or something and it makes me incredibly anxious.

Frankly- the thought of the future terrifies me- as I think it does many of my generation. We are the generation that has been told since birth that we were incredibly special and could do anything we wanted as long as we tried hard enough, worked enough, put in enough effort. I grew up and went to college and reveled in having my only task of the day be to learn and grow and evolve. I think that’s why I chase traveling so much- it provides a break from the vast monotony that is ‘real life.’ Instead of sitting at a cubicle all day and staring out a bleak window into the parking lot you can enter a dark and dirty market filled with exotic smells and sights. Instead of coming home and doing dishes you can be dipping your toes in the sand and drinking fresh coconut water and meeting other travelers who all have stories and insights to share. Traveling provides adventure. While I realize this lifestyle is not sustainable- I can’t help but wonder- are parts of it? If and when I do return to ‘real life’ I need to do so having learned to find the appreciation in every day things that I do when I am traveling. I keep thinking that if I just visit one more country, just take one more trip- that I will be satisfied- like traveling is a meter I simply need to fill and then I magically won’t need it anymore. I fear that will never be the case for me, though. I find that the more I travel the more insatiable my desire for it gets. I remember in 8th grade I would sit in science class with my binder full of printed out Lonely Planet travel guides. I would read them in spare time, highlighting and daydreaming. I still do that, except instead of a binder I have a document on my laptop filled with all the places I must see and things I must do, before…well before I hit the use- by date. 

I don’t want to lose that sense of wonder. I’m not ready to settle for a life that I’m not ready for- or may never want. I am terrified of the unknown, but I think sometimes that fear is a good thing. Fear propels us into doing things we normally wouldn’t do, into stepping out of our comfort zone. I realize that travel may not appeal to everyone. Maybe some dream of having a loving husband and a beautiful wedding, or of running their own business. By all means, I hope that these people go for their dreams. I think everyone should do what makes them happy- regardless of what other people may think. I do know this- travel makes me happy. I am happier when I am traveling then I am at any other point in my life. I am not ready to go home yet because I know that once I settle down and get all these things- a mortgage, a career, a savings plan- it will be that much harder to leave and see the world. So I guess I’m not sure if I can answer my original question quite yet. Maybe I will be able to get the travel bug out of my system. Maybe not. Maybe there is no use- by date, but just your own perception and dreams and what you choose to make your priorities.

I don’t know where I’m going at the end of my time in Thailand, but it certainly won’t be home. I can think of many reasons why I should return home- money, obligations, that ever looming fear that no one will hire me if all my resume can say is ‘professional nomad’ (okay, not really) but I know that I can’t. Not just yet. Just give me one (or two…) more years, and hopefully I will have miraculously turned into a responsible adult that is content with making one place my permanent home. Until then, it’s into the abyss of the unknown for me. 

“Miraculous things happen when you decide to do hard things. In spite of all the reasons not to. In spite of all the obstacles. In spite of all the things to blame. Follow, follow, follow your heart to the life you want. In the end, it is all yours to create.”

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14 thoughts

  1. Travel doesn’t have an expiration date, but you may find the manner in which you travel will change. Usually because of time and/or cost. For many entering their mid-late 20s they find they have increasing funds, but less time. Or you may get a job that involves travel to many and different countries but, for much shorter periods of time. This is what happened to me in my 20s. My 30s meant less corporate travel, but more personal travel. The way in which you travel might change as well, more long weekends, less living abroad. But trust me, I turned 45 this year and can confirm those itchy feet and that yearning, it doesn’t go. There will be periods where you keep a lid on it, but it’s always, always smouldering away. Really interesting post, I like your writing.

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  2. I have a well paid job which funds my travelling lifesftyle. 2015 is already planned but there is “always more to do” and this is the major problem with people who love to travel.
    We can never settle.
    We are never truly happy.
    There is always….one more country

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  3. Sustainable travel isn’t out of reach, ergo travel doesn’t have an expiration date! My wife and I are 35 and 37 respectively, and we’re attempting life as ‘permatravellers’!
    For sure as you get in to your routine in one place and you notice years slipping by like minutes, it’s time to relieve yourself of shackles and immerse yourself in new experiences once again!
    Follow your dreams and keep exploring!!!
    (btw, have you looked into teaching in South Korea? Supposedly a fantastic way to subsidise onwards travel!)

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  4. I’m also in my early 20s and I feel like I can relate to this post so much! There is a lot of pressure to do something in the ‘real world’ and long-term travel is still not very well accepted. So happy to hear you are out there doing what you love though, don’t let anyone tell you you’re getting too old to travel – definitely not the case.

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  5. I like your post because it remembers me about my own dilemmas, which are pretty close to yours. Don’t think about this experience as if its going to get to an end. Your adventure is not only your stay in Thailand. The real adventure is your entire life. We all have our own adventure and we just choose how to live it. You can still live inside your “adventure” while “settling down” in a place. Who said that “settling” is going to be forever? You never know. Nothing is forever. It all depends on how you feel it and how you think about it. Good luck on the search of your next step 🙂

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  6. You should definitely look for a position that feeds your love of traveling. Maybe a career as a professional tour guide for one of the bigger agencies, perhaps teaching in different countries, or even try a career as a flight attendant… I’m 37 and I just started traveling abroad 2 years ago and hopefully 5 years from now, traveling will be my full time career. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

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