Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I’ve ever had any regrets. For the most part, I haven’t. But the answer I used to give was:
I wish I had done a study abroad program when I was in college.
I’m sure this would have gotten me started on my international travels earlier in my twenties. But, that said, I don’t really have this regret anymore. It doesn’t really matter. I have more than made up for it, and to be honest, traveling in my thirties has been way more fulfilling than the travel I did when I was younger.
So I give you my Top 5 reasons I’ve enjoyed traveling in my 30′s:
1. More Disposable Income
It used to take months to save for a trip. Or it would take months to pay it off. Now, it’s a bit easier, and I can splurge for a few added comforts or stay a little longer if time permits.
When I learned I was moving to Africa, I already had a decent amount in savings, providing a good head start when saving money to quit my job. That would not have been the case ten years ago when I was lucky to put any money in savings after the bills were paid. But, don’t misunderstand, I’m not rolling in cash. I still have to make sacrifices-there’s just more disposable income to put in my travel fund than there was before!
2. More Self Confidence
There is no way I would have considered traveling by myself when I was younger. Nor would I have wanted to. I would have been bored and super self conscious in social settings. In my head I would have thought everyone was talking about me, the loser girl without any friends. Now I know that isn’t the case. And once you get out there, you see there is a world of people traveling by themselves and it’s quite normal.
I also don’t give into pressure like I used to. If I meet people out on the road, I don’t feel compelled to do everything they’re doing. It’s great to have the option, and sometimes I go with the group-but there are other times I have other plans on my agenda and I politely decline. When I was younger, nine times out of ten I would have just followed the group.
3. More Interests
When I was in the 8th grade I took a school trip to Washington D.C. I was about 14 years old. This was my very first trip out of state with friends vs. family. We saw some sights, but really we were more excited to be without parents. We spent way too much time gossiping in McDonald’s instead of paying attention to monuments. Years later, I went back and it was like I had never been there. I was fascinated by everything and couldn’t soak in enough knowledge. Man, the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian is fascinating!
I was 18 the first time I went out of the country. We took a graduation trip to Cancun. All I remember about that trip was drinking. That’s pretty much all you do in Cancun. And that’s okay; I like to have a few drinks-but now I’m not sure I need them out of glasses the size of yardsticks.
During the next travel phase into my mid-20′s, I was drinking out of regular-size glasses, but now I was running down a very specific checklist of everything I wanted to do. It was about going to see as many of the sights in the guidebook as possible, so that I could say I’d been there and taken a picture. Although I still have sights I want to see, I have learned to chill out and just appreciate where I am. I don’t have to see everything just because the guidebook said to.
Now when I travel I have a full understanding of what types of things I like to do, how to appreciate a city and the people there, and how to soak it all in.
4. More Experience
Although I didn’t do very many international trips until after I was 30, I had already gotten my feet wet. I’d been to a few of what I call “stepping stone destinations.” Mexican Resorts, Canada, a couple of Caribbean islands-just enough to get some experience so when I finally went to further locations it wasn’t as much of a culture shock. Now I understand maps, how to ride public transportation, how to be somewhere I don’t speak the language, and how to appreciate other cultures for who they are. I’m comfortable in most places.
I’m also probably safer.
Traveling gets a bad rap for not being safe. Many places are much safer than they get credit for. While I was traveling alone, I never once felt uncomfortable. I’ve been more nervous in places close to home than in many other countries. But that said, you still have to be smart.
For example, if I get asked on a date while traveling, if I want to I’ll go, but I will email someone back home to let them know what I’m doing, who I’ll be with, and then I’ll email them again when I get back. It’s smart, but something I may not have practically thought about before. P.S., a friend and I used to do the same thing during our brief stint with online dating.
I now find out which cabs to take, how you shouldn’t drink too much when you’re out alone, how you don’t have to divulge every bit of information about yourself. These are all good things to be aware of when traveling-but guess what, they are also smart in your home country too.
5. More People to Meet
I think one of the down sides of getting older is that your opportunities to meet new people become fewer and fewer. You aren’t in school, you don’t go out to the bars as much, and most friends are married with kids. However, when I travel, I meet an array of new people.
Most of this is simply because I’m not working, and I have the free time to actively be in a lot of different places. In addition to that, locals are interested in meeting the new person from out of town and travelers want to meet other travelers and share stories. Although you may only meet people for a short time, those friendships can last a long time thereafter. Plus, it gives you a good reason to go back to some of those favorite destinations.
This is not to say travel in your 20′s or any other life phase isn’t also great.
But lately, I’ve seen many lists out there of “things to do before you’re 30″. I’m not sure why 30 became the benchmark to get things done. It’s nice to set goals-but does that mean if you don’t accomplish them by 30: you never will?
Maybe people think they’ll have too many commitments after 30. And this equals not being able to travel and do adventurous things. Many people are successfully traveling with their spouses, traveling with their kids, doing girlfriend or guy getaways, and yes, even still traveling solo. I applaud them.
Also, I’ve seen a lot of are travel forums lately with questions like “What’s a good place to go if you’re a single 35-year-old female?” What is that about? My answer to them would be, any place that interests you!
If you’ve set the expectation that you can only travel in your 20′s, and then again after retirement-I urge you to reconsider. There is a large gap of life in between. Get out and live it.