Written in response to Brian Roberts’ June 19, 2017 Forbes article, “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Travel In Your Early 20’s”
When I first read this article on Forbes’ Under 30 Network, I had a strong reaction, and took it as a personal affront.
My response surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense given how strongly I feel about travel.
It comes down to this: as someone in my late 20s who started traveling the world in my late teens and never stopped, I believe our early 20s are a perfect time to do exactly as much traveling as we want and are able to do.
And here’s why:
During that time of our lives, we may have the least amount of responsibility and obligation than we ever will again. It is also a formative time in life, having just left the comfort of home or the education system, and for the first time, we are venturing out into a mostly unknown world.
What better time to act freely and go to Thailand—for no other reason than we want to—than when we have no mortgage payments and no family depending on us? What better time to thrust ourselves even further outside of our comfort zones by plopping ourselves into a different culture and having to fend for ourselves, than when we are building the foundation of who we’d like to become?
Like Mr. Roberts, I also found myself in a freelance-based, jet-setting, nomadic lifestyle for many years after leaving school. In addition to the travel I did for work, I was also fortunate to have the time and means to travel the world for pleasure. Most of this travel was done alone—as a woman, no less.
While I agree with Mr. Roberts that not all answers we seek can be found at the bottom of a suitcase, I believe it can be worthwhile and important to spend those formative years of one’s life taking risks, taking advantage of opportunities, and doing things that scare you.
The answers I found at the bottom of my suitcase were not the ones I thought I was looking for. I didn’t find my dream job while abroad, or my “calling” in life, or my future husband. But what I did find was rich and life-altering.
Through traveling, especially the roads I have trekked alone, I have become a more confident, more open, and a wiser version of myself.
For me, “aimless travel” was anything but useless, and ultimately anything but aimless. The life skills and inner growth that I came home with will stay with me forever because they have so decisively changed who I am.
When traveling, we may not be studying for the LSAT, or perfecting our coding skills, but we will very likely learn how to be self-reliant, how to problem solve, how to ask for help and speak up for ourselves, how to interact with strangers, how to make friends, how to be flexible, and how to deal with people who have completely different ideas and values. We’re constantly building confidence in our ability to overcome obstacles and learning about who we are as human beings and citizens of the globe—all of which benefit us in any endeavor we choose, not just becoming a successful lawyer or computer programmer
If we want to think economically, which seems to be Mr. Roberts’ main concern, I think of “investing” in travel at this time of life as investing in myself—the self whose value is not dependent on job status, how much money I make, or how early I can retire, but myself as a human being living a well-rounded, more examined life.
Traveling in our early 20s is not procrastination.
In a time when humans are living longer than ever, we will still have more than enough time to find our path, build our career, and put down roots. And when we do finally do those things, we will be a more complete version of ourselves than if we had forgone those important life experiences.
Mr. Roberts writes, “Aimless travel, not tied to building a skill or business enterprise, is not likely to increase a millennial’s value to others or produce a tangible return on investment moving forward.”
I take real issue with this idea. You know who loves people with broad, global experience? You know who loves self-reliant, resilient people with the wisdom and understanding that comes from learning about the world, and therefore, yourself? Future employers. And future life partners.
Because of experiences I had while traveling, I am a better employee, co-worker, friend, and partner. I also learned that I want travel to be a regular and important part of my life, even a priority, and I am looking for a life partner who shares that passion. I’d call that a return on my investment.
When I finally did settle down a bit more, I found I slipped into “adulting” a little easier because of the growth I had experienced while traveling.
And now, the more I’m “building my nest,” the less I feel able to leave it because of the realities that come with adulthood and laying down roots. So again, I suggest taking advantage of being unattached while you can, if you can.
This is not to say, nor would I advocate, being irresponsible with time or money. I have been fortunate to do all the traveling I’ve done, and I realize that is not the case for everyone, nor is it what everybody wants.
I also do not dispute that learning a trade, setting ourselves up for financial stability, and working hard to earn rewards is vitally important—it is. I just argue with the timing of these things, and doing them at the expense of learning how we fit into the world before taking on the important responsibilities of career and family.
Too many people have followed the more “practical” path and woken up at age 45, feeling lost, and wondering, “what have I been doing with my life?”
People who feel certain about a path early in life, and land that perfect first job just out of school have a gift that shouldn’t be ignored. For those of us who were less certain about a path and had the desire and opportunity to see the world while still unattached—that’s a gift I will never, ever regret. The job market will still be here when we come back. The inner growth, honed life skills, and broadened horizons will continue to benefit us throughout our life and career—at least that has been my experience.
As with all things, balance is required to achieve success.
Leaving school deeply in debt with no job prospects, and spending the remainder of your savings on running away to the Greek islands is maybe not the best way to begin your adult life.
On the other hand, doing what is “practical” and “right” while never making it to your dream destination or while dealing with immaturity, doubt, and frustration probably isn’t the answer either.
And again, as with all things, if you listen closely, you will know what is right for you. And if it’s right for you, nothing that I say or Mr. Roberts says will matter.
Author: Vanessa Chumbley
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
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