Why not everyone should quit their jobs and travel in their 20s

(a response to Dave Infante’s article ‘Why Everyone Deserves to Quit Their Jobs and Travel in Their 20s’ via Thrillist)

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

If you’ve been on the internet recently, you may have come across one of those ‘aspirational’ articles on why you should quit your life, sell everything and take off on a surely enlightening and unforgettable adventure travelling around the world. I’ve read more than a few of these same-y pieces of writing. Then I came across this piece by Dave Infante. Innocuously titled “Why everyone deserves to quit their jobs and travel in their 20s”, this article is actually written as a parody for all those repetitive and mostly un-enlightening posts demanding people to travel right here, right now.

Travelling pretty much looks like this all the time...
Travelling pretty much looks like this all the time… via wisze @Flickr

Initially, Infante’s article pissed me off. How dare he make fun of all those travel bloggers who are just trying to inspire others to become more than an armchair traveller?! It seemed like an online vomit of sour grapes. So much of what he mentions irritated me – his insinuation that most travellers have a sense of entitlement, a trust fund, and an irresponsible attitude towards the rest of society.

But then, I couldn’t stop thinking about his words. The point he is making is actually a relevant and largely unheard opinion. Although I stand on the opposite side of the argument to him in many ways, I can definitely see it from both angles.

Here’s what it comes down to: not everyone in their 20s can or should take off travelling for a year or more. Aspirational articles telling you why you “should”, “can afford to” or “are missing out if you don’t” travel the world in your 20s (or whenever) have a potential side-effect of making the average Joe who isn’t travelling or planning to travel right now feel bad about it. And that in itself can only be a bad thing.

In reality, travel more often than not looks something like this.
In reality, travel more often than not looks something like this.

The majority of western society have the freedom to travel as much as they would like, in theory. Thanks to the power of our passports, international transport links, the growth of budget travel and opportunities to work abroad, travel becomes more accessible to the masses every day. However, the majority of western society is not going AWOL somewhere in Southeast Asia as soon as they hit 21.

Long-term travel is not for everyone in their 20s – take it from a fairly well-travelled 20-something. Imagine spending more than a year saving up for a trip, taking the trip and within four months of leaving home being broke again. I, like many travellers, have sacrificed financial stability for the freedom of life on the road. It’s not a choice I make lightly and many people are far more sensible with their finances than me – rightly so.

Here’s something those ‘aspirational’ why-you-must-travel-now articles don’t tell you – travel isn’t glamorous. Rarely so. Unless maybe you are one of those trust fund kids or the child of a celebrity (in which case, I don’t envy you because I can guarantee my travel experiences have made me far more resilient and stronger than you may ever be). The other day I was regaling a friend with the tale of when I had to get three flights in 48 hours from India to Sumatra, alone, severely hungover and suffering from chronic pink eye. The story culminates with me weeping in the corner of Delhi airport at midnight, wearing sunglasses. Yeah, the travel bloggers don’t tell you about that stuff, do they? So if you don’t feel like putting yourself through such ordeals even though, apparently, it is all ‘character building’ stuff, I don’t judge you one bit.

Infante says in his anti-aspirational article that “in between the ages of 20 and 30, nothing matters” [sic]. Travel bloggers are 100% guilty of enforcing this belief. They never mention the fact that they are probably still 10 years from ever owning real estate and don’t even have a pension fund (and if they did it would be empty). Or how about the precious time with friends and family that you are forsaking for the love of travel? As Infante well knows, travellers are making sacrifices as much as non-travellers, they are just far more secretive about it.

Spoiler alert: travel does not often result in meeting your soulmate (image via Yansen Sugiarto @ Flickr)
Spoiler alert: travel does not often result in meeting your soulmate (image via Yansen Sugiarto @ Flickr).

Just as those “go travelling now!” articles crop up on Facebook on a regular basis, so do photographs of weddings and pregnancy/engagement announcements. I don’t bat an eyelid when I see a piece promoting travel – I’m all over it, mate. But when I see what feels like everybody of my age ‘settling down’ and making love-nests all over the world, I sometimes experience a moment of panic: “OhfuckIamnowherenearhavingkidsorgettingmarriedorevenhavingacommittedrelationship!” We all know we aren’t supposed to be competing and it isn’t a race (impatient ovaries aside) but we are all going to do it from time to time. We can’t ‘have it all’, we only need to be happy with whatever we do have. Trust your journey: no one else’s matters.

So, I’m pretty much in agreement with Dave Infante that not everyone needs to go travelling in their 20s; I’m as over those regurgitated articles as he is. A friend of mine recently came up with an excellent bee-related metaphor as to why we can’t all live a life of travel: “We need the worker bees. We can’t all be spazzing out in the corner.” (excuse the turn of phrase). As one of those that are currently ‘spazzing out’ I fully respect what the worker bees are doing back home in the UK. Someday I’ll probably join their ranks again.

I must admit, I do believe that everyone should get to experience long-term travel at least once in their lifetime. The world is a huge and fascinating place which is, to be honest, worth a look. But it doesn’t have to be in your 20s. There shouldn’t be this pressure on travelling in your 20s just as their shouldn’t be pressure on settling down, getting married or making babies. So let’s all stop pressuring each other and leave each to do his or her own thing. That will surely lead to a happier hive.

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