“You should travel while you're still young,” the well-meaning and wiser adults told me. “It'll be a lot harder once you've started you career.”
I heard (and still hear) those words countless times as a young person, and this blog stands as testament as to how much I took them to heart.
The question I ask myself now, after 28 countries, three languages, dozens of flights and more than a few travel-related illnesses, is not, “Was it all worth it?” but rather, “Was it smart?”
Some travel bloggers love to hate on all those who don't pursue the same travel-based lifestyle. “They're sell-outs,” they write. “They're wasting their youths, all they do is sit in cubicles crunching numbers. They're not really living life.”
For a long time, I almost believed those words. Whenever I made an unorthodox life choice, I repeated them like a mantra: “At least you're not in a cubicle. You won't be able to be this free when you're older, you have to do x now.”
I am now firmly of the opinion that it doesn't matter what you do with your life as long as you do it with passion and intent. While for others that might be anything from home-making to optical engineering, my life-long loves are travel, languages, food and writing, all of which I engage in regularly here in France.
While for the most part I'm very happy with my low-income expat lifestyle, and am very aware of how fortunate I am to be able to travel this beautiful earth, sometimes I feel covetous when I take a peek at what my friends back home are doing. (Thanks, Facebook.) It's hard not to feel jealous when I see former classmates landing jobs that I would really want: an internship with Condé Nast, an HR position at Google San Francisco, an editorial assistant job at Buzzfeed in New York. For a moment, I feel a glimmer of envy and think,”Oh, wait… I would kind of like a job like that too.”
And then what surfaces next is a thought that scares me a little.
If I do decide that I want a conventional job, will I be able to get one?
This might sound a bit pessimistic for a 22-year old recent college grad, but it's a serious question because unlike my peers I haven't been working tirelessly towards my dream job for the past decade. For the past seven odd years I have dedicated myself to world travel, not to the job market. Instead of snagging impressive summer internships, I've been working in Asian fusion restaurants in California, hiking the Ecuadorean Andes and sun-bathing in the south of France. As someone who currently cuts her hair in the bathroom sink and can't afford to pick up her dry-cleaning, I'll be the first to admit I'm scared about future job prospects.
Another thing travel bloggers love to hate is materialism, and to a greater extent, comfort. “Be able to fit everything you own into a backpack,” they advise. “Memories are more important than things. Don't wear mascara.”
To that I say that I've been saving up for travel since I was 15 so I can't “sell off all of my belongings” because I don't have any. I have one pair of jeans. I don't own a single piece of furniture. I have no idea what it feels like to be completely self-sufficient, to have a sizable check turn up in my bank account every two weeks, to pay for cable, to buy a glass of soda with dinner and not worry about the bill.
And once and a while, I think guiltily to myself, “Wow, that might be nice.”
So after my upcoming trip to Asia, nearly two years after graduation from university, I will start looking for my first job. And I truly have a fear that I'll be toiling away at Verizon Wireless, dreaming of Thailand. So I think it's time to admit the following to myself:
Maybe I won't regret having travelled in terms of my life, but I might regret it in terms of my career.
Which brings me back to the question: In terms of working towards a successful career, is it smart to travel young?
Personally, I have no idea. I suppose time will tell. I'd like to think that everyone's right, that life will sort itself out and I will emerge triumphant, secure and happily employed, but I'm honestly not sure of what will happen.
What do you think? Do you think it's a good idea to travel young? How have you fit travel into your life?