In less than two years I’m going to turn forty.
I believe that’s the point when I officially start planning my midlife crisis, buy a sports car I can’t afford, have an affair with the intern and wonder where the hell my hopes and dreams went.
Except, well, I don’t want a sports car, I’ve got a wonderful girlfriend that I have no desire to cheat on and I’m living my hopes and dreams every damn day. Today I’m in Mexico. Next month, Belize. The month after that it’s the US, then Australia. By the time that birthday rolls around in 2015, I’ll have been travelling continually for nearly four years, set foot on every continent in the world and run a marathon.
And then I’ll set some really ambitious goals.
There’s a belief out there that long term travel — if it happens at all — is just for those in their early twenties. Young and carefree, the theory goes, they party their way around the world for six or twelve months, staying in dirty hostels, showering once a week, hooking up regularly and spending more on booze and birth control than every other expense combined.
Sure, that’s a thing. If you’re young and single, go for it. It’s a lot more fun than stacking boxes at Walmart or living in your parent’s basement for a year after college, and other than the hangovers and pregnancy scares, you’ll get a lot more out of it as well.
But it’s not the only thing.
There’s no law that says that the fun has to stop at thirty. Governments don’t stop giving out passports just because you don’t go clubbing until six in the morning any more. Airlines will still happily take your money whether you’re checking in a backpack or a suitcase, and guesthouse owners in Thailand couldn’t care less if you’re 23 or 73.
In fact, if you’re seriously considering a life on the road for a few months or years, I’d suggest that being a little older and wiser puts you in a far better position to do it. Not being hungover every day gives you a lot more time and motivation to, y’know, actually experience the things you’re supposedly there to see. Not bar-hopping until 3am and then wandering home through the back streets every night puts you in a much safer situation than those who do.
But there’s more, even, than that.
Despite decades of trying I’ve never managed to successfully grow a money tree to pay for my travels, and I suspect you’re in the same boat. While taking shady bar jobs and cleaning toilets in hostels is one way to keep the dream alive, there are definitely better options. I’ll talk much more about working from the road in future posts, but suffice it to say that if you’ve got the skills, experience, work ethic and contacts from a decade or more in the workforce, you’re in a far better position to earn real money than the nineteen year old on the bus to Bangkok beside you.
The fact is that if you’re considering long-term travel (and by this I mean anything from three months to thirty years on the road), your age is largely unrelated to your ability to do so.
So is nearly everything else.
A few months back I bought a bunch of new t-shirts from some friends of mine who run a kick-ass printing company (you should totally check them out, by the way). The shirts have a bunch of different sayings on them, but my favourite one is the simplest.
I get a lot of emails from people who would like to live a life similar to mine, but there’s apparently always a reason why they can’t. I’ve talked about this stuff a lot over the years, how the excuses are often invalid and the biggest barrier is the one between your ears. I’ve even given specific advice on why these reasons are typically bullshit and what to do about overcoming them.
What I realised, though, is that I’ve often focused on the under-thirty crowd when writing these posts. It’s not that people that age don’t need a kick in the ass to get themselves out the door and onto a plane — god knows they do — but as I’ve got older myself, I’ve realised that the things holding people back from a life of travel don’t remain the same across the decades.
Not having anybody to travel with gives way to having too many little people to travel with. The fear of not being able to get a career started when you get home becomes a fear of ruining the career you’ve already got. Questions start being asked about what to do about health care and schooling, mortgage repayments and car leases. People get more scared as they get older — I blame the media for that — and then that becomes a problem too.
Of course, some of those barriers stay the same as well. You’ll never think you’ve got enough money, or that you can make enough of it in the future. It’s always hard to swap a life you know for one that you don’t, especially if everyone around you is telling you you’re an idiot for considering it.
I’m not here to sell a dream. In some cases, of course, your excuses really are valid. If you or a loved one has a terminal disease, or you’re a few million bucks in debt with no way of getting out of it, building a life on the road probably isn’t your biggest priority. If it all seems far too hard and you just don’t want to deal with it, that’s fine too. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not easy to overcome all of those barriers — in fact, it’s bloody difficult.
Doing this will be a big challenge, both physically and emotionally. There’ll be days before you leave where you’ll wonder if it’s all worth it — and there’ll be days on the road where you’ll be sure it isn’t. The bank account will be empty, the workload will get out of control, the bus will break down, the hotel will have cockroaches.
And then you’ll wake up to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. That invoice you’ve been chasing for weeks will finally get paid. You’ll dip your toes in the warm ocean as your Facebook feed fills up with snowdrifts from back home, and decide to go to Cambodia tomorrow just because you can.
How do I know all this? Because this is my life… and despite the hardships, I can’t even imagine changing it.
So, over the next few weeks and months, I’m going to be covering — in detail — what it takes to shift your life to the road long-term. Not as a teenager on their gap year, or a group of twenty-somethings backpacking around Central America for a while, but as a guy in his late thirties who once had a house, a car, a cat, a well-paying job, a pension plan… and chose to do this anyway.
If I can do it at nearly forty, there’s a good chance you can too.
This isn’t something I’ve really talked about before — certainly not with this kind of focus — but, as I mentioned last week, it’s time for a change and I’m looking forward to it.
I hope you are as well.
If you’ve got any questions or concerns that you’d like addressed in these future posts, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer them!
Suburbs image via rxb