I recently read a post by one of my favorite travel bloggers; someone I respect and admire. She wrote a piece on her trepidation about turning 30 and gave a lovely tribute to her traveling 20’s. It was a beautiful article, but it made me sad, somehow, as well.
She worried that no longer having the identity of being a ’20-something traveler’ would make her somehow less relevant or relatable.
I get it. I’m not so old that I can’t remember thinking that 30 was the ‘end of an era’ myself. I remember waking up on my 26th birthday crying my eyes out because I was officially closer to 30 than I was to 20. A few years later, it happened. I actually turned 30. The world was over.
Except that I didn’t feel one damn bit different than I did at 29. Or 28 for that matter. Wasn’t I supposed to be all old and stuff?
Now at the ripe old age of 33 (I’m ever so much wiser now, don’t ya know?) I can say without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t turn back the clock even if I could.
When did we put such a stigma on turning 30? And why do those in their 20’s hold the corner market on travel? Google ‘how travel is different in your 30’s and you’ll find a bunch of somewhat-depressing posts that make us out to be boring, snobby geezers who can’t hold our booze.
And okay, they’re not altogether off-base. It’s true that I no longer feel the urge to dance on bars, make out with strangers and do 8 tequila shots in a row because someone dared me to. I appreciate a good night’s sleep a lot more than I used to, and I prefer a nice glass of red to cheap draft beer.
Traveling in your 30’s IS different. But that doesn’t mean it’s not just as incredible. There are so many wonderful things about seeing the world in your 30’s as opposed to your 20’s.
When I was in my 20’s I was a major worrier. I worried about things going wrong, I worried that everyone was talking behind my back, and most of all I worried about making a fool of myself. I required a lot more liquid courage to come out of my shell and make new friends. No matter how much I wanted to travel, I never would have considered taking a solo trip. If I couldn’t find someone to go with me, I just wouldn’t have gone.
Now I know that not only is the world filled with solo travelers, none of them are talking about me behind my back. No one cares that much about me; they’re all too worried about themselves. Oh, and if I do something stupid…well, I do stupid things all the time. Now I just turn them into funny stories and post them on the internet. 😉
I’m also far less susceptible to peer pressure than I was in my 20’s. I have always hated clubs, even when I was 21. I hate loud music, I hate smoke, and I hate dancing (I know, who the hell hates dancing? But guess what? I do, and I don’t really care). When I was younger I always let myself get dragged along to places I knew I wouldn’t really enjoy. I did pretty much anything that other people wanted because I was so afraid that I might miss out on something or that people wouldn’t think I was cool if I didn’t go.
Now, I do what I want. If I feel like staying up until 3 am playing drinking games with the fun Dutch people in my hostel I will. If I feel like curling up in bed at 10 pm with a good book that’s exactly what I’ll do. Sometimes I’ll go explore a city with other travelers that I meet but if I’m in the mood to spend time alone I have no qualms about politely declining. I don’t worry about missing out, because I know I’m living my life to the fullest, not someone else’s.
More Potential Friends
In my 20’s I tended to gravitate towards people who were similar to me. Similar-looking, similar-dressing, similar-speaking. I also had less life experience so the only people I could really relate to were…other 20-somethings. I thought the whole world was my little world of school and dating and parties.
Now that I’ve been all over and done so many different things, it’s so much easier for me to talk to anyone. I can relate to people in their 20’s because I’ve been there. I can relate to people in their 50’s because, guess what? They’re not that old either. They’ve probably done a hell of a lot more interesting things than I have and I’d love to hear about them.
Traveling in your 30’s makes you so much more likely to reach out and talk to anyone, regardless of a language barrier. You realize that just because you come from different cultures, religions or backgrounds doesn’t mean you don’t have something in common. And no, I’m not just talking about how many beers you can each drink in a night.
When I do travel with my significant other it will never hold me back from getting to know other people. (Ahem, couples who spend 90% of your time gazing into each other’s eyes and seem to consider public transportation the perfect location to play excessive tongue hockey. Is it really necessary to climb on your boyfriend’s lap and grind on him in the lounge?) I get it, your hormones are all kinds of crazy and you just can’t keep your hands (or lips) off each other. But if the only person you really spend time with while traveling is the one you brought with you, you’re missing out on so much.
Less Fear of Taking Risks
I’m not talking about recklessness (binge drinking until you black out in a city you don’t know, surrounded by strangers who don’t speak English, with no idea how to get back to your hostel). I’m talking about having more confidence in your own intuition; your ability to judge a situation. I can name a number of times in my 20’s when my instincts told me that something was wrong with a situation, or that a certain person wasn’t quite trustworthy. But I ignored them and paid the price. I put myself in bad situations and as a consequence, bad things happened to me.
Now, I trust myself. If I feel like something seems off with a situation, I leave immediately. Some people worry that solo travel isn’t safe, but the truth is it’s as safe or as dangerous as you make it.
Having more experience makes you safer.
It allows you to take calculated risks, because you trust your own instincts. I couchsurf as a solo female traveler. Yes, I even stay with single men but I do it wisely. If I don’t feel completely comfortable with a potential host I don’t accept an invitation. And I know that if I ever did get in a bad situation I have the wherewithal to get myself out of it.
Wider Range of Interests
In my early 20’s I did a lot of crazy things. I also went a lot of amazing places & had the opportunities to meet some fascinating people. But you know what I remember most about those experiences? The drinking. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with partying with your friends. It’s a great bonding experience and it really can help develop lifelong friendships. I mean, it’s hard not to be besties after you’ve held someone’s hair back and had a 40 minute heart-to-heart in the women’s bathroom. (I’m actually not being sarcastic here – this is genuinely how I got to know one of my best friends.)
I still drink, even a bit too much on occasion although those are becoming fewer and further between. But to me traveling isn’t just about the next party. Or which city has the best nightlife. I actually enjoy museums now. I like to hike and explore national parks. I love art exhibits and spending a day on the beach. I go see the sites but I also know that it’s not about checking off everything on the map or hopping a bus to a new city every 2 days just to say I’ve been there.
Now I travel to soak in a city – get a taste of the people, the culture, the history & just the general vibe.
Greater Appreciation for Every Opportunity
When you’re in your 20’s it’s easy to feel invincible. I remember being certain that I would never get old or seriously injured. I believed I had unlimited opportunities; the world was my oyster. I spent way too much time either lamenting the past or worrying about the future. I had a much harder time getting over disappointments and moving on with life, which in turn kept me from fully experiencing joy in the present.
The world is still my oyster, but in such a different way. I realize that opportunities are not infinite. I know how blessed I am to be able to experience what I do. I don’t take anything for granted anymore, and I’m much better at stopping to appreciating the exact moment that I’m in while I’m living it. (I don’t always succeed; it’s a work in progress, but oh so much easier than it used to be.)
Please note, I’m not saying that travel isn’t amazing in your 20’s or any other stage of your life.
I’m not making comparisons here, or saying that these statements apply to every single person. I have met younger travelers who don’t fit the typical backpacker mold and older travelers who still don’t get it.
For most people, travel is a different experience in your 30’s. All of these ‘Things to do Before You’re 30’ lists can suck it. Why has 30 become this magic number before which all good things in life happen? That stupid imaginary benchmark that we set for ourselves.
Those of you in your 20’s, don’t fear the big 3-0. Trust me. You will change, life will change, but it keeps right on going. And it gets even better. Keep right on traveling, finding new adventures, and loving every minute of it.
Your life does not end at 30. It’s just beginning.
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