Today marks the day of my 26th birthday in this beautiful, strange and awesome world. As I write these words I am watching the sun set behind a volcano over the surreal Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. If someone told me as a kid that this is where I would be spending the 26th anniversary of my birth, I would have been very confused and wondered how and why this was going to happen. Funny enough, I am still pondering those same questions, how did I end up here? What factors in my life influenced me to become infatuated with traveling to strange lands, meeting new people and exposing myself to different things on a daily basis? Am I doing what I should be for a typical 26 year old American male?
What are some of the things that people consider to be important for someone my age?
- Career – Well simply put I don’t have one of these. In fact I’m currently unemployed besides doing a little travel writing on the web for small amounts of cash.
- Relationship – I find it hard to stay in the same city for more than 6 months without craving new adventures, try explaining that to a significant other….
- Possessions- Everything I currently own is probably worth less than the computer you are reading this on and if I can’t fit it into my backpack I don’t really need it.
- Education- I have a bachelor’s degree in Business, but my last job was teaching foreign kids English in Panama. However, I can honestly tell you that I’ve learned more from traveling than I did in my 4 years of University.
- Experiences- Well I’ve traveled to 43 countries, have friends all over the world and should probably write a book I have so many stories.
So Alex let me get this straight, you’ve got no job, no girlfriend, a backpack full of cheap crap and smelly clothes, you aren’t using your expensive college degree and you justify this because you’ve traveled a bit… Is it really worth it?
I remember an activity I did in elementary school with my class where we had to create a timeline of what we thought our life was going to be like in the future. My timeline and the majority of my classmates consisted of your typical, college – job – marriage – house – kids – retire. No one mentioned things such as visit a new continent or learn a new language or climb a mountain. Why is that? What would the teacher have done if my timeline had looked something more like this:
College – Boring Office Job – Teach English in Thailand – Travel SE Asia – Bartend in a Brewery – Travel Eastern Europe – Start a Hangover Helping Business – Teach English in Panama – Go to Spanish School in Guatemala – Travel South America – ?????
In all honesty the teacher would have probably handed back the assignment and told the student to be a little more realistic. This is what frustrates me about the expectations placed on young people in the USA these days. There’s this unnecessary pressure to jump into a career as quickly as possible before we even really know who we are or what we want to do. Deciding what we want to do for THE REST OF OUR LIVES is an extremely important decision and not to be taken lightly. Why not try a variety of things, travel around a bit, see different ways of life and experience the world before taking a decision on what to dedicate life to?
To answer the question of whether this lifestyle is worth it, my simple response is HELL YES it’s worth it. The single most important reason why is because for this brief period in my life I am truly experiencing ultimate freedom. While FREEDOM is a frequently used term in our great “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” take a step back and analyze your life to see how free you actually are. Ask yourself this question. If your best friend offered you a one-way ticket to a country half way round the world tomorrow to go live for an indeterminate amount of time with them, could you accept their invitation? The answer is probably no. There are a number of factors that would inhibit your ability to just leave this world tomorrow for an adventure. The most obvious reason is your job. Even if you have money in the bank, you can’t risk losing your job in an economy like this one. You probably have an apartment or a house that you need to sell or sublet. That house is probably full of furniture, a TV, and lots of other things that you don’t really need. You may have car payments, credit card debt, student loans that need to be paid off. A spouse or girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy if you just took off one day… Maybe you have a dog, cat or even children that need to be taken care of. Beyond material things what about expectation from your parents, peers or even yourself?
Now in no way am I saying that having these things is a negative thing and to be honest, besides the debt, I intend to have all of these things eventually. Just not right now… In the brief window where you are old enough to take care of yourself, but young enough not to have a lot of the things mentioned above this is a time when you can experience this ultimate freedom. Not until you journey across the ocean and cut yourself loose to truly experience what the world has to offer doing absolutely WHATEVER you want free from expectations, judgments and responsibilities can you really get to know who you are as a person. Slowly the closet full of clothes, TV, car and shoe collection become unimportant and your realize you only need a few bare essentials to survive. This is a humbling lesson in our materialistic world and one that you will never learn in a book, lecture or movie. As I reflect on my mere 26 years of life I am astounded where my journey has taken me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have foreseen the wild adventures, awesome friends and strong lessons I have learned in this crazy life. Thanks world for a hell of a ride, I’m stoked to be 26, what will this next year bring???
Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll