My life would have been awesome had I never started traveling. With a beer in hand I thought about all the things I didn't have but my peers did. I don't have a house. I have never owned a car. My bank account isn't padded, and my retirement funds wouldn't stretch very far.
I know beyond all doubt, had I not started traveling five years ago I never would have. And, if I had not, I'd be able to match the milestones of others my age.
Today I would not be a globe trotter, but I'd wake up every morning, and spend the hours of 9-5 in a cubicle. This would certainly have put me in greater standing in the ol' tit for tat game that we all play, but would have been the worst thing for my happiness, personal development and well-being.
Why Travel Now
I've lived in both Germany and Italy and spent over a month backpacking through Colombia. I've been to over 20 different countries in South America, Europe, the Middle East, the Baltics and more. I've driven four-wheelers across Greek Islands, canyoned through rivers in Slovenia, hiked up mountains, biked down mountains, floated in the dead sea and visited coffee plantations.
My desire to move pushed me away from a cozy suburb and reliable job and into the streets of places I couldn't pronounce. What if you too have a desire to move, but don't know where to begin? What if you are sitting here reading this and wishing you could leave everything behind, travel half-way across the world and encounter new places and people? My advice: leave and do so as soon as possible. If you don't travel now you never will, and here is why.
Travel Isn't a Typical Investment
As of now there are few ways to invest $2,000 on a pleasure trip somewhere and see that $2,000 turn in to $3,000 next year. Instead you purchase experiences. While you gain innumerable soft skills such as compassion, the ability to read people, serenity under pressure and more, you very rarely receive a return on your investment in monetary terms.
When it comes to spending money you will always find more tangible, “better” things to spend your money on. If you don't start budgeting for travel now, budgeting later becomes impossible, as each dollar disappears to other needs. Travel rarely ranks high against material possessions. Despite thinking you avoid the curse of vanity you don't. Neither do I. I like nice things, just as much as the next person.
Summing up my point in one sentence, a highly articulated sentence by a very intelligent friend of mine, “whoever dies with the most shit wins.” Travel is by no means a collection of shit with 350 horsepower that you can wash on your front lawn in full view of your jealous neighbors. As time passes by your dependence on “keeping up with the Joneses' will require more of your money, leaving less to spend on travel.
Too Many Useless Distractions and Choices
In the morning, when we wake after a good night's sleep, we are full of energy and willpower. Then the day begins and our gas tanks diminish. What should you eat for breakfast? Do you have time in your schedule for a meeting with Mr. Joe Blow today? Which emails require immediate attention in your inbox?
By the end of the day your energy and willpower tank is on “E.” You have spent your energy reserves dealing with work, kids, finances, emails and a slew of other things. Your willpower is also gone, burnt away making choices, which is one thing we have an abundance of today.
Choices tap into our limited supply of willpower and energy, depleting our most precious resources: time, energy and mental stamina. So, when you finally have free time, how do you spend it? In front of the television, surfing the internet, or doing some other mindless activity that doesn't require a lot of energy or thinking. Your mind is shot for the day.
We have reversed priorities. Instead of putting our big life goals and ambitions as must do's, we make them must do's when we have time. We put losing weight, traveling to the mountains, learning a new language, working out, reading more, or other important life changes as priorities at the end of the day when we are mentally and physically drained.
A task will always expand to fill the available time, it's a fact of the universe. So, if you don't budget time and energy to focus on change, you will crawl into bed at 11 pm wondering where the day escaped to yet again.
This pattern continues your whole life until retirement, at which point the system reverses itself. Suddenly, with an empty nest, with no job and fewer priorities you can once again think about your lifestyle, your health and traveling. The irony, of course, is that in your latter years you have less energy and desire to change.
Studies have shown that change requires a series of steps: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. In essence, we have no awareness or desire to change something in our lives; then when we become aware we delve into the possible obstacles of changing.
Finally, we act and change, and then every so often we refortify our behavior to stay on track. Interestingly, we most often fail between the preparation and action stages, or in philosophical terms we can conceive of what is needed to change, but can't actualize it in reality.
We are also affected by something called the St. Petersburg Paradox. This paradox argues that all humans not only have different levels of risk aversion, but also different perspectives when it comes to utility gained. Meaning, a person already in peak physical condition knows and sees the benefits of working out; hence, he has an easier time continuing to devote the time and energy to pumping iron or going for a run.
For other people it may be too much of a risk, too big of a commitment and a scary situation to go to the gym every morning. What are all the fit people going to think of me? I'll be made fun of. I don't fit in. I'm not part of this crowd. I don't know what to do. When faced with a risk deemed too great, whether financially, socially, or otherwise, people will not partake in an activity.
The amount of energy, willpower, and mental fortitude required to make a change in your life is the number one reason you won't travel when you retire. The patterns you set in life begin early on, and it is easier to live with the status quo than change. After all, it is more desirable to know which side your bread is buttered on than be left with sticky uncertainty on your hands. Which leads to the next reason you will not start traveling when you suddenly find the time for it.
For a long time, philosophers have been justifying their philosophies by saying it is better to know what you are getting for certain today, even at the cost of giving up something greater tomorrow. Now, I've done this on several occasions, I'll admit. Just recently I was in a Colombian city with night approaching and no place to stay.
I found myself in a sketchy situation with a hotelier on a far too remote beach. This led me to grab my passport copy and any identifying information from his desk and high tail it out of there. I also accepted, regardless of the price, a different hotel I knew would be safe, and passed over many cheaper options because I didn't have the time or energy to find a better alternative.
I'll admit, the allure of “one in the basket vs. two in the hand” is strong. But, when moving beyond basic needs such as food, safety and shelter you would think the allure of giving up something greater for certainty of the moment would decrease. This is not true, however. You only need to look at history to see many examples of people choosing to live under a poor system versus risking the displacement of a tyrant and the unknown, possibly worse, new system.
Relating this to travel, even though you may have always dreamed of traveling the world when you retire the pull of familiarity during a time of age decline keeps you rooted to the constant, which is the antithesis of travel.
Retirement is a period not only marked by a sudden increase in personal time, but also a period of decline in the human body and mind. To put this in perspective, the average retirement age in the US is 66, and the average age of death is 84. That gives you 18 years to get your adventure on, unless your body says otherwise.
Waiting to travel until retirement is like investing in a penny stock, the situation is volatile. You may not always have the health to travel at age 66 and above. Plus your body cannot handle the stress of travel as well as it could when you were younger. Consider the following.
Studies have shown that older people actually make worse decisions than people of all other ages. After age 27 your brain is already deteriorating. By the age of sixty the signs of deterioration become more evident. With that in mind can you justify traveling out of the country for the first time knowing your brain is prone to making poor decisions and bad rationalizations?
With our minds deteriorating, our bodies follow suit. Especially when we have spent 30 or 40 years in the same location, doing the same thing day in and day out, our bodies become accustomed to a pattern of life. Did you know that infants and senior citizens are more prone to illness then any other age group?
The reason is simple: when you are young or old your body is less adept at adapting to viruses and foreign substances. Your body cannot produce antibodies as efficiently or as fast. When you are old you have trouble acclimating to changes in your environment. Guess what, travel is all about adapting to new situations, climates, foods and germs.
With an aversion to risk, a psychological desire to maintain the status quo, and a declining body and mind there is a great tendency to say, “my life is good enough, I don't need more.” Settling wins again. We become okay with okay. We no longer need travel, or the new, or the challenge.
Doom and gloom aside, I'm not saying you can't travel when you're retired. I'm saying the odds of you miraculously packing your suitcase and hopping on a flight for an exotic, foreign location are against you.
Instead, travel must be a lifestyle from early on. Travel must become a path you set yourself on that allows for change when needed, adaption when necessary, and pushing the boundaries of the status quo.
Several years ago there was a man in the UK who showed up at a clinic, reporting signs of possible memory loss. He was an avid chess player who played regularly for most of his life. His MRI scan that day came back normal. At most he had minor memory loss, which was expected with old age. Two years later when the man died examiners discovered that he actually had advanced Alzheimers but had showed no signs.
The moral: regular stimulation can improve brain function well into old age and keep energy levels high. This man broke the status quo by investing in himself. So invest in yourself and begin a regular routine of travel today, for I know of no greater mental and physical stimulant than travel, and there is no better time than to travel now.
Hank Martin writes for Breaking Trail Online, a resource for young men and women that combines travel with practical tips for investing in your greatest asset: you. Get social with Breaking Trail on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus