I started traveling prolifically in my early twenties. A semester studying abroad in London gave me a taste of the freedom, and discovery, that comes with international travel. And I was hooked. I spent the next ten years working, living and traveling abroad as much as I could.
Along the way I met a similarly travel-loving guy, married him, got an apartment and a dog in Seattle and (like everyone eventually does) I turned 30. A couple years later I had a baby. While my wanderlust never changed, my life did. As a result, the way I travel has changed significantly too. Many things have stayed the same: I still love to walk until my feet hurt, stuff my face with local food and explore off the beaten path. At the same time, I thought I’d list what’s different now, and why.
Now I’ll give you a caveat that your results may vary. There are plenty of free-wheeling, young at heart thirty and forty-somethings, just as there are 23 year-olds with serious responsibility.
In my twenties, I didn’t have a ton of responsibilities beyond keeping myself alive and not going any deeper into debt than necessary. Otherwise, my major goal was simply to travel as much as humanly possible. All of my spare time and most of my money went towards planning my next escape.
Now I have a million things to think about besides stamps in my passport, starting with, but not limited to,: my career, my family, can I afford rent this month and who is going to watch my dog? That doesn’t mean travel isn’t on my radar, it just makes it harder to take off on a whim, consequences be damned.
As a result of the above, it’s not so easy to just take off for any old reason. With limited time and money, I need to be selective about the trips I take.
In my twenties I would grab any available opportunity: girl’s trip to Puerto Rico? Last minute cheap fair to Europe? Impromptu road trip? I was always game. I racked up stamps in my passport and saw a good chunk of the world this way.
Now, I plan my travels ahead of time, and I pick what I want to do more carefully. I’m not going to waste precious money and vacation days to go somewhere I’ve already been or don’t really care about. I would much rather save up my resources for a trip I’m really excited about, like our three week babymoon to Japan last year.
Less Late Nights, More Early Mornings
You never realize how much energy you have until it’s gone. When I was a young twenty-something backpacker, drinking late into the night with locals or other backpackers was the norm. I’d compensate by sleeping in (well, as much as you can sleep in in a hostel dorm room). I saw the sights, but this was usually secondary to socializing.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I appreciate the merits of a good night’s sleep, and staying up until the early morning drinking is much less appealing. Hangovers last longer when you’re older, and it takes less to get there. Now I’m all about one or two craft cocktails or local beers, a hearty meal, and an early bedtime. I’d rather save my energy for getting up early to explore my surroundings.
A Higher Standard of Living
One of the bonuses to traveling in my thirties? My budget is bigger. Because my trips are usually shorter and because I have a job supporting me, I have more money to spend on each trip.
I’m nowhere near a luxury traveler, but having some extra funds enhances my travels in a multitude of ways. Instead of cramped hostel dorm rooms, I’m staying in a comfy apartment rental. Instead of cooking spaghetti in a group kitchen, I can afford to go out for a nice local meal. I have more money to spend on special excursions and tours, and I can pick up a nice souvenir to take home.
I also have the means to make my travels more inclusive. I used to travel alone (and sometimes I still do), but over the years my travel style has expanded to include my husband, my daughter, and even my dog. In 2014 I took my Mom on an Alaskan Cruise, and it was amazing to spend that time bonding with her.
Perhaps the best part of traveling in my thirties is that after over a decade of travel, I really know myself really, really, well. I know the sort of things I enjoy (beautiful cities, rich cultures, good food), and the stuff I really don’t (party islands, loud hostels and skiing). I know that I get sick at high altitudes, and that I vastly prefer warm weather destinations to chilly ones. I know what I like, and I’m willing to go the extra mile to find it.
Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try new things. It’s just that when you clear out what you’re not interested in, all sorts of new possibilities emerge. In the past few years, I’ve taken trips that never would have occurred to me in my twenties. I went to Vancouver to watch the Women’s World Cup, I saw wild elephants grazing in Sri Lanka, and I ate sushi (at 5 months pregnant) in Tokyo. When I first visited Japan at 26 I wouldn’t even touch raw fish.
Are things better or worse now? I think they are just different. Sometimes I miss the freewheeling, spontaneous fun of my twenties, but I also really appreciate my current, more thoughtful and experienced travel style – and the family I now have to share it with. In the end I don’t think it matters so much what age you choose to see the world, just that you are getting out there at all.
Thank you very much Stephanie for this guest post decades in the making. Stephanie is right, no matter how young or old you are, traveling can open you up to many new insights and experiences. Stephanie writes about this very topic on her website, Why Wait To See The World. You can also follow Why Wait To See The World on Facebook, Twitter @whywaitworld, and Instagram.