What Travel Meant for My 20s… and What It Means Now

Yesterday was my 30th birthday and the weeks leading up to it, even the steady march towards it I have felt for a few years, have been a reckoning. There’s a lot I could say about that, but it all boils down to the Big Question: What do I really want out of my life? For a long time, there was an easy answer to that question: travel.

It wasn’t that long ago I was turning 26 in another country, just a couple months into my year-long solo round-the-world trip (RTW trip). One of many little questions feeding into the Big Question is “What do I consider my greatest accomplishment?” Without a doubt, my RTW trip is it. Orchestrating a full year of nonstop travel is no small undertaking, and I saved and planned for over two years to make it possible.

 

At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of privilege and sheer dumb luck that even allowed me to get that far. It has never been a secret on this blog that I lucked out with my family, my education and even the collection of part-time jobs I juggled while saving. There are many people out there who don’t realize a life of travel could be within reach if it’s genuinely their top priority. But I never want to lose sight of the fact that there are also many people out there for whom travel is not an option.

For such a special experience and something I consider my greatest accomplishment, since coming home I don’t talk about my RTW trip in my day-to-day life that much. Travel hasn’t seemed like such an easy answer for me and the painful truth of the matter is I am scared.

 

I am scared of being selfish. I am scared of seeming arrogant. I am scared of being unrelatable. I am scared of the connections I miss, which is a horrible irony to experience because part of what so many people love about travel is how it can bring us together.

 

I struggled so much in coming home, and even though it’s been three years since I did, I’m still not fully adjusted. I have felt like I owed it to the people in my life, or to my community, or to society in general to turn off the wanderlust. Grow up, settle down, get a real job. And then I had to add being a fraud to my list of deep-down-in-my-gut fears.

It wasn’t just the travel I missed — though I can’t lie, there many days I could do with wandering around a new city’s streets or having a margarita on the beach. What I think I have missed most of all is no longer having that clear, simple guiding light. Planning my RTW trip dominated my early 20s. It was the One Thing I wanted. I made it happen. And almost the moment the plane touched down and I stepped out into my small hometown’s can’t-believe-we-even-have-it airport, I thought “Uh… now what?”

 

As I say goodbye to my 20s, I realize I am really saying goodbye to easy answers. I am saying goodbye to having a singular goal, that One Thing that guides every decision I make. It feels hard to identify because there isn’t just one thing I want out of life. I’m not setting a big goal and getting through a year or two of work. I have an entire life ahead of me. I know rationally I don’t need to have all the answers, I can always choose a goal and move on to the next one after I achieve it. But it has still felt so daunting and so overwhelming.

 

Travel has always been the thing that lights my soul on fire. I have never felt more myself or more comfortable with myself than I do when I am arriving in a new place. It doesn’t have to be (and it isn’t) the only thing that fulfills and enriches me. But it played such a huge role in my 20s.

Travel in my 20s was laughing with a new friend for life on my study abroad program.

Travel in my 20s was the first time I stood alone in a train station, responsible for getting myself where I needed to be.

Travel in my 20s was big bus group tours that, yes included some hangovers and some one-night stands, but were also about Michelangelo’s David literally taking our breath away.

Travel in my 20s was long weekend road trips with a new boyfriend.

Travel in my 20s was epic and fast-paced, tracing paths across whole continents.

Travel in my 20s could be lonely, chaotic or a complete revelation.

Travel in my 20s was how I got to know myself.

Travel in my 20s was how I learned I have an anxiety disorder and finally set on a path to learning how to manage problems I never knew I had.

Travel in my 20s was full of cooking classes, cheap theater tickets, and incredible hikes and treks.

Travel in my 20s was ziplining nearly a mile over the Costa Rican forest.

Travel in my 20s was visiting friends, whether they were in Long Island or Stockholm.

Travel in my 20s was cancelled more than once for natural disasters, illnesses, political unrest and public health.

Travel in my 20s was incredible, but it was usually about me and it needs to become more now.

Obviously COVID-19 has taken travel off the table for a time. My personal stance is I will not be traveling out of state, or beyond comfortable road trip distance, until a vaccine is widely available. It’s what I think is the most responsible thing for me to do and naturally everyone has to decide for themselves what their comfort level is. Even as it becomes safer to travel again, we have all had a pretty major global wake-up call and travel will look a lot different in the future.

I would love to have a neat way to wrap this up and a clear answer of what travel will mean to me in my 30s. I know it will continue to be important. I think it will include more friends, family and significant others instead of almost always being solo. I know it will be with even more attention to responsibility and the impact I have on the environment and on local communities. 

As for the rest, I look forward to learning.

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