Received wisdom and cultural norms tell us that we should be settling down as you leave your 20s behind. Ed Stafford thinks the opposite. This, he says, is the ideal time to quit your job and travel in your 30s.
We all go through stages of life. Delivering my son in a birthing pool in our bedroom and hearing that little cry as his purple wrinkled head surfaced for his first ever glug of air was a moment that transcended happiness or sadness.
I broke down into floods of uncontrollable tears, as if I was allowing the monumental metamorphosis to fully take hold at a cellular level. I knew I was ready, and that in having a son, I was opening up a world of unspeakable love and fatherly pride.
I equally knew that, aged 41, I was closing the door on some very fun times, of acting without thinking, of allowing myself to dissolve into total reckless abandon. But I was ready for this, because I had allowed myself all of that good stuff in my 30s.
You’re better than average
In the UK last year, the average age of people getting married for the first time was 31 for a woman and 33 for a man. These stats can be interpreted in very different ways.
If you’re entering your 30s now, you could be sent into a flat spin that causes an impulse grab of your phone to open Tinder, lest you be left on the proverbial shelf. Alternatively, I challenge you to resist that primal urge.
Ponder this for a second: ‘average’ means that by your early 30s only half of the population have actually got married. When you consider that of those, nearly half will go on to get divorced, you’re left with the reassuring knowledge that, by their early 30s, only about a quarter of the British population have settled with their life partner.
So, if you thought that you were a lonely anomaly, or destined to be an unloved bachelor or sad spinster, it turns out you’re not so abnormal after all. Rest assured that you are part of the vast healthy majority, so chill the f**k out, quit your job, and buy yourself a 100-litre water-resistant duffel bag.
Yes, quit your job.
Why I quit my job and walked the Amazon
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Never before have people in their 30s had so few responsibilities. I was the same. When I was 33, I decided to quit everything, put my life on pause for a bit, and walk the entire length of the Amazon river [editor’s note – he’s being modest, he was the first human being to do this]. Granted, I never expected it to take two and a half years, but because I had no ties that didn’t matter.
If you were to drill down for the crucial three life-factors that made this possible for me, you would find the following:
1. I was single (with no known children);
2. I had (or could acquire) the funds; and
3. I was now relatively experienced. Enough to think I had some chance of not killing myself anyway.
A traditional gap-year is taken post-school at an age when you’re barely out of braces and haven’t got very good at having sex yet. This is a great way to open your eyes to the world but, at that age, it’s also easy to waste this opportunity blindly following the scent of marijuana through Byron Bay and staying in hostels frequented by annoying travel-guitar-playing wannabe surf dudes.
By your 30s, chances are that you’ve had your heart broken a couple of times, you’ve had some shite jobs and some kinda rewarding ones, and you now juggle higher denominations of cash than you did a decade ago. This equips you with a better head on your shoulders to explore the parts of the planet that genuinely fascinate you.
This could be your one shot
This decade is also a window of opportunity to seize with both hands because, if we go back to the statistics, fewer than 5% of women have their first child after 40. So, the likelihood is that, if you don’t take action now, your truly independent travel portal will close forever.
No parent I’ve spoken to regrets having kids – it just doesn’t work like that. Your hormones shift and you evolve into a more responsible and caring version of yourself. Your kids get unconditional love and you don’t even question that they come first.
But the fact is that even though you wouldn’t have it any other way, you can’t just up-sticks and leave like you could before. You can’t be selfishly impulsive and you can’t make irresponsible decisions. That’s why it’s actually very healthy to get this phase of life lived to the full before the page is turned, and life has moved on.
Like a mediocre relationship, work seems important whilst you’re in it, but life immediately opens up for the better once you leave. The daily grind appears to be the only way forward, but that’s because you’re only interacting with others who are trapped in the same grey maze. People will fill your head with their own excuses for not embracing life’s opportunities, why not to quit your job, in an attempt to keep you as unfulfilled as them.
Don’t let anyone get you down
When I announced I was going to attempt to walk the length of the Amazon, most people thought it was a pretty stupid idea. A lot thought I would die. Interestingly, even if people knew nothing at all about the jungle, their default reaction was to tell me I was crazy.
It seems that people aren’t just risk averse, they’re actually conditioned to believe that buckling down and working hard, year after year, is the only way to success and happiness. And that anyone who stands up against that conventional tide needs knocking down and sweeping away – it’s too uncomfortable to just give them praise.
Having ignored these stuffy naysayers all my life, I can tell you that it feels bloody amazing to find success through following your passions rather than allowing their negativity to block your path.
Believe in the laws of attraction
I’m a closet hippy and I wholeheartedly believe in the attraction laws of energy, so, in my somewhat alternative opinion, if you lead a passionate and fulfilling life, the boring stuff (wages, mortgages, etc.) sort themselves out.
You attract better things into your life because you are vibrant and engaging with an ever-changing world of travel. You are growing as a person because you never have all the answers when you are travelling – you are continually stretching your own comfort zone.
And when it does come time to utter those horrific two words – “settle down” – remember you will be able to sit far more comfortably in this more sedentary world if you have abundant memories and experiences to look back on.
Just because you’re writing a new chapter, it doesn’t mean you have to rip the previous chapter out of the book. Your travel experiences will have been a huge part of making you who you have become and will probably be the reason you have evolved enough to be ready to start a family.
So, better get going.