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 child, 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. This doesn’t have to be the case, but by the time I hit my 40s, I was ready for it. I’d allowed myself all of that good stuff in my 30s – the best decade to quit your job and go traveling.
I challenge you to resist that primal urge
A few years ago in the UK, for example, 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 a dating app, 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 knowledge that, by their early 30s, only about a quarter of the British population have settled with a life partner (though this doesn’t have to be the only trajectory in life).
So, if you thought that you were a lonely anomaly, it turns out you’re not so abnormal after all. Rest assured that you are part of the vast healthy majority, so chill out, quit your job, and buy yourself a 100-litre water-resistant duffel bag. Yes, quit your job (or take a career break).
This is a great way to open your eyes to the world
Never before have people in their 30s had so few responsibilities. I was the same. When I was 33, I decided to quit everything and walk the entire length of the Amazon river [Ed was the first person to do this]. Granted, I never expected it to take two and a half years, but because I had no ties it didn’t matter. If you were to drill down the crucial three life factors that made this possible for me, you would find it was because: I was single (with no known children); I had (or could acquire) the funds; and 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. This is a great way to open your eyes to the world but, at that age, it’s also easy to waste this opportunity without following much purpose. By your 30s, chances are a bit higher that you’ve had your heart broken a couple of times, you’ve had some bad jobs and some 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.
Work seems important whilst you’re in it
And, this could be your one shot. No parent I’ve spoken to regrets having kids – it just doesn’t work like that. Your hormones can shift and evolve you into a more responsible 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, while not impossible, it can be harder to up sticks and leave like you could before. I think it’s actually very healthy to get a dose of travel in 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 can fill your head with their own excuses for not embracing life’s opportunities – and why not to quit your job – in an attempt to keep you as unfulfilled as them.
It feels amazing to find success through following your passions
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 some 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 naysayers all my life, I can tell you that it feels amazing to find success through following your passions, rather than allowing negativity to block your path.
You are continually stretching your own comfort zone
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.) sorts itself 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 if it does come time to utter those 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. So, better get going.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveler like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.
Images: Discovery Communications/ Heinrich Van Den Berg, Chris Bethell, Martin Hartley and Ed Stafford