Posted on September 3, 2010
First published in Trespass.
When should we stop travelling? Settle down. Grow up. Begin ‘real life’. 25? 30? The ages by which we are supposed to have those yardsticks with which we measure conventional success, tucked safely under our arms. A partner, a steady job, a loan, property. Our feet are supposed to stop itching after a while. The call of ‘reality’ is supposed to impose itself on our conscience with increasing volume and urgency.
The age at which this supposedly happens – or should happen – according to a fresh faced English boy I came across recently, is 25. He expressed his opinion, mini-megaphone from Ios under his arm, with the sort of weary wisdom only 21 year old university students can possess. I should know – I’ve been one. We know everything at 21 with an undergrad degree under our belts. At 21, 25 seems a long way off. 25 seems old. Mature. And absolutely the age we are supposed to have achieved Everything (university degree, partner, steady job, loan). If not, I am assuming the appropriate attitude towards life is consequently general embarrassment.
But surely it must depend on one’s own opinion of what Reality is and what it must include in order to be a Reality. My current Reality feels pretty real. It doesn’t involve a mortgage or children or a wedding ring. It does involve more travel, plenty of uncertainty, new faces, languages and the one constant of groping for words to express it all. Does that mean I need to grow up? Take life more responsibly? Or does it simply make my Reality, my own? My responsibilities, concerns and goals, different to others?
What I attempted to impress upon the boy – and, it has to be said, I didn’t try particularly hard, I was tired – was that, 1; 25 isn’t that old and 2; we all do things differently. I am of the opinion we should never stop travelling. Our styles may change as we get older (and move away from Contiki tours …) but I don’t believe one should quit travelling once they hit a certain age, as if it is something reserved only for permanently drunk students finding their souls in hostel bars. That’s ridiculous. I’m not saying packing a bag and getting on a plane for an unspecified amount of time is what every 25 year old should be doing; but I’m not saying choosing to do that makes you irresponsible, or a drifter. I value what travel does to me as a person and how it affects my world. I would love for everyone to be able to see that and appreciate it, but I don’t expect them to.
For me personally, to stop travelling is to stop a lot of things. Sure, it is to hold plenty at bay – all of those Serious, Grown Up Things others may consider to be hallmarks of maturity – but it is also to turn my back on what I greatly value. On what I seek. To impose an age limit on when one must stop jumping on planes and throwing oneself at the world in favour of the aforementioned widely accepted benchmarks of Adulthood, is, in my opinion, to miss out on so much. It’s to close the door and all the windows and that’s just plain silly.
The fresh faced English boy has a lot to learn. So do I. Which is why I won’t stop travelling, ever, and no matter my age, will never see it as escapism or an easy way out or a shirking of real life. Because it is none of the above and my own Reality is whatever I choose to make it – nothing more and nothing less.