Today marks the day of my 26th birthday in this beautiful, strange and awesome world. As I write these words I am watching the sun set behind a volcano over the surreal Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. If someone told me as a kid that this is where I would be spending the 26th anniversary of my birth, I would have been very confused and wondered how and why this was going to happen. Funny enough, I am still pondering those same questions, how did I end up here? What factors in my life influenced me to become infatuated with traveling to strange lands, meeting new people and exposing myself to different things on a daily basis? Am I doing what I should be for a typical 26-year-old American male?
What are some of the things that people consider to be important for someone my age?
- Career – Well simply put I don’t have one of these. In fact I’m currently unemployed besides doing a little travel writing on the web for small amounts of cash.
- Relationship – I find it hard to stay in the same city for more than 6 months without craving new adventures, try explaining that to a significant other….
- Possessions- Everything I currently own is probably worth less than the computer you are reading this on and if I can’t fit it into my backpack I don’t really need it.
- Education- I have a bachelor’s degree in Business, but my last job was teaching foreign kids English in Panama. However, I can honestly tell you that I’ve learned more from traveling than I did in my 4 years of University.
- Experiences- Well I’ve traveled to 43 countries, have friends all over the world and should probably write a book I have so many stories.
So Alex let me get this straight, you’ve got no job, no girlfriend, a backpack full of cheap crap and smelly clothes, you aren’t using your expensive college degree and you justify this because you’ve traveled a bit… Is it really worth it?
I remember an activity I did in elementary school with my class where we had to create a timeline of what we thought our life was going to be like in the future. My timeline and the majority of my classmates consisted of your typical, college – job – marriage – house – kids – retire. No one mentioned things such as visit a new continent or learn a new language or climb a mountain. Why is that? What would the teacher have done if my timeline had looked something more like this:
College – Boring Office Job – Teach English in Thailand – Travel SE Asia – Bartend in a Brewery – Travel Eastern Europe – Start a Hangover Helping Business – Teach English in Panama – Go to Spanish School in Guatemala – Travel South America – ?????
In all honesty, the teacher would have probably handed back the assignment and told the student to be a little more realistic. This is what frustrates me about the expectations placed on young people in the USA these days. There’s this unnecessary pressure to jump into a career as quickly as possible before we even really know who we are or what we want to do. Deciding what we want to do for THE REST OF OUR LIVES is an extremely important decision and not to be taken lightly. Why not try a variety of things, travel around a bit, see different ways of life and experience the world before taking a decision on what to dedicate life to?
To answer the question of whether this lifestyle is worth it, my simple response is HELL YES it’s worth it. The single most important reason why is because for this brief period in my life I am truly experiencing ultimate freedom. While FREEDOM is a frequently used term in our great “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” take a step back and analyze your life to see how free you actually are. Ask yourself this question. If your best friend offered you a one-way ticket to a country half way around the world tomorrow to go live for an indeterminate amount of time with them, could you accept their invitation? The answer is probably no. There are a number of factors that would inhibit your ability to just leave this world tomorrow for an adventure. The most obvious reason is your job. Even if you have money in the bank, you can’t risk losing your job in an economy like this one. You probably have an apartment or a house that you need to sell or sublet. That house is probably full of furniture, a TV, and lots of other things that you don’t really need. You may have car payments, credit card debt, student loans that need to be paid off. A spouse or girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy if you just took off one day… Maybe you have a dog, cat or even children that need to be taken care of. Beyond material things what about expectation from your parents, peers or even yourself?
Now in no way am I saying that having these things is a negative thing and to be honest, besides the debt, I intend to have all of these things eventually. Just not right now… In the brief window where you are old enough to take care of yourself, but young enough not to have a lot of the things mentioned above this is a time when you can experience this ultimate freedom. Not until you journey across the ocean and cut yourself loose to truly experience what the world has to offer doing absolutely WHATEVER you want free from expectations, judgments and responsibilities can you really get to know who you are as a person. Slowly the closet full of clothes, TV, car, and shoe collection become unimportant and you realize you only need a few bare essentials to survive. This is a humbling lesson in our materialistic world and one that you will never learn in a book, lecture or movie. As I reflect on my mere 26 years of life I am astounded where my journey has taken me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have foreseen the wild adventures, awesome friends and strong lessons I have learned in this crazy life. Thanks world for a hell of a ride, I’m stoked to be 26, what will this next year bring???
Written by Alex Vere-Nicoll
You just answered a lot of my questions I had about what I should do with my live! I’m 20 years old from Panama and everybody keeps making me hit the ground every time I have an awesome idea or I dream “too high”. The truth is that ever since I was a little girl Ive never pictured myself working in an office, limiting my expenses, marry, have kids, get old and die…Ive always dreamed of a more free and exiting live than just following the typical timeline everybody is expecting you to follow. I’m grateful I ran into this page 🙂 God bless you and I hope you have even wilder experiences or get to meet me halfway some day :DDD
I turned 28 yesterday and I’m still asking myself these questions – regretting not disappearing and travelling more.
It takes longer than you would think finding your place in life – I’m not there yet but I’m happier with my direction right now
Jealous of your travels mate 😉
Alex…very well stated. I am quite a bit older than you as you well know. When I was younger I jumped right into all the things that I was expected to without giving it much thought. Now that I am retired I am taking the opportunity to rediscover myself and the world around me. I believe the path you are taking is the one that you need to take. Thanks for sharing your story and perhaps you will be an inspiration to others… apparently you already have.
Happy Belated Birthday! Birthdays spent traveling are always the best. I know when I graduated from college, many of my fellow students were taking jobs they weren’t passionate about or even pertained to their major. I do think college students should be encouraged to go after their passions early rather than settle down with this life plan. It is for some people though. I do like having a home-base and traveling throughout the year. I think you can have your cake and eat it to, as long as you are determined.
Never a truer word spoken. I feel the same way about what society considers normal and I too am angling to have as much ‘freedom’ as possible. Yes, assets can be nice but there is so much to see and learn out there in the world I can’t help but feel a life would be wasted if one didn’t try to experience as much of it as one can.
Great photos too.
I’m 23 but I definitely understand what you mean. I currently live in S Korea teaching English and just got back today from two weeks vacation in Thailand and Cambodia. I’ve “only” been to 7 countries but I find people think even that is, while impressive, also shocking and strange, particularly fellow Americans. It is like we are coached from a young age to follow school-college-job-marriage-kids-retire and I just dont get down with that (esp with my lack of desire for having kids, andpersonalfeelings aboute some of my gay friends still cannot)
Sorry! Im in my phone and it spazzed. The last parentheses should read (particularly with my lack of desire for having kids, and personal feelings around getting married when my gay friends cannot) ** Argh.
They can get married in their religion and according to certain states. A marriage license is a joke. Why whould we ask the government for permission to marry the person we love. If we had smaller government there would be no limitations on marriage. Go Ron Paul.
I feel the same way as a 26 year old. I mean, I haven’t been doing the RTW thing. I have just been living as an ex-pat, but I have a similar situation. Do you think that you want to continue living this lifestyle forever though?
1. I think that so many people envy the fact that you get to travel so often. 2. That you’ve become accustomed to living with few material items. I mean is it really that important to have a home? I think that is a western ideal. 3. You are independent
In the end, as long as you are happy, you shouldn’t concern yourself with having an alternative lifestyle. I am sure you’ve touched a lot more people doing what you are doing, than sitting behind a desk.
Verenico…I absolutely LOVED your post. I discovered it via a friend’s post on Facebook. You speak openly and truthfully about what so many others have internally felt or thought about, but felt reluctant to voice…THAT IS THE SOCIALLY, PRESSURED, PRESCRIBED LIFE-PLAN, FOR ACCOMPLISHMENT, RESPECT, & SUCCESS…OR…doing something just to impress a peer group!!!
For whatever reason, personal happiness, fulfillment, and simple contentment with one’s own being is left out of that SOCIAL (BRAIN-WASHING) PRESCRIPTION.
The end result, of all this social conditioning is broken spirits, poor health, depression, and constant remorseful regrets and replays of ‘old tapes’.
Happy Belated 26th Birthday. I will be celebrating my own birthday on January 31st…http://www.kimbrooke.com/talent/Joan-Knecht.html…YES…I will be turning 73 years old!!! AND YES…it is only NOW, at these GOLDEN YEARS, that I am finally living and learning some very valuable life lessons, that you have already been intuitively living, learning, and following.