Feeling philosophical tonight as I write this. Every once in a while, I relive a memory of coming back to the US for a visit while living abroad, and a conversation I had with a family friend who was probably in his late thirties at the time. I was somewhere in my teens. He turned to me and said, “You know, you’re so young, and you’ve already seen more of the world than I have.” And there was something in the way he said it — filled with wonder, a twinge of jealousy. And a lingering residue of regret in an unspoken thought I sensed behind it: “And probably more than I ever will.”
It was a strange feeling being told this. We often don’t realize, when we’re privileged in life, the real value and power of the benefits we have. It was that moment — somewhere around 12 years old — where it hit me that I never wanted to give the world up.
I write a bit about this in my “About” page, but the fact of the matter is, life is short. I realized then, looking at this guy who was “old” by my teenage standards. He’d never left the United States, had rarely had the opportunity to leave his state for pleasure or fun. A very small percentage — around 10% — of Americans even have passports. In Europe, you can cross the borders of multiple countries in a matter of hours, but in America you have to trek hard just to leave our own. It can cost serious money, the kind of money the average American with bills and hardships can’t afford.
It’s always worth it
When you’re young, you have risks you can take, and the magic I’d seen outside our borders was what made me realize — it’s always worth it. Whatever you have to do — the things you’ll learn, and see, and experience, there is simply no comparison. It’s that difference between having someone tell you about a delicious meal or beautiful view — and tasting and seeing it for yourself.
If I’d known, for example, how to figure out work study abroad in college — I’d have done it. I didn’t really get how it worked and people who grew up in more privilege than me seemed to know about it. Those school kids who go off on a summer field trip to France or London — that was only for the movies, for people not like me. I know when I have kids I’m going to be all about that! I have another friend who literally started taking her kids on trips when they were babies — to India and all over! I totally respected and admired that, and I know they’ll be expert travellers by the time they’re grown up.
I had a rare opportunity, just by the nature of my dad’s own adventurous spirit and job postings he chose. And when I came back to attend college, and live and work in America, it made me see how very very tiny these borders are. The lack of real news we get, the lack of … context we live with. And sometimes, it just feels so micro, like here in America with our 200 year old selves we’re just teenagers winging it. And the world is so macro, filled with ways of doing things we could learn from.
And it feels like, to truly know my place in the world, to get a better lead on all I can learn, I need to get out there and see it.
I’ve encountered people who seem scared or nervous about my travelling — as if they doubt it’s worth it. That it seems unsafe, a pipe dream, like asking too much.
The world is yours. And if you’re female, it would have been nigh impossible for you to truly access it the way you can now until as recently as around the 1960s — when women were pressured to stay at home, and husbands controlled household finances. You’d be encouraged to spend your money on something for the household, not for you; and if for you, something pretty like a scarf or a dress. If you’re a minority female, even harder, especially if your family struggled to make ends meet. Travelling was a luxury. For some, it still is.
It does come with risks. But so does quitting that job, or trying a new career, or getting married, or asking or a higher salary. The money is gone, never to be reclaimed. You could get hurt or robbed or catch some disease while exploring. But that could all happen to you at home, too.
In my mind, it’s always worth it. However you can make it happen, on whatever budget. The expansion of your very soul in wonder when you see new and learn new things, meet new people — how can that compare to a pile of green you’ll never see after you die?
Grab life by the cojones while you can
It still boggles my mind that within just the past handful of decades, we’ve been enabled to fly around the world and see most of its nooks and crannies. That won’t last. I went a trip to Northern Vietnam because I knew that in my lifetime the way of life I encountered there would literally cease to be — the landscape and economy of the country will eventually change swiftly beyond recognition, moreso than it would have in the 1800s or early 1900s. TV, cell phones, the internet — they’re all invading all those nooks and crannies. And if you want to see what is now before it’s gone — then you need to get out there.
Life and politics are unpredictable. In our lifetime, Cuba will (hopefully!) finally open up. And my whole life so far, it’s been off limits. In our lifetime, the USSR ceased to be. Can you imagine? Lines around countries and names of countries have changed. The physical and political world as you knew it as a child will not be the world you know it to be when you are 20, 30, 50. The Great Wall of China, for all we know, may disappear in a century. Venice may finally sink into the sea.
Life is short. If the little voice in your head tells you no, it’s not worth it, spend that money on something else, or don’t go because it’s “unsafe” or you’ll have to go alone and you don’t know your way around — just go. Find a way to do it safely, but don’t listen to the niggling doubt. Just go, for your own sake. Don’t put it off. Start small, get the hang of it, but don’t leave it for a “rainy day” or “one day when I retire.” Travel when you’re able-bodied and your health is good and you can really enjoy it to the fullest. Take a few risks — what’s life without some adventure?
You have only so much time on this earth. Only so many chances. Take them.