This is a post about why travelling hard and fast in your 20s doesn’t buy you a place in the new cool. The likelihood is you wind up in quarter-life crisis with a bruised passport and nothing else. But, maybe you are the exception. Maybe you will make it to the Forbes Billionaire List for quitting your full-time job to travel the world. And right, you couldn’t care less about the money and the prestige? You believe that true wealth comes from these worldly adventures you have, don’t you? That’s all fine if you are planning on moving to another planet darling because the last time I checked, there’s no one country on earth that goes by that currency. Enjoy.
There are two men sitting in the coffee shop. Both in their forties. It is a hot Saturday. One is puffing on Marlboro Red cigarette, though he secretly enjoys the Lights. Another has his hair combed back and shirt ironed before coming to see his old friend. They used to sit next to each other in high school; they haven’t seen each other for a long time.
This afternoon, they both have their coffees black, without sugar. The sun shines through the window.
They talk about life and travel.
“Erica loves the tea houses in Kyoto and the kids had a great time at Disneyland and Disney Sea. We wouldn’t have enjoyed these theme parks so much had it not been for the kids.” The sleek one says.
“Ah Japan. I’ve been there 10 or 15 years ago. My ex-girlfriend and I travelled to so many places in two weeks with a train pass. You know, the train in Japan, what’s that called again?”
“Right, we bought a pass and saw the whole Japan, it was well worth it.”
“What did you enjoy the most?”
“I can’t remember. You know these travelling you do when you are in your 20s, you kind of pack your bag and go, it was a hell lot of excitement. Did you not do the same?”
“I did, but not as extensively as you did. I was a poor student. I did go to France a few times thanks to my flatmate, Pierre, and those early-bird Eurostar tickets. I remember those boulevards that run in straight lines. We used to walk from the Seine to the Tuileries Garden, then all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. All of that to save a few euros! We even got on the Metro without tickets a few times. These people sitting at the counter, they really couldn’t care less. And that time in Lyon where we climbed over the gates of the Fourvière to get a panoramic view of the city at midnight, it was one of the most beautiful night views I ever saw. You been to France too, haven’t you?”
“Yes, of course. I almost toured the whole Europe during my year abroad in the UK. I went to Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and so many countries over the Easter Holiday. Europe is so beautiful.”
“Yes it is. Which is your favourite city?”
“I don’t remember. After a while, they all look the same to me.”
“You also spent some time in the States after the graduation, didn’t you? I remember you did a Route 66 road trip.”
“Yes, I did the road trip with James and Curtis. We took turn to drive and get stoned at the back seat. I did that after graduation because you know, people always feel a little lost and don’t know what to do after leaving university. It happened to me. So I thought the best thing to do would be to drop everything, take a gap year and go travel.”
“Is that how you end up being a chef at World’s? After your worldly adventures?”
“No, I hate this job, I had no choice back then. After a year of travelling, I emptied my bank and spent another one and a half year trying to sort myself out until I got this job at World’s. Now I’ve been stuck at World’s for 12 years. I finally got promoted to the Head Chef last month.”
“Thank you. It was a good experience though, the travelling. All those countries, change of scene, booze and sex. Can’t believe you didn’t do that!”
“No, after graduation I moved to London, worked at this coffee shop on Fleet Street in the morning and a club at night. The hours were at the opposite extremes and you bet I dealt with a lot of insane people – people who rushed in for coffee and expected it to be done in a nanosecond because they had a million pound deal to close and those delirious students who were already pissed on Tesco-value vodka before coming to the club. I once gave them water and called it Sambuca, they had no idea! Those years did earn me some savings and I went backpacking across India for 2 months. That’s how I met Niraj who is now heading up my company’s office in Mumbai. You saw the pictures on Facebook, didn’t you? Erica and I attended his wedding in India two weeks ago.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Those years were really something. I shed those extra weight and got fit as well. You know, too much of something is never good. You drive too fast, high chance you crash. You eat too much, high chance you suffer from indigestion.“
“I guess so. Yes that’s right.”
“I am very looking forward to my trip with Erica next year. Just she and I, no kids. We will be flying to Auckland, then take the yacht and cruise around Hauraki Gulf. We’ll go to Rotorua as well for the volcanoes, wine tasting in Napier and finish in Queenstown for those glacier valleys and beautiful countryside where they filmed the Lord of the Rings. Now this just seems so unreal. I always thought New Zealand would be such a boring place to visit, you know chock-full of wildlife and nature and nothing else. But this is the most perfect time for Erica and I. I think I’ve come to an age of knowing how to appreciate the nature, the calmer side of the world. And the ability to afford such fine quality travel really adds to that experience. I wouldn’t dream of doing this with anyone else but my wife.”
“I’m very jealous!”
“Well, you’ve been everywhere back then.”
“I can’t remember. I was too young. It all happened too fast.”
As much as I love travelling, it is never something that I would consume in immoderate helpings or put before my work. The idea of quitting a full-time job to go see the world sounds shockingly excessive to me. Well, unless you have a trust fund that feeds to your fantasy or are as persuasive as Trump is to his deluded supporters, good luck trying to convince yourself that prioritising your wanderlust over skill-honing and character-building day jobs will get you far in life.
We all love a bit of fun and have our own ways to cater to our sloth, envy and vanity every once in a while. But trust me (if not the Father) that these are not exaggeratedly classified as some of the Seven Deadly Sins. There is a reason the society conscientiously rewards the disciplined, the diligent and the determined, more so when the three are spotted together. This is not rocket science. And you don’t need me to tell you why.
Before you go footloose and fancy-free, maybe you can first learn to stand on your own two feet. The former wraps up your fear and gifts you the time of your life, the latter grills you ruthlessly, makes you question about your worth and won’t stop until you toughen up and fight it to the ground. At the end of the fight, you would win a prize called the inner strength. And that’s all you need to achieve anything in life.
Like a religious pilgrim, we are always looking for this “path to enlightenment” – and travelling is a part of it, not all of it. You want your travels to feed your intellectual curiosity, to enrich your life, not taking up the whole of your life. Who needs a cache of landmark selfies around the world that eventually sits and collects electronic dust in the Pictures folder? All for a brief appearance on Facebook and gaining a few measly Likes from people whose opinions you probably do not care about, really?
I guess my point here is travel moderately and wisely. Don’t rush it and don’t buy into the oafish articles and videos online that romanticise travel at the expense of other more important things – like actually being good at something and having meaningful, lasting relationships with real people.
Don’t be the traveller we all despise. Don’t be the one who goes to Paris and comes back with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Be the one who goes to Paris and comes back with a story.
With love x