What is the Best Age to Travel?

Question:   What is the best age to travel?

Answer:      The age you are right now!

My perfect world fantasy begins with a self-replenishing bank account.  It includes an empty diary, a rucksack that is always packed and the ability to head off adventures at a moment’s notice.  In my perfect world fantasy I am at peak fitness, in perfect health and have bundles of energy.

In my perfect world fantasy I spend every December on an expedition ship in Antarctica, surrounded by overwhelming icebergs whilst photographing penguins, humpback whales and leopard seals.  I like to search for polar bears in July and the Great Migration draws me to Kenya in August.  During the other months I explore new landscapes and cultures and balance the rest of my time between my home base in London and Australia.

My perfect world fantasy also includes a handsome and charismatic man carrying my camera bag – but I don’t want to sound greedy!

My perfect world fantasy is a lifestyle and a lifetime of travel.

My perfect world fantasy requires time, money, health and energy.  And whilst a lifestyle dominated by travel isn’t beyond the realms of possibilities, a lifetime of it is another story.  Very few people can fund a lifetime of travel and not everyone wants to.  Why?  Because for most people, their perfect world fantasy also includes building a career, having a family, owning their own home, enjoying material comforts and possessions, spending spare time on sport and hobbies and saving for their retirement.

We are an ambitious but greedy generation – we want it all!  But we can’t have it all at the same time.  So if we want to balance a lifestyle of travel with study, career, friends, family, security and hobbies, what is the best age to do it?

What is the best age to travel?

The key ingredients of a great travel experience are money, time and flexibility, health, energy and the right mind-set.  There is no perfect age and there is no impossible age – each has its pros and cons.

Note: the following is written with the disclaimer that I am aware that I am grossly over-generalising and stereotyping each age group! I know there are exceptions!

Travelling in your 20s

The best things:

  • It’s a popular age to travel so you’ll have no trouble meeting other people
  • It’s often the most commitment free period of your life, allowing flexible and long term travel
  • It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons, gain perspective, discover yourself and meet new people, before the realities of a career and family set in

The challenges:

  • Financial resources are often limited which can restrict how, where and for how long you travel
  • Culture shock can be unsettling for young travellers as can reverse culture shock for those returning home to settle into ‘real life’
  • It can be frustrating to return home to find your university mates a year or two ahead of your on the career ladder.

My Verdict:

When I left my Australian school/university in the early 90’s the concept of a GAP Year was virtually unheard of – and so was unemployment.  Although I had dreams of travelling, I also had dreams of being independent and the opportunity to earn a salary and build a career felt like a big step towards that.  Would I do it differently if I had my time over?  Absolutely, 100% yes!  Who knows what they want to do with their life at 18?  Who even knows who they are at 18?  Everyone should take a GAP Year – in fact, I think it should be a compulsory pre-requisite to an apprenticeship or university placement!

Travelling as a Career Breaker (30-45yrs)

The best things:

  • A career break is a great way to re-energise, re-train or change direction when you find yourself rundown or in a career rut.
  • After more than a decade out of school, you are more likely to have the financial resources to widen your travel options
  • With both education and experience behind you, its an opportunity to take a break from employment without having to start from scratch when you return

The challenges:

  • This often feels like the most committed phase of life, with partners, children, pets, careers and mortgages complicating travel decisions
  • You may find it unsettling to return to find peers have moved ahead of you on the career ladder
  • Whilst you are likely to return refreshed and re-energised, financial commitments often see career breakers fall back into old habits as soon as they return to work

My Verdict:

The best decision I ever made in life was to take a career break when I was 35 years old.  Having not had a GAP Year, I had spent more than a decade focusing on my career and burning the candle at both ends.  Like many others my age, I had fallen into the trap of following a well-trodden career path without questioning its direction.  I realised there were many things I still wanted to do in life and spending the majority of my time in the office was giving me the funds but not the time to do them.  A career break helped me look at the world and myself differently, change my lifestyle and gain a healthier perspective on my priorities.  I was at a stage in my career that a break would enhance rather than destroy it and I returned viewing it as something that could facilitate a balanced lifestyle instead of preventing it.

Taking a career break in your 30’s helps reaffirm who you are and your priorities – or it helps you change them before it’s too late!

The Middle-Aged Traveller (45-60 years)

The best things:

  • A commitment that may have complicated your travel decisions a decade earlier starts to disappear: children leave home, mortgages are paid off, early retirement may be possible.
  • You are more likely to enjoy comfortable travel options, with more stability and financial resources behind you.
  • You make a great volunteer with a strong level of skills and experience, without the potential physical limitations a retiree may face

The challenges:

  • You may have emotional ties to home that you find hard to break, such as ageing parents or grandchildren
  • The harsh reality is that you may find you have less options in finding employment when you return than a 30+ career breaker
  • Travelling for the first time at this age can be intimidating and overwhelming for some people.

My Verdict:

I’ve met some incredibly diverse travellers in this age group.  There are married couples with time on their hands now their children are self-sufficient.  There are the families who enjoy regular trips away or are even on a round-the-world trip.  Some are enjoying being more financially stable and indulging a photography or volunteering passion.  Others are making the most of redundancy or early retirement and some have even sold up a business or home to see the world ‘before it’s too late’.

If you have finances and health on your side, this can be the age where you start ‘rewarding’ yourself after raising a family, working hard and saving for a more comfortable lifestyle.

The Retired Traveller

The best things:

  • More likely to be financially secure, especially those who have spent their lifetime saving for ‘the trip of a lifetime’
  • Retirees with a lifetime of education and experience can make valuable volunteers, especially with more than their ‘2 week vacation’ period to offer
  • It can provide a refreshing and re-energising change for those who are finding their retirement unsettling

The Challenges:

  • Not being in the same physical shape you were as a younger traveller can be frustrating and restrict your travel style
  • Although things are changing, the travel market is still geared towards the younger traveller and you will need to do your research to ensure you don’t end up volunteering or travelling with a group of 20 year olds wanting to party (unless this is what you are after!)
  • You may uncover a travel addiction and regret not starting your travelling career earlier in life

My Verdict:

Do I think you should travel during your retirement?  Absolutely.  Do I think you should wait until your retirement?  No.

I’ve met some extraordinary travellers who are fulfilling their retirement years as volunteers, indulging a lifelong hobby or interest, visiting a location they’ve always dreamed about or embarking on a round-the-world trip.  But there are no guarantees in life and I’ve also heard heart-breaking stories of lifelong dreams remaining unfulfilled because ‘tomorrow’ never came.

The Final Word

There is no better age to travel than the age you are now.

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