The first time I travelled outside of North America, I was 18 years old – and absolutely terrified. I had never been on a plane before, never been off the continent and had barely even been out of my parents’ sight most of my life (homeschooler – Woot! Woot!). But, after 24 million hours of flying, we finally reached Bangalore, India. Our group consisted of “ The Bangalore 12” : six men and six women, and I sat nicely on the bottom rung of the ladder as the baby of the group.
The greatest limitation that I had throughout that trip was continually feeling like I wasn’t “old enough” to participate or succeed in exploring a country different than the one I was raised in. I was way too shy to approach people, ask for directions or even order something at a restaurant. I just wanted to be invisible. You see, despite popular opinion, I am NOT an extrovert. And in addition to natural introversion, I come from a strict “keep to ourselves” Scandinavian family.
But, I remember sitting down with one of the women on the trip and telling her about how inadequate I felt. I expected pity, instead she dared me to feel empowered. She reminded me that age is only an obstacle if you allow it to be. I became so much stronger through that experience, because I finally allowed walls telling me to “stop trying” to be broken down. Was the transition smooth or fun? No. I still got nauseous every time I talked to someone. But, sometimes, the biggest success is taking your first step forward.
Years later, as I travel, I love to talk to people about their own travelling experiences. In particular, I always try to talk to older people while I travel. And every time I meet someone new, I’m reminded that although each of our stories are different – they’re not entirely lacking in similarities. For instance, every single person I’ve EVER asked about traveling (50+ years old) has said they wish they had traveled more and hadn’t let life get in the way. Whether they’re on their first trip, or their 100th, I have yet to meet ANYONE who was satisfied with how much they’ve traveled.
But, when is the best time in life to travel? My answer: When it’s the right time in life to travel (listening to that inner voice is key).
Now, if you’re like me and in your 20’s, you’ve probably been informed that your 20’s are “the best time of your life.” We’re told to travel now because when we’re older, we’ll have too many responsibilities, and after that we’ll be too rickety to leave our rocking chairs.
Well, I don’t buy it.
While obstacles make traveling harder (ex. having kids, or getting married, or having a mortgage etc.), the fact of the matter is: while these can be truths, they can also be excuses.
Whether I’m running around the globe tomorrow, in 10 years, or in 50 years, I refuse for my 20’s to be the defining “best part” – I have greater expectations for the next 70 years of my life. And while traveling, I’ve been able to meet some awesome people who are my heroes for refusing to believe the “age fallacy”, as well.
On one of my latest flights, I had the privilege of sitting next to the cutest older couple, who were probably in their sixties. After talking to them about airline food (first rule: sneakily ease your way in), I asked them where they were going. The woman lit up as she told me about her and her husband’s soon to be adventure around Ireland. They were both overflowing with a kind of giddy mischievousness. They had never been to Ireland before, and I couldn’t help but smile as they told me about all the details of their trip. While I was sitting there listening I thought, “See, here is such a great example of two constant learners of life. Age and experience don’t dictate their ability to travel. They were ready, willing and excited for their new adventure.”
My mom is another of my absolute heroes for how often we traveled as a family while I was growing up. As a single mother of four, you would think she’d have had some kind of restrictions or boundaries. But, when I was nine years old, she packed us up in our mini van, along with everything we’d need to live the next month of our lives, and started driving. In total, we reached 38 states (and every historical site, attraction and national park in between), and it still amazes me that such a feat was accomplished while she homeschooled me in the back of the van. And I don’t even have time to go into the almost 10 Canadian provinces, and trip to Alaska soon after. My mom was dedicated to making a way for us to experience the world, and she knew the best way to do that was to have us actually experience it. In conclusion, my mom is a total bad ass. Period.
Traveling is second nature to me because I was raised in it, but I realize that travel is a way of life. One that is, at times, uncomfortable and stretches your mind, soul and spirit. It can be scary and intimidating and emotionally (and physically) draining. But I think it is such an important part of existing as part of this planet. A lot of the time you don’t have the tools, or any idea how things are going to work out, but I think it’s exactly that lack of certainty that allows travelers to expand their minds and grow so much more over shorter periods of time.
Starting in college I made a commitment to travel somewhere I’ve never been before every year. Maybe this will actually pan out, maybe it won’t. But having the goal keeps me on track to do everything in my power to make it happen. So far, so good. I’ve been able to go to amazing places for the past five years, and I can’t wait for even more adventures.
But, the thing about the best adventures are that they happen when you’re the least ready for them (Bilbo Baggins?! – yeah, I went there). And sometimes I have to remind myself that God doesn’t keep a stopwatch on our lives that we can measure. He knows when we are ready and sends us out, regardless of our belief in the fact (Romans 8:28).
Honestly, 90% of the time I do things, I have 1% confidence in my ability to succeed. But, I have to take a step back, take a deep breath and make the decision to do it anyway. And generally it takes patience, tears and A LOT of prayer. But, you know what? Amazing things happen when you start trying to make them happen. People jump on board and support you, pieces fall into place and you start seeing little miracles occur in your life.
There’s a verse in the book of Esther that says you have been called, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Esther, in no way, thought she was ready to move forward on the path God directed her – but she took the first steps, knowing that regardless of the outcome, she had already succeeded by being faithful. Maybe it’s because she’s my namesake (maybe I just love stories), but I love this biblical lesson of blind faithfulness being rewarded. And while I’m totally on board with being called to go out in the world while I’m in my twenties, I want/hope/wish/plead that God will continue to challenge me to travel for the rest of my life as well.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings