“Where are all the people my age?”
“They’re breeding,” a travel friend told me in Vietnam.
Hello! After quite a long hiatus when a shit-ton of life stuff has happened (you’ll get filled in on the details here and there throughout these coming posts), I decided to take the Trip of a Lifetime, or the trip of at least of my midlife crisis, and spend at least three months traveling Southeast Asia.
If you are now rolling your eyes and thinking that I am on my Elizabeth Gilbert ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ Spirit Quest, you can quit imagining that right now. Here are the main differences between Liz’s journey and mine.
I will preface this by saying that I have interviewed Ms. Gilbert about her subsequent book on marriage, and she is one of the most delightful human beings on the planet. Really. So take issue with her writing however you like, but damn, is she a nice, humble person. Just watch one of her TED talks if you don’t believe me.
That said, my journey did not start like this:
Me: “I need a $200,000 advance so I can travel the world on my quest to get fat on awesome food, flirt w/ strangers, achieve enlightenment in a few short months and end the whole shebang by finding the love of my life!”
Book Agent: “Go fuck yourself.”
I’m kidding! I don’t even have a book agent!
My Spirit Journey was financed 100 percent by me. And the hundreds of Airbnb people who paid me to stay in my extra bedroom. I scrubbed my guest toilet for what felt like 1,000 times, wrote what felt like a bazillion blog posts, case studies, Google ads and a whole river of other piecemeal work trying to finance this little sojourn.
So, after the end of 2015, I closed up shop, put everything in storage, quit all my jobs and headed out.
Traveling is quite like a relationship — the first few weeks are glorious! Everything is new! Everything is special and for the Very First Time! Wee!
We all should know what begins to happen next.
Realities start to creep in. For example, I just changed locales yet again, and every time you do this, there’s this emotional dip, like ‘oh, what now?’ that comes with getting the grasp of the new lay of the land. It’s not a big deal, but a few weeks of this can become a little emotionally tiring.
I feel like this might be the equivalent of the “Oh, you again,” look you give/get at breakfast. Or when you ask your significant other how their day was, and they start in with the same tired bullshit of office politics, wasted time in meetings and issues with management. Which is probably a huge reason why I don’t work in an office anymore.
Look, travel is wonderful and glorious and opens you up and makes you be so super self-sufficient — something I’ve spent a lifetime proving and finally realized on this trip, “You know what? I don’t need to fucking prove how self-sufficient I am anymore.” If they gave awards out for being self-sufficient, I would be the Leonardo fucking DiCaprio of self-sufficiency right about now.
That’s when I let the 20-year-old surf guy assigned to me for the day in a strong current drag me behind him. Fuck it. I have nothing left to prove. Especially in heavy surf. Let the kid drag me.
This is a long round-about way of getting to my above point about traveling in middle life — it’s fucking lonely out here. No one — and I mean hardly anyone — travels in middle age. Or at least extensively and in exotic locations.
There are two big universally accepted moments in one’s life when people really grab the horns of that travel bull and go batshit for it — right after college, packed down like miserable, sunburnt pack mules, and when they’re retired and therefore kinda old and cooking themselves like rotisserie chickens on some godforsaken, all-inclusive fucking beach in Thailand.
Now, a few reasons why you shouldn’t put off a journey — a real one, no resorts or cruise ships here — to Cambodia or your nearest national park much longer:
1. Travel is physically hard, yo. Even for me, and I’m in pretty great shape, hiking up and down a lot of stuff, the hot weather, the stairs of ancient temples, the mountains, the ocean, etc. It’s all a grind. And if you leave this shit for the end of your life you will regret it big time. Or not even be able to see it.
2. Traveling flat-ass broke is only fun when you’re a kid. In midlife, I can afford some boutique hotels, nice spots on Airbnb and decent meals. I don’t sweat paying for a sweet 45-minute plane ride instead of a 16-hour hellish bus ride sitting next to a chicken and hungover German. (I’m going to make fun of Germans a lot here).
3. You are actually sober enough most of the time to enjoy it. Aka, you don’t spend every night in a shitty night club and the entire next day fighting a hangover.
4. You are kind of in that sweet spot of knowing better and still being able to have a conversation with whatever smart, worldly people you meet.
5. You can walk into a fancy hotel or restaurant without looking like a vagrant and get served.
6. A lot of this stuff out here in the world is degrading fast — especially the natural world — and will be gone. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about it, but there you go. Find an environmental scientist to argue differently and I’ll be amazed.
7. You have zero guarantees in life that you will even make it to retirement to see any of this. Do. It. Now.
But Evil Molly, you say, I have jobs, kids, responsibilities. Yeah? We all do. Somehow, it’s important to life engineer travel in — or adequate breaks. In fact, I’ve seen enough nice European couples hauling their well-behaved kids around to think that travel only broadens kids’ minds and makes them better. It always makes a person better when they meet/see/do things different from their native cultures.
I don’t know how you’re going to do it — I hate those whimsical “I quit it all and lived my dream!” travel websites. Unless you are independently wealthy, or just sold a company to Zuckerberg, you’re gonna have to do it the hard way. But somehow I think it’s imperative that we all make time for more travel in mid-life, which really is the best time of life to travel when you think about it.