In my early 20s, I worked as a travel agent in my home town of Hobart, Tasmania.
One time, I had a female customer in her mid-30s take a seat at my desk. She asked me about booking a trip to New Zealand for herself and her friend, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Her young friend, faced with the last months of her life, was forced to ask herself if there were life experiences that she hadn’t yet had. Travel must have been one of them. She was trying desperately to fit in a trip before she died.
The situation really moved me. I was touched that she was trying to make the most of the time she had left, but I was horrified to think that it took a cancer diagnosis for her to realise that there were still things that she wanted to do.
Unfortunately, that woman never came back in to the store to book that trip to New Zealand for her dying friend.
I wondered what I would do if I made it to my 30s and was then faced with an early death. I knew it was unlikely, but certainly not impossible. What if I hadn’t done all the travel-related experiences that young people do? I’d be devastated.
This thought played on my mind. It became one of my biggest fears that I would get older and one day realise that I’d missed out on experiences that I could have had when I was younger.
Having grown up in an isolated and quiet city, I’d been caught up in a small town mindset. The process of finding a boyfriend, getting a stable job, buying a house, and planning to have a family had already started happening. I had been following the societal norm.
But I knew that if I stayed on that path, I might never get the chance to have those life experiences. I didn’t want to waste my 20s chasing that standard lifestyle when instead I could have been using those years to have youthful adventures.
The long-term relationship I was in had been rocky for a while, so I broke up with my boyfriend, put the house we owned together up for sale, found a new boyfriend (now my husband!), moved away from my home town, and made a rough plan of all the things I wanted to achieve while I was still in my 20s.
The list consisted of experiences that are best done while I was young, debt-free, and not tied down to any particular place. A tour through USA and Canada, a backpacking trip around Europe, and living abroad for at least a year were all on that list.
I made that list at 22, and managed to complete them all by 27.
It wasn’t always easy. I saved hard to fund those trips, and there were times that travelling was exhausting or difficult. But at the end of it, I always felt proud of myself. Each time I ticked off one of those items, it was invigorating. It felt fantastic to know that I was achieving those goals that had I set out to do.
Tomorrow, I turn 30. When I look back at everything that I achieved in my 20s, it makes me so happy to know that I made the most of those years. I have no regrets about spending all my money and forgoing a career so that I could do all those experiences. That’s what my 30s are for.
I plan to spend the next decade using Sydney as my home base while I concentrate more on saving money and working hard. My husband, Rob, recently got a remote job, and I’m in the process of chasing the career in travel that I’ve always dreamed of. We want to set ourselves up with a flexible lifestyle where work and travel go hand-in-hand.
My idea of travel from now on has also changed. No longer will Rob and I be doing whirlwind trips with only a few days in each country, trying desperately to fit in as many destinations as possible. Aside from the times that we travel for work, we’ll be taking our trips much slower, appreciating new places at a more relaxed pace.
There are still travel goals that I haven’t yet achieved, such as visiting every continent (Africa and Antarctica have eluded me) but for the things that remain on my travel list, there’s no need to be young. I can slowly tick off those destinations as I get older.
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone in their early 20s, it would be this – don’t wait for the perfect time to do the things you want to do. There is no perfect time. There is only now.
I’ve heard too many people say ‘I wish I’d travelled more when I was younger’. Don’t let yourself become one of those people. Make a list of goals, then make a plan to do them.