For the fortunate, a love of travel starts at an early age, with a passport filled with stamps before the teen years. Later, they use the memories of their experiences as a springboard for their own adventures, carving out the time — and money — for annual escapes to destinations the world over.
But that’s not how it went for me. In fact, I didn’t even have a passport until the ripe old age of 37. Today, just 10 years later, I’m living abroad and exploring everything the world can throw at me. Yes, I know I’m late to the travel party. But I’m making up for lost time!
Much like the fortunate globetrotting-youngsters in my opening, I had an extremely happy childhood. But my childhood traveling experience was quite limited. I was raised by my mom, a working, single parent for most of the time. She’d tell you we were poor, but I never felt that way. For as well-traveled as I felt, all our trips spanned relatively short distances. Silver Dollar City was more accessible than Disneyland. Instead of ski slopes, we “sledded” down the local hills on cardboard boxes. The beach was a day’s drive away. My first and only plane ride of my childhood was a summer trip to stay with my dad just two states away. All of that was traveling, right?
Things changed significantly once I hit college. My first real job had me flying and driving all over the country setting up and managing the audio & visuals for large conferences. A great time for a kid with limited travel experience, But not so great for my success as a student. And not such a leisure travel experience. I was racking up hundreds of thousands of miles every year, but rarely seeing more of a city than the convention center and my hotel. After three years of intense business travel before I turned 21, I was rather burned out on the whole idea of travel.
My experiences must have held some romantic notion for my young bride, however. While I was busy traveling for work, she was busy attending travel agency school, and took a job in corporate travel right after I quit my job. She’d take her fam trips to visit properties, hotels, and other destinations while I stayed home, putting in extra hours. With the exception of one quick — and almost free — trip to Jamaica, I didn’t accompany her on the trips. And honestly, I really didn’t want to. Like my travels before, she was working on those trips. There wasn’t a lot of time left over for leisure.
Meanwhile, I was focused on one thing — making more money by climbing the corporate ladder. The Big Wigs in my company traveled for pleasure. A lot. Me and the other schlubs at my level? Not so much. We envied what they had, but knew that if we just followed the defined path, sticking with it and working hard, one day we’d be able to afford to the luxurious life of leisure travel they seemed to relish.
By my mid-30s, that mindset had become deeply ingrained in my psyche. International travel for pleasure was always one rung ahead of my current position, now in middle management. I had nice cars, a nice home, and was even able to take short-term domestic trips for vacation… but I wasn’t yet at the level I needed to be to afford international travel. But I was content, adding more stuff to my growing pile, taking a weekend with the family here or there to relax and unwind, and the requisite annual long-ish trips back home over the holidays. Then it was back work, continuing the climb. This was my life.
Everything changed one night over dinner with Sheila’s friend Carol, when she said “I think I’m going to go to Belize next month.”
The key phrases to me were “I think” and “next month”. Belize was a foreign country. A tropical getaway that needs to be planned, saved for, and seriously weighed against other more practical travel options. One does not simply think they may go to Belize next month.
More to the point, I knew Carol’s profession and had a very good notion of what sort of salary she was drawing — and it wasn’t huge. She was a carefree spirit for sure, but this seemed to border on irresponsible.
“You can’t afford a tropical vacation”, I admonished. After an uncomfortable silence and a half dozen well-placed shin kicks from my wife, Carol thanked me for my concern and then set me straight. I’ll spare you the details — or spare me the reliving of how incredibly stupid and naive I once was — and get to the punch line: After expediting my first-ever passport at 37, we accompanied Carol on her trip. No, it wasn’t cheap. But it was a lot less expensive than I thought.
That one trip completely changed my outlook on travel. Rather than seeing it as a future reward, traveling became an important and valuable part of my life as it was happening. Rather than send our son to an in-state hockey camp, we traveled to Canada for 10–14 days at a time, for four years in a row. We made a return visit to Belize to explore more of that awesome country, and we made another trip to Jamaica. Our in-country travel expanded as well, burning extra vacation days on long weekends as we deeply explored the blossoming “beer tourism” travel niche. We spent two weeks lounging on the beach in the Mexican Riviera. And last year, we spent the better part of a month in the Dominican Republic, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.
Once you get started, travel is addictive. In our case, a couple just past our mid-40s, travel has become what we do, full time. At the end of 2014, we sold everything we owned, gave the cat to our now-grown son, and left the country. In just over five months, we’ve visited seven countries in Europe. Now we’re in Thailand for a few months, with a half-dozen other southeast Asian countries on our itinerary. Our plan is to spend the holidays in Australia. Or maybe New Zealand. Or maybe on a boat. Honestly, we’re not that sure.
Because when one realizes one can simply travel, one simply does. For as long as one can.
Cheers from Ranong, Thailand!
This post was originally posted on one of partner websites on July 14, 2015. But they’ve been sold and all of the content wiped. Luckily, I had a copy! — Evo
We met the fine folks at TravelSmith at TBEX Europe and struck up a fast friendship. Even after the hangover went away (there might have been beer involved), we still wanted to work together. This is the first of many articles we’re writing on their behalf.
The best part? We get to talk about us!