Don’t Travel While You Are Young

I came across this post making the case for “Travel while you are young.” Such posts are not uncommon – a search of the phrase on Google will tell you as much. I thought I’d provide the counter point.

As I write this, I know fully well that this is going to be the sort of “un-sexy” post that will only be read by the regulars in this community. The posts that make their waves across the blogosphere are the ones with “sexy” advice – the kind that make you look dreamily beyond the computer screen/cubicle and make you wonder if you should hand in your papers and walk into the promise land of “follow your passion” and “travel while you are young.”

So, don’t travel when you are young? Yup, focus on being so good they can’t ignore you instead. Invest in your learning. Work long hours while you can. Work weekends. Get really really good. Travel, but let that not be the goal. Let the goal be to develop skills that will help you make a positive difference to the world.

And, while we are it, don’t buy into nonsense about age. By societal terms, you are always either too young or too old to do something. Luckily, Bill Gates didn’t listen to such advice. Neither did Mark Zuckerberg or Colonel Sanders. And, neither should you.

I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of the points such posts push. For instance, this post in question has a couple of  good points about habits. I just disagree with the assertion that travel is the seeming answer to making an “investment” in life that we make in our years of empowerment. And I will explain why.

Let’s start with a question – what is the purpose of this life? While we do not have a definite answer to this question, we do have two largely accepted schools of thought. The first asserts that the purpose of life is to pursue happiness while the second asserts its all about finding meaning which comes from committing to a cause greater than your own.

If happiness is the goal
: There are two kinds of happiness – pleasure (short term) and gratification (long term). That exquisite bar of chocolate and that road trip on the Gold Coast are examples of pleasure. Gratification, on the other hand, comes from all those long and painful hours you put in to get good at what you do; that sense of focus and exhilaration at work/study/play when you completely lose yourself in what you are doing. Psychologists call this state “flow.”

Travel is pleasure. Pleasure is very important to our well being in small doses. But, it is not what brings long term gratification and happiness.

If purpose is the goal: Travel isn’t about committing to a cause greater than one self unless being self centred is a cause. And, it really isn’t all that hard.

Put simply, anybody with a bit of cash and time to kill can travel. If only it were that simple to make a lasting difference in this world…

So, let’s not make the act of travel look heroic. You might have many reasons to do it – you might love traveling, you might love frequent vacations, you might have time to kill with some spare cash, or you might have been European in the “good old days” when the welfare system made sure you had a free education.

That’s not to say it can’t be heroic either – if you volunteer at orphanages in a 100 countries, good on you. Hanging out at the beach or eating at a local’s house doesn’t count – unless the purpose is pleasure. And, once again, it’s okay to go after pleasure if you call it that.

And, in a true celebration of unsolicited advice, I’d like to add a piece of my own (oh, the irony) – Go after the “un-sexy.”

Think of all the “un-sexy” advice you have received in your life – never tell a lie, keep your promises, study hard, work harder, exercise regularly, eat healthy, be the best at what you do, read good books, be there for people who need you, etc. That’s the stuff that actually DOES make us happy in the long run.

Or, as JLM eloquently puts it – ‘That Geek in high school who you used to make fun of, Football Team Captain, just sold his company for $300,000,000 and is taking your old girlfriend to the Turks & Caicos for the next two weeks.  She says she has a few things to teach him and apparently he’s a fast learner.  They said “hi”.’

What about making a difference and changing the world, then? Does the un-sexy stuff accomplish that?

That’s not guaranteed. It never is. But, at least you will give yourself a shot.

And, the people who give themselves a shot at making a difference and changing the world are the ones that actually do.