Taking a Year Out To Travel

My girls,

One of the truthful adages of life is that you’re a long time old. What this means, of course, is that you’re a short time young. When I say young, I certainly mean that you’re as young as you feel, but in general terms, young is your late teens, and your twenties. This is when you’re at your peak physically, and the world is a big, exciting and unmarked place.

Now, at 39, I look back on those hard-partying years with a mix of fondness and regret. The latter because I wasted away much of my twenties in an addled blur.  But I did have a decent stint as a backpacker.

At the age of 20 I set off with my best mate for two years in Europe. I drank far too much, and my oily-rag budget meant I didn’t always so eat well, but I learnt so much, from the rich histories of umpteen countries and the subtle culture changes from place to place, to gaining invaluable experience in a string of temporary office roles in my ‘settle-in’ cities of Belfast, Dublin and Edinburgh (no, I never lived and worked in London).

I interacted with other backpackers hailing from all parts of the globe, negotiated public transport systems and hostels not fit for pigs, and spent a stint on the outer of every pub in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket after a security guard at Finnegan’s Wake radioed all other bouncers in the vicinity “not to let the obnoxious long-haired Aussie in the brown jacket in”. (Something I’m not proud of.)

Yes, it was exhausting at times – all the more reason to do it as a young person – but it was also exhilarating and utterly life-shaping. I left as a very green 20-year-old who had never lived away from home and had worked in the local dairy factory out of high school, and returned a whole lot more rounded and open-eyed. The town I’d left behind was small before I left; now it was tiny.

If the pull of travel is strong, go with it. Don’t put it off until ‘the perfect time’, because, like with so many other scenarios you’ll encounter in life, there is none.

There were times when the homesickness was near-unbearable, and saying goodbye to my parents (your grandparents) at the airport was gut-churningly sad. It’s the uncertainty; the distance; the powerlessness. And it’s something that, if you decide to ‘take a year off’, that I won’t be looking forward to – even if I’ll be equally glad that you’ve taken the plunge. I’ll also know, from experience, that the sadness both parties feel – the one in the air on their way to a great adventure; the other on their way home and back to routine with the tiniest crack in their heart – will soon abate.

If you can withstand the pining for home, and you’re eager and willing for the unknown, I’d wholeheartedly recommend taking time out to travel. There’s nothing stopping you going at 20 like I did, but if you’re using it as a career step, which many of my peers did, I’d suggest getting university and a year or two in the workforce out of the way first.

Just don’t put on the back burner too long. If the pull of backpacking and overseas travel is strong, go with it. Don’t put it off until “the perfect time”, because, like with so many other scenarios you’ll encounter in life, there is none.

Travel will change you forever. It will make you grateful, smarter, more interesting, more street-wise, more cultured, stronger. And you won’t have the regret that so many have once they’re chained to the banks and to responsibility; you’ll have done it.

There’s plenty of time for all that – after all, you’re a long time old.

Love, Dad.


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