Fear Not Traveling, Not Travel
I received the following letter from a reader looking for advice. I usually publish such letters in the Travel Questions section of the site, but this one really struck me as being heartfelt, and I wanted it to receive more exposure so that other readers could also offer little pieces of wisdom.
Letter asking for travel advice
I’m sorry to bother you as I know you are frequently on the road, but I need some advice or positive reinforcement or something. I am a senior in high school; I was never very interested in work (homework to be specific, although I’ve never had too bad of grades) and have always found myself staring off into space imagining different worlds, people, and cultures.
I am now in the last leg of my senior year and everybody, it seems, has their lives set; going to college, studying this, doing that, all that jazz. Until recently I was going to join the Air Force, but I realized that the lifestyle was not for me. In fact I had decided to save up some money and join a program that aids in finding jobs and supporting those who wish to travel abroad. I would be flying myself to Australia to live and work there for a year, splitting apartment payments with other members of the program. My stepmother is okay with this idea, although skeptical, but my dad is apprehensive and confrontational about the whole thing. I can get veteran scholarships from my dad, although I feel like I need to find myself before I make a choice about my future. My argument is that I need to be an individual before I can decide what I want to do. I want to do something before I do anything.
My family has never really been able to understand my decisions, but my father refuses to even try. He argues that I will hate my job, get hurt (and not have any medical insurance), and that my time there will be terrible. My whole life my parents have told me that doing what I want to do will make me a failure. Now I have an opportunity to get out of the house, see the world, and find myself, but I have been instilled with fears of failure, poverty, and unhappiness. I don’t know what I am asking for. Maybe your advice? I do know, however, that I would like you to give me your opinion on this program: should I do my own thing? I think that if I enjoy my time in Australia I might just continue to either live their or to travel, which I am unsure of at the moment though (like a lot of other things).
Thank you very much for your time as I understand it can be hard to get a hold of.
It is my impression that you can only fail at life if you don’t do what you sincerely want to do out of fear of failure. If you want to reach for the cookie jar on the top shelf then pull over a chair to use as a ladder an climb up and dig in. If you want to go to Australia then find a way to go to Australia.
The worst thing that can happen is that you get there, look around, have a horrible time, and then return home to the same place that you are in now. You have nothing to loose and only the fruition of your dreams to gain. You go to Australia, waste a few thousand dollars, return home, go to university next year. Big deal. In the great ebb and flow of existence, this is only pimply prick of time and a very insignificant amount of money. You do not have to end up enjoying that which you really desire to do, you just have to do it. In the great course of things, if you travel for a while and realize that you do not like it, there are no problems: you just move on to something else with one major hurdle crossed.
But if you do not cross over the hurdle, it is my feeling that it may stand in front of you for your entire life. You are young and just entering into your glory years of exploration. Do not feel burdened by your urge to grasp new experiences, places, people, and insights: it is normal.
The Wanderlust is strong, and it is an affliction that can never be extinguished in those it hits. Test the resilience of your Wanderlust, go travel and see what you come up with. From my experience, going with the traveling urge has worked out. It may also for you, or it may not, but I think it is worth trying.
It is interesting to me how many societies put so much pressure on their young people to take life so seriously. It seems odd to me that people are taught that they can damage the rest of their lives by not walking a preset, straight, and narrow path like some kind of perverted robot.
I will tell you this right now, you can’t break your life.
When I left university for the first time people warned me that I would never go back, they acted as if I ruined my life. This seemed odd to me. I could not figure out why I could not go back to university whenever I wanted to. In fact, I left and returned to university around 6 times before I finally graduated at the age of 27, and I think that I am far better off for doing so. I gave myself time to adjust to my studies and space to try new things. If I went to university in a straight four years I would be a marine biologist now, which is something that I only have a passing interest in. Rather, I gave myself time to travel and to figure myself out a little. I realized that I really loved archaeology, so I became an archaeologist; I realized that I really loved writing, so I got a degree in journalism. I feel good now, and I’m happy because I figured out a small sense of what makes me click.
My path was jagged – it still is – and my parents thought that I was nuts – they still do- but I did what it took to figure out what makes me happy. Everyone’s paths are not the same, and you cannot compare yourself to other people or try to do things like they do. Listen to your guts when you first wake up in the morning, look out the window, and if you find yourself dreaming about the other side of the world, go there!
The only way that you can fail is if you ever prevent yourself from doing that which you really want to do. You can only fail if you don’t try to live your dreams. It is my impression that it is only the people who have lives full of “should’ve” and “would’ve” that are failures. To try something and have it go belly up does not mean that you failed at it, it just means that it just did not work out. Plans not working out is normal, there is nothing wrong with this. Try one path and if it comes to a dead end, try another.
I believe strongly that you gain far more from trying something and having it not work than playing it safe and never trying anything at all.
You can easily travel for one, two, five, or ten years and then return to wherever you are, go to university, and have some kind of professional life and career. I have met many, many people out who spent their youth on the Road and then got an education and good jobs as adults. I worked for an archaeologist one season who spent 20 years wandering around the world before returning to the USA, going to university, earning a doctorate degree, and finally becoming a university professor. This is one of the great things about American culture: you are not really set into your path, you can change directions.
It is my impression that the experiences you will take from traveling – both good and bad – will have a profound effect on your life no matter what you do or where you go. I feel that traveling is the best investment that any person can make, as it is an investment of the time and energy for the purpose of molding your life, making you more knowledgeable, capable, and worldly. You travel to learn, to experience, and to explore.
In travel, you invariably learn how to do new things, how to communicate in new ways, and how to view yourself and other people in ways that are vastly beyond what you could if you stayed home. Perhaps the most important side-effect from traveling is the acquisition of deep sense of self-confidence that derives from simply taking care of yourself in all situations and circumstances. This sense of confidence will benefit you no matter what you do. It is my experience that you will take the knowledge that you gain while traveling with you and apply it to whatever you engage in for the rest of your days.
If your parents are secure in their parenting history then they will know – deep down – that you will be alright. It just sounds as if they are afraid – afraid for you and especially afraid for themselves. It sounds like they simply cannot fully comprehend what it is that you are trying to do. This is alright. My parents had no clue what I was doing when I first began traveling.
No parent wants their child to be a traveler.
Who want to raise something for 18 years to have it pop up one day, say “see ya later,” and split to the other side of the planet?
I think your parents’ fear is understandable. But after you prove that you can take care of yourself in a foreign land and accomplish what you set out to do, I think that they will be proud of you.
There are things that you can do to quell your parents’ fears. One main thing is working. You are already proposing to work, so that is one major key in getting your parents to accept your plan. It is my impression that working is a regular part of life, whether you travel or not. Working also means that you are not trying to become a lazy drop out. You are not just going to Australia for some far-flung beach party experience, but also to learn new jobs, trades, and make money. This is concrete experience that you can write down on your job resume, university application essays, and take with you anywhere. Travel experience looks good on paper.
It sounds like you parents are just a little worried about you. This is good. As soon as you land in Australia and show them that you can take care of yourself, I think they will calm down a little. You can always go to the airforce, university, or wherever else when you return.
I say, take a year and explore. You never know what you may find.
I checked out the program that you want to do in Australia, and it seems alright. But if money is tight, I just want to let you know that you could do the same thing that this company does for a fraction of the cost on your own. It is not too difficult to get a working holiday visa, book yourself into a hostel, get your own apartment, and go to an employment agency on your own volition. There are also a lot of Australian jobs that cater to foreigners advertised online. But if you want the security of an organization, then this is understandable as well.
Anyway you do it, have fun.
Fear Not Traveling, Not Travel