I turn 31.
Travel is ultimately about one thing: the acquisition of knowledge and experience in relation to space and time. -Wade Shepard
Yes, I quoted myself above. I’m now 31 years old, I suppose I can do that sort of thing. But 31 doesn’t seem as old as I once figured it to be. I can remember when my father was 31 years old, and he seemed to me as a child far older then than what I perceive myself to be now. I suppose this could be a matter of perspective — any adult looks mighty old to a kid — or a matter of lifestyle: when my father was my age he had a house, a permanent full time job, two kids, a truck, everything and all that.
I would watch as my dad would work 40 to 50 hour weeks and then spend the weekends doing home repairs or preparing for and cleaning up after this or that person’s birthday or some other holiday. I watched him for 18 years and thought, “Wow, I could never do that.” The man was too good of an example to follow — the bar was always set a little too high. But he never really seemed to give himself much credit: “You don’t want to do this shit for the rest of your life,” he would tell me.
But I did do that. Well, in my own strange little way. I work for myself, but I work obsessively. I travel, ‘but I still take care of a family; I write about things, but it’s an art form that can never be perfected. I once thought that I lived a sort of a frivolous existence, and I’ve never really minded, but now, with each year that passes, I’ve become confident that this way of life is as versatile and solid as any other.
This past 23rd of May was my 31st birthday. In three weeks from now I will have spent 13 of those years traveling and living abroad. My entire adulthood has been spent on the road. I don’t have one of those “escape from the corporate sector” or “I needed to change my life” stories. I’ve never built up the clutter to tie myself down to any one place, I’ve never owned a home, never had an automobile for over a few months, never been a part of a club or team — I’ve never even had a permanent job.
I did not set out to live some sort of alternative lifestyle, I did not try to flip the switch on my society or to prove that I’m smarter than everybody else — no, perpetual travel just always seemed to make the most sense. I would dream about what was “out there” as a kid growing up in sort of a remote place, I would spend my days staring into maps, and the moment I started traveling — the very first day, in fact — I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my days.
There was never a decision to become a traveler, it just happened . . . and continued to happen . . . and continued to happen. I climbed up the hill of world travel, peaked out over the edge, and saw nothing to impede my path way far into the distance. So I began walking, and I’m still going.
I just celebrated another birthday in another country of this very large planet. Each time this day passes I put up a new “marker” post on this travel blog. I use to end these posts with something like, “Another year older, another year on the run” or something silly like that. This year I know that I’m not on the run to or from anything. Saying that I’m searching for something makes things sound more fun — more worthy of regard and respect, perhaps — but it’s simply not true. I found what I was looking for the moment I stepped off the farm: a way of life that I enjoy every single day.
My pursuit was no different than anyone else’s, perhaps the only difference is that I appreciate what I have rather than grasping for what I don’t. I don’t have a home, a car, a well paying job, a circle of friends, I’m away from my family for most of the year . . . but I can’t allow this to opaque what is right before me. There is no perfect lifestyle, all have advantages and disadvantages — the trick is to mitigate the latter with the former.
The grass is the same on all sides of the fence if you know how to care for it. But if you don’t, it won’t be green anywhere. It’s my impression that if you don’t know how to enjoy where you’re standing right now then changing your position won’t matter much at all. The trick to travel is trying to figure out how to enjoy life — anywhere, almost all the time.
Travel is a job where you’re the product that you’re manufacturing, and time is the raw material. Mixing memories of destinations, people, sites, activities, reflection, learning, shock, discomfort, sex, experience with time is how this end product — you — is created and bettered. The benefit of the traveling is that it provides you with a few more ingredients to add to this proprietary mix.
You live for a certain number of years, make what you can of them, and then you croak. There is nothing more to it. Whether you’re good or bad, rich or poor, a traveler or an idler is irrelevant if you can look back and say that you’re satisfied with how you spent the time of you’re life. Each time my birthday passes I look back on the year I’d just lived — one full revolution around the sun — and I ask myself: am I satisfied with that?
Since my last birthday I traveled to five countries on four continents: I rode a bike through Iceland, I improved VagabondJourney.com in Mexico, I checked out Colombia, and now I’m back in China. That was a good year as far as travel is concerned. I also helped raise my daughter, cultivated relations with my wife, and further adapted and solidified our lifestyle as a traveling family. It was in this year that I began to really experience the pattern which this next era of travel is taking — family travel is no longer something that is new and novel, it is every day life, as normal as white rice.
Youth is for learning about all of the things in this world that you can do; adulthood is for understanding what you can’t do. Life starts out streamlined — you’re a baby, you can’t do shit — and then the possibilities that are available to you grow in proportion to your age. By the time you’re twenty your options in life seem without end, but then another decade is added on to that, and it starts to become apparent how much time and effort is needed to truly pursue any passion to fruition and the feeling that you’re too old to start something new from scratch sets in. You begin to realize that doing option A means that you will never complete option B, that you need to choose what you will invest yourself in and what you won’t. In youth, you plant possibilities everywhere. Then you get older and you begin to weed out the saplings that aren’t growing well so they don’t suck sustenance from those that are. In youth there are an infinite number of paths you can take, in adulthood these taper down to a few. Life again becomes streamlined.
Your life is like a river. If you’re aiming for a goal that isn’t your destiny, you will always be swimming against the current. Young Gandhi wants to be a stock car racer? Not gonna happen. Little Anne Frank wants to be a high school teacher? Tough Anne. That’s not your destiny. But you will go on to move the hearts and minds of millions. Find out what your destiny is and the river will carry you. Sometimes events in life give an individual clues as to where their destiny lies. -Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats
I’m not going to be a race car driver either, or a singer in a hair band, a sumo wrestler, a lawyer, a business man, a guy with a house, the dude that files your taxes, a professional poker player, or a physicist, but I am a traveler and a travel blogger. I’m going to keep riding this river, it’s the surest way of getting anywhere.
At 31 years of age I’ve taking a more pragmatic view of what I stand to accomplish during my lifetime. I’ve realized that not all of my pursuits will come to fruition and that I need to trim the branches of my life, so to speak, so that my unfulfillable projects will not drain energy from the ones that could be successful. My focus has narrowed to a fine point: I now not only know what I like to do but I have an idea at what I can be successful at.
I run a successful travel website. I make a living from it, I get more traffic than 99.9% of the travel sites out there. But I don’t run an “industry” site, I’m not going to attract big sponsors, I’m not going to grovel for press trips, I’m a little too terse for a broader audience . You’re not going to see me posing pretty on the Travel Channel any time soon. This just isn’t my style. But because of my “style” there are limits to my success, and I can’t expect to expand beyond these limits. That said, I’ve climbed the mountain of this project and it feels good to have arrived. Now I need to accept what it is, what it’s capable of, and make it better and better along these lines.
I’m making a global documentation project. VagabondJourney.com will soon have dozens of writers criss-crossing the globe publishing stories of their observations, experiences, and what they’ve learned.
I know what my possibilities are: I’ll continue running VagabondJourney.com and working on some books. I will publish these books and see what happens. This is the path I’ve chosen for myself, and because I’m walking this path it is not possible to walk another without leaving this one completely vacated.
Writing is an obsession. It is not something to do in spare time. Each moment of each day is for writing. This profession changes how you see the world, how you interact with people, and how you experience events. There is never a moment that I’m not on this path, and I’ve walked it so far that there are no longer any cross roads. I need to finish walking this path down to its end.
Another year of travel is in the bag, and I feel a little richer because of it. The wealth of the traveler is measured in experience, and getting another year older is not something to loathe. Memories are the true currency of life, and, in my opinion, travel increases the acquisition of this wealth exponentially. I’m now 31 years old. For 13 years I’ve traveled. I’m either a pretty wealthy guy or completely delusional at this point.
As I think over this past year I must say that I’m satisfied: at least I know where I’m going.
Birthday posts from previous years:
Vagabond turns 30
Birthday 2010, 29 years old in El Salvador
Travelogue entry from 28th birthday
Travelogue entry from 27th birthday
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
May 31, 2012, 7:12 pm
Only 34 years until you can retire at 65 now! What is your retirement plan like – buy a house and stop travelling as opposed to the people that start travelling (or want to) only when they retire (which for many never happen by then because they are either sick, ‘too old’, or don’t have enough money)?
I don’t think that with your lifestyle you’ll be able to get a lot of old age social security money ( or whatever that’s called for Americans)?
It’s an interesting issue for such as you. But it’s probably a moot point as I guess you’ll be doing that until the end of your days maybe…. Or do you have an alternate plan for the far future? Do you see yourself (and Chaya) on the road always until you’re both 80 or more?
Anyway, Happy belated birthday Wade!
May 31, 2012, 7:47 pm
well said rich man