We've all heard the saying “Life is short.” And, sometimes, it is.
But life is also unpredictable.
Even though we all probably have dreams and goals and plans for our lives, there are certain things we have no control over. Our lives could be going along on right on track, only to be shattered by something we could never have seen coming.
A tornado that rips through a neighborhood. A flood that devastates farms. An earthquake that reduces a city to rubble. And these are just the unpredictable things nature can bring about. There are also accidents, health problems, financial woes…
Life is too fleeting and changeable to take for granted.
I have a tattoo around my wrist that reads: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I try to recite this quote every once in a while, in order to remind myself to live in the here and now, and not in the future or the past. When it comes down to it, we can only live with what we're given, taking advantage of the opportunities that come our way.
This applies to travel, too.
I'm not a full-time traveler. I spend most days working to make a living just like you do. So when a chance arises for me to visit some far-off country or exotic locale, I jump on it.
Take, for example, my recent trip to New Zealand. I won a prize from the Blog4NZ campaign, and decided to plan an impromptu trip to NZ. I bought a plane ticket and was South Pacific-bound within a month of winning. Sure, I could have postponed it, saved up some more money and planned to go sometime later.
But, I thought, what if “sometime later” never came?
I know where I would like my life to be headed in the coming months and years. But there are no guarantees that things will go as planned. In fact, more likely than not, nothing will go as planned.
Last summer, when I was on an Alaskan cruise with my family, I made note of the prevalence of older couples on our cruise ship. Old men who could only walk with canes. Old women who didn’t even leave the ship when we pulled into port. It was almost comical, the number of electric wheelchairs positioned outside staterooms at night.
And, while I’m glad that older couples still travel, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for some of them on this cruise. No doubt many had dreamed about and saved up for this trip for years. For many, it was probably meant to be a retirement gift to themselves. But were they even enjoying it?
How often do we hear others say, “Oh, I’ll travel when I retire,” “I’ll travel when the kids are grown,” “I’ll travel when the house is paid off”? I hear these excuses all the time. But you know what happens? Age. And stress. And, well, life. Life happens, and by the time you retire and your kids are grown and your house is paid off, you have bad knees and weak lungs and you simply can’t visit all those places you dreamed about in your youth.
How sad. I don’t want to end up like that, holding on to youthful travel dreams that will never be reality.
So I travel now, in whatever way and to whatever place I can. I scrimp and I save and I make it happen. I took the Blog4NZ opportunity placed before me and embraced it, despite the low balance in my savings account. I'm glad I did, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of my expenses covered on that trip.
But even on trips where everything has been paid for out of my own pocket, I grasp at every opportunity and unique adventure. I travel with reckless abandon — often to the detriment of my wallet.
Is this wise? Probably not if you’re a long-term traveler. But, for someone like me who tends to take shorter trips to distant places, I attack travel with a no-holds-barred attitude.
Bungy jumping? Helicopter rides? Expensive tours? If I think they are worth it, then I will not hesitate to shell out for experiences. I treat every trip I take as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sure, I'd like to think I'll be back to Ireland or Italy or Australia someday. But what if I never make it back? I don't want to have any regrets in my life, and this includes travel regrets.
I know not everyone shares this travel philosophy, though. Many travelers stick to a strict budget so they can travel for as long as possible. Others simply don’t wait to pay for anything beyond the necessities.
When I was studying abroad in New Zealand, I traveled extensively all over the country with two friends. We booked everything from whale watching to zorbing to a private flight over the Southern Alps, and racked up some impressive credit card bills. I think we spent more weekends outside of Wellington than in it. Another international student that year almost looked down her nose at our pricey adventures, declaring that she had come to New Zealand to study, not empty her savings account on travel.
My question to her was, why would you come literally halfway around the world to hoard your money and keep your nose pressed into a book every weekend? Would you go to China and not visit the Great Wall because it costs money? Would you go to Italy and skip visiting the Vatican because it requires an admission ticket?
There are so many worthwhile experiences to be had in the world — and yes, many of them require money. But it’s my travel philosophy that you shouldn’t deny yourself any of these experiences just because they come with a pricetag.
If you are privileged enough to be able to afford to travel, then you should attack it with curiosity and vigor and a sense of adventure. And to hell with the bank account.
So travel now. Make memories. And enjoy your life.
At the end of the day, I'd rather die with a million memories than a million dollars. Money won't comfort me on my deathbed, but knowing that I lived a full and fulfilling life might.
What's your take? Do you take full advantage of every travel opportunity as if it were your last, too?