For the 50+ Traveler

For the past three years, I’ve been traveling the world full time at my own pace. I gave up a corporate job, an expensive apartment, and a nice lifestyle in exchange for the opportunity to spend as much time as I want anywhere in the world. Of the 50 countries I’ve been to so far, I traveled to 25 in the past three years.

While I feel blessed to be marooned in New Zealand for the pandemic, I greatly miss my travel life. As I wait eagerly to be able to continue my international journey, here’s what I’m missing most.

1. Friendships With Fellow Travelers

When I first began life as a nomad, I thought I was crazy. What boomer in their right mind throws away a stable income and life for the unknown? It turns out that there are a lot of us. Being on the road with fellow full-time travelers made me feel that I was in good company and that I was part of something bigger -- truly living my life, rather than letting it pass me by.

2. The Freedom And Flexibility Of Last-Minute Plans

Once I got the hang of going with the flow, I enjoyed waking up, deciding randomly where to go, booking transportation and accommodations, and going. Now, transportation is intermittent depending on lockdown levels, and flights are few and far between and much more expensive. If I want to get to an international destination, I’ll have to give the plans months of forethought and do much more research, and even then, my options will be limited.

Tom kha soup in Thailand.

3. Exposure To Strange Foods

I miss the strange foods I once had the pleasure of tasting around the world. Huge corn kernel snacks in Peru; kudu, ostrich, and warthog in Africa; Hanoi spring rolls in Vietnam; the best tom kha soup I’ve ever experienced in Thailand… the list goes on and on. I’m frequently amused by common snacks like Doritos in other countries in flavor combinations unheard of in America. It seems like the rest of the world has much more tolerance for spice!

4. Seeing The Diversity And Beauty Of Our Planet

There’s something surreal about growing up in a big city and then traveling the world and seeing how differently the land has formed in other continents and countries. I have been captivated by the rolling fields of Argentina, the endless nothingness of Namibia, and the magnificence of Devil’s Throat of Iguazu Falls. In New Zealand, I can see why legends say a demigod pulled these islands from the water. It’s spectacular to be able to see all these landscapes with my own eyes.

5. History Becoming Present

Another magical experience of travel is walking in the places where so many have walked before me. Learning about historical events in the places where they transpired -- rather than in a textbook -- makes international travel feel like time travel. In Greece, I could easily imagine the ancient Spartans and Athenians roaming about. In France, I’ve seen demonstrations that recall the country’s revolutionary past, stood at the Bastille, and stared at Rodin’s pensive statue. Being able to speak with those whose families have lived in a country for centuries makes for fascinating conversations and a deeper learning experience than one could ever have in a classroom.

The writer kissing a llama.

6. Experiencing The Unexpected

Full-time travel is a funny thing -- when I try to make a plan, things rarely transpire as I thought they would. The result is usually something better than I imagined -- a complete lack of dependency on planning that allows me to meet random strangers and see unexpected places I wouldn’t encounter in a guidebook. These off-the-beaten-path experiences are some of the best parts of travel.

7. Adapting To A New World

During this pandemic, I’m grateful to have gained the important ability to adapt to the world in front of me, rather than the one I knew before. Every time I visit a new country, I discover different values, different standards, and people living in a very different way. My favorite experiences have come from volunteering to help out where I could. Now, more than ever, I appreciate my ability to roll with the differences rather than become upset by them.

A street in Paris at night.

8. Watching My Back

This one really caught me by surprise, but I miss having to make sure I observe various safety protocols. Those dangers feel less present now that we’re all hiding from a virus! I think the knowledge that I’m able to keep myself safe, make the right friends, and go to the right places adds to my sense of self-confidence and helps me carry on.

9. Seeing Poverty Firsthand

Learning about bag-stealing scams on Santiago buses, the favelas in Colombia and Brazil, and the squatter camps in South Africa helped me understand poverty and feel compassion in ways I never could have before. During my travels, I’ve learned that many people live with much less than we do in America, and yet, they have a greater sense of family and may be happier than we are. I have a greater desire to help those who struggle because of these firsthand encounters with the poor.

10. Constant Variety

When I travel, I’m always encountering something new and different, whether it’s the architecture, the language, the food, the clothing, the wonderful animals, or the land. I absolutely love how different every destination is from the next. There’s not much boredom in long-term travel, because tomorrow always promises something new to learn about and admire.

A sign indicating high altitude in Peru.

11. Using Other Languages

I speak six languages, and travel is the perfect way to keep my language skills sharp. In fact, I challenge myself to learn some of the local language wherever I go. In Africa, I learned a few words of Xhosa, and that served me well on a bus ride in New Zealand, where I met two girls from the Western Cape of South Africa. Languages are a beautiful way to connect with those in different countries. I miss being able to practice them, but I’ve been trying to learn some Maori during my time in New Zealand.

12. The Stress Of Figuring Out A Brand New Country

I didn’t think I’d miss this one, but I do! Every time I travel to another country, it takes me a week or two to acclimate to the different air quality and temperature, figure out what transportation exists and how to use it, determine what budget accommodations are available, and get used to the new currency. All of these things, while stressful, remind me of the discovery I’m about to make, and how much more comfortable I become in the world when I brave a new adventure.

While I remain stuck in one country -- and I am lucky that it’s New Zealand! -- I still try to use my traveling mindset. I struck up a conversation with a group of women at a restaurant a few weeks ago and learned they’re from as far away as Peru, Venezuela, France, and Germany and that they’re all part of a Latin dance club in the town where I’m staying. I’ve been attending that class for the past month and am grateful for the exercise, the friends, and the Spanish. Each week, I dance to music that makes me recall my travels while waiting for them to become real again.