Have you become a creature of habit, a man of routine, a predictable woman? Do all those travel dreams of yours keep getting pushed further and further back?
What if you set a deadline, like you would with a work project, and didn’t let them slide? What if that deadline were this year, or next month?
Last week I finished watching season 1 of Master of None on Netflix last week. In the last episode after the starring couple gets in a big fight about their future together, she moves to Japan. She doesn’t want to keep putting things off until she’s too stuck. In the last scene the boyfriend she’s been living with is on an airplane and we assume he’s flying there to win her back. No, it turns out he’s moving to Italy. I can’t wait to see what happens next season.
You know why this story has such a pull? Because most people can identify with the struggle. Much of the time we’re stuck in a deep rut of our own making. We’re obsessing over stupid office politics, seething over unanswered e-mails, and getting enraged by the news on TV (more of that lately, for good reasons). But what if 95% of all that didn’t really matter?
What would happen to your attitude if you moved—or at least got away for a proper vacation where you disconnected from home?
The Negative Power of Inertia
Most people are living where they’re living now because of inertia. The path of least resistance is the easiest one to take, which for many people determines where they live, how they worship, where they work, how they spend their spare time. Next thing they know they’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing for 10 years. Just running on a treadmill and accumulating more stuff that’s taking over the garage.
You are free to break that cycle at any time. Unlike the poor Syrian refugees that nobody wants to take and the families unfortunate enough to be born in a country full of Muslims, most people reading this have access to the entire world.
You could go visit any one of 100+ countries tomorrow with just a passport from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the EU. In most of these countries you can stay quite a while before they’ll make you leave. There are 23 of them where you can stay four months or more on a tourist visa.
So why let another year go by doing the same thing you did last year? And the year before that? String enough of those years together and you’ll be my age, but with no adventures to talk about. Your life will be defined by the cubicles you sat in, the vacations you skipped, and the sacrifices you made for what seemed like a good reason at the time. Do you want to wake up the day after your 5oth birthday and say, “I guess I’ll do all that adventuring when I retire”?
Many people who wait until they retire find out they have waited too long. They can’t walk the Camino or the Inca Trail. Some can’t even walk four blocks on the cobblestone streets of UNESCO World Heritage towns. Forget camping with a glorious view, rafting a river through a pristine jungle, or horseback riding into a canyon that would take their breath away. They don’t have enough breath left to take.
Unmap Your Future
There are always good reasons to play it safe, so that’s the easy choice. Hell, we are programmed from birth to play it safe. Color in the lines, sit still, get good grades, do what the teacher says, get into a good college, get a good job, get married… “When are you going to have a baby?”
Next thing you know, the decades keep going by and you haven’t done any of the things you really dreamed of doing. And because of that, your brain actually becomes less creative. Sedentary people who follow routines have also been shown to be less happy: when we make unfamiliar choices, our brains release dopamine, which stimulates positive emotions. We need a change of scenery now and then, figuratively and literally.
– If you’re reading this at 22, just out of college, go teach English abroad. You can still pay off your student loan and you’ll be much wiser when you return. You will also be much happier and have better stories than any of your former classmates. You will have really lived instead of just settling.
– If you’re reading this at 30, how’s that whole career path thing working out? Are you feeling energized every Monday morning? Do you want to be doing this for another 30 years? If so, rock on. If not, does it have to be this way?
– If you’re reading this in your 40s, write down all the things you wanted to do by now when you were in your 20s. How many can you cross off? If it’s not “most of them,” you need to collect more experiences instead of collecting stuff. Stop making excuses and make plans instead.
– If you’re in your 50s now, it’s probably safe to say half your time on this planet is gone and your body is not going to be able to do heroic things much longer. If you are a traveler who craves adventure and activity, stop reading this and go book those biking and hiking tours now.
– In your 60s? The good news is you probably have more time and money than anyone else on this list. But you may also have a bigger family, more obligations, more guilt, more expectations from people around you. If you’re going to be bold, you have to go all in. If you want to travel the world or live abroad, there’s no compromise at this point. Just go. The nieces and grandkids will still be there when you come visit.
– If you’re in your 70s or higher, congratulations. You can do whatever the f&%# you please and people will just say, “Oh grandpa…” Take advantage of it and cram in every possible thing from your bucket list that has not been done. Make up for lost time!
There’s one thing you can do right now though, this weekend, to get out of your rut. Take the first step by setting up a microadventure near where you live. Break free!