The greatest joy of traveling to foreign lands is affording yourself the opportunity to simply view and engage in different cultures, eat different foods, listen to different languages, stand out in a crowd, or do your best to fit in.
That said, as glorious the experiences of watching those from other cultures can be, it is so much better when watching fellow Americans as they try to navigate foreign lands.
While quenching your own wanderlust, one of the more interesting and amazing fly-on-the-wall-of-the-metro-station observations when watching other Americans is the the collective ages of our fellow weary travelers. In a gross generalization, all American travelers seem to break into three distinct groups. The groups basically break down into the “just out of college / newlywed” group (more on them later), the “middle children” group (made up of yours truly) and then the “we can finally travel” group. This group is all over 60. They are from all over the States, but seem to all have similar stories. Kids are gone. Have to see the world now, before they get any older. Didn’t know what to do so we are on an exhausting 10-day 35-city European bus tour. Ugh. This group is huge. They represent 80 percent of the American travelers you see.
Now, before you complain and site statistics, listen up. According to the US Government, over 27 million US residents travel abroad yearly. Of these lovely fellow wanderers, the median age is about 47. That sounds like a good age to travel, but look in the numbers (and the average household income of over $100k) and you see that the extremes are represented a lot more than the middle. There are many more in their 60’s and 70’s then down in the 40’s. Then, that gets balanced out by a healthy number of kids in their early 20’s, fresh off that grueling Liberal Arts degree program (and probably just going to Oktoberfest), not to mention the small but significant number of people traveling with infants to visit family. Numbers get skewed.
So, back to the fun. The “just out of college / newlywed” group is a relatively small one, but they are always fun to watch. The college kids with their $600 backpacks, $5 flip flops and $2 haircuts are easy to spot. They wander and look wide eyed. They sometimes travel alone, on a post-graduate soul searching journey. Sometimes they travel in loud packs, seeking to party, Czech style. They are idealistic, bigger than life and arrogant in the ways of the world outside of Tucson, or Tulsa, or wherever. They are always seeking out the nearest cafe or sleeping on the trains, one end of their ear buds firmly locked into iPods and the other in their ears. I hope they appreciate the experiences they are gathering. I know this sounds preachy, but life does tend to get a little more challenging and people need memories and experiences on which to fall back.
The newlyweds are even more fun to watch. One of them always looks like they just got hit by a bus (an big emotional one). It’s pretty obvious that that one of them is wondering, right now, whether they made the right choice in marriage because they she is quite sure she made the wrong one regarding this damn honeymoon and her choice of travel luggage. Seemed like a good idea at the time to register for that backpack and spend your honeymoon with 40 pounds of dirty clothes on your back, running through train stations. It’s funny, but right about then, one member of the newly married couple gets that “why didn’t I push for Bora Bora” look.
Then, there is the last group. The middle children. This group consists of very few weary souls. A couple here and a couple there. That’s it. Where are all the others in this group? True, members of this group tend to be harder to spot as they usually try to blend in to the culture a bit more. But, even so, all Americans are pretty easy to spot in Indonesia. Must be that life gets in the way when you’re 30, or 35, or 40, or 45. Jobs. Kids. Houses. Lawn mowers. Yoga classes. Happy hours. Life can be overwhelming without adding an expensive trip to a strange land. But it doesn’t have to. As one keen writer once detailed, money doesn’t have to get in the way.
Take the time. Find your inner “just out of college” soul before you hit the “can we finally travel” stage in your life. Travel more. Work less.