I used to think there were definitive scales on which to measure what you value and want out of life. In my early 20s I naively saw a spectrum ranging from ‘forge a career’ to ‘work to live’; another from ‘married with kids’ to ‘fiercely independent’ and I thought I knew where I sat. In my first job, 21 years old and working in marketing in central London, I was quietly ambitious and chasing promotion after promotion, certain I would focus my 20s and 30s on climbing the ladder and leaving other stuff – kids, marriage, travel -until later. I thought building a career straight out of uni was the best thing for me. I’d done a ton of work experience, landed a great first job in a successful research agency, was travelling loads with work, earning good money and living a full life of work-hard, party-hard in my East London flat share. That inner drive lasted a few years as I forged ahead, punctuating the blossoming career years with long-haul holidays abroad, festivals in exotic locations, partying and fun.
Then, 3 years on and one job move later, I felt like I’d lost that spark. I no longer wanted to blaze trails and be a firecracker at work, despite the fact I was in a more senior agency. As I got older, I actually found myself getting less ambitious and less driven by success at work. Sure, some of it came from becoming jaded by my industry: increasingly annoying and confrontational clients, endless meetings and high-pressure situations, longer and longer hours. But more than that, I knew I was looking for something else aside from work or family to be my main purpose. Something that set my heart on fire. I started feeling like this 3 years into work, and after 6.5 years I finally quit my career and hit the road.
I’ve always valued experiences over possessions and the bulk of my pay has historically gone to holidays, festivals and going out (as well as saving for travel). Since travelling 8 months and having so many incredible experiences and adapting so readily to the pared-back travelling lifestyle, I’m starting to think this is what I want to live for. Earn enough to travel, and stay on the road indefinitely, occasionally settling in one spot for a while and calling it home.
I now know I can survive without a computer, a TV, make-up or a readily available washing machine. I know I’m always looking for stuff to shed because even a 60L rucksack feels like too much. I know I will probably always rent and never buy because I don’t want to own something that big and weighty. I want to be able to leave at the drop of a hat and seek the next adventure. I don’t want to slave away to buy more stuff to make the slaving worth it. And knowing how little I can be comfortable with is incredibly relieving and has made me think differently about what I want. A hugely valuable thing to find out early(ish!) in life.
Aside from offering perspective on the near future, travelling in my late 20s (as opposed to classic gap-yearing aged 18-21) has also made me appreciate the experiences and freedom of travel that bit more. I’ve already worked a few hard years, and I’m not just travelling to get pissed and lie on a beach every day; instead I’m hungry for new experiences, to push myself further out of my comfort zone… tougher hikes, weirder food, more local language, places off the ‘gringo trail’. And with more savings in the bank we can afford to do ‘slow travelling’ (1.5 months per country on average) so we’re really getting to know places as we go, rather than whirlwinding into and out of towns.
For so many reasons it makes sense to travel later in life, so no wonder we’ve met so many other Quarter Lifers on the road. People travelling at the same time, for the same reasons, with the same conclusions.
Travel as a pause; a break; the chance to seek an answer for the question of who we are and what we want, in the hope we’ll know ourselves better and avoid waking up at 40 thinking ‘what happened?’ We hope the Quarter Life crisis will pre-empt and prevent the mid-life crisis. But who knows? Only time will tell.