I want it all.
I want it all right now.
That attitude is a characteristic of my generation. It’s a trait that’s worsening with those younger than me, but all the same, it seems we’re always in a hurry. Especially when it comes to seeing the world.
When I pore over a map, I get overwhelmed at the places I want to see. It feels as if there will never be enough time or opportunity to fit them all in. So many countries, so little time.
Except there is plenty of time.
A couple of months ago I took part in a travel discussion on Twitter. One of the questions went along the lines of: if you could travel for only a week once a year, but have unlimited funds to travel after you turned 60, would you?
I answered yes.
I think I was the only person to give that answer. The other replies were variations of “hell no”. So why would I be willing to limit my travel for the next 32 years?
To answer that, I need to introduce two people.
I know them as Mum and Dad, but you can call them Ricki and David.
When they met in their late 20s and 30s, both had seen their fair share of Australia, but only a couple of other countries. They married in the early 1980s and settled into life on the farm I grew up on in Tasmania. Holidays were rare and usually spent visiting grandparents. An international holiday was not on the cards. Fast forward a couple of decades to 2006. I was out of home and in my final year of university. My sister was doing, well, I don’t know. We weren’t that close then. Anyway… Dad had retired. Mum was making moves in the same direction. The question of “who’s going to feed the cows while we’re gone” had become “who will feed the last three pets standing?”
So aged 51 and 60, my parents went backpacking.
Yep, proper backpacking. With backpacks. On their backs. Three months through America and Canada. The only difference between the way they travelled and the way I would have was that Mum got to ride Canadian trains for free because she was accompanying “a senior”. (That went down really well with the old boy.)
They stayed in hostels – often in separate dorms because mixed dorms aren’t common in America. They cooked noodles in their rooms and split main meals at restaurants to save money. They travelled by train west to east across the States, up to Toronto and across Canada, rode the ferry up Alaska’s inside passage and headed back down to LA to fly home.
Awesome trip huh?
The next year they started in Vietnam and flew home from Paris, ticking off China and the Trans-Mongolian Railway along the way. A year later it was back to China and onto Tibet, Nepal, India, Egypt and Turkey. Then it was South America, Morocco and two months driving through the UK and Ireland before meeting my sister and me in France for a month. That particular trip kept them busy for five months.
Last year, by then aged 58 and 66, I met them in Milan. They were fresh from a two- month tour in Africa where they slept in tents most of the time.
Now, in case you have visions of my parents as super-fit, adventure enthusiasts, I’m sorry to disappoint you (and them) and tell you there is nothing particularly remarkable about their health or fitness.
They are just everyday ordinary parents.
They are also not millionaires. They don’t stay in luxury hotels or travel in the first-class sleepers. They travel cheap. They travel smart. Mum once told me she wanted to travel the world while she was healthy enough to walk from the station to their hostel without requring a taxi. “We can see Australia in a wheelchair,” she said.
In the last seven years, my parents have seen more of the world than I will for a long time. Conversations about my travel plans usually earn the response “well, when we went there…”
I’m at an age where travelling so extensively comes with some sacrifices (career, financial stability etc). Mum and Dad are at ages where they can do whatever they want. Sounds nice doesn’t it?
A little while ago I was on the phone to Mum while I flicked through a tour company brochure. I got that giddy feeling again, overwhelmed by all the places I wanted to go. With a tone of annoying wisdom that only a mum can master, she said “you’ve got plenty of time”.