I always thought I’d be dead by thirty-five. I don’t know where this fixation came from, what triggered it, or why I believed it, but the imagined certainty that I wouldn’t live to see forty defined my 20s and early 30s in a very real way. My friends in university would tell me to stop being so macabre and pessimistic but I saw it as a challenge: I had to make the most of the short time I had left. And what better way to spend my life than seeing the world? So that’s what I’ve dedicated the past thirteen years to, from my first solo backpacking trip in North Queensland, Australia when I was twenty-two to my last one through Europe just this year. At thirty-five.
Because of this self-inflicted pressure, this ticking clock quickly counting down the scarce minutes I had left, I was determined to do and see and experience and explore as much as possible before the big three-five. I learned and grew into myself as I travelled the globe seeking earthly pleasures, novelty, and excitement, even through the uncertainties of not having an anchor, a home base, or even direction. The nomadic life tends to get idealised or romanticised, but it poses as many challenges and obstacles as a traditional life—they just manifest themselves in different ways. I spent my birthdays on exotic beaches, welcomed new years in different time zones, and crossed oceans in search of love (and to heal heartbreak), but to do this I’ve had to be far from everything and everyone familiar to me. Fortunately, I find comfort in the unfamiliar.
I visited all six inhabited continents before my thirty-fifth birthday (Antarctica is still on the list), lived in several countries, learnt multiple languages (and forgot a few), almost got married, and moved house more times than I can count. It can get exhausting, having to pack and unpack all the time, living out of a backpack, carrying that backpack around airports and train stations, figuring out what the next step is, sleeping in dorm rooms and sofas, waiting for the shower to be free, meeting new people, saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is still the hardest part for me. But starting over somewhere new is one of my favourite things, which is why I’ve never though twice before moving to a new place or pursuing a stubborn idea that got stuck in my head, like living in South Asia, sailing down the Amazon River all the way to the Atlantic, or trying to buy a house in Italy.
When lockdowns started in March 2020, I was grateful I had seen so much of the world already. And then I turned thirty-five in 2021, still in the midst of a global pandemic—the slowest, most boring apocalypse I never imagined. As I get older, the thrill of exploration and discovery remains intact, but the desire for a place to call my own becomes more urgent; the ambitions of a great career, which I traded for a decade and a half of hedonistic fun, are also getting stronger. But I can’t seem to stay still no matter how much I try; there’s something that keeps pulling me back out into the unknown, urging me to go on another adventure, to document our natural world, to discover more of what unites us, to experience the things that connect every single living being on this planet and the responsibility that entails. That’s the thing about gaining a global perspective through travel: it will forever change you and the way you see the world.
I hope to keep travelling for many years to come, but there’s so much more I want to do; so much, in fact, that I’m certain I need multiple lifetimes to accomplish and be everything I dream of doing and being, which is probably why I’ve always been in such a rush to squeeze as much out of this life as humanly possible. Travel has been my Plan A for years but I’m always thinking about Plan B… and C and D and… I can’t help but wonder, does this ever stop? This yearning, this craving, for more, for different, for new. I hope not, I don’t want it to stop. So even though I made it past my thirty-fifth birthday, that same feeling that time is running out remains, as does the question: how will I spend the rest of my time? I’m not sure about that, either, especially with COVID. All I know is there’s still too much of the world I haven’t seen.