Why Traveling In Your Twenties Will Change You Forever

Wednesday, July 24, 2019
My name is Alexander, but most of my friends call me Alex. Today is my 30th birthday and up until now, I've travelled more than 1100+ days in 70+ countries across 6 continents. I was born and raised on the picturesque countryside in the Kingdom of Denmark. And this is my story. A story about happiness, addiction, experience, remorse and consequences I've had to face, as I chose to spend the greater part of my twenties covering as much ground of this planet as I was capable of.

That One Guy
I bet you have that one friend who spent a gap year in South East Asia after collage - having the time of his life.

Or that one girl. Who took a three months leave from work, just to surf along the Australian East coast.

Or even that one dude on your Facebook Friends List. Who quit his job and apartment, said goodbye to his family, sold his car along with almost all his other belongings. In the pursuit of traveling the world. Making a living by travelling.

That last dude... is me.

My travel buddy Lasse and myself at Arch of Reunification in the outskirts of Pyongyang, North Korea
I took my mission to travel the world so far, that I worked three jobs at the same time. I even sold my bed, and slept on my parents floor for a couple of months before I had a one-way ticket out of my home country. Then I repeated the procedure.

The most obvious question is why? Why go through all this trouble just to spend hours in airports, on planes, on buses, on trains, in boats, on ferries, in lobbies, on motorbikes, in hospitals...?

Peculiar enough, that's not the question people ask. The question I hear most often is how? How did you save money for such a life changing decision? How did you manage to make travelling a living and not just an event that happens once or twice a year? An odd and silly question really. Yes, it took effort. It took determination. And persistence. But in the end, it all comes down to passion. And motivation for that passion. An impeccable motivational drive towards an ultimate goal.

To be honest, that's just my obnoxious way of saying; I spent years focusing, not just on the ultimate goal of traveling the world, but on the details of my daily life. Always looking to spend less and earn more, in order to extend my travel funds. If you want something enough, it becomes an addiction. And I've never heard a single soul asking an addict; how? You would always ask him, why? Why did you choose a life of addiction?

At the time I had no clue why - it even took me years to realize I was addicted at all. Travelling is something that's always connected to positivity. Perfect beaches. Sunny skies. Mountain peaks. Endless roads. Big smiles. Silly poses... I've done all those. I had amazing, indescribable experiences on the road. But the backside of travelling is rarely shown in those picture perfect scenaries.

When I did my first world tour back in 2014, I had several personal goals stuffed into my backpack. First of all I had an urge to travel. Like many other young guys and girls in their twenties, I dreamt of spending time on those perfect beaches with sunny skies. But I also had belief, that I would somehow become more clarified about myself. About my future. What I wanted to do in life. What kind of job I wanted. Where I wanted to live. If I ever wanted to have kids... Questions, I think, every young guy or girl in their twenties have tossing and turning in their minds. Ultimately, I wanted to become wiser. Gain more knowledge about, well, me. I wanted to make a difference in the world to help define and develop me as a person.

Truth is, as I returned from seven months abroad - on a cold Christmas Eve in December 2014, at my parents house in Denmark - I felt waaaay more confused than before I set out into this world. I had changed my opinions on life and my views upon this world. But I had not become wiser. I did not gain the knowledge about myself and my dreams I so desperately had sought after. I did not return with answers to my questions.  And during those days abroad, when I had all the time in the world to think. I somehow ended up with answers I wasn't even looking for.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've always had a very caring and loving family. And leaving them from time to time, has always been the hardest part about travelling. I was without a doubt happy to be home. Yet somehow, I had returned with more questions than answers. Somehow I had managed to let myself down in a matter of letting my search for answers fade away. And besides all those unclear thoughts and unanswered questions, there was something strange about me as well. Something entirely different. Something inside of me.

White Christmas with my family in my hometown Bryrup, Denmark

The Travel Bug
Every traveller has heard about the travel bug. And whether you've felt it juuuust a tiny bit or it has infected you like an aggressive virus, the bug itself, is incurable. It's always there. In the back of your mind. Deep in your belly. In your restless feet. The urge to travel is permanent. And its addiction never satisfied.

Along the way I lost focus on what was first intended by my travels. The ultimate goal of getting to know myself, was replaced by an urge to explore even further. To let myself go. Slipping deeper and deeper into addiction. I felt completely lost, clinging helplessly onto my travels, as I had reduced my life to a one-word dictionary; travelling. Even in such a miserable state of mind travelling kept on enriching my life in ways I could never describe satisfyingly. But let me phrase it this way: Never have I ever valued life more. Never have I ever felt more loved, free or lucky. Never have I ever loved my family more. And never have I ever enjoyed a decent meal, a comfy bed, clean tap water or a warm shower more.

When it comes to pouring your heart and soul out in words there's something about travelling that's beyond sharing. There's simply no combination of words and photos I could put together to explain what travelling has meant to me. Attempting to explain, I always find myself coming up short. Ultimately, the lack of ways to explain provides me with a feeling of being lonely. I shared those experiences solely with the ones, who were there. At that exact time. In that particular place. And for that sole reason, I can truly state following; it's never about those perfect beaches with sunny skies. Or those mountain peaks, that goes beyond the clouds. Those are simply places. Dreamy destinations, but places nevertheless. What really sticks in there on the hippocampus are experiences you have in a certain moment during your life. Experiences you share with people surrounding you at a given time. People on the same path. People infected with the same virus. Addicts searching, but not really looking. Luckily for me, I've always had travel buddies. Either my closest friends or my family or people I've randomly stumbled into during my travels. Having someone to remind you about those good times makes you lonely together in way, since no one could ever relive that moment with you. Good friends and a loving family means absolutely everything once you've caught the travel bug.

On top of the French Alps with my Dad near La Meije, France

The Wall
There has been many walls over the years. The Berlin Wall. The Great Wall of China. The Wall of Ice from Game of Thrones. The Wall by Pink Floyd. All fallen, broken or lost in time and yet somehow people are still building walls in this world, thinking it will hold humanity back.

When I climbed Mt. Victoria in New Zealand after a long time of not seeing home, I stumbled upon a bench, which had a metal plaque with an inscribed quote from The Lord of the Rings' character Samvise Gamgee, which read:

"If I take one more step, it will be the furthest from home I've ever been"

I instantly liked the quote, as it was physically spot on for me. If I were to take another step I'd literally be the furthest from home ever. And from that very bench, I didn't take a single other step. I took several - as I stepped on a ferry the very next day. A ferry which would lead me further into the world. It took me about a day to consume and digest the actual meaning of Sam's qoute. As I was stuck in yet another meaningless campsite near Nelson on New Zealand's south island. Sitting there I suddenly began asking myself questions;
What are you doing here? Why are you doing this? What are you even doing with your life? You visit all the places everybody else visits. Take the same photos, eat the same food, hell you even look the same. There's nothing special about your journey. And there's definitely nothing special about you!

That was the very first time I slammed my head against something I like to call; "The Travel Wall" or simply "The Wall". A clean face-plant so to speak. My mind was further away from home than ever and I started to generate regret in my thoughts. I felt a lack of purpose in my life. A lack of will to continue traveling. A tough thought to absorb and accept as I had built my journey on pure purpose in the first place.

Traveling to every corner of the world, I soon realized that first of all; each and every corner is burning. Different fires are burning, but as a traveler you're just there to watch the unusual flames. Watching the world as it burns. I strolled beaches full of plastic in the paradise they call; the Maldives. I saw a dead man lying on the streets in India, with flies around his mouth and not a soul around him who cared. I passed homeless people and drug addicts in a well-functioning country like Australia. I saw suppressed and brainwashed kindergarten kids in North Korea, singing songs about their dear leader. Suddenly I felt that purpose of making a difference fading away and being replaced by remorse.

On that very day, in New Zealand, my mom sent me an e-mail explaining how much she loved me for trying to make the best of this life. She made me realized that change comes from within. Changing your own impact on the world is the first step to help changing the world. The "Man in the Mirror" cliché is the only way to stay sane in a burning world like the one we have built for ourselves here on Planet Earth. There's no correct path in life, only experience which brings enlightenment, but not necessarily answers.

Just weeks after encountering that feeling of remorse in New Zealand, I witnessed families having their homes ripped to pieces by a cyclone in Tonga. Months later, I talked to trump-supporters in the United States of America, who valued other human lives at the same level as a pair of worn-out shoes. And years later, I saw a naked lady on the highway between Kisii and Busia, Kenya, trying to sell tomatoes to buy clothes. But it didn't give me that same feeling, because I had learnt that to change the world, I had to begin with myself. Providing whatever good I can to this world.

Sam's quote on a bench on Mt. Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand

Find Your Way
The first time I took a one-way flight out of Denmark, my father wrote me a letter telling me never to forget where I come from. Never to let that part of me go. I had that letter with me for months before I decided to read it. When I was at a low point mentally during a visit to Thailand's capital; Bangkok. I used that like a lifeline. Linking me to my roots. Helping me to find my way. Keeping my feet on the ground, while I soared across the world.

Spending your twenties discovering the world is the best and the worst thing you'll ever do. You'll have amazing times with the best of people. You'll get sand in between your toes, salt in your hair and polaroid picture moments stuck on your retinal. You'll make new friends. You'll make stronger bonds with your travel buddies. You'll get drunk and find temporary love. You'll discover, while you rediscover yourself.

You'll also get your bag snatched. Your phone stolen. Your passport lost. Your flight delayed. You'll get more mosquito bites than you can count. You'll get sick. Sicker than you've ever been before. You'll hate this world for it's unfairness. You'll feel priviliged to live a decent life. You'll miss home. And wonder why you left in the first place. You'll doubt your decision to leave. And as people envy you and ask you, how? You'll envy them and ask, how did you resist?

Your twenties is an age, where you have no responsibilities. No wife, no husband, no kids, no dog, no cat, no house. You're free to roam. Just make sure you know the consequences before you go. Make sure, you don't bury those other dreams too deep along the journey.

As I'm writing this, I realize how difficult it is for me to advice against travelling in your twenties. In fact I think everybody should see what dark grudges this world holds. And what kindness and charity it holds. So go on. Do it. Quit your job. Get on the next flight. Fall in love. With people and countries. Find your moments. Find your way. But most importantly... find your way home.

The surrounding nature of my hometown; Bryrup, Denmark

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