There’s a characteristic of our generation that can only be described as severe restlessness. I am not specifically referring to the number of friends you have who are prescribed Adderall; although that’s definitely another cultural trend I could discuss in length. What I’m talking about is a restlessness of the soul, the wandering spirit, a culture of nomads.
We’ve been bred on this notion that we are going to do it differently than our parents; we’ll be adventurous, experience life to the fullest. We’ve sat over lunch with our friends choosing our post-graduation plans, always teetering over the line of what we knew as the safe choice and what we knew as the adventurous, spirited one. We talked about living in Brazil in a house by the beach, spending days on the hammock and driving taxis at night.
We thought about moving to London, buying expensive rain gear and renting a studio on Piccadilly Circus. Of course every woman dreams of giving it all up and finding a cozy flat with a view of the Champs-Élysées, spending weekends sitting in corner cafes and eating macarons by Place de la Concorde. But reality always sets in and ruins the daydream.
Many of us have chosen the road more traveled, giving into the societal pressures of securing a job and a 401k. We’ve resigned ourselves to desks with a window seat, looking out on the cold streets of our increasingly disillusioned present. Sometimes, in between deadlines and Facebook stalkings, we find ourselves thinking about that corner bistro in Paris or the cozy hammock in Brazil. We let our minds wander to the wet streets of London and the architectural beauty of Prague. Then we begin to wonder, “What the hell am I still doing here?”
Whether you have this realization once a month, once a week or even once a day, it’s one too many. Your life is fleeting, and your youth will pass even quicker. You are too young to be settling for the nine-to-five, and there should be nothing holding you back from doing what your innermost urges tell you. So stop whining to all your friends and be the adult you claim to be; buy yourself the next ticket to anywhere.
Life moves fast and there is no better time to pursue those inner urges than in your 20s. This is the freest you will ever be, unshackled by the chains of mortgages, insurance policies and general responsibility. You are responsible to no one but yourself and your own whims. Now is the time to stay up until 5 am as the waves of the Moroccan beach spray your tanned, toned body. Now is the time to eat whale testicle at a local dock in Seoul. Now is the time to fall in love with everything and anything.
You’re more willing to take risks
With less to lose, there’s more to gain. Life is about moving outside your comfort zones, about embracing the present moment, even if it scares the sh*t out of you. Right now is the time for you to meet Spanish strangers at a café and let them whisk you off to a party in the Latina quarter of Madrid. Only now will you rent a moped in Thailand for five dollars with absolutely no idea where to go. It’s these years that you’re supposed to make mistakes, get into trouble and learn to live life as openly as possible.
To be inspired
There’s a reason that some of the most influential and greatest artists of American literature spent their most creative years in Europe. There’s nothing more inspiring or life-changing than being engulfed in the beauty and culture of another world, another life. The colors, the smells, the people, the architecture, the squares of another city are enough to renew your soul and ignite your inhibitions. Besides, how else are you supposed to write your novels?
To humble yourself
It’s a valuable life lesson to live as the exile, the foreigner. In no other time or point in your life will you feel the cutting chill of being the outsider as you will living in a country that isn’t your own. You’re the new guy, the tourist no one takes seriously, and that will not only humble you, but give you a sense of empathy you never had before. It’s this grounding that will make you a better person, a more well-rounded person who will come home with a larger sense of what it means to be alive.
For the stories
A wise person once told me that life is a collection of experiences. Your life, and the legacy you leave, will be as full or as empty as you make it. Don’t you want to be one of those older people with countless stories of their youth spent traveling through the Arabian desert or hitchhiking from France to Spain? Don’t you want to tell your friends about the six months you spent living with a Spaniard, sipping sangria and learning to salsa dance?
For the friends who will play ambassadors
The people you meet abroad will play foreign ambassadors for the rest of your life. You will find yourself developing relationships in obscure corners of the world, conversing with people with different ideals, languages and cultures. You will find yourself with connections all over the world, coming back home only to know you now have friends all over the world. Next time you go to Sweden or Australia, you’ll not only have a place to stay, but a friend to show you the real parts of that country.
For the romance
If you’re in a sexual rut, there’s no better reason to pack up and head for somewhere new. Only in Europe can you play out your wildest fantasies of moonlit dinners at bistro cafés by candlelight. Only in South America can you go dancing with a man who whispers sweet nothings in your ear in a language you only understand through the longing of his words. Only somewhere else can you be whoever you want and let your inhibitions fall to the wayside. Shack up with an Italian for a few weeks and let yourself enjoy the idea that it doesn’t matter what, or who, you do while you’re “just visiting.”
For the food
Is there any better reason to travel than for the food? Seriously, how many days are you going to settle for Chipotle before you realize you could get four Spanish burritos that actually taste like “the original”? Don’t you want to try a real croissant? Who knows, maybe you’ll learn how to make paella or find some Italian cookies you’ll have imported to the US for the rest of your life. (Then you’ll be able to tell people you found the most delicious cookies in Sicily, and now you just have toget them shipped.)
To find yourself
There’s no better way to find yourself than to disappear from the daily grind and get lost somewhere along the Atlantic. Only once you remove yourself from the familiar can you find the truth. Only when you are abroad can you see your past life, your home, with a renewed sense of clarity. Going abroad gives you the time, space and moments of solitude you need for self evaluation and exploration.
Because once is never enough
Even if you went abroad in college, or spent two weeks in Europe after graduation, those memories will never be enough to satiate the longing in your soul. There is only so much you can take in, so many things you can do when you’re with your family on vacation or gaggle of friends. You need to see everything, do everything, again. It’s time to do it the right way, on your own. Because it could take a lifetime to be truly fulfilled by everything the world has to offer and those few times you went abroad should only make you thirsty for more.
For the perspective
A change of perspective is like taking a long deep breath after a long day. It’s important to change things up in life, to look at things from another angle, another way. Only going abroad will give you the distance you need to see your life from a renewed lens. Seeing another way of life is a great way to learn to appreciate your old one. Spending six months trying to communicate in another language will teach you to appreciate your own language and the capacity of those words. Because it’s not until you’ve begun missing home that you truly start appreciating it.
For your soul
Hemingway described Paris as a “moveable feast” and “wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.” The notorious writer set the standard for embracing life abroad, letting it become part of you. Because even when you go home, part of you will forever be changed by the experiences and renewed sense of self that comes with leaving everything behind and starting anew.
To gain strength
Strength comes from overcoming fears, inhibitions and facing situations that aren’t always within your comfort zone. Only once you’ve left the familiar can you begin to challenge yourself. They say that the strongest people are the ones who faced adversity head on and came out the other end. Only once you’ve been in a situation where you had to dig deep down and find a strength you didn’t know you had can you call yourself a stronger person.
To be an explorer
Why can’t you be the one who sets the trends, the one with the unique style who always has those one-of-a-kind pieces? Why can’t you find that pair of lambskin boots in the mountains of Switzerland from a local farmer’s wife or that spice that’s only grown in the farms of south east Asia. Life is about tasting, trying and finding new things, new experiences and new lessons.
To fall in love
Life is about falling in love with everything. It’s about finding a sense of comfort in a local café or that overwhelming sense of comfort that comes with connecting with a painting at the Prado. It’s about seeing and loving everything as if it’s the first and last time. Only when you’ve left and sought the comforts of another place can you experience the overwhelming joy of falling in love with everything around you for the first time.
To appreciate the moments
Only when you’ve sat at a café in Paris for two hours, watching the people and reading your favorite book that you learn to appreciate the small moments in life. It’s the rolling mountains and the busy outdoor markets of Barcelona that should take your breath away. It’s the miles of rice patties beneath the soft glow of the setting sun that should assuage the aching in your restless soul and introduce you to the simple pleasures that life can bring. Only when you’ve learned to live in the moment, seeing and taking in every second of the now, can you truly say you’ve lived life to the fullest.