I am writing this piece in a rental car as I leave the Grand Canyon National Park for a night in Death Valley, having travelled Europe for three weeks a few days prior and Cambodia the previous summer. I can't even begin to explain how much I have seen and how many different places I have left my heart in over the past two years, knowing only it is the best education as a young person I have ever received.
Young people should travel because they can. The illusion that travelling is for the millionaires, for the people with dreadlocks inhaling all kinds of things, or for the students off on their 'gap yaahs' needs to stop. Travelling is both necessary and doable for everyone with a bit of cash in their pocket and a hunger for something more than a booze cruise, pretty beach or the comfort of their own bed.
"But what about the money?".
Travelling the world can be as cheap as you wish it to be. If you're okay sleeping in a room with twenty strangers, a few nights without electricity or going to a toilet that is essentially a hole in the ground (Cambodia if you are wondering) then the world really is your oyster. Money comes and goes and experience is invaluable, so stop worrying over the claims and speculations of those who were too scared to ever leave and save up for that plane ticket.
"But I haven't got the time."
Then you never will do. If we wait until we are ready, we will be waiting for the rest of our lives. The pace of western life feels almost like a continuous conveyor belt with check off points and markers to be hit at expected times, each of us following the same mundane routine as all those who came before. That conveyor belt isn't going anywhere and it will sure as hell be there when you get back. No one is going to pull the plug and give you a window of time to leave, that's up to you. Do not risk spending your whole life postponing what you truly want to do on the bet you can find the freedom to do it later.
In danger of sounding like I myself may be inhaling some kind of hippy crack, travelling whilst you are young changes you. It removes the shelter your parents, the media and your government have cushioned your whole life with. You realise the children walking miles to find water aren't just images on a TV screen that pop up annually to a Mariah Carey or Take That backing track. You hear them cry, laugh and dream and your heart reaches out to them in a way that only personal experience can allow. To learn that there is a multitude of ways to to live life outside of our western bubble is an education that young minds cannot fathom nor respect from the pages of a textbook. Perhaps there is no greater qualification than having travelled the world. It's a qualification that symbolises understanding, compassion and serious drive.
Travelling whilst you are young is vital to stop narrow mindedness, bigotry and ignorance. It forces you to be uncomfortable, to be vulnerable and to truly dig down in to yourself. It creates a person not only more welcoming to the unknown and unpredictable, the very essence of life itself, but also a humbled person who acknowledges what a tiny place they occupy in a huge, diverse world.
After years of exam pressure and late nights that turned into early mornings of revision, travelling ultimately provides young people with a chance to breathe. When I travel it feels like pressing pause on my life, where I can slip into some alternate universe where no one knows my name or expects anything from me. To simply be there is enough and whether 'there' be 40m underwater on a reef in Cambodia, 300m paragliding above Lake Brienz in Switzerland or 50 miles into Yosemite National Park is totally irrelevant. Travelling allows me to be me in my purest form. With the pressures and pace of today's society, all young people could benefit from that.
So whilst you do not need a gap yaah, a grand in the bank or a rich relative in every corner of the globe to travel the world, you do need the guts and drive to take your chance. Perhaps the question is not why young people should travel, but rather, why not?