Last month, I boarded a late night flight to Munich in unusual company – with a bunch of 15-16 year olds, flying internationally for the first time in their lives. My initial apprehension of travelling with “kids” was quickly washed over by their fascination for things I’ve started taking for granted in my nomadic life. Things like watching movies while floating 37,000 feet above earth, observing locals hanging out in Munich’s charming beer gardens, and connecting with people from around the globe even if our cultures, accents and appearances are entirely different.
Travelling with the junior Indian football team for the FC Bayern Youth World Cup on assignment for Lufthansa, was not only a revelation in terms of how the road can influence young minds, but also a reminder of what it is like to be sixteen and feel both, the yearning to see the world and the hopelessness that you must put your dreams on hold till much later in life.
So this post is dedicated to the boys I travelled with, who in their own quiet ways, shared with me their dream of travelling to lands far away. And to young adults everywhere who aspire to experience far off corners of the world… this is all the advice I wish someone had given me when I was sixteen:
I often look back upon my teenage years and marvel at the amount of time I spent doing nothing in particular. Don’t get me wrong; I mostly had fun in my little bubble of school gossip, competitive studying, basketball and teenage crushes. But I never got more imaginative; even when I got access to my first computer and a dial-up connection sometime in my teens, I only ever used it for chatting on MSN Messenger and Orkut (gulp ;-)). I secretly harbored dreams of visiting Mexico someday and loved Enrique’s music (don’t judge me!), but it never occurred to me to use the internet to learn Spanish. Or watch films or read books about far off places in the world. I would have loved a headstart, because as you go to college and become financially independent, those seemingly vast reserves of time deplete pretty quickly.
So even if you don’t afford to travel yet, do it virtually. Pick a country you’d love to see someday and use Duolingo or Youtube tutorials to learn its language. Watch movies from different parts of the globe on Netflix. Take a free course on Coursera on a travel subject that really interests you (anything from Buddhism to Greek Mythology). Imagine how cool it’ll be when you are able to travel to some of these dream places, and immerse deeper in them because of your virtual connections!
Work part time
The more I’ve travelled, the more it’s struck me that my native country, India, is one of the only countries in the world where we expect our parents to support us financially even after we finish high school or turn 18. And that’s probably a big reason why we don’t travel right after high school or college – because why should our parents pay for that too?
On my part, when I went for my bachelor’s degree to Singapore at 17, I had a big student loan that covered most of my college and living expenses. While I studied, I picked up part time work as a teaching assistant, did three internships during the summer holidays and even wrote for a couple of obscure websites. Whatever little I earned, I saved it for low budget trips with college friends around Southeast Asia – my first taste of independent travel.
Want to travel when you are 16, 18, 20 or any other age? Get a job. I know many parents tend to be against part time jobs when you are young, but look online. Cut down all that time you spend on Facebook and Whatsapp, and learn a skill like video editing, social media management or coding, create a simple portfolio of your work, and write to small companies with your work samples. You’ll earn some money to travel, and experiment with work you could do professionally in the future… win-win!
PS: I’m often on the lookout for creative individuals who can help me with video editing and social media projects. Email me with your portfolio if you are interested.
Keep an eye out for travel opportunities
The one thing I regret about my college days was that I never took the opportunity to do a study exchange semester in another country. I saved money for it, dreamed about spending four months studying in Canada (randomly), but ultimately got lazy, nervous, too stuck in my comfort zone. I did travel to Canada much later in life, but it’s different when you’re a student; I can’t fathom how it could’ve changed my perspective. But life is too short for regrets, so I’ll say this:
Don’t get too cozy in your comfort zone. Keep your eyes and ears open, and try to grab any kind of travel opportunities that come your way. Anything from the football world cup that enabled ten boys from across India to travel to Munich, to writing scholarships, to travel contests. Follow brands in your field of interest on Instagram, join Facebook and Google groups that share such opportunities, and don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t make it.
Look for courses and internships that involve traveling
In a country where most people tend to look upon travel as merely a holiday, it helps to have a “reason” to visit or live somewhere else. I’ve met plenty of people who did long or short courses in subjects like social entrepreneurship, travel journalism and anthropology – which had them do field work in interesting parts of the world. If you plan to intern, look for opportunities in a place other than where you live, so you can get work experience, pocket money and a chance to satisfy your itchy feet at the same time.
Depending on what you’re studying, you could look at organisations like Aiesec, which offer international internships; join Facebook groups that share unique opportunities from around the world (like Youth Opportunities); and dig deep on google to find others like you who added travel to their life at a young age. The point is to plunge into the endless pool of information online and find the opportunities you need.
Explore your own country
Many countries I’ve explored around the world (especially India) offer incredible diversity – culturally, culinarily, lingually and in landscapes – and much of it is undiscovered, affordable and full of kind souls. So this excuse that travelling is too expensive, or too time consuming, or too unsafe, needs to be thrown out the window. I was 23 when I did my first solo trip – on a budget of 20,000 rupees for a month. I was afraid to break out of my shell, connect with locals and fellow travellers, and open my mind to unexpected adventures. It was a steep learning curve, but I learned to train my instinct and free my mind of much of the fear of solo travelling.
So if you’re really itching to travel and manage to save a little bit of money, pick a place in your own country, do some research and travel with an open mind… you’ll always wonder why you waited so long!
Travel to see relatives or family friends in cool places
I know, I know; who wants to go visit family in the name of travel, right? But when you’re young and crunched for funds, this is one way to get some support from your family and travel on the cheap. I remember the time I flew to Hong Kong for a job interview right after college (I didn’t get it), and reluctantly agreed to stay with my mom’s friends’ family so I could spend a few extra days exploring the country. They turned out to be very cool people; I went on a memorable hike into the surrounding mountains with them, and got my first taste of solo travel, yet with someone to fall back on.
So leverage the Indian mindset of finding relatives and distant friends, in some cool parts of the country or the world, and travel on a budget yet safely enough that your parents feel comfortable.
Chill… you have your whole life to chase your dream!
I know this is the last thing you want to hear when you’re a teenager and raring to go, but hey, you have your whole life to chase your dream to travel (or whatever it is that you want to do). Work on your skills, deepen your understanding of your options, take baby steps whenever you can, stay patient… but no matter what happens, don’t buy into the world’s greatest lie:
[The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho]
“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks.
The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
Over to you, what advice would you give your younger self?
Thanks to Lufthansa India for the opportunity to travel to Germany for the FC Bayern Youth Cup, and be reminded of what it’s like to be young and penniless!
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.