Chris Herrmann. The Youthful Art of Midlife Travel
We were living the family dream. Our three children were now establishing their own families. Grandchildren were arriving one after another. We would celebrate birthdays together. We loved our home. Grandchildren running up to the door to be greeted with a special welcoming Nanna and Poppa hug. In they would come making a beeline straight to Nanna's special toy cupboard.
But now just four years ago, life suddenly had other plans. Within a week of my wife becoming ill, after forty years of the best part of our lives together, her life suddenly came to an end. But as she lay there in her final hours, it was what she kept saying that struck me. "I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe this is happening".
You can't take life for granted. Life is a gift. A gift that can be snatched away just as quickly.
At this time my children were relocating with their young families to work in remote regions of Australia. I suddenly found myself back forty years - single, no dependencies. But what kept resonating in my mind were those final words of my wife. I couldn't help thinking, that could have been me. Where does that leave me, I thought. Do I continue to tread the daily routine of life waiting for my time to come. Or do I grasp the fullness of life right now. Life was comfortable. But that also made me feel uncomfortable. I felt increasingly agitated. The need to step out.
Life molds us in certain ways. Our choices, our jobs, expectations of others and therefore the expectations of ourselves. Life then goes on guided by that pattern we formed. But sometimes the paths we take blind us to fulfilling our real life purpose, to reveal opportunities we may not otherwise see. I wanted to be open to explore where the next part of my life would lead me. To do that, I felt the need to break away from normal routines, to stretch myself. So, I may not have been eighteen anymore, I reasoned, but I had good health and fitness. Why not I thought, a twelve month backpacking adventure around the world.
But there was one person who was holding me back. Constantly trying to stop me from going. That person was me. I must have come up with a hundred reasons why not to embark on this journey. The Mr Logic I’m here to protect and keep you safe voice inside the head was relentlessly coming up with sensible reasons not to do something outside the comfort zone. What for twelve months? Travelling solo. Nah, you’re too old. What if you got sick? Had a heart attack? No one would have a clue where you were.
But something was different this time. For the first time in my life, gut feeling kept coming through loud and clear. Whenever Mr Logic I need to protect you came up with yet another don’t be so stupid reason, Gut feeling would just say, shut up, get over it, you’re going. And so it went on.
It was now just over twelve months. Our home, once filled with the usual banter and chatter that two people bring to a leisurely weekend winter's morning, had now long been replaced with an air of solitary stillness. Staring at me was one button on the keyboard that now stood between the life I was comfortable and familiar with and an unknown future. My finger hovered nervously over it. The fears that had been tormenting me over past months came flooding back. A sudden wave of anxiousness kept my finger a safe distance away. But then, as before, gut feeling rose to the fore. "Enter". Flight confirmed. The adventure was about to begin. An unknown yet next exciting chapter in life.
By now the furniture was sold. The rest in storage. I closed the door. Life is a journey, I reflected. Not a destination. This trip was about doing something completely different. Breaking away from normal routines. As such no planning. No goals, no deadlines. Just work out each day of the next twelve months as I went. To push myself out of my comfort zone. From not knowing a word of Spanish to the many humorous attempts to communicate with the people encountered. Finding my way through all up, twenty three countries. Experiencing every form of transport from a horse and cart to a five-star coach.
Sleeping in over one hundred and twenty abodes, from the floor of a Buddhist temple to a tent in the middle of a jungle. How experiences with the people I met, with issues like drugs, waste, terrorism have changed my views. I left with no purpose, other than to step out the door, travel and explore. But then how a discovery in the middle of a desert created an opportunity that has since benefited charities worldwide of half million dollars. And that was just the beginning of the journey.
I returned from my journey with one question. Our young generation are out there criss-crossing the globe in their thousands. Confident and adventurous travelers immersing themselves in other cultures. Why is our generation missing out on all the fun? My mission is to change this. To inspire more people our generation with the confidence to live their travel adventure dreams.
Already, since releasing the book and sharing the story through the media and talks, other people are now being inspired. From the husband who after reading the story in a Saturday's newspaper, messaged his wife how much she meant to him. To the lady who had lost her husband, who after hearing the story on a TV segment was so inspired, the next day she took the courage to take twelve months away from her job and embark on her own travel adventure.
Life is indeed a journey, not a destination.