I’m taking a break from my normal, opinionated rants to pose a question: should your twenties be devoted to wandering the world, living in many places, but never deeply? Or should they be spent picking a place to live and investing your time to build a home from that place?
I’ll share my thoughts on this question and then invite you to respond with yours. Because, if blogging for four years has taught me anything, it is that collectively the readers are much smarter than I am.
Why Ask the Question?
I’m in a position where I may be able to run my business from anywhere in the world upon graduating from university. At the moment, this is looking likely, however even if it there are setbacks in my goal, I’ll keep showing up, so achieving the goal of a full-time location-independent business looks likely for me.
Being in such a position essentially untangles my career success from a particular location. I could live almost anywhere, for any period of time, without that decision having a significant impact on my progress in a career.
However, I’m not unique. Even if you aren’t planning to start a business in your twenties, there are many options for spending your twenties as a wanderer. You could:
- Change offices in within your company, moving between different cities and countries.
- Take work or educational exchanges (I’m on one right now, in France).
- Plan mini-retirements or sabbaticals from your work to travel.
- Take up freelancing or a mobile job and work from anywhere.
Yes, extreme vagabonding may not be available to everyone. But I think most people simply assume it is too expensive/difficult without doing any research. I know regular, suit-and-tie accountants that lived in different countries just by switching offices at their firm.
Given that myself and many others have, at least, the possibility of spending our twenties living in different cities and countries, this makes it worth asking the question. Especially for people such as myself, who have mostly decoupled location and career ambition, meaning there is no longer an obvious trade-off between your ambitions and desire to explore.
Does the Added Freedom Need to Be Exploited?
Let’s say you’ve got a location independent job, freelancing gig or business, does that mean you should use it?
If your company has openings in foreign countries, does that mean you should take them?
If your university offers exchanges and opportunities to study abroad, should you start packing your suitcase?
At this moment I’m living in France and it is, without doubt, the best year of my life. Adventures, interesting people, new languages and cultures make for an interesting life.
I believe there is a strong argument for doing a year (or two) abroad for anyone. Even if you later decide never to live in an exotic place again. The marginal value of adding a year as a foreigner is high.
But that begs a deeper question: is it worth it to continue living abroad? If I have the ability, what’s to prevent me (or you) from living in a dozen different countries for nine months at a time?
Do You Dabble or Commit?
This may be one of the best years of my life. But the relationships are also more fleeting. Many people I’ve met, I will never see again in my life. Friends, social circles and people will all get separated over time.
Yes, this will happen even if you never change locations. People will move, switch jobs, or drift apart. However, if you become a permanent vagabond, this becomes more extreme. Sure, you can always keep in touch, but keeping in touch is more difficult than continuing friendships face-to-face.
There is an argument that continuous wandering may create more friendships, but ultimately shallower ones.
There is also an argument against this wandering from a personal growth perspective. Yes, living in new places opens you up to new experiences. But it also creates new obstacles. Living in one location could allow you to build on past successes and create an amazing life, rather than needing to reset every several months.
Wandering also puts other goals on hold. You may enjoy years of travel, but wake up in your early thirties to discover many of your earlier peers have left you behind. They have bigger careers or businesses. I’m not saying the tradeoff isn’t worth it, just that there is often a trade-off to consider.
The Broader Implications of Your Choice
This question has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m living abroad and contemplating where I may set off to next.
However, I think the question is a more general one about how you pursue life. It’s the question of variety or depth, and while I don’t believe you need to be consistent in your answer on every case, your choice in this question also forces you to reflect on other issues:
- Should you date or marry one person exclusively, or have many shorter relationships?
- Should you stick to one job, or hop frequently?
- Should you build one major enterprise or become a serial entrepreneur?
- Should you study one subject exclusively, or broaden your learning to everything?
- Should you commit to lifestyle traits such as religion, vegetarianism, etc., or reinvent yourself every year?
My current opinion is to lean towards wandering. The trade-offs aren’t as large when you are young and have relatively few external commitments. However, I do understand the arguments on both sides.
What are your thoughts? Should you build a life for yourself in one place, or become a perpetual wanderer? What are your thoughts on the broader implications of this choice? Please share in the comments.