We just arrived in Maui for our annual pilgrimage, and it got me thinking about how different my traveling experience has been over the last few years compared to what it was when I was in my 20’s. Here are some of the ways travel has improved for me over the last decade:
Pack all the things!
I used to be all about packing light when I was younger. It was so easy to throw a bunch of crap in a bag, sling it over my shoulder, and hop on a plane.
But as I get older, I feel like I just require more stuff. The first time I went to Europe, the only hair product that came with me was a hair brush. I used whatever shampoo and conditioner was cheapest at the corner store, and I just threw my hair up in a ponytail most days. Now when I travel, even if it’s only for a weekend, I have to bring a flat brush, a round brush, a flat iron, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner, heat protector, and dry shampoo that’s tinted brown in case I’m too far in between dye jobs. That’s right, another perk of being 34 – grey hair.
I also plan better for contingencies. Maybe it’s that untapped maternal instinct to come prepared with anything a child might need. Like even though I don’t have a kid yet, I still have a bag packed with band-aids, every medicine and homeopathic remedy available, a sewing kit, stain remover pen, hand sanitizing gel, and just about everything else under the sun.
Leave me alone, please and thank you
Every time my friends and I planned a trip in our 20’s, one of the biggest considerations in choosing a location was whether there was a robust nightlife. I was never a big dancer, but it was always fun going out to local bars and clubs for some beer, cigarettes and people-watching.
In my 30’s, my vacation requirements couldn’t be more different. If I am going on a beach vacation, that’s exactly what I want: the beach. I need to avoid crowds at all costs. In fact, it would be preferable to go somewhere where no one even spoke to me except for my vacation companion and restaurant servers (or whoever else was giving me food and wine). These days, I just want to curl up quietly under an umbrella with a good book and a great bottle of wine.
I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t care much for art, architecture, culture and history when I was in my 20’s. My main concerns were basically bars and cute guys.
When I travel now, I want to soak in as much culture as possible. I love visiting art museums, walking the city to admire the architecture, and learn about the history of wherever I am visiting. I like to find out what kinds of foods are traditional and try them (as long as they’re not totally disgusting).
F**k the steal, go for the splurge
IMHO, the single greatest thing about traveling in our 30’s is that we can usually afford to stay in better hotels. I’ve never done the hostel thing, but I have definitely stayed at some pretty sketchy places in my younger days. When I studied abroad in London during law school, my dorm room resembled a jail cell, complete with cigarette burns on the mattress.
At 34, I want to sleep somewhere that is beautiful, spacious and sparkling clean. I want someone to turn down my sheets at night and leave a mint on the pillow. And I want a 24-hour staff available to bring me milkshakes and grilled cheese in the middle of the night (it’s embarrassing how often that actually happens).
As far as the actual travel is concerned, I don’t have the time or the patience for a 6-hour layover, or flying with 3 stops just to save a few bucks. These days, I book the direct flight with extra leg room or business class if it’s even remotely reasonably priced.
After working my ass off for the last 20 years, I finally have enough disposable income to travel well and stay somewhere awesome, so why not take advantage?
Wine + Dine
I would be lying if I said that some of my vacations haven’t revolved almost exclusively around restaurants and wine, because they have.
I feel like our 20’s are the beer and/or mixed drinks decade, and then we wise up by our 30’s and realize that wine is just about the greatest thing on earth. Now, instead of springing for a bucket of Coronas on the beach (anyone who’s been to Mexico knows exactly what I’m talking about), I would visit places with the best vineyards and tasting rooms.
Our 30’s is also a time to step-up our dining habits when we travel. When I studied in London, my diet consisted mainly of McDonald’s, Nando’s (think Chick-Fil-A…not terrible by any means, but also not something you want to eat every damn day) and Wotsits (i.e., British Cheetos) because I couldn’t afford anything more expensive. Now, one of my favorite vacation pastimes is finding amazing new restaurants and eating exotic cuisine.
Taking care of our skin
Like a lot of people, I used to be a Hawaiian-Tropic-oil-wearing-sun-worshiper who would go to any length to get that flawless, sun kissed glow. But once I reached my 30’s, I realized that the sun is basically our skin’s worst enemy.
These days, I make sure that basically no part of my body is touched by the sun’s devil rays. People might make fun of me (read: people definitely do make fun of me) when I lay by the pool practically covered head-to-toe with towels, or about the fact that my legs are so white that they’re basically transparent, but I will have the last laugh when I don’t look like leather face in 5 years.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a backpack and budgeting your way through a foreign country. I had some of the best traveling experiences of my life when I was in my 20’s, but I am also having an amazing and totally different experience traveling in my 30’s.