Turning 30 is weird. When I reached the big three-oh last year I realized that I was just as close to the fourth-grade, towheaded bowl-cut version of myself as the 50-year-old grey-haired version that I will soon become. It must be near the midpoint of the transition from exuberant child to washed-up dad bod.
I just turned 31 on a random volcanic rock in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Instead of telling people when my birthday was, I decided to utilize the stealth strategy, telling no one and spending the day to myself. I went to the beach, went for a swim in a reef lagoon, and uncharacteristically ordered a French pinot noir at a Thai restaurant while leafing through a random novel about illegally adopting children in 1990s Romania. Interesting evening. It gave me ample time to reflect on age 30 and what I’ve learned and experienced in the past year.
I spent my year 30 almost entirely abroad except for a three-week pitstop at home in California. I visited eight countries and four continents. I surfed in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Caribbean Sea. I became fluent in Portuguese, embarked on a new journey of learning French, and learned the basics of various languages and dialects across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. (Language continues to fascinate me.) I made dozens (hundreds?) of new friends and acquaintances. I hiked into the wet rainforests of Brazil, summited an active volcano on Bali, and trudged to the top of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. I learned how to eat with my hands in India and watched elephants roam the plains of Sri Lanka. I wrote a lot, too — in my journal, on my website, and professionally for media outlets.
Talking about what I’ve done begins to risk sounding like a pretentious, privileged travel bum who gloats about his accomplishments, but the truth is when you are in the midst of these journeys, it can be hard to take a step back and take it all in. That’s what my solo-celebrated birthday helped me accomplish, getting a bird’s eye view of what my year 30 looked like.
When I was younger and in college, when I was first entranced by dreams of traveling abroad to strange, foreign lands, I wouldn’t have believed the story that has been my last year. It would sound too good to be true at a time when I was convinced that I would soon have to cut my hair, get a corporate job, and focus on making car payments. (I mean, I did do a bit of that, too.) It’s been a good moment to reassess what is important to me. And it’s been worth stopping for a moment to appreciate those dreams that became reality, as well as the new dreams that have since blossomed along the journey.
Of course, year 30 wasn’t all sunshine and roses. It came with difficulties and sacrifices, too. I’ve been pursuing the nearly impossible task of living off freelance writing (supplemented by teaching English), chasing editors for weeks at a time before I can secure a measly paycheck, and then chasing them again when said paycheck becomes overdue. Year 30 was also my first full-year single since I was 24, as my time away from home ultimately spelled the end of a long-term romantic relationship. And I’ve been going through the prolonged grieving process of losing a parent by myself in unknown surroundings.
But after all I’ve been through in the last year, I cannot possibly imagine my life being any other way. There were lots of branches from which my path could have diverged from its current course, but this is the course I took and I don’t have regrets.
Year 30 felt fulfilling. And in an endless pursuit of god-knows-what across the world, that’s all I can ask for. Year 31 is starting with an equally blank slate as 30 did. I hope more of the same is in store. Let the climb to 40 begin…
3 thoughts on “Reflections on year 30”
Happy Birthday, Evan, from not so sunny San Diego. Padres’ Opening Day delayed to night due to rain.
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Hope you enjoyed our singing birthday card. It was fun and unexpected to see you on Facetime two weeks ago. After three weeks in California, including nice visits with your mom, sister and brother, we arrived in Bogota yesterday.
Oh to be 31 again. I was finishing my first year of a legal career that I would not escape for decades. It was a mistake born of a woeful lack of imagination. It is great to see, through your adventures, how that could have been different. I am awed by what you are doing and, though exhilarating and mind-expanding, I know that solo travel can also be lonely at times, especially when you are processing some sad life changes.
I sure wish I had your language facility although my learning has been hampered by taking place mostly in my living room. My Spanish will be tested this weekend when we go to the country with Carlos’ family. Next week, I will meet my language intercambio friend of two years, for the first time. I am a bit nervous because he is blind and we have never been in a physical space together so it will be a new dimension to navigate. But we have actually become very good friends and I will miss our daily chats when he heads for his doctoral program at UT Austin in a few months.
Be careful out there but not too careful. Love you, Aunt Shelley
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Thanks Shelley. Glad you got to spend some time with the family. Have fun with your language partner in Bogotá!