On the eve of my 30th birthday, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
I should have been at home, putting together the final plans for my birthday celebration. Instead, I was hundreds of miles away dreading a funeral.
It turned out to be a sign of things to come: my 30’s would be defined as the decade where nothing went to plan.
In my 30s….
I got engaged.
I got married.
Both times to the same man.
Once in a Chateau in France. Once in a chapel in Las Vegas, officiated by Darth Vader (life advice: everyone should get married in Vegas at least once).
I practised law for a corporate beast. And then I didn’t: I quit the career I’d spent all of my 20’s toiling to achieve.
I planned a one-year career break that has yet to come to an end (nearly six years later).
I bought a round the world ticket. Then another. And another.
I started a blog. I set up a freelance writing business. I gained a bunch of clients and readers.
I rested on my laurels. I frittered my time fooling around. I lost my clients. But I gained more readers.
I watched my savings dwindle. I missed my lawyer income. I restarted my freelance writing business. I revamped my blog.
Every day I learned new ways to work…and new ways to fail.
I ate deadly puffer fish in Japan…and lived to tell the tale.
I swam up a waterfall.
I took hikes that lasted days and didn’t involve a drop of shower water.
I was bitten by more bed bugs than I could count…and more mosquitoes than I killed.
I endured 100 hours of silent meditation in India and lived without meat for a month…which was slightly easier than my month without booze.
I lived in a troglodyte cave in France. I spend three months island-hopping in Hawaii and I found out that Mexico and California are places I could comfortably call home.
I escaped from a burning bus in Brazil and felt scared enough to wield my knife in India.
I had the best massage of my life in a women’s prison in Thailand (I was not the inmate) and the worst in Shanghai (being offered a happy ending as a female is, apparently, a thing. For the record: I declined).
I lost a tooth. I had surgery on my nose and I annihilated the inside of my knee – more scalpels await.
I got divorced from the man I spent my 20’s with and who I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with.
I was so high on life I thought I’d never come down.
I scraped myself up out of depression time and time again, yet I rarely felt able to talk about it.
I said goodbye to one of the closest people in my life – my nan, and my heart still aches every day that she’s gone. More recently I lost my aunty and there’s a slow movement of fear in my gut that more of this will inevitably come.
I studied Spanish, philosophy, finance, religion and science, and I made a pledge to never quit my quest to learn.
I travelled to nearly 60 countries via planes, trains, cars, buses, bikes, helicopter, tuk-tuks, ferries, canoes and camels (though never at the same time).
I sold a large modern house outside London I once called home and bought a small Victorian flat near Liverpool.
Despite the time and the distance, I miraculously kept in contact with my friends from England, and I made hundreds more new friends on the road.
I won awards for writing short stories but allowed fear to cripple me from publishing anything longer than 5,000 words.
And then came my 40s…
On the eve of my 40th birthday, I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
I should be in Hawaii, the location I long imagined I’d be when I turned 40. Instead, I’m on an NHS waiting list, readying myself for ACL reconstructive surgery.
I’m trying to settle into a flat when every adventurous bone in my body (around 85% of them) wants to go off and travel.
I write. I laugh. I occasionally cry.
I’m not married. I don’t have kids. And I no longer have the status (or salary) that came with a career in law.
And, yes, every now and then I have doubts and even a few regrets (that bad oyster I ate in Scotland, for one).
But the one thing I don’t have, is the realisation of my biggest fear – that I’d wake up on my 40th birthday and wonder where did the time go? How did I become this woman? How did I end up with this life?
These are not questions that worry me – because I know the answers.
The answers are etched in every sun-baked wrinkle I can find on my skin. The wrinkles that have captured a decade and more of laughter and surprise and exhilaration and adventure.
The answers are found in the grey hairs that have grown from fretting about choices and decisions that have taken me down paths I barely dared to go. Paths I took anyway through fear of what would be if I left them untravelled.
I know where the time went. I know how I became this woman. I know how I ended up with this life.
I know because I turned up every day and I’ve tried to live my life consciously. I turned up and made decisions when they were easy and I turned up and battled through when the decisions were hard.
On the eve of my 40th birthday, I’m not where I thought I would be.
But I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.
And so, with a pit of panic in my stomach and a flutter of excitement in my heart, I take a deep breath (and a good glug of Champagne for courage) and plunge head first into the unknown wild and wonderfulness that will be my 40’s.
Want to join me for the ride?
Turning 40 makes me more conscious than ever that ageing is not a luxury everyone gets to experience. I know too many people who have been affected by or taken by Cancer. If you’d like to say “happy birthday” or show a bit of appreciation for this blog, I’ve set up a donation page with Cancer Research UK. Even the smallest donation will help.
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19 thoughts on “So, that was my 30s…”
Hi Jo! I was googling things to do for 1 day in Warsaw and your blog popped up. Hours later, I’m totally enthralled by your blog, your travels, and your experiences! As a single 40-something who loves to travel, much of your writing resonates with me. And is so inspiring. I can’t wait to read more. Thank you!!
Hi Kimberly, it’s always so nice to hear from a fellow solo 40-something traveller!!! And I’m thrilled my posts resonate with you. If there’s ever a topic you’d like covering, let me know. I have plenty of ideas but I’m always open to suggestions.
Hi Jo – very excited to come across your blog. I am also a lawyer, and for the past decade have been trying to balance the traditional career + lifestyle with my insatiable desire to see the world. The past few years I have been on a work 10 months/take 2-3 off plan, but it still just isn’t ENOUGH! I turn 40 this year and the desire to write and travel just keeps burning stronger. It is so helpful to see someone else – someone who not quite a 20-something digital nomad – living this kind of life. See, I’m not crazy! Keep it up. I look forward to following along.
Hi Devon, so sorry for the slow reply – I fled from England just after New Year to escape the winter and I’ve been mostly offline since then. Yes, in a world of Millennials upping sticks and cruising around the world, it’s easy to feel like an oldie (in your head…or at least in my head). However, most of the people I meet who are younger ‘get it’. They know that wanderlust isn’t something that disappears with age. If anything, it gets stronger. I spent the past year almost static thanks to an impending knee operation but being back on the road again feels more like coming home than opening the door to my recently purchased flat ever did. Keep chasing your dream. Happiness lies that way. I hope you manage to find the balance and travel you crave. And as I’ve said to more than one person, you can always reinstall an earlier version of your life – it’s rarely difficult. Maybe it’s time to give full-time travel a go?
Now it’s my turn for (a very) delayed reply! Thx for the comments. We’ll see what the next year brings for sure. Glad to hear you are back on the road. Just found you on instagram so will follow you more regularly there. I’m @thiswildair on IG if you ever want to know if I took the plunge. All the best.
I’m struggling with this exact same issue. I’m 47. I am happy with myself, but not with this get up, work out, work, sleep, eat, read, occasional friends,repetitive unfulfilling life. I am bored out of my mind with my $100k a year job (even though it is very easy and very flexible) and wonder every day how much longer I can do this. I have two options: 1. work another year and save up or 2. just go with the money I have now and hope for the best. I’m hoping the universe gives me a sign.
It isn’t so easy after 40 to wonder where your next meal and next dollar will come from. I recently launched a blog (www.acinglife.com) but I wonder how you take the plunge without worrying about how you will live two years from now.
Is it actually feasible to make money blogging/writing while traveling or will I end up back here in 2 years with no job and no money?
I guess there are no guarantees in life and I’m not one to let fear rule my life (ever)…but these are valid concerns as you get older.
Sorry for the slow reply Carrie – things have been manic since my birthday. The short answer is that taking the plunge comes with a huge amount of worry but as I’ve said to many people who’ve asked, it’s always easy to reinstall an earlier version of your life. What is not easy is gaining back those opportunities of chasing down our dreams. As for blogging to make money, it’s not simple. It took me many years before I started to earn from my blog and even now it’s not full income. I rely on rental money from the UK and supplement my blog income with freelance work while I travel. That said, stripping back your life makes things a lot cheaper so, on balance, I have to earn less for a much better quality of life (quality defined by experience not by possessions). Easy for me to say sat here, but go for it. What have you really got to lose? Your $100k a year job, or one like it, will most likely be there in a year or two’s time. If it helps, cheat and tell yourself that you just having a one year off. About you a dollar you won’t go back 🙂 Good luck and let me know how you get on!
I’m glad to hear you followed your heart. The one thing I have learned from life that there is no “right” place to be, no path which must be walked, the only journey to make is the one which makes you happy. And the other thing I’ve learned is that life will throw some shit at you at some point and there’s no getting away from it – it’s about how you deal with it that will take you forward. Good luck with everything – not just the knee 🙂
Thanks Sylvie – wise words and I like your sentiment. Thanks for reading and commenting.
I am turning 41 in July. In November 2013 I put an end to attempting at making a career in human rights law and academia. It just wasn’t working and I was miserable. I started traveling. I spent all my money. I started blogging for fun then realized I could still have fun and make a buck or two (or better, euro). Yesterday I had my annual breast check and everything is fine in that region. My back still hurts and I have to start doing pilates so that I stretch it and pull it to make it better.
I am not married. I have never been married. I don’t have kids and I don’t want any. I don’t own a house but I have cats. I have friends here and all over the world.
I am almost 41 and I am happy.
Happy birthday Jo 🙂
Claudia, I don’t get all gushing and ‘you’re an inspiration’ very often but you, my lady, really do fit that bill! Enjoy your 41st year and thanks for the birthday wishes. PS: cats – love, love, love our feline friends 🙂
omg yes yes yes
this little bug is under my skin too
love this post…
a pit of panic in my stomach and a flutter of excitement in my heart – maybe that is how its meant to be…
Thanks Rosa – and yes, maybe it is how it’s supposed to be…I’ll let you know how it all turns out!
Hi Jo. Your article is wonderful. It brought a tear to my eye as I know you also should have been somewhere in France this year! I wish you all the best with your knee recovery and still hope to be able to welcome you one time in Limoux! XxMarijke
Awww, thanks Marijke – France is still very much in my plans…post knee operation. Terrible timing but definitely not enough to push me entirely off course 🙂
This is great stuff and you’ve had an amazing adventure! Those experiences money could never buy. Hope your upcoming decades are just as good and you’re able to share it with your reader.
Thanks!! It really has been an adventure, life warts and all 🙂 And, yes, I definitely intend to continue to share my next decade, whatever that holds!
I think you are beautifully transparent. Rare to see such honesty (I call it “real-ness”), inspiring…. not just the directness, the adventure, the sacrifice, the discipline, the truth in your words cut through all the traditional vagueness (“unreal-ness”)….not sure about the getting married in Vegas thing, but would have loved to be a witness, and celebrate! (just remembered my dad married his 4th wife in vegas, so I guess I have done it…lol).
Planning an adventure to Hawaii, New Zealand, Bali, Bhutan in Jan 2017 if you have any thoughts would love to here them….I too have found California and Mexico very inviting, I dream of owning a small place in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, just 45 mins north of Cabo….Peace Tim
Tim, such nice words – thank you so much. Ha ha, I still think you should get married in Vegas at least once and I’m not backing down from that opinion ;p But in the meantime, your trip sounds amazing. Sigh. I just wish I had the same adventure planned…once my knee is healed…have a fantastic time (like you need me to tell you that?!)