There's a popular notion that travel matures you, that it forces you to grow up. And in one sense it probably does.
You can't set out into the big wide world on your own and not come back a changed person. All those new experiences, those challenges you have to face and figure out, those insights into the way different parts of the world work – that has to make you into a different person.
You'd hope those changes are for the better. You should really step off that plane on your homecoming a worldlier, more mature, more rounded person.
But lately I'm starting to think that for some of us a life of travel might not be such a maturing experience. In fact, it might have the opposite effect. Rather than help you grow, travel can stop you in one place. It's a time warp, and some of us are stuck.
Hang out in any hostel around the world and you'll soon see the people I'm talking about. It's not those just having a little holiday, but the long-term travellers who really should have grown up and figured everything out by now, but instead they're just wandering around the world, looking but not necessarily doing, observing and enjoying without necessarily contributing.
Your friends from high school are all doing the things that adults usually wind up doing by now, procreating and settling, but those in the time warp just keep wandering.
I'm one of them. It's become pretty obvious lately.
Let's assess my adult life. Back when I was a 17-year-old fresh out of high school, I decided to take a gap year and have an adventure. I had no job, very little money, no girlfriend, no house or car or significant asset to speak of. I set off with little idea of what it was I was doing, just with the notion that the world was there to be explored, and I was going to explore it.
Fifteen years have gone by since that time, and I've now decided to take another gap year (of sorts) and have another adventure. I have a job this time, although it's a tenuous one that no bank (and few of my friends) would take seriously. I have very little money, no girlfriend, no house or car or significant asset to speak of. I'm about to set off with very little idea of what it is I'm doing – just the notion that the world is still there to be explored.
I'm moving to Seville for a while to learn Spanish. After that, who knows?
It's exciting, but also a little frightening. Fifteen years and I'm still in the time warp, still just wandering around the world checking things out. My friends have five-year plans and career trajectories and chunky superannuation balances. I just bought a backpack that's got wheels.
It's the travel bug writ large, a yearning to always be moving on to the next place, to always have something exciting to look forward to the next morning. Where will I be, who will I meet?
I'm pretty sure that's what gets the other long-term travellers trapped as well, this need for the exciting unknown.
The bright side of this time warp is a life of adventure, a stockpile not of money or assets but of stories and experiences to look back on. The downside is a lack of the touchstones that modern society respects.
Is all this a sign of maturity? Probably not. But it still sounds like fun to me.
Have you been stuck in the travel time warp? Or known people who have?