How to Survive a Midlife (Travel) Crisis

It’s (mid)life Jim, but not as we know it.

Just about everyone has heard about people having a midlife crisis, buying inappropriate sports cars, looking for inappropriate replacement companions or throwing away a perfectly good life and taking off on some ill-founded journey.

Which creates a timely segue into my next finding in my search to discover how to cope with my current state of mind. A quick search for “midlife travel crisis” reveals over two million results with a heavy focus on explaining how travel can be the perfect remedy for the classic midlife crisis.

That should help, right? Wrong!

What if you have a midlife travel crisis? You have found yourself in a place where you don’t really know how you should travel, where you should travel, you worry about getting the most from the remaining active years you have, you worry about the other commitments you have in life????

Sorry, I think I need a bit of a lie down.

What’s wrong with me? I loved to travel.

We travelled as a family for almost 20 years. An amazing period where we visited over 20 countries, ate weird stuff, met great people and did some really cool things you can only really do when you have a child in the party (without looking like a couple of creepy old people).

There was a rule when we planned our trips, everyone gets to pick a couple of places we would all have to go to, whether we thought we would like it or not. To be honest some of the things junior chose during the planning stages had me regretting the “one in all in” policy. But some of these places ended up being the most fun parts of our trips.

But now we are in transition, life as I have grown comfortable with has been shaken like the proverbial Polaroid picture and I have been left a broken man. A shell of my former world travelling, upbeat and fun seeking self.

It certainly didn’t seem to hang around long enough to have been 12 months, not 52 weeks, and certainly not 365 days, but 2015 is done and dusted and the new year already starting to fly by.

Lie down and tell me all about it.

Well Doc, I think it all started when junior took her first trip without us. I was excited for her as it was the beginning of her move into the world of travel writing as a solo act. How amazing to think that we had raised a daughter so confident and determined that at just 18 she was working hard to build a business and off to explore more of the world.

But once we had watched her head through the big doors at Sydney Airport without us the slow fall to crisis began. And as I went through the rollercoaster ride of wishing I was there when she sent amazing photos, to having to talk her down during an anxiety attack she had at LAX. (the least she could have done was to have her breakdown at a more convenient time than 2am my time)

I was envious that she was living her dream while Pauline and I continued to work, pay bills, and be stuck at home looking after our family dog.

That’s OK, you will be back together soon.

Or so I kept telling myself. I was starting to feel that I was kidding myself thinking things would ever be the same again. It was finally dawning on me that from now on we were less likely to be family travellers and more likely to be empty nesters, a travel couple.

How do you do that? From my time as a travel agent the only empty nesters I seemed to discuss travel with were doing river cruises or coach tours. Old people watching the world go by through a window is how I saw them and I wasn’t ready for that, or was that just the way things go after the transition?

Junior, or the Wandering Donut as her tens of thousands of followers and friends know her, just kept getting offer upon offer to travel while mum and dad stayed home and watched her incredible adventures unfold.

Had my travel life fallen to the level of travel agent to the stars, destined to live vicariously from afar but never actually get back in the saddle? Sorry about the mixed metaphors.

As a growing community Living la Vida Global is always looking for contributions from travellers with something they want to share with the world. And to that end we have a number of categories available for writers to contribute.

Annus Horribilis Travelus.

I was a late bloomer when it came to travel with little or no experience until into my twenties. It wasn’t until my late twenties, after Pauline and I got together, that I really started to become an international man of mystery. Well maybe not so much of a mystery but it sounded much better than international man of mediocrity.

We worked hard and travelled often. Even when junior burst onto the scene a few years later the hits kept coming on the travel charts. Our goal was to have a short trip one year and a much longer trip the next, a plan than worked out very well for quite some time.

So in 2016 when junior hit the road alone, Pauline and I did still manage an amazing trip of our own but I think this was due to us having a big reason for it.

We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at Machu Picchu so it wasn’t really a difficult proposition to enjoy our first real couples trip. But I knew something was still wrong due to the number of times one of us would mention how much Dana would love to be with us here, or how she would have been all over some crazy food item we found. Or that before we started heading home we were already discussing a plan to come back as a family in the future.

2017 was the year that finally broke the time camel’s back and plunged me into crisis. The first year in almost 30 that I did not travel at all. Dana had her adventures and Pauline even joined her for a week or two in Bali at one stage but dog and I stayed home for 365 very long, adventureless days.

Wayan Sudira, our favourite Private Guide in Ubud

Things can only get better.

OK so that year is finally done and dusted, 2018 will be so much better. Is what I mistakenly believed. I interviewed for a new job in February which meant any travel for the following 12 months would be very unlikely.

With that in mind I decided there had to be some travel and so I found the cheapest option which also happened to be Bali. I had no real interest in Bali ever, but my girls convinced me to give it a go.

I spend four days there alone, which somehow did not even manage to live up to my extremely low expectations, before Pauline joined me for another week. This extra week was much better but I still kept feeling it would have hit a higher level as a family trip.

Back home, got the job, no more travel for me in 2018. Meanwhile Dana spent two weeks leading a tour in New Zealand that I designed and booked for her, plus an additional three months in Europe, which I also had the “pleasure” of putting together for her.

So 2019 will have to be the year I get my travel mojo back surely.

Oh… so where were we?

That’s right, I was talking about a midlife travel crisis. Dr Google does not seem to have any pages dedicated to this phenomenon but I am sure (or at least I choose to believe) that I am not the only person to suffer from this condition.

I have been through some of the causes :

  • lack of travel after a long period of consistent adventures.
  • watching other family members, particularly your offspring, travelling without you.
  • having to plan travel for others while staying home.
  • transitioning travel styles due to family circumstances.
  • being middle aged.

Here are some of the symptoms :

  • delusions that your grown child will continue to want to endure family vacations.
  • questioning the purpose of your travel.
  • indecision about where you could possibly go for a grown up holiday.
  • wondering how you could still get away with visiting a theme park or candy factory on your trip without a child to deflect attention from you being a big kid.
  • finding mostly illogical reasons why you can’t travel. e.g. what if my aging parents get sick, our dog will miss us too much, nobody will be able to collect our mail, the grass might get too long, you will miss Aunty Marge’s birthday (even though you barely know her and have never celebrated with her before).

Here are the remedies :

  • get someone else to plan a random trip and, in the words of one of my favourite travel bloggers Contented Traveller, let serendipity take over.
  • read other empty nester blog posts and hope to stumble across a gem of wisdom.
  • sit down with your remaining travel companion and try to remember what you loved about travel before your child turned that world upside down.
  • try to recall any time during your family travel when you thought to yourself, “I would really like to come back and experience this again as a grown up without a small human with a short attention span cramping my style”.

Isn’t there just a pill I can take?

There may not be anything a doctor can prescribe that can ease you through this midlife travel crisis, and excessive alcohol may help a little in the short term but is just going to reduce your available travel funds when you finally break through to the other side. I am beginning to think that maybe I am just overthinking this and all I really need is a holiday.

But on a somewhat serious note, which is about the best I can offer, it really is getting me down and putting me into a state where the longer I have to wait for my next trip the more difficult I find it to decide where to go.

The only thing I can say for sure is that if I decide that my next vacation should be with other old people watching the world through a bus window then I am on a slippery slope. The only thing left after that would be buying a caravan and towing it around Australia. And if I get to that stage all hope is lost.

Have you been through the pain and frustration of a midlife travel crisis, or are you now concerned that it is approaching you too fast? We would love to hear your stories and thoughts and hope you will share in the comments.

Dean is the main creative force behind Road Trips HQ. A road trip veteran with over 30,000 miles of driving in more than a dozen countries. He has also worked in the Australian travel and tourism industry for the past 6 years.


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