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Travel Now: Research Suggests You'll Regret It if You Don't

Budget Travel
by Matt Hershberger Mar 2, 2015

THERE ARE ALWAYS REASONS to not travel: a tight budget, a desire to look like a go-getter at work, kids, a busy schedule, nervousness about traveling to “dangerous” countries abroad. If you don’t make travel a priority, you’re probably going to listen to those reasons, and you’re not going to travel all that much.

Chances are, you’re going to regret that. Karl Pillemer is a gerontologist at Cornell, and he has written two books — 30 Lessons for Living and 30 Lessons for Loving — that are based off of advice he compiled from 1000 and 700 elderly people, respectively. Pillemer found that, when he asked the elderly interviewees what their greatest regrets were, not traveling early or often enough was one of the most commonly cited regrets.

One of the most common excuses for not traveling is saying you’ll wait until you retire, or at least until you have more money. But several of Pillemer’s respondents said that this wait was ill-adviced: one 81-year-old man described how he basically lived in the manner of the devastating first ten minutes of the movie Up, and put off traveling until his wife had tragically died of cancer.

Learn from other’s mistakes: get moving

Pillemer’s surveys were largely anecdotal and weren’t necessarily scientific — even though they did cover a pretty large sample size — but his interviews aren’t the only work done in the area. Research by the British Heart Foundation found that the number one regret was not traveling enough. The research also had people create a “to-do” list for what they most wanted in their lives, and the list is dominated by travel-related activities: while first place went to “win the lottery,” second was “travel the world.” Third was to see the northern lights, and going on safaris, seeing world landmarks, and living abroad were all in the top ten as well.

Travel, then, is one of the things we dream about most. But it’s not something we do enough of: Skift found that 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day in 2014, and as a whole, Americans left 169 million paid vacation days on the table. Those are days where there’s no excuse: even if you don’t have the money to take a big trip, why not visit a local state park and go hiking? Why not drive your bike a half an hour away and ride around the countryside?

So many older people — people who we’re in a position to learn from — are telling us to take the time to travel more to avoid having the same regrets that they have. Pillemer summarized the elder’s advice in this way: “Travel is so rewarding that it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on.”

It’s unaffordable not to travel

Considering that one of the biggest regrets according the British Heart Foundation was “drinking too much,” perhaps one way to save money for travel would be to set aside money that might usually be reserved for bars and put it towards a travel fund. Smoking was also on the regrets list — and smoking is insanely expensive in the United States and in much of the rest of the world these days. If you smoke a pack a week, and a pack of cigarettes costs $7, that’s about $350 a year — the cost of a domestic plane flight.

Saving isn’t spectacularly hard — even on a relatively small income — when you really prioritize it. And there’s evidence that travel is good both for your physical and mental health. The verdict is in: you can’t afford not to travel. And if you don’t, you’ll regret it later.

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