4 Years without Birthdays

As I rode into Zambia a couple months ago, I started doing what I spent so many of my hours on my epic scooter trip doing: thinking about my life.  I started to think about what I’ve done with my life, and was drawn to my age.

“I’m 27 years old,” I thought as I shook my head. “Where have all the years gone.”

Skydiving, Swakopmund

Falling from the sky in Swakopmund, Namibia

Then disaster hit.  Simple math explained to me that I was actually 28 years old.  I forgot about an entire year of my life.  In fact, it feels like 4 years have gone by I still feel 25. In a little over a year, I’ll be 30.  A wave of disappointment rushed through me.  30 year-olds seemed older when I was young.  They had jobs, and wives, and children they were already driving to school.  Will I ever get there?  Will I wake up some day and wish I had pursued a more traditional life?

Watching an elephant take a shit in Chobe, Botswana

Watching an elephant take a shit in Chobe, Botswana

The truth is that over the past 4 years while I’ve been a nomad, I feel like I haven’t aged.  I feel like the world around me might have grown older – I have friends that are now engaged, my sister has children, and my father has retired over that time – but I’m in a strange state of growth without aging.  Sure, I feel wiser, I have more wrinkles, and my hairline is now shockingly thin, but I still feel 25 years old.

Climbing Mount Cameroon

Climbing Mount Cameroon

When I turned 27 years old I remember feeling like I was letting myself down.  I wasn’t living to my potential.  I wasn’t on the road to being an ambassador, or a human rights lawyer, or even some low-level United Nations staffer, I was a guy sleeping on beaches in Brazil because no one was buying his travel articles, too broke to afford even a dorm bed.  I was a guy who spent a week living on nothing but ichiban soup in Suriname, because the few magazines and websites that were buying his work stopped paying writers.  I was 27 years and struggling to find my place in the world; 27 years old and unsure where I was going, when I would find the girl of my dreams, and when I would have a steady enough bank account balance to not stress about it daily.

Stuffed in the trunck of a car in Cote d'Ivoire

Stuffed in the trunck of a car in Cote d’Ivoire

But you see, at 29 years old, I don’t feel disappointed that I’m getting old because I’m living a life of eternal youth.  I’m proud to say that I’ve never lost my naivety.  Despite having been robbed, shot at, and played for a fool on many occasions, I still believe in mankind.  Despite being 29 years old, I feel like I’ve lived the life of 40 or 50 men.  And despite pressing so much life into 29 years, my insides are still soaked with the curiosity of a child in an enchanted garden.

Hanging out with the woman that saved my life in DR Congo

Hanging out with the woman that saved my life in DR Congo

I feel so blessed by life that sometimes I feel guilty.  When I sit back in a chair and reflect on the past 29 years of life I can only shake my head in disbelief that I’ve squeeze so much juice from the earth.  When I remember all the moments with friends on the road I can’t help but be blown away by the amount of good people that I’ve spent time with.

Having Antelope for lunch along the highway in Cameroon with Double Dutch.

Having Antelope for lunch along the highway in Cameroon with Double Dutch.

Unlike 27 year old Brendan, I’m not disappointed by my birthday, I am thankful to see it.  I’ve spent the past 4 birthdays in Peru, Colombia, British Columbia and now South Africa.  And though I’ve never been home for one, I’ve always been surrounded by good people.  Whether its pisco, aguardiente, beer, or brandy and coke at the table doesn’t matter, it’s the people that sit sipping at their cups and laughing at stupid stories that makes it all worth it.

Relaxing by the fire in Sossusvlei, Namibia

Relaxing by the fire in Sossusvlei, Namibia

I’m thankful for my birthday, not because I revel in celebrating my life, but because it’s a reminder of how many amazing people I’ve met throughout my days.  When the facebook notifications roll in from each corner of this planet, I can only feel blessed by the friendships I’ve been awarded.

Jumping the Tropic of Capricorn.

Jumping the Tropic of Capricorn.

During my 29th year of life, I spent time in 23 different countries, visited countless numbers of sights, and had a wealth of travel experiences, but none of those things matter.  What matters are the relationships I’ve built.

Arriving at the end of my scooter journey in South Africa.

Arriving at the end of my scooter journey in South Africa.

On my 30th year on this planet, I could care less if I see another country or tackle another adventure.  As long as I have friends, new and old, to share stories with, my life will always be complete.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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27 Comments

  1. Lovely reflective piece. May your insides remain “soaked with the curiosity of a child” for many years to come.

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  2. What a fantastic view on your birthday! The year is less important than what you fill it with, and you have lived an incredible journey.

    Happy Birthday Brendan!

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    • Thanks Linds, hope you’re well.

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  3. Brilliant!!! That is the best perspective I’ve heard about “living”.
    I hope meeting you one day!! Big kiss and FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS from Viedma – Argentina!!!!!!

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    • Thanks for the birthday wishes Marisol!

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  4. Hello my name is Daniela. I am also travelling and I am also 29. Today I posted an entry in my blog about how I felt having my first birthday on the road (on my first day of the trip I am actually doing) and suddenly ran into your post. I think it is an odd coincidence don’t you think?
    My blog is in spanish though. It is called I’ve never because the whole concept is doing things that are completely new to me and then telling about them. This one is called: I have never skipped a birthday 😉
    Anyways. I liked your post better than mine. It has more depth while mine is just anecdotic.
    Cheers!

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    • Daniela, Que gusto conocerte! Tambien puedo leer/escribir en castellano, pues voy a manejar tu pagina un poco. Espero que estes bien y feliz cumpleanos a vos!

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  5. Congratulations, Brendan with your fifth 24, or fourth 25. Lost track.

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  6. As long as you keep travelling, you just don’t age, ever !! I’ve just hit 40 but still feel like 25 I’m afraid. Wiser in a way, yes, but still as curious than when I was 25 🙂
    And of course, reading your stories, Brendan, saves me another year !!

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    • 😀 good to hear that it’s not downhill from here Laurent

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  7. I’ll tell you what, 36 seems young once you arrive at it, and I bet the same can be said for 40, and 50.

    A good friend of mine turned 37 last year, and he said that particular age hit him like a ton of bricks. In a few months I’ll find out if it has the same effect on me.

    The good news is our minds seem to stay a certain age. Maybe it’s our maturity? Either way, I think the secret to staying young is to maintain that sense of curiosity which travel is so good at stoking.

    PS – it also helps to date Latin girls who seem to appreciate older men more so than your typical Western girl 🙂

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    • Hahahaha… Oh Dave, you and your latin girls! 😀 Can’t blame you brother. You’re right though, travel keeps us young. Young and wise is a dangerous combination too!

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  8. So emotional specially when you said ”’They had jobs, and wives, and children they were already driving to school. Will I ever get there?”’ … believe me you’ll get there just trust in god .. you’ll find your girl for sure and live a long happy life with your family also your children will be so proud of their father cause he has heavy values .. that man who found his place in this world.
    you deserve all the best Branden Happy Birthday hope can see you someday and make 4 you a big Birthday 🙂

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    • Thank you Ouila, that means a lot!

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  9. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think “omigosh, you’re so young!” 🙂

    I freaked out turning 36 while I was on a year long career break last year – thinking many of the same thoughts you mention above – my friends were married, having kids, moving up the career ladder and while I was once on that path (when I was 28 I was on partnership track at a large law firm), I gave it all up because I wasn’t happy. But as I anxiously felt that 40 was just around the corner, I felt like I was being left behind.

    I think you are so lucky that you not only realized very early on that a “conventional” life wasn’t for you, but you had the guts to act on that.

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    • I’m old. You’re just really old! Haha, I’m only kidding. You’re right, I’m very lucky to have figured this out… hopefully, I can figure out the rest of it as well.

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  10. Don’t worry, I thought you were way older. I mean…nevermind! What I’ve noticed is that when you get to be 30 or 40 or 50, you don’t want to be a 20 year old anymore, and you don’t feel bad about it. You still want to do exciting things, visit exciting places, and have a great time with friends and family, but you don’t want to wake up in a puddle of your own vomit anymore. Progress! It’s not all bad after all!

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    • Haha, I don’t want to be 20 anymore either. Especially when I look at 20 years old now. They seem so lost. Truth is, I wish it’s more the thought of the age than the feeling that bothers people isn’t it?

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  11. I can relate to this. I’m turning 29 in a few weeks, but I still feel like I’m 25. Time flies by, but I know age is just a number. Love your closing sentiments too. It’s always the people in our lives that make life worth living.

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  12. Awesome! I find it strange (and a little upsetting) how people get so worked up about ‘getting older’. It’s something to be grateful for, rather than disappointed in: another year of life, what an amazing experience! Good on you, Brendan!

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  13. What a brilliant, heart-wrenching, honest, and insightful post, Brendan. The profoundness of your statement was exemplified when you said that its the people we have in our lives and the relationships we form that really matter, regardless of how many countries we do or do not visit.

    Keep it going and take care! Oh btw, I am 31 so feeling ‘older already!

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  14. I’m 37 and climbing Kilimanjaro in Oct. I say life gets better with age. You actually know who you are and what you want. Happy Birthday! Keep dreaming, keep seeing the world. (and please keep telling us all about it)! ; )

    “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
    ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

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  15. Brendan,

    Love your posts! This one especially, 30 was so much older whe we were young…

    I cant believe the guy who wrote sky blue khakis in seventh grade is almost 30!

    Jamie

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    • Haha, YES… the blue khakis… I don’t wear those anymore… I swear 😉

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  16. I keep forgetting my age! It never sticks! I’m 25 now and I do not feel 25. I always feel like a kid, and I like it – the innocence, the awe, the faith, the craziness, the madness is what makes me and my life fun! It is what you take from your experiences that makes you mature, what makes you wise..Not the age.
    I am a “Peter Pan” 🙂

    BTW “Happy Birthday!”

    P.S – You got shot???!!! Woahhhh!

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    • Haha, Peter Pan!
      No, I got shot at… they can’t hit me… I’m too quick 😀

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