I spend a lot of time interviewing older people about their lives (I’m a gerontologist by profession), and in one project we asked them the question: “What can young people do to avoid having regrets when they come to the end of life?” We found that one big thing people their age often regret is not traveling enough when they were young. Indeed, one of the most important messages they have for younger people is to travel — and to do it now.
A woman in her late 80s told me that among the most regretful elders she knows are those who put off travel until it was too late — a mistake she almost made, had it not been for her husband. She said:
So here’s a clear opportunity to avoid a future regret: Travel in your first 30 years, while you have the time, the openness to experience, and the energy. This message comes from some of the elders who delayed travel until it was too late. One 86-year-old I talked to expressed no complaints or regrets. But she had spent her life close to home, and it was with a very wistful look in her eyes that she told me simply: “I always wanted to go to Hawaii, but I never made it. Oh, it’s too late for me.”
I can hear some people saying: That’s all well and good, but how can we afford it? The elders counter that argument by saying that travel is so rewarding, it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on. The key is travel’s value specifically for the young; it broadens their horizons, helps them to find a focus for their lives, and challenges them in new ways.
Of course, travel is by no means only for the young — although the elders do realistically note that the older you get, the more difficult it is to withstand the rigors of travel. Seeing the world and exposing oneself to different cultures is also important in the middle 30 years and the last 30 years. Travel is just that important to feeling like your life has been well-lived.
This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some of the things you should avoid or try doing in your first 30 years of life?