Why everyone should travel
a ton in their 20s
Ah, millennials…. you’re constantly accused of wasting your cash on avocado toast and brunching away your future. Why would you spend money and time on travel when you should be saving for that million-dollar starter home, swiping for your soulmate or joining the rat race? Between squirrelling away money for your 30s and trying to live your best life now, there will always be a reason to delay travelling. But exploring the world in your 20s is one of the smartest moves you can make.
For a start, it’s a fast track to self-discovery and to finding out what genuinely makes you #blessed. Travel takes you outside of your bubble and imparts some valuable life lessons about how to handle whatever gets thrown at you—whether it’s spending the night in an airport after a flight delay, dealing with sickness in an unfamiliar country or finding that secret hotspot in an unknown city. Your 20s are the perfect time to take the plunge and pick up life skills that will help, not hinder, your future.
My feet started to itch when I was 18 at university in Cardiff, Wales. I had cooked up grand plans to take a year off and travel to Bolivia by myself. It was a random choice at the time, but alpacas and altitude seemed very exotic compared to my British upbringing. Plans were put on hold when I decided to do a postgrad course, after my degree proved less than useful, and I then threw myself into a minimum-wage entry-level job at a magazine. That Bolivian dream drifted off into the distance. The worldwide recession started to hit. With work came worry—I should be paying into a pension, making a dent in my student debt, saving for a house deposit, getting my career on track… there were so many reasons not to go.
When it’s a struggle just to make ends meet, travel can seem like an unrealistic dream or at least a super low priority. But there’s more to travelling when you’re younger than just carpe dieming—it can actually be a cheaper way to go. Students and youth can often score flight deals, get off-peak bargains and find accommodation that suits your budget. And there’s usually way less baggage, like kids or a mortgage, tying you down.
Travelling was always something that I would do tomorrow, once I got my life in order.
“Travel while you’re young,” older family members and friends would say to me. “My main regret is not travelling more when I was in my 20s,” was the most often muttered phrase I would hear from people as they wistfully stared into the distance, like the old guy in the movie Up, lightly grazing a finger over the pages of his dusty and long-ignored Adventure Book. I agreed with their sentiment, but travelling was always something that I would do tomorrow, once I got my life in order.
My wake-up call came, quite literally, when a friend called me one morning to tell me that our close friend had died suddenly. Everything came into focus. I loved my job as a features editor at a local newspaper in a sleepy English town, but I realized that at the age of 26 I was constantly putting my travel plans on ice. So, I slowly saved money, helped along by moving back home with my long-suffering parents, who were probably regretting not packing me off to South America at the age of 18. I used my savings to book a round-the-world flight, plus budget bus tours and hostels in the heart of the cities I planned to visit in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.
Travelling alone forced me outside of my comfort zone. When I boarded the plane to Tokyo, in tears after saying goodbye to my boyfriend for six months, I had a sudden flash of panic. As a vegetarian who only knew three Japanese words, I had no business travelling solo to a country that I mainly associated with raw fish and the movie Lost in Translation. But the simple act of navigating the Tokyo subway in a jet-lagged fog, and managing to find my hostel, went on to become my watershed moment. Now at 35, I still think of it when I need a little dose of courage to quell first-date nerves or make a work presentation.
At the Tokyo hostel I dumped my backpack and crawled into bed. When I woke up there was a Swedish girl, Caroline, sitting on the lower bunk. I felt old when I found out she was only 17 but spoke multiple languages. Luckily these included English and Japanese—we clicked and ended up exploring the city together for a week. This went on to be a theme of my trip: meeting new travel buddies in hostel dorms or in the kitchen over a bowl of the cheapest food I could find. I no longer felt like I was travelling alone, and I now had friends that could help me determine exactly what was in that sushi.
Time in developing countries gave me an appreciation for what I had at home.
Returning home is just as important as leaving. Time in developing countries gave me an (admittedly sometimes short-lived) appreciation for what I had at home, whether it was gratitude for being able to drink tap water, or a whole mind-shift in how I looked at material possessions and defined success. Gaining that kind of global perspective can take years when you’re in one spot and only experiencing other cultures through the TV or on Instagram. Actually travelling to these places forces the reality of other people’s lives upon you, and discovering this in your 20s helps give you more empathy for the rest of your life.
New friends made travelling fun, but they also helped me to expand my horizons—some went on to become close friends that I would later visit on other trips; others imparted wisdom or gave me career advice that helped me when I returned home. Taking time out to travel in your 20s is invaluable, especially if you start to see it as a way to boost your resume, not leave a hole in it. It’s easy to stay connected, and with the rise of digital nomad culture, it’s even possible to continue your career on the road.
One of my travel buddies scored a dream job when she got home. Her boss told her that the fact she had travelled had given her the edge over more experienced competitors. She’d been able to use examples from her travels in an interview; away from home she had quickly learned how to use her people skills to get discounted tours or negotiate taxi fares.
For me, travelling in my 20s offered a chance to start a blog and get into travel writing, picking up stories from around the world that I’ve been dining out on for years. It also introduced me to Canada, which I now call home. And it gave me a newfound confidence in myself that I never would have gotten had I stayed at home in England, dreaming of alpacas.
Spending the money on travel gave me memories and experiences that shaped my life and career.
While I did blast through savings that could have bought me a new car or been the start of a very small nest egg, spending the money on travel gave me memories and experiences that shaped my life and career. When I returned home, I went back into a magazine job for three months before leaving again to go freelance as a travel writer. I was lucky that at 26 I could translate my love of travelling into a job and once again I slowly saved money so I could make the move to Canada at the age of 30. I might have more stamps in my passport than money in the bank, but I’m definitely not worse off for it, and I’ve been able to live happily and comfortably—and travel even more—ever since.
So, don’t wait for that wake-up call. There will always be a reason or two not to travel. But there will always be even more reasons to just go. Although, I still haven’t made it to Bolivia... yet.