Having traveled to nearly 50 countries by the time I was just 28 years of age, I’m obviously a proponent of traveling young. Perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps not, depending on who you are), I’m the child of parents who have always highly discouraged me from “wasting” my money on travel.
To me, the benefits of traveling in your 20s hugely outweigh the potential disadvantages, although certain risks do exist. But if you’re in your 20s and want to travel—and particularly, if your parents or other loved ones are as discouraging as mine were during my early 20s—this post should prove inspirational to you.
Note that I updated this post in 2021, when I was entering my late 30s, and could reflect on the impact Covid-19 on traveling, particularly for young people in the prime of their lives. No matter how old you are by the time you read this, I think you’ll find value in what I have to say.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Travel in Your 20s
If I’m honest, I’ve mostly let search engines have their way with this post about how to travel in your 20s since I entered my 30s. I felt that perhaps my insights were dated, to say nothing of how differently “kids these days” seem to travel, compared to when I was getting started. Then Covid happened, and changed my views on just about everything, including this.
Even if you’re 29 and on the cusp of 30, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that any freedom we enjoy can be taken away from us at a moment’s notice, including travel. If you’re in your early-to-mid 20s and not sure whether travel is as deserving of your money and time as you’d like it to be, stop hesitating. Better to travel now, while you can—you might not always be able to do so—and make money later, which is something you’ll always be able to do.
Top Reasons to Travel in Your 20s
School and work can always come later
The leading factor that dissuades most young people from traveling is a feeling of commitment to school and/or work. This is due as much to underlying assumptions—that shirking “responsibility” (school or work) in favor of “leisure” (travel) is frivolous—as it is to economics: Students and young people who haven’t worked a lot often lack the financial resources to travel!
Some young people, on the other hand, feel the need to “start their careers” before traveling, which gives them a feeling of security, be it illusory of real. There are two problems, generally speaking, with this outlook. The first is that the further into your career you get, the harder it will be to take the time needed to travel extensively. I’ll get to the second in just a moment.
My advice for young people who want to travel is this. Get a job in an industry or sector that is lucrative, but doesn’t require a long-term time commitment. Service industry jobs in restaurants and cafés are great for this, as are classroom jobs teaching English in Japan. Or, you could do like I did, and become location-independent!
The travel thirst is stronger
The second reason “waiting” to travel can be problematic is that, simply put, the more “settled” into your life you get, the less motivated you will be to step outside your comfort zone, including to travel. The so-called “travel thirst” is generally more pronounced among younger people, although exceptions obviously do exist.
Practically speaking, traveling while you most want to travel has many implications. You’ll go to more off-the-beaten-path destinations that you would visit otherwise (say, Myanmar instead of Vietnam or Thailand), do more outlandish things when you get there and devote more time to travel than you might do later in life.
As far as why you should travel alone in your 20s? Well, another advantage of traveling while you’re young, and when your travel thirst is strong, has to do with economics. The more you want to travel, the harder you’ll work to finance your travels!
You’re fitter and more energetic
Yet another advantage to traveling in your 20s is that the younger you are, the more fit and energetic you tend to be. Again, I realized that there are exceptions to this rule (as much because of fit older people as because of extremely unfit younger people), but the fact remains that you’re only young once, and young bodies generally travel better than their older counterparts.
Building on what I mentioned in the last section, traveling while fit and energetic will motivate you to complete more physically-demanding activities while traveling, whether you hike, bike, rock climb or even jump off cliffs. Being fit also affords you more travel stamina, allowing you to travel for longer periods at a time, and also to fit more activities into each day, thus getting the most out of each trip.
Kids make travel harder
Much has been made of “solo travel” in recent years, particularly on this blog. Of course, I would never knock travel with a friend or romantic partner! I would also never knock traveling with a child—some of my fellow travel bloggers have practically made this an art—but I do think that traveling before you have children, whether you have a partner or not, is easier than after you have them.
Since people in the 20s are, generally speaking, more likely to be child-free, this is just one of the many advantages that exist to traveling while in your 20s.
Added Perspective from a Traveler in His 30s
At 36, I now see even more value in traveling in your 20s. For starters, if you see yourself traveling deep into your 30s like I have, travel when you’re young is an investment. You can knock more strenuous places off your bucket list when you have the energy to see them; you can “do your time” in hostels and other communal settings, so that when you’re older and have more money, you have the perspective to be truly grateful for how amazing they are.
This also goes for if you’re a travel blogger like me, or want to become one. Use your 20s, when you’re in demand largely because of your youth and newness, to hone your craft a writer and photographer. When you’re in your 20s, you can travel more than you’ll be able to when you’re my age—trust me. This way, when you’re 30, 40 and older, your skills be be so sharp you can hit the ground running everything you get back on the road.
Other FAQ About Travel in Your 20s
Where should I travel in my 20s?
You’re at your most energetic and fearless in your 20s, which makes this a great time for backpacking. Southeast Asia is a popular choice, but South America, India and Eastern Europe are also great places to choose. They’re cheap—and even cheaper if you take local transport and stay in hostels—which is great since most 20-something usually aren’t rolling in dough.
What is the best way to spend your 20s?
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to spend your 20s than traveling. While many people think travel is something best left until retirement, the reality is that retirement (at least not a wealthy retirement with plenty of free time) is not guaranteed. This says nothing of the fact that it’s better to travel when your both is young and healthy, rather than old and tired.
How can I afford to travel in my 20s?
The most common way to afford travel in your 20s is to work flexible jobs, such as remote, online work or serving/bartending in restaurants, and either A) save as much as you can, as fast as you can, and then travel for as long as you can or B) bring your work on the road with you, and adopt a location-independent lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
I recommend that you travel in your 20s as much as you possibly can. What you lack now in terms of finances, life (and travel) experience and raw wisdom, you more than make up for in terms of energy, curiosity, fearlessness and freedom from obligations. Moreover, the travel you do now will form a foundation for later in life, when you may travel less, but take shorter, more intense trips, with more specific objectives and that are narrower in scope. Want to make sure the next trip you take in your 20s is one for the record books? Hire me as your Travel Coach—and let me sweat the details!