There’s no age limit on travel – let’s invite everyone to this party with wide open arms! But there are benefits to traveling in your twenties.
I’ve chosen to spend half of my twenties working or traveling outside of my home country, and it has all been beautifully enhanced by the openness, fearlessness and flexibility of my youth.
I came out of university with crippling anxiety about what my life would look like; all I knew was that I loved to travel. Against the doubting voice that told me it was time to settle down, I booked a one-way ticket to Mexico. One year and four continents later I withdrew from my Masters course in Politics and instead trained as a teacher. I moved to the other side of the world and instead of rainy London commutes I now live 10 minutes from the beach in Australia.
The course of my life has been shaped by who I met on the road, by what I saw and what I realised was possible. And the same could happen to you.
You are more fearless than you ever will be
When you’re young you tend to have a different relationship with risk. You don’t count what could go wrong, you just think how fun it’s going to be. For me, that meant jumping out of a plane in New Zealand and riding motorbikes in Vietnam. It means saying yes to flying to Cuba with two days notice because I met awesome people to go with. Now Cuba is easily one of my favourite countries.
A few years down the line I might think twice before being so spontaneous, but in your twenties you’re able to spontaneously throw yourself into life and not think about the consequences.
It’s a classic but it’s true. Maybe you’ll never have a mortgage and maybe you’ll never have children (and that’s fine). But the likelihood is that if you do, it’ll be around the thirty mark. Your twenties are the time to go out and spend your money without having to feel guilty about it. I’ve heard too many people say “I’d love to just quit my job and go, but I can’t because of the mortgage”. Don’t be that person.
You are as malleable as a piece of playdough
Whatever presumptions I had about who I would become and what I´d do with my life were thrown heroically out the window after I travelled in my twenties. I used to think I wanted to be a diplomat or work for an international charity, but after volunteering as a teacher in Kenya, Colombia and Vietnam, I realised that was my true calling.
On the road you’ll see things that change you, you’ll meet people who show you other ways to live. Instead of already being entrenched in a certain lifestyle or having invested too much in one specific career or degree, I was free to make changes to my plans. Don’t fret if you’re not sure where you’re headed in life. Open yourself to the possibilities of who you could be and travel will guide you to your truer self.
You gain perspective and combat anxiety
When you travel in your twenties, you burst the bubble that you’ve been living in for the first two decades of your life and realise that there’s more to life than what you know. You find out that your place in the world is ever so small and with that comes an overwhelming, calming sense of humility.
If you train your brain to burst your bubble when you’re young, you can cultivate a beautiful realisation of how vast the world is. This breeds a much healthier existence filled with less anxiety and way more gratitude.
You’re probably having a quarter-life crisis
For many of us, after the safe building blocks of school and university, the system spits us out into a quagmire of decision-making – decisions we’re not ready for – like what do I want to do? Who do I want to be? Turning to a plane ticket instead of a graduate scheme was the best thing I’ve ever done. It gave me space to process my demons and realise that you don’t need to know what you want to do and who you want to be. It’s ok to just be. Travel gives you the space to get through that important phase of your young adult life.
You meet people who will change you in all the best ways
The people you meet on the road are what makes travel so incredible. They have so much to offer because they come from completely different worlds, upbringings, perspectives. And despite your differences, you have so much in common because you are both adventurers. These amazing fireworks fly, you make the best of friends, have the deepest conversations, the loudest laughs and craziest misadventures. You realise that everyone has something to offer, something to teach you, even if you wouldn’t have hung out with them in school.
You can put up with the rough edges, and find new appreciation for the little things
Not everyone can handle 19-hour bus journeys where the air con stops working in sweltering heat and you’ve got two human bodies either side sharing uncomfortable amounts of skin contact. Or a 17-hour bus ride where you’re stuck by the side of a dusty highway and waiting for a protest to end while dreaming of your next meal. Or sleeping through a thunderstorm on the side of a volcano in a tent that has holes in. Or climbing onto a squeaky top bunk in a room with 20 others and five of them are snoring.
Sure this all sounds unpleasant (and that’s only a small snapshot), but living rough is part of the adventure. This is how you live off $10 a day, how you learn that hot showers are a luxury, that beer tastes infinitely better after dusty roadside breakdowns, and that in those moments of madness, all you can do is laugh and share it with whoever you’re with. And learning to do that – to laugh in the madness – is a life trait that will save you time and time again.
While traveling in my twenties, I made outrageous, spontaneous decisions. I found a career I love by giving myself time. And I made a million memories and connections that I could never have predicted, and will never forget.
Realise how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of this beautiful world. And remember that we have such a short amount of time to explore, appreciate and make sense of it.
So get out there. Why wait?
In your 20s and ready to make the best decision of your life and travel? Check out Intrepid’s 18-29s adventures.
(Images all courtesy of Jen Welch, the author.)