Guest Post: Why I Wish I Traveled Long-Term in My 20s (and 9 Reasons You Should)

by Johnny on June 29, 2010

The following is a guest post from Bethany Salvon, a professional photographer and travel junkie. She can be found at her personal site Beers and Beans, and her photography site. She has worked as a commercial photographer and has been photographing weddings for over nine years. She photographs under the studio name Nariko’s Nest and lives in San Diego, CA. You can follow Bethany on Twitter at @BeersandBeans.

Bethany Salvon Have fun as a 20something

This year I’m finally embarking on my first RTW. I’m 34. Why did I wait? I have wanted to travel long-term for at least the past 10 years, but why didn’t I do it earlier? If I think back, I can come up with a list of reasons:

1.    None of my friends wanted to travel and I had no one to go with (this was the big one.)
2.    I couldn’t imagine saving enough money that would allow me to travel long term.
3.    I had a serious, multi-year relationship with someone I loved deeply. He was in the military and instead of traveling on my own I followed him around for a few years until we broke up four months before our wedding. Good times.
4.    I was afraid to strike out into the unknown.
5.    I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, so I was working incredibly hard for little money and miserable. I didn’t realize how horrible it was because I thought I was “paying my dues.”
6.    I couldn’t imagine spending that much time alone, without family or friends.

The list could go on and on, but it all boils down to one thing. I ignored my true calling and my real true desires. I put myself on hold for other people, and I was scared to brave the unknown waters on my own. I don’t regret anything I did in my 20s because I had a lot of fun living in different cities and hanging out with my friends. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, I do regret not traveling long-term. In fact, I consider it one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Although my life is pretty awesome right now, I often wonder where I would be if I had just followed my heart and traveled when I graduated college.  In my defense, the Internet was not as available or valuable as it is now. People were still nervous to book flights online, no one was blogging and Skype hadn’t even been invented. I didn’t know anyone traveling long-term and it wasn’t as easy as it is now to log on, find some travel inspiration and ask questions. But still it doesn’t matter. People have been traveling for eons; they traveled 10 years ago too, when I sat at home wondering about it.

I’m writing this article to help inspire anyone in their 20s who is contemplating traveling but isn’t 100% sure. All the reasons and excuses you have laid out for yourself are just those–excuses. You can AND will overcome every single one of them.

Read my top nine reasons below for traveling in your 20s so you can stop over-analyzing your decision.  Just do it.

1.    Health concerns. I know some people deal with health concerns when they are children and young adults, but the majority of people in their 20s don’t have any health problems. They don’t worry about health insurance, prescriptions or a rising health care bill. The younger you are when you travel, the less you have to worry about when it comes to your health. When I was 31 I was diagnosed with cancer, just before we were supposed to set out on the RTW. I recovered but I now have to take medication every day, for the rest of my life. This means that I need to have months of medications and vitamins with me when I travel. One of my greatest fears is losing my prescriptions in a developing, foreign country. Worse than that though is the fact that my immune system now sucks and I pick up every little bug around me. When traveling this is a major pain in the butt. I have to work extra hard to stay healthy on the road and keep my immune system up.  I get tired easier and I hate that man sneezing on the airplane with a passion that you cannot imagine. On top of that, I can’t ditch my US health insurance when traveling long-term because no one will ever reinsure me, and with my past surgery costing over $28,000, that’s not a risk I can take. So now on top of travelers insurance I have to pay a $200/month (and constantly rising) bill for months when I am not even in the country. And I have to be back every six months for check ups. Mentally the “what if” factor of it recurring is always a huge mental drain. If I had traveled in my 20s, this whole issue wouldn’t even exist.

Drink more Drink more

2.    You can drink more and get away with it. You don’t know this yet, but when you turn 30, it will hit you like a brick wall. You just can’t party like you used to. At first it starts to sneak up on you with a hangover that leaves you feeling worse than normal but then–wham! Suddenly you end up spending a full day (or two) in bed after a big party. You will try to defy Mother Nature’s cruel joke for a while, but eventually you will give in. Pretty soon, you stop drinking as much because the recovery time is such a bitch. If you don’t believe me just ask my boyfriend; he is still trying to party like it’s 1999 and spent all morning throwing up and all day sleeping. The tally? Five beers. Yeah, you read correctly–just five. No hard alcohol, no cigarettes, just five boring beers. Just a few years ago he could put back eight and get up and go to work the next day, but not anymore. He’s 32 now.  This has happened to all of my friends as well. You may be lucky and this might not happen to you, but the odds are stacked against it. Drink up now with all your new travel buddies because in a few years you’ll spend all day puking in the hostel toilet and that’s going to get old mighty fast.

3.    You can eat more and get away with it. This is basically the same as No. 2, but it involves food. Yup,

Eat more Eat more

when you hit 30 that exercise routine you’ve been doing for the past few years just doesn’t cut it. It is at least 90% harder to lose weight and keep it off when you are in your 30s. You have to up the exercise an incredible amount to eat the same crap you are eating now.  How does this relate to travel? All that pizza in Italy, pad Thai in Thailand, danishes in Denmark, and all that amazing wine in Chile–after a few days, you and your clothes are going to feel it and you’re not going to be happy about it. You will have two choices and they both suck: eat a lot less or exercise a lot more. Who wants to do either when traveling? Alternately you can just travel in your early 20’s and munch away more freely.

4.   You’ll look better in your travel photos. Of course some people are going to disagree and say they look better in their 30s. Good for them. I can tell you this much; all my girlfriends (and myself) have to dye our hair, watch what we eat, workout continually, use sunblock religiously, and moisturize ALL the time. It’s insane. I know I have to blame some of this on our culture as well, but the truth is this that in your 30s you start getting wrinkles, your hair starts seriously going gray and your skin gets a lot dryer. You’ll still look like yourself, just older. All the pictures of yourself will still be great; you’ll just be a little older, heavier, wrinklier, etc. You might think you feel like that now but trust me, you don’t. Wait 10 years you’ll be shocked.

5.   You can get your fix of hooking up with hot foreigners. The sad true, statistical fact: The person you are dating in your early 20s is most likely not the person you will spend your life with. For some of you this isn’t the case–some of you (roughly 10%) will get married, have tons of babies and have amazing lives together. But for 90% of you, you’re going to break up. This is true; you just don’t want to hear it and I completely understand because I felt the same way. If I count up over 30 of my girlfriends, only three of them are married to/or dating people they met in their early 20s. Three. The odds here are not in your favor and it’s OK. Trust me, you’ll meet someone better. But think about it this way–wouldn’t it be awesome if that someone better had a great accent? Breaking up and hitting the road will allow you to hook up with hot foreigners. Of course you can do this at any point in your life, but it is easier when you are younger because it’s easier to meet people thanks to your easily erased nightly inebriation and as we’ve noted above, you’re better looking, which always helps.

Hit the open road Hit the open road

6.    You don’t wonder (at least not as deeply) if you are screwing up your life in a big way. Most people in their 30s are getting married, buying houses, and having kids. Except you. You’ll be taking the most money you’ve ever been able to put your hands on and your spending it around the world instead of putting into a retirement account or buying a house.  No one else I know at my age is doing this. All of my friends are taking the marriage, mortgage, baby route, and there is definitely a certain appeal to it. A lot of people are going to find your decision to do something different very dumb and eventually it will eat at you. You will start to wonder if this is indeed an extremely stupid move. You will have to fight this feeling and any oncoming questions with a series of well-rehearsed lines that are based on nothing more than the gut feeling that this is what you should be doing. It will be hard. People expect you to travel in your 20s, not your 30s. So do it.

7.    You don’t need to worry about the million dollar question: Are you going to have kids? In your 20s, you feel like you have tons of time to have kids, and you do. Truthfully, I’ve never been baby crazy, but I did always imagine myself with a family. The reality is that I’m 34. Taking off now for a couple years is going to make getting pregnant that much harder when I’m ready to settle down and move forward with that phase of life. Sometimes I feel stuck because I feel like I have to travel now so I can get on with it and move forward with my life. I have to hope I’m not making a mistake that I could regret forever and I need to start looking into adoption, just in case.  My situation is also a bit more complicated because of reason No. 1, but in any case, in my 20s I wouldn’t have thought about either of these things.

8.    You aren’t completely jaded–yet. You walk into a buzzing hostel and get excited; I get annoyed. I will probably end up yelling at the unfortunate soul that inevitably wakes me up at 4 a.m. I know it’s lame and I hate being that way, but it is what it is. In your 30s you start to value boring things, like sleep, more than staying up, drinking and having deep conversations about a local government that in actuality you really know very little about.

9.    Your frontal lobe is not fully developed. The frontal lobe part of your brain develops fully after age 25. The frontal lobe is the part of your brain responsible for most major decisions and it greatly affects the risks you are willing to take in life. This directly parlays into fears of pushing yourself too far in certain activities. When I was younger I was always doing a lot of crazy things and pushing my limits. Now I have that little voice in my head that says, “Don’t be stupid, you could actually die doing this.” Shutting up the frontal lobe is possible but it takes a lot of work and/or alcohol. Most recently when hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park, I could not shut it up. The last .25-mile of hike is all cliff and chains. You have to pull yourself up with chains, and while it’s not that physically demanding, it is mentally insane. A slip or a mistake could literally mean death, as your body would plummet down the mountain with nothing to break your fall. It’s awesome, incredible, and the type of thing that you travel for because it makes you feel alive. But I just couldn’t finish the hike. I got to the very end and did maybe 50 yards of the chain bit before I had to turn back. I was so terrified that I actually slithered down the mountain on my stomach until some kind soul decided to help me. I was in tears. Then a group of about seven girls who looked to be about 21 bounded right by me without skipping a beat. They talked about how scary it was but the danger just didn’t really sink in thanks to the frontal lobe not being fully developed. Go travel now before you become fully aware that half the things you want to do could lead to your imminent death. The frontal lobe is a serious buzz kill.

Disclaimer: To all you badass 30+ travelers: Yes, I know there are plenty of people 30 years+ that still do crazy things, have never been seriously ill, eat like there’s no tomorrow, and drink like a fish. I think that’s awesome, I’m just not one of them and I don’t know any of them personally either. This list surmises my personal experiences about the reasons why it’s easier to travel when you are in your 20s as opposed to your 30s, so please don’t get mad, OK?

Nariko’s Nest

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