“Why not save your money?”
“Why not wait until you’ve worked a little longer?”
These are, across the board, the first questions I get asked by the previous generation when I talk about my travels. My grandma, in fact, told me just last week at Thanksgiving that she disapproves of this use of my money, and honestly, I get it. I don’t know the first thing about saving up for my future. I don’t know about investing in solar power or cryptocurrency or my 401K. But you know what? I’m a millennial, and millennials don’t think about those things. What I do think about quite often, however, is that there are dozens of reasons why traveling now is hands down best time to do it. Why?
1. Because backpacking culture is designed for you
I can’t stress this enough. The world of backpacking is quite literally made for you. Hostels, tour companies, even clothing and gear companies, are designed for the 18-35 year old, English speaking, solo traveler demographic - and it’s incredibly welcoming. Anywhere you go, from Malawi to Japan, you’ll find other twenty-somethings packed together in hostels, sharing a beer and swapping travel stories. There is nothing quite like it; meeting people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common- sometimes not even language- and still finding ways to bond and share experiences. The backpacker demographic has a vibrancy and sociability that is unparalleled to any other group of people I’ve ever met. You can literally meet someone at breakfast and spend the next two weeks traveling together (this has happened to me many times).
2. Because hostels are designed with you in mind
If you’re wondering what creates this sort of camaraderie among strangers, the hostel plays a pivotal part. The true lifeblood of backpacking culture, hostels have had a long and sketchy history of being crappy, dingy, and overcrowded, but as the world grew more connected and travel became the norm, they’ve adapted to feature much more livable spaces for the same cheap price. Most hostels are specifically designed for people in that 18-35 age bracket, with some even capping the age of their residents at 40. Most of them have a bar, a lounge area, sometimes a pool, and many other public spaces that foster a warm, friendly and welcoming environment for weary travelers. They’re also unbelievably convenient, as you can generally get useful information about the city, book local tours and even get bus tickets to other cities from reception. Simply put, hostels are important, and they’re the key to traveling in your twenties. They’re where you lay your head, where you grab a beer, where you kick back after a long hike, and where you socialize with other travelers.
3. Because you can afford it
This is the big one- the biggest misconception and the biggest reason that people don’t travel. Anytime i talk about my trips, people always ask me how I can afford it. Well folks, I’m here to tell you, that there are literally dozens of ways to make travel affordable for the frugal twenty-something. I, for example, am by no means rich, and have done all my traveling on a manageable and thrifty budget. In fact, I did both of my two-month trips on a budget of $3.5K, including flights, hostels, food, and tours.
There are a few keys to creating a manageable backpacking price point, but none of them matter if you don’t decide to make your trip a priority. Adult life has so many factors that can blow a hole in your wallet, that it can be so easy to say “you know what? I should really be spending my money on _______ instead of a trip.” If you want to make it happen, you can - I guarantee it. But first, you have to decide that your trip is worth going on - and it definitely is.
For in-depth info and tips on how to reduce costs, see my ”Budgeting" page.
4. Because the best nature is hard to get to
Sorry in advance to all the older folks, but I stand firmly by this point. There’s something to be said for doing a grueling five day trek to Macchu Picchu rather than taking a three hour train to it. Or doing a leg-numbing 45 degree angle hike up a Guatemalan volcano rather than watching it from below. Not only does the reward feel so much better after working tirelessly to get it, but the best kinds of nature are well-hidden, and are therefore challenging to get to. There’s no denying that hiking, climbing, canyoning, and scuba diving are doable at any age, but I know that if I struggle doing these hikes at 26, I can only imagine how much more difficult they’d be in my forties.
5. Because it’s the only thing that succeeds at making you unplug
Okay, bear with me on this one. I know that you’ll never actually leave your phone in the hostel (those selfies aren’t gonna take themselves!) but, to a degree, you’ll be forced to unplug. In foreign countries, your devices are more than likely going to be operating on WiFi hotspots, most of which are limited to your hostel and restaurants. Therefore, when you’re out hiking or exploring the city, you’re going to be somewhat forced to ditch the phone, and believe me, you’ll love it for a few reasons.
One of which is what I call FOMO impossibility. What on earth could your friends be doing that sounds better than scuba diving in Thai coral reefs, or exploring ancient Cambodian ruins? You’ll be freed up from that comparison hangover you get from checking people’s instagrams all day because you’ll actually care far more about what you’re doing than what other people are doing. And what’s remarkable is that it’s a completely natural process of unplugging. You’ll actually want to ditch your phone because you’re doing so many cool things. It may be temporary, but it really is a solution to that desperate feeling of connectedness we all have now. You tell me- If you are legitimately participating in some of the coolest activities the planet has to offer, what do you even need your phone for? Find me someone more interesting than the 900 year old Angkor Wat, and I’ll be happy to listen.
6. Because you can
Life throws a dozen and a half things at you on any given day, and some of them can be rough. So many people struggle with daily concerns and issues that thankfully you’re free of. Your house isn’t in foreclosure; you don’t have crippling credit card debt; you don’t have two children and a spouse. Why waste the luck you have right now at this moment? You’re healthy, have few responsibilities, and able to travel. Why not do it? We’re millennials! Yolo! Live while you’re young! Other things that kids say now!
There are so many cases to be made for traveling in your twenties and thirties. I personally favor doing it now because it gives me a unique experience that I can’t capture at any other moment of my life. That feeling of making friends with a stranger over a beer, wearing a daypack on your chest because you couldn’t fit it into the back of the bus, or taking those final steps of a five day hike- those moments are irreplaceable and tricky to replicate. So, if you have the means to do it now, why wait?