There are many reasons to travel. For most it’s mainly fun, a chance to take a short break on a tropical beach before returning,unchanged, a few days later. For those willing to dig deeper, traveling is a surefire way to learn lessons that might take a lifetime to learn otherwise. It is a “cheat code”, an accelerated set of experiences that will help you gain attitudes and skills that will serve you invaluably throughout your whole life.
As such, there is no better time to start than when you’re young. Some reasons are obvious: you have less responsibilities, family hasn’t yet become a concern, and your career path is still flexible. Some reasons may be less recognizable: you have more time to regain any career lost ground, your attitude and outlook and life are probably not close to being settled, and you probably aren’t a crazy cat lady…yet.
But the real truth is, traveling is GOOD for you. It’s good for anyone, regardless of age, but in your 20’s the benefits so greatly outweigh costs that it becomes a net loss when you don’t go. Especially when you consider that traveling is now easier and cheaper than it has ever been. Mark Twain, who himself traveled extensively in his 20’s, summed it one in one of the most famous and inspiring quotes about travel ever:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain’s work was directly inspired by the traveling he did when he was young. He would be the first to tell you it made him a better person. Really, shouldn’t everyone’s goal be to become a better person? Traveling will do that, and by doing it young, you’re getting a head start. Here’s the 10 ways how:
1. You will become more resourceful
Take a walk through any hostel and you’re bound to overhear many of the same types of conversations:
“I’m worried about my backpack, do you think I can fix it with some spaghetti noodles and super glue?”
“I’m not sure how to get to Bangkok, maybe I’ll try and get work as a traveling banjo player…”
“Oh, I could easily get rid of half the things in my bag, I don’t think I need them at all…”
While traveling, you’ll learn to fix stuff on a whim, you’ll be forced to think quickly ALL THE TIME, and things that once seemed like potential disasters have somehow transformed into exciting opportunities for adventure. It will start to seem like there is no problem you won’t be able to handle.
2. You will become better at communicating
Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to explain to Doris at work how to use Google? It will seem like nothing when you’re in the middle of Peru negotiating bus rates, using only broken Spanish you learned in high school. But, through a combination of animated hand gestures, “Si’s!” and extra beers you’ll somehow end up having dinner surrounded by Maricielo and his entire extended family, listening to a conversation that you’re 100% percent invested in even if you only understand ten words. Pretty soon, explaining things to Doris is no big deal – I mean, come on, she speaks the same language as you!
3. You will learn greater empathy for those less fortunate
It’s hard to travel through a 3rd world country for the first time and not have one of those “Oh Sh**!” moments. You will be looking at living conditions worse than you’ve ever experienced, with people who do more with what they have than you have ever tried to do in your whole life. “First world problems” will start to seem more and more ridiculous, and slowly you’ll begin to realize there is a lot more to the world than you.
4. You will get better at managing money
Traveling in your 20’s for most people is a tight rope, a delicate balance between wanting to do the stuff that interests you and trying to keep your money going for as long as possible. You will become familiar with budgets, with what it means to sacrifice to get something you want, and why experiences can be worth more than things.
5. You will get in better shape
The cool thing about traveling is the “go” nature of everything that you do. There is no more sitting, no more binge watching Netflix for 5 hours, only a desire to get out and enjoy where you are. This combination of constant walking, fresh foods, and activities will begin to whittle down that extra padding you’ve quietly been adding at your first office job.
6. You will become more accepting of people
When you travel, you rarely get the chance to choose the people that you interact with. You may find yourself sharing a train with someone you might never have talked to back home. They might do things to annoy you, they might not have the same attitude as you, but you learn that you’re going to have a very long and lonely train ride unless you talk to them. After a while, you’ll see that maybe it was you who needed to change.
7. You will learn to thrive outside your comfort zone
It was only a few years ago that you were being sheltered under the protecting wing of your parents. You still might be afraid to go beyond what you know; traveling will shatter that fear. You’ll begin to feel calm, even happy when you are in a situation that you aren’t familiar with. It’s about diving in head first and learning to swim, and soon, winning the proverbial Olympics.
8. You will begin to truly understand globalization
Those in their 20’s were born into a period of global connections. The internet, outsourcing, shipping, politics…its all truly now a global game. No one expects us to become LESS connected, and by traveling you will see first hand how globalization effects people living in other countries. When you see a Cambodian girl singing Taylor Swift using a karaoke machine made in China and owned by an American country, it starts to make more sense.
9. You will find yourself being more assertive and honest
It’s hard to travel for any extended period of time and without gaining a certain “edge”. It doesn’t mean being rude, but it does mean that you will learn to say what you want. If you are trying to get a taxi and you know that you are being overcharged, you will learn to harness that inner hard ass and tell the guy to take a hike. It becomes easier to say what you want, say what you don’t want, and to do it all as straightforwardly as possible.
10. You will broaden your horizons and come home with stories to tell
Travel will expose you to a whole new world of interests, activities and knowledge. Things that you never could have learned about home now become necessary knowledge to survive. The sum of those experiences will make you into a more interesting person; a person who can talk about more subjects, enjoys more things, and has great stories to tell. Do you want to spend the rest of your life listening to stories, or do you want to become a storyteller? I had a hostel friend tell me once that “if you want to be an interesting person, you have to do interesting things”. So use your time traveling to do all the interesting things you’ve ever wanted to try. Learn how to SCUBA dive or sky dive, go running with the bulls or paragliding from the Matterhorn. The whole world is open, go out and find yourself in it.