Why Traveling in My 20s on a Budget Was the Best Decision

This post was contributed by Trevor McDonald.


“What are your plans after graduation?” my best friend asked over our pumpkin spice lattes. “Backpacking through Europe,” I responded, trying my best to sound sincere. I know it’s cliché. I also know that only about 1 in 7,436 people actually follow through (not an actual statistic). But I was different. I was going to make it happen. Cliché be damned. This was my life’s dream, and it wasn’t going to happen if I waited until later in life. I recalled this conversation, complete with my friend’s disbelieving look, as I watched the sun set over Skogafoss in Iceland. You may think you’ve seen some beautiful sunsets, but if you haven’t seen this one, you’re missing out. Skogafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, which means you’re almost guaranteed to see a rainbow floating somewhere beneath the sunset. Words like “breathtaking” or “beautiful” seem almost offensive in such a magical place. The best way I can describe this sunset to someone who hasn’t experienced it is that it’s like an out-of-body experience. This was the first time I felt successful in my entire life. I made it.

Norbert von Niman (Iceland)

I only had about $300 in my bank account, but that didn’t matter.

This was living.

 I want to share my experiences to encourage anyone to travel when they can. Don’t wait for a better time or to save more money. Get out there and do it. Here’s why:

Time stops for no one

During the first leg of my trip, I stayed in a hostel in Barcelona. I instantly hit it off with an English couple who were also backpacking their way through life. It felt great to be around friends – and that’s what it was like being around Ed and Eliza. Ed was the reserved one, and Eliza was boisterous and full of life. I adored them both.

We spent most of my three days in Barcelona together. They even extended their time there, so we could have more time hanging out. In our days, we saw the cathedral, explored the Parc del Laberint and hung out at Park Güell. Our nights were spent doing pub crawls and we even landed spots on one of hottest party boats, thanks to Eliza’s charm.

It was a little bittersweet when we parted ways, but we had plans to meet up in Amsterdam. They never showed. I figured they probably spent too much time partying with other new friends along the way and lost track of their days. It’s easy to do when you’re traveling.

Much later, I found out that they had been in a terrible car accident. Tragically, Eliza was gone. I mourned my new friend who was taken from this life too soon. And then, I questioned my own life. Was I wasting time on this journey? Would I come to regret this trip?

Ultimately, the answer was a resounding no. I thought about how alive she seemed when I met her and wondered if it would have been the same if we met at an office. I’m sure that would be a no.

Hugues de Buyer-Mimeure
Travel makes you a more interesting person

When I finally got back to reality and started interviewing for a “real job,” I thought I’d have trouble. I mean, how was I going to explain a 1-year gap in employment history?

I even seriously considered lying, so my gap might seem less …idk… selfish?

And I’ve got to admit that the first interview did not go so well. I spent so much effort glossing over my trip and I was clearly uncomfortable about it. I looked like I had something to hide.

It wasn’t until the end of the interview that I started opening up. Mr. White, the interviewer, was genuinely interested in hearing about my experiences, especially my climb up Tofana di Rozes in Italy. Apparently, Mr. White was a climber himself. So that worked out great.

I can only imagine that I lit up when I started telling this story because it’s one of the best experiences of my life. It was the first mountain I summitted, and it’s such a great one for beginners. But it’s not exactly easy.

I think my interviewer was at the edge of his seat as I told him about my touch-and-go moment where I nearly plummeted to my death… or at least, that’s how it felt.

My retelling of this story was a stark contrast to the sweaty palms and stuttering Mr. White just saw a minute earlier. It was genuine, interesting and aspirational.

Employers love to hire people who have seen the world. No matter what type of job you want, real-world experiences make you more appealing.

Charl van Rooy
Money doesn’t buy happiness

I know a lot of people who put travel off because they want to save more money first. They want to stay in the fanciest hotels, eat at 5-star restaurants every night, and hit all the main touristy destinations (boring).

Now that I’ve had a few years under my belt, I can say that I’ve experienced travel in both ways. I’ve eaten at Epicure in Pars where a meal runs upwards of $350 (it was a major splurge), but I would choose a Chivuos burger over that meal any day.

My first time at Chivuos was nothing short of magical. I found this place by chance on an evening stroll through Gracia, one of Barcelona’s most authentic and trendy neighborhoods. After a chat with the owners, a nice young Venezuelan couple, I decided on a burger and a craft beer. Let’s real-worldsay I was not disappointed. This is considered street food, but it’s some of the best food you’ll ever taste.

You may like the bougie life, but I’d argue that you might have an even better time without spending the dough. You may not be escorted around in a fancy car with a reliable GPS, getting to each location in record time. Instead, you might get on a wonky bus and miss your stop, taking you on an entirely different experience than you had ever imagined. Those make for the best stories.

Money is nice to have, but it doesn’t buy happiness.

If you have the opportunity to travel in your 20s, do it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly life interferes with your plans. Don’t worry about money, clichés or anything else. Just say f**k it and do it.


Meet Trevor: Trevor is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed “Travelholic”. He enjoys traveling to parts unknown, sampling local cuisines, and sharing his experiences with the world. In his free time, you can find him planning his next trip or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable. You can find more about Trevor on his Twitter and LinkedIn.

Follow us

Write a comment