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How Traveling Abroad In Your Twenties Will Ruin Your Life

Travel can ruin your life... kind of.

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Most young people get the silly urge to travel.

It usually kicks in sometime during their twenties.

Resist. Don’t do it.

Trust me.

Don’t travel — especially to a foreign country.

It will ruin your life.

Because travel has a way of messing with you, and you’re too impressionable in your twenties. Wait until your thirties or forties or fifties or later because most people are set in their ways by then.

But in your twenties? No way. You’re just asking for misery and heartache.

Have you ever twirled around in circles and then suddenly started twirling the other direction — it makes you feel sick and dizzy, right? That’s exactly how your entire world will feel once you travel.

But I fear that many of you are too stubborn to heed my warnings.

This is a mistake. Trust me. I’ve done it, and I suffer every day.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? Travel is supposed to expand your horizons, right? It’s supposed to make you think differently. For eons, wiser men than myself have made proclamations about how it changes the way one sees the world.

YES! That’s exactly what it does — and that’s the problem. Because young people are too susceptible to the effects of travel. Luckily, by the time you’ve exited your twenties, you’ve likely acquired a career, loans, family, debt, and numerous other obligations — all these things act as a suit of armor that protects you from travel’s nasty side effects.

So what is the big deal?

First of all, the person who you were before you traveled no longer exists. It’s scary. You won’t realize it at first, but it slowly starts creeping up on you as you travel. You start to see how other cultures live. Their views on work and leisure and quality of life and food and public transportation and art and architecture and tradition — it all starts to permeate into your brain and it takes over.

You’ll start asking yourself questions:

“Do I want to work 60+ hour weeks and have barely any vacation time?”

“Is there more to life than work?”

“How come young people in other countries aren’t crippled with student loan debt?”

“What is most important in my life?”

“Why didn’t I study a foreign language?”

“Maybe other countries do some things much better than we do them back home.”

“How have people in other countries figured out how to enjoy life?”

It doesn’t truly hit you until you’re back home because that’s when you discover “home” — the place that has always represented stability and comfort — doesn’t exist anymore either. Suddenly home feels different. It’s disorientating and it feels like you’re wearing someone else’s glasses. It will make you feel queazy.

Speaking of home, it’s weird going from living out of a backpack to having a house full of stuff you’ve amassed. You realize having a house/apartment full of stuff doesn’t make you happy — in fact, all your stuff starts to feel a little overwhelming.

But it gets worse.

Your friends and family and peers — they won’t understand. In fact, they don’t really care that you’ve just gone through this transformative journey. You’ll tell them all about what you ate, saw, and experienced, but I’m telling you that their eyes will quickly gloss over. This will happen just about every time. If you’re lucky, your parents will listen to your tales for a few minutes before wanting to stab finely sharpened #2 pencils into their ears.

It’s lonely knowing that no one else will ever, or can ever, relate to your experiences. But you’ll continue the futile process of trying to tell your story. Be careful because your friends will quickly become sick of your stories.

But that’s not all.

As you settle back into your regular life, you’ll find that you’re not satisfied. Trying to focus on school or work becomes nearly impossible because the lure of travel consistently calls your name. You’ll find yourself trying to get your fix with marathon sessions watching the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain, Rick Steves, and House Hunters International. You’ll seek out restaurants that serve food from the countries you visited — but it will never be as good as it was in France, or Italy, or wherever you traveled. And God help you if you acquire a taste for Belgian beer because your bank account will suffer.

You’ll find yourself randomly scouring the web for good deals on airfare or searching for cool places to stay on Airbnb — even though you have no time or money to travel.

Spending time on Facebook and Instagram will become almost unbearable because you’ll see your friends posting pictures of their travels. It will bring back great memories, but the depression of being stuck at home will quickly takeover.

BUT THE WORST THING ABOUT TRAVELING IN YOUR TWENTIES IS THAT YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO STOP.

You’ll spend your entire life traveling. You won’t be able to shake the travel bug. Whenever the possibility to visit another country arises, you’ll take it. You’ll spend less time at the bar or choose a home cooked meal over a restaurant so you can add a little more to your travel fund. You’ll find other ways to skimp and scrounge because you have no choice but to see as much as the world as possible.

It’s a crazy ride. Good luck 🙂

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  • ohnowheredyougo

    I lol’ed. I’m only going on my first ever overseas trip this October at age 32 and feel I’m way too late to the travel party. Long as people travel in their lifetimes it’s all good, my folks and some friends still cringe at the idea of going any further than the USA from Canada.

    • savvybackpacker

      It’s never too late to travel! But be careful… it will ruin your life 🙂

    • AdventureOne

      I am with you. We are 33 and 31 with three young children. My parents too are afraid I’m going to die in 1000+ ways. It only makes me want to pursue the adventure that much more… Prost!

  • JD

    Terrible advice. Do yourself a favor and get lost.

    • Leiah Hime

      Someone obviously didn’t read the whole article.

  • fahrender

    I didn’t start until I was 53. I’m now 78. Just returned …..

    • Lisa Wallace

      That’s awesome!!

    • Carolyn

      Would you start traveling again if you were in your late 60’s and single? I’ve lived and travelled all over the world until I was in my 40’s. I had so many wonderful experiences. I wish I could afford to go traveling again!

  • JoytotheWorld

    so true , went back to try a “normal” career of banking and quit a few months after, now after a year and a half after my travels, im going back abroad to teach English and continue travelling, the only sucky thing is saying goodbye all the time, but the worst feeling would be to live my life settling.

  • mary Le Hegarat

    I went travelling in my twenties best thing I ever did it is addictive like anything that gives you so much adrenaline rush, Some people spend their time and money on the gym, food, drink etc some us just on next the next trip abroad… Go travelling when you want at any age if you enjoy it.

  • Anne

    This is a very pessimistic post. If you seek out the positive in your experiences better opportunities will come – better than what you originally had before you travelled.

    • Emily

      Anne, the post is actually extoling all the wonders of travel. It is, in fact, saying how travel will make your life amazing. The pessimistic tone is just for humour 🙂

      • savvybackpacker

        Glad some people got it 🙂

  • BeyondBlighty

    Oh yes, this is all true! But obviously, overall it doesn’t ruin your life. It makes it richer in amazing experiences than you ever knew was possible 🙂

  • Amy

    Ruin it in a good way that is… Some of these readers apparently didn’t get that. So many of us just settle to live life as someone might expect us to do, never really getting the most out of it. When you travel, you’ll realize that there actually is more to life, and you might start changing some habits or even your whole lifestyle. Therefore, your previous life has been ruined! Life is an extraordinarily beautiful thing – don’t live it with closed eyes.

  • caryeveryday

    James, I commend YOU for not plunging sharply pointed #2 pencils in YOUR ears(EYEBALLS ?) after reading so many of your resonse posts from fellow readers thinking you hadn’t realized ExACTLY what you’d always intended : making the rest of us throw our gear in a bag,grab our passports,an atm card,1 credit card, and head for the HILLS ~HILLS IN A DIFFERENT CONTINENT,~ hopefully! When did we get this literal?Where have all the witty people gone? Oh.I could cry. But,I suppose it’s just 1(2,3,10,25) fewer idiots abroad!
    Well done,funny and TRUE !!

  • Avril Katrina

    This is the stupidest article I’ve ever read. What a waste of my life. I signed up for this just to comment on ridiculously dumb you sound. Lol wow

    • Kaio

      clearly you didnt understand the idea of the article…

    • TD

      Unless you’ve been on a multi-year sojourn to countries that you love, then having to finally end it and return home for economic reasons — only to be unable to return anytime soon — you don’t know what it’s like, and really shouldn’t comment.

      I know what they’re referring to. There’s no “rehab” for this kind of “withdrawal”…

      • TD

        “Unable to return” meaning “unable to resume the sojourn”, that is…

  • Yup. I’m screwed for life. And I love it!

  • Laura Schillemans

    I love your article. It’s exactly how I feel after traveling through Asia for 13 months.

  • CJA

    Wait, are you in your 30s or more? I don’t think age stops this bug… only babies and stuff.
    I have the itch!! -soontobe30

  • Annette

    Great article, too true, it also gave me a great laugh; irony….it’s not for everyone lol

  • Nathalie

    I just love it, it just describe my feelings about trying to get a normal job with a normal vacation time. thanks for writing what I had on my mind, un abrazo desde Sur America

  • Cindy

    Wow. That is exactly me. Haha~ but I started to travle in my thirties. And I still dream to live in other country. Yeah~

  • Ang

    I was saving money for the big trip to Europe but went on a short cruise with a friend and meet a boy.The money saved went on carpet.Had two kids and only started travelling at 45 after the house was paid off and the kids could look after themselves.Haven’t stopped since then,only work to travel and the trips away are getting longer .Yippy !

  • James, I can relate to literally everything you mentioned here. I often actually wonder what my life would be like if I never took that first inter-railing trip over 15 years ago. Would I be more content never knowing the freedom and joy that travel brings? Maybe not. Who knows?
    Yes, I have acquired a taste for Belgian beer. Yes, I hunt down Asian food in Dublin, but it’s never quite the same. Yes, I am addicted to planning fictional travel via Airbnb & Skyscanner. Thank you for writing this post. At least I am not alone in my craziness!

  • Adam

    Wow, this is heavily one person’s bad experience that ofc can be experienced by many others, but what you forget is that eveybody is differently prepared for such a journey, and if not equipped enough, bad things can come out of it.
    Guess it also depends on the reason to leave in the first place, for my sake it was the adventure and experience of learning on my own that drove me, to become stronger, which it has made me. By travelling you get a dose of reality, that is heavy, but also reminds one of how much people there’s out there. Bottom line: be prepared that shit can happend, it’s a high risk game, but if you get through and make something out of what you learn, you have a higher chance of success. Learn to love learning. Then everyday becomes great in a way 🙂 every experience is valuable! It’s not about what you gain, but what you can do with it.

  • This is awesome. We just got back “home” after a one-year rtw adventure and you took the words right out of my mouth. 🙂

  • Home is where I am

    Im ok with catching the bug it means I get to be the person I want to…. and home cooked meals are great. I really love to take the foods I learn from other places and see how bad or good i can make them in my own home….may your advantage miles be ever in your favor

  • Tyler Willhite

    A lot of people are missing the point of this article I think…

  • bec

    Nailed it!!!!! Currently going through this after a 6 month stint.. gah!

  • Malcolm

    What if I travel and then apply what I’ve learned when I get back home? Take some of what worked out there and make things a little better back here? What then? What if the world starts to come to me?

  • Lucas Hanson

    I see a lot of the stubbornness James talks about in the article, in the comments.

    • Carolyn

      I agree! The world does not come to you; you go to it! Traveling made it impossible for me to ever settle down to a “routine” life. I was blessed to have grown up overseas because my father was an American diplomat. As an adult I went around the world (with little money) and lived in Europe for 6 years. I cried all the way to the airport when it came time to go back “home”…but my true home is in Europe; my dreams are living there again….even if a dream sometimes cannot come true, you can still dream. Traveling made my life a wonderful adventure full of hnbelievable stories and remarkable people.

  • Montheza

    But for me, i can travel with using national holiday, i thought 5 days is enought to getting lost.

  • Jamin

    Perhaps the cure is actually staying put in a foreign country for a while. Here’s my story for example. I first visited Korea in high school and fell in love with the place. I went back to teach English there as soon as I graduated college, and I am currently in my third year here and very very homesick. I think you stay in a foreign country for a while, the glamour of being in a foreign place wears off and you get a more realistic picture. When I first came to Korea, I loved the food, the culture, the people, just everything about the place… all I saw were the good things and I actually even considered living here permanently until my 2nd year here. Korea is still a wonderful place, but after living here a while, I’m definitely seeing/experiencing some things that make me miss home a lot. Never thought I would say this three years ago but I actually miss the small town life! I think when you’re traveling around to lots of different places bits at a time you don’t really ever get a chance to put the glamour goggles away–but stay in one place long enough and you might appreciate home once again.

    • Steve

      You should try south Korea.. It might be better.. LOL.

    • Palika Siddhisorchai

      I second that, Jamin

  • Yvonne

    Great post James. Oh so very true! Even if you wait till your thirties before backpacking it is still too late to stop. We know, we got stuck in the ‘stuff’ for awhile but now travel full time. Even though I am now 57. It does get under your skin!

  • Great article, well done!

  • Mantas Dobkevicius

    I have to say after reading the comments I am shocked that so many people got the idea behind the article completely wrong…

  • Christian from Squeeze Pod

    Traveling should help you discover things you haven’t been discovered. I believe traveling doesn’t hurt someone’s life as long as you have a career that can sustain your travels. By the time you are in your twenties and building a career, you can fund and plan your travel. But thanks for sharing James I appreciate your insight.

  • Pri

    Well, I was going thru your other articles to obtain some knowledge about travelling in France in 2016, and I fell upon this article. It’s a good warning and I get your point, but I’m 24 and I want to travel and experience the world before I get drowned in my responsibilities towards family, career or future financial debts.. I really loved your other articles about backpacking thru europe, me and my boyfriend will be visiting next year..

  • Ryn

    ‘Your friends and family and peers — they won’t understand. In fact, they don’t really care that you’ve just gone through this transformative journey. You’ll tell them all about what you ate, saw, and experienced, but I’m telling you that their eyes will quickly gloss over. This will happen just about every time. If you’re lucky your parents will listen to your tales for a few minutes before wanting to stab finely sharpened #2 pencils into their ears.’ You think that everyone like yourself has close minded friends and family? No wonder it didn’t work out for you.

  • Ray22

    I wouldn’t change all the traveling I have done in my 20s for nothing in this world!

    Alaska last month and London next in Nov!

  • RSL

    Welcome to my world and its been this way for me since ’78. As they said about the AEF Veterans returning after WW1 “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” Never could touch a Budweiser after I came back!

  • Chris

    I traveled and really didn’t have any of these questions. I certainly don’t view myself as having special insight that others don’t. It was a great experience, but I don’t pat myself on the back for doing it. Some do I suppose.

  • Tammy

    So very true! My family and I are off on another adventure in December, for six weeks. My kids are definitely doomed, my eldest first travelled overseas when she was six (and is currently in Peru with a school group!), and my two younger children were 4 years old, and 22 months old, when they made their first overseas journeys…Travel is wonderful, and wander-full!

  • Jules

    I got a great chuckle at your article because I think when you catch the bug in your early years it can sometimes define the rest of your life. I almost traveled at a young age but did not at the last minute and now that I am retired I want to backpack Europe with the same enthusiasm as when I was 26.

  • Natalia

    I’m not on my twenties anymore – in fact, almost my fourties. Even though, I found myself as I read this text. So true. So perfect.

  • Brit

    Traveling is absolutely fine. I travel. I enjoy it. However, I know people who take it too far. Like every two years they quit their entry-level job, put an expensive 6-month traveling binge on a credit card and take off to places unknown for half a year. They return broke, get another entry-level job to pay off the massive credit card bill (whilst living with parents) for two years and repeat.

    There is so much fluff on the internet about wanderlust and people fail to realize the serious implications of what they are doing. They are delaying career opportunities, disconnecting from friends and potentially screwing up their credit and financial security. There is more to life than work but there are so many misguided young people throwing caution to the wind and “living life” to the expectations of (lets face it) a lot of privileged white kids with trust funds.

    • Jonny

      You’ve just described my life for the last 4 years. I work long enough to save up for a trip, leave, and then come back and do it all again. And I’ve loved every minute of it. So you know what I think of your genius observations? Fuck you, that’s what I think.

      “Taking it too far?” “Misguided young people?”

      Who are you to decide what is too far? Do you have a masters in living life? Sorry, but unless you do, keep your opinions to yourself and let us waste away our twenties having a fucken amazing time. That’s what your twenties are for. Or should I be like my other mates who are miserable, drowning in more debt than me, with nothing to show for it but a mundane office job that they’ll be stuck in for the next 20+ years?

      Thanks, but I think I’m gonna go ahead and ignore your fantastic advice

      • Brit

        You are a very defensive person. I would normally take part in exchanging a “fuck you” right back but it seems like you are doing quite a good job of fucking yourself. You are clearly unaware that comment sections are for opinions and therefore I will not keep mine to myself.

        You are unfortunately apart of a crowd who believes that their twenties is intended for partying and having a good time. See, the rest the of us who you WOULD LIKE to think are “miserable and drowning in debt in our mundane office jobs” we are working towards something. While those like you are off for 6 months of the year doing shots on beaches, the rest of us are building careers, raising our financial worth and getting promotions.

        You can go ahead and ignore my “fantastic advice” but you are not doing yourself any fucking favours. Successful people in their thirties don’t just blow out the candles on their birthday cake and wake up financially set. They work their asses off in their twenties to get there.

  • Kristiyan Krustev

    THIS IS THE TRUE !!!

  • Bhanavi Mathur

    Ha! I started at 13 and I’m 20 now. Wayy beyond the point of no return.

  • Matthew Gage

    Just returned from backpacking 7 European countries at age 35 & all I’ve done lately is Google airfares for next year’s trip. Home truly is not the same after seeing how amazing so many other countries are.

  • dumptrucker

    #humblebrag

  • Hec Archundia*

    i lived in japan 11 months.. from mex to jp there’s a really big difference. I am obssessed now.

  • Emilyz

    It’s kind of funny! I thought I would disagree before reading the article but this is absolutely true! You are right! I started travelling in my twenties and then I could never go back to the normal life even though I tried! So I decided to travel for the rest of my life and I became a travel blogger as a full time job! And I love my life so much! I don’t think it’s good to wait for happiness and freedom! 😉

    • Christine Vayo

      I’d love to travel blog! Do tell your story!

  • APEmanGURU

    DON’T BE AFRAID – DO IT!

    The process this writer is talking about is part of the human experience. It happens whenever a young adult has a shift of perspective; As much as traveling has been your main inciting incident, It is as heavy an experience whether taking a psychedelic drug or watching a documentary that shatters one’s mental model of the status quo.

    If anyone agrees with this article:
    Perhaps you need more time abroad, or to open a new chapter of your life completely, at any rate: I would advise you to find someone to talk to about your transformative experience as opposed to wishing for ‘enslavement by debt and responsibility’ as a device to make your wanderlust more manageable.

    Finally, to the author:
    Stop dealing in fear; you shouldn’t be telling fellow inmates that they’re not ready for freedom. Life is bloody difficult, It’s ALL a crazy ride!

    • savvybackpacker

      I’m actually saying how great travel is. You’re reading this to literally.

  • Palika Siddhisorchai

    This is as naive as a citizen of a first world country in their twenties should sound. Love to hear about it. Keep up the good work!

  • ciccio bomba

    “Why didn’t I study a foreign language?” English is mandatory in almost every primary school, many schools has two mandatory exotic languages to pick, remaining english one of them. Sadly many kids of the high schools still don’t master english well enough.

  • Edmund Chew

    My first ‘overseas’ trip was when I was 33…from Malaysia to Indonesia. By then I had already worked for 9 years, finished paying off my car loan and was 4 years into servicing my housing loan. Now at age 42 I’ve been to Europe twice, Australia, the US, Brazil, Middle-East, South and East Asia, picked up a few foreign languages, etc.. and don’t even feel at home in my own country anymore! (plus I’ve quit my job here) 😀

  • Jaroslav Sirotek

    Travelling from 16 to 61 without any harm.

  • MichelleR

    I don’t understand this article. I travelled a lot in my early 20s and I actually did want to stop and come home to the US to pursue a professional career. Maybe the cure is to keep traveling until you’ve had enough? Or to find something else you want to pursue more, like a career?

  • Alyssa Ruberto

    Sooooo I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to Europe several times in my life and I’m currently 23 (granted I have family in Italy so it’s cheaper for me). So I’m already ruined. Currently planning a 6 month solo trip to Europe. I’m putting off my career and dealing with a 6 month LDR (which is already an LDR but I won’t be able to see him for a long stretch of time now). Haven’t even done the trip yet and now i’m trying to figure out how I can go to Japan…

  • Berenice Villegas

    Love the reverse psychology! Awesome Article! <3

  • Samantha

    love the reverse psychology!

  • Oh man this made me cry. I’ve just come back to ‘reality’ after almost 3 years travelling and it sucks balls. Already planning my next ‘big trip’ but it is so depressing trying to figure out what to do with my life between now and then…really hoping it gets better over time, otherwise I’m literally screwed! haha but in a good way because I know I’ll never end up settling for anything less than an adventurous life. Thanks for writing this 🙂

  • Mitana Mukherjee

    great article!

  • Lauren Whatling

    I worked on a Cruise Ship for two years and life on land will never be the same. Every single day I think about going travelling again. I miss being in a different place every day. I work and earn money, and it is never as satisfying as having hardly any money but being in the Caribbean or Norway.
    But I couldn’t go back to the ship because I’d never leave it… so I work and plan big trips once a year now.
    I can completely relate to this!

  • argee with each word!!!

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