Ask Kate: Should I Travel Now or Later?
Her semester abroad is almost over and her funds are almost gone. Is this her last chance to travel Europe, or will she get another chance?
I’m a 20 year old college student who is currently studying abroad in England. I’m absolutely loving my experience though it can get difficult balancing school with travel. I often travel to places over the weekend but I’m realizing that there just isn’t enough time to delve in the culture or talk to people when you’re so rushed with just a few days in a city. That’s why I considered extending my trip after my program to travel. However, I figure that at this point, it’s going to be really expensive to plan trips just a few weeks in advance to countries in Europe.
I just wanted to get your take on this and see if I should really push my parents to let me go and travel. They are really against it because they’re worried for my safety since the program would be over. It’s also really expensive and I’ve already spent a lot of money on my weekend trips. I’m also really interested in traveling alone because I always feel limited when traveling in groups or even with one other person.
I was thinking that I could just wait a year and save up some money (learn about points and book flights way in advance) but everyone keeps telling my that I’ll never be this young again and that I’ll lose my motivation to travel once I’m back in the States. Am I really wasting precious adventure time if I just go back home? Should I be content with the experiences I’ve already had and just plan for the future? I’m quite conflicted.
First of all, here’s something that I want you to know:
This is not your last chance to travel.
This is not your last chance to travel.
This is NOT your last chance to travel.
If you truly want to travel, you can absolutely make it happen, no matter how old you are. Plenty of people travel independently in their early twenties, mid-twenties and beyond. I myself returned to Europe twice within two years of finishing my semester abroad.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, frankly, is full of crap.
BUT — you won’t travel unless you financially prioritize travel.
Once you turn 21 and the world of bars and nightlife opens up, it will be even more tempting to spend lots of money on nights out with friends trying all the cocktails you saw on Sex and the City. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s an integral part of rocking your twenties — but it can quickly eat up all your spare cash if you’re not careful.
Again and again, I see people skipping travel in favor of buying expensive fashions or party trips to Vegas. I was that girl at one point. Then I realized that I wouldn’t ever achieve my travel dreams if I kept spending my money that way.
When looking at my study abroad classmates on Facebook, not many of them have returned to Europe in the decade since our Florentine semester. A few went back to Italy for their honeymoons. I’m fairly positive that I’m the only one who has traveled long-term. But you know what? Several of them have bought homes or started families or earned advanced academic degrees or risen in the ranks of their career. They had different financial priorities and they achieved their goals, which is wonderful.
Not everybody has the hunger to travel, and I suspect the people who told you this will be your only chance are of that variety.
So, what should you do for now?
If you have some money left — say, $500-700 — consider flying somewhere cheap for a few days to a week to test the waters of solo travel. Go on Skyscanner and use “everywhere” as your destination and you’ll see where you can fly for cheap from London. Berlin, Budapest, Prague and Ljubljana are four great budget-friendly cities with lots to do in the city and surrounding area.
If you’re worried about convincing your parents that you can travel on your own, take a look at this piece.
And while I can see the appeal in having your parents bankroll your travels if they’re willing to do so (and if I were in that situation, I’d find it hard to say no to that myself), you know, you’re 20 now. You’re an adult. You should pay for your own travels from your own savings.
If you don’t have the money, it’s not worth putting yourself into debt for a few more weeks of fun. Just go home. Take a break and enjoy being with your family, then start planning your next move and your future travels in Europe.
The Advantage of Traveling Later
Choosing to travel later instead of now will give you the opportunity to save up more money and plan a much better trip where you won’t be worried about money all the time. That will make a huge difference in the quality of your trip.
Take the next year to plan it out — where you want to go, for how long, and how much it will cost you. Budget much higher than you think you need to so that you won’t be scraping by from crappy hostel to crappy hostel. Start a separate bank account for your travel savings and don’t touch it.
Get a job, either during the school year or just when you’re at home on break. For college students, I highly recommend waiting tables (or bartending once you turn 21), as you can earn a lot of money quickly and working “social hours” will keep you from spending too much cash on nights out.
I do agree with the naysayers on one thing — it’s hard to travel long-term once you get a full-time job. You’ll probably have around three weeks of vacation in your first entry-level job in the US if you’re lucky.
For that reason, traveling right after college graduation is a good option for many people (in fact, that’s what I did!), and it might be for you, too. Celebrate your academic accomplishment, go on a monthlong trip, and start hunting for your first post-college job once you get home.