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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.
51 thoughts on “Ask Kate: Should I Travel Now or Later?”
Couldn’t agree more! I studied abroad at 21, went back to the US and graduated, worked for 3 years after graduation, and in one month I will be leaving to go teach and live in Spain! As Kate said, if you want to travel you can. You just have to make time for it. Take at look through travel blogs out there. There are people out there from all walks of life at all different stages in their lives traveling. Some are doing a gap year pre-college, while others have moved their families abroad, putting their kids in a foreign school, and traveling. Again, Kate’s advice is great! If you make travel a priority it will happen! Good luck!
I think Kate’s advice is spot on! However, if I was in that situation, I would travel now AND later. Even if she can only afford to extend her trip by a week or two- why not?! Might as well take advantage of cheap flights from London!
I liked your response, Kate. I would add that travel isn’t FOR everyone, and if you are (or the advice-givers are) the kind of person who loses interest in travel once you return to the US, then maybe travel isn’t for you. And that’s OK. Some time to figure out who you are and what you want might be a good thing.
I find that a lot of people in their 20s feel pressure to do everything now “while they’re young.” I think I felt like that, too. But then you get to be 30, 32, and you realize, wait, I still have plenty of time. Julia Child didn’t even start cooking until she was 40 (the age I’ll be on Saturday). So yeah, don’t freak out too much about doing it all now now now.
Great advice! Life definitely isn’t over after your twenties… it just has a bit more joint pain and worse hangovers. 😉
“This is NOT your last chance to travel.” Everything about this statement is 100% true.
I was in the exact same situation. I had just finished my last semester of University studying abroad in Japan and had zero plans for after I graduated. I wanted to stay longer, but I had no money. So what did I do? I returned home, saved up, and went back to travel around Japan for six months. It took a few years, of course, but I always knew I’d be back. And I’m already planning a third trip!
There’s no such thing as a “once in a lifetime chance.” You make your own chances.
“You make your own chances.” <– Very well said.
You make your own chances. I love that. 🙂
Perfect advice! Ultimately, each person has to make their own decision on whether they can afford to travel. That being said, with some proper budgeting and making travel your priority – you’ll be all set for a great trip! It will never be your last chance to travel, and it’s never to late to travel. Ever.
Complerely agree with all of this. I didn’t even get my passport until I was 21 and married with a house, debts and bills, but as long as you priotise it you can still afford it and nothing can stop you!
However, as they are 20 and studying in the UK would just pount out that the world of nightlife is already open as the drinking age is 18 in the UK
Oh yes, I just meant in terms of returning to the US. Once you go from hanging out with your friends at home or restaurants or the movies to hanging out with your friends at BARS — that’s a huge difference in your spending!
When I made the definite decision to go travel long term, it was about a year and a half before I actually left. In that time I saved my ass off. I lived with my parents. I paid off all my student loans. I planned. I also still went on shorter trips. It’s all about discipline, desire and motivation.
Good for you for paying off your loans AND saving for your trip simultaneously!
There’s always time to travel later. I think it’s got to be a gut feeling more than anything.
I think your advice is great. If she can do it with what she has then go for it. If not, Europe is not going anywhere. It will still be there when she is ready to go back. I didn’t get the travel bug until I was 28. I never studies abroad and had only left the country once. Since then I’ve spent 2 summers in Guatemala, a summer in Peru, 3 weeks in Europe, and just got back from 6 weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I don’t plan on stopping now. It’s also a little easier now that I have a more established career and more money to spend on these trips.
For us North Americans, a “more established career” usually comes with very limited vacation time of 2-3 weeks total each year. But yes, you are making more money now, making you able to afford more travel. I’m guessing you’re a teacher which enabled you to take summers off and such long vacations (six weeks)? Nice… if you’re a teacher! The rest of us are stuck with very limited vacation time. I had to quit my job to travel longer than that.
Since the woman who wrote to Kate is American, I think she should try to do her travel before she starts her career. It’s not impossible later, but it is more difficult with the paltry vacation allowance we get here in NA.
I would advise her to travel later. As you noted, her parents have already been bankrolling her living expenses for studying abroad and for her weekend excursions. If she wants to travel more, she should figure out a way to pay for it herself. My experience is that trips are even sweeter when they’ve been paid for with my own hard work.
Traveling is a lifestyle choice. If she prioritizes it, eschewing frivolous spending at home in lieu of saving up for trips, this definitely will NOT be the last chance to travel. We’re looking at starting a family soon, but that’s not going to mean I won’t ever travel again – I’ll just have to get even better at budgeting, planning, and saving!
I completely agree with everything in this post. I could only afford to travel for about 1.5 weeks after my exams during my semester in Singapore. It got me to Vietnam for a couple days and Thailand (for the 3rd time in 5 months because of those “weekend trips”) before heading back to Canada. Part of that was done solo for my first time, not completely planned out, and amazing! Now after a year of working post-grad, I’ve saved up enough money for a working holiday in New Zealand (leaving in a couple weeks! Yay!) and I still look into getting back to Asia somehow because I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to.
Do what you can now and remember it’s not the end of travel if it’s something you really want to do.
Hi, Meggie! I’m a Canadian in NZ on a WHV (nine months now), and spent three months in SE Asia before coming here. If you have any questions or anything, feel free to get in touch. You can find me at instagram.com/mainlydana
I have taken this advice for myself as well. I have a long list of destinations, but short of money. I have also started a separate savings account for travel funds and plan to travel when I have enough. This was encouraging. Thank you, Kate. 🙂
Oh my gosh, I was her. I was this girl. I sort of still am this girl. I was finishing up my semester abroad at 20 and was absolutely freaking out because I was told that it was time I bought a car and got back to “reality” when I got home. I ran myself dry in Europe and thought I would never have the chance to go back, because I was told that that’s not how real life works. I found a teach abroad program that suited me as kept it in my browser for three years. I went on a paid trip to japan in between but never stopped thinking about France. I went through awful reverse culture shock for more than a year because I couldn’t handle the anxiety and the adjustments. I had no support system other than Twotter and blogs to get me through.
Happily, I am glad I waited and finished school, and worked for 9 months before going back. I applied and was accepted and completed the program this past year. I went with a decent amount of money and was able to do a ton of traveling. While I was there, my parents again told me that I needed to start thinking about reality and that there was nothing wrong with coming home. I was not ready to hear it at the time, and I freaked out, found a new job in France, and decided to stay. I have almost no money this time around and it’s quite unsettling for me, but I couldn’t handle taking the advice from non travelers. It’s true that if you want to travel, you will make it happen, but at 24 I dont have the life experience or the finances to know that. All I see is car and house= no money to travel, which is why I keep moving instead of coming home.
Wait, but keep your eye on te prize. Don’t listen to the career counselor a or professors that you need to get a job. Travel. Make the life you want for yourself, and don’t apologize for living it. But I can’t deny that it is so muh more enjoyable and less stressful to travel and live abroad when you have a cusion of funds.
Good for you for going after your dreams, Dana! It’s a huge accomplishment to be able to live in France.
Thanks Kate 🙂
Your blog is a huge inspiration to me! Please keep writing. I’d love to meet you in London sometime (I’m just a train ride away in Lille for the moment!)
You do not need to do extensive planning to have a great experience! Hostels are cheap and unless there’s a massive festival or event, you will always find a bed! Even just a couple extra weeks for a trip can be worth it, especially if you’re already at a good jump-off point (aka you’re already across the Atlantic, so there’s that flight that you don’t have to take again). As for your parents, you have to figure out how to tackle that, but you are beyond old enough to strike out on your own.
But the bottom line is the point that Kate emphasized: This is not your last chance to travel!! If you really want it, you’ll make it happen at whatever point in your life is the best for you, whether that’s now or later.
Add us to those who emphasize “This is NOT your last chance to travel.”
We didn’t take our first international flight until we were 28. Before that, we were working our tails off to get ourselves through graduate school with zero debt. We never felt we had the money, or the time to travel – working 8-6 during the day and going to school at night will do that to you.
We didn’t take a gap year and at the time, I thought it was a bad decision. We had spent so much of our twenties working and studying that it felt like we’d never be able recover all those “lost” years. Except, those years weren’t lost. All that working and saving eventually allowed us to quit our regular jobs and travel full time. Not just for a year. But forever.
Now I look back on all that hard work in our twenties and early thirties and can’t help but think what a huge mistake it would have been to borrow money for school or derail our careers for a single year of travel.
Amen, Brian! I didn’t leave North America at all in my 20s and instead went to school then worked. Though I did a few short vacations with my family as a teenager, i didn’t go abroad again until I was 34. Now I’m 37 and have been abroad for just over a year. As I’d already had a career and was making decent money, I was able to save for this time away (more than I would have in my 20s when I made less money) and plus, pay off all debts before I left.
I’m Canadian, and the gap year is not a North American concept. Most of us do not go abroad, maybe because our countries are so huge and many of us move across the country for school or work. We also get very little vacation time (2-3 weeks) compared to many countries, making big trips difficult, especially if you moved far away from your family and use your vacation time to go “home” to see them.
I do wish I’d done this sooner though, say late 20s. The biggest reason being is it is isolating being surrounded by other travelers who are at an absolute minimum, a decade younger than me. Yes, occasionally I do meet people in their 30s or older but they are typically on vacation and returning to their lives/jobs, and often they are with a significant other. The reality is, most 30-somethings (and 40-somethings) are paying mortgages and raising kids and not quitting jobs to travel long-term. Obviously there are exceptions, like myself, but they are few and far between. As a single 30s-something, I’ve found very few others like me on the road, and it’s isolating. There are expat communities of course, but I’m not an expat or a digital nomad, so don’t fit in with this group either.
And let’s not even talk about how when I get back “home” at 38 years old how I’ll have to start back from scratch, both financially and otherwise. I can’t move back in with my parents, like those in their 20s have the option to do.
Still, complaints aside, I’m glad I’ve been able to do this, even though it’s been later than I would have liked.
Dana, for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few friends that traveling long-term in Central America and South America, people tend to be older and North Americans are far more common. It’s the place people go after doing Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia!
I’m jealous of your debt-free status, Brian! Hope to finally pay off my student loans in the next few years.
Awesome stuff, Brian! I’m so glad to hear that. I traveled for a few months about 5 years ago. Then arrived back home (Brisbane, Australia), completed my Masters degree over four years and working full time. Now, I’m so very tempted to take the (nest egg) savings and go on sabbatical for 6-12 months. Through my twenties and since arriving back home to complete my education, I’ve slowly built my career. I have the means to ‘keep in touch’ with it and my professional network (via my blog and Twitter), if my boyfriend and I do choose to go on a career break (and see what happens job/income wise) in a couple of years. Goodness knows we’ve both earned it.
To Kate, long time reader, first time commenting. 🙂 I completely agree with your advice. If a person really wants to travel, they find a way. One thing a lecturer told me years ago – “If you don’t have time for something, it’s not a priority.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve since found it to be true. Take care.
I totally agree, I have traveled alot on and off, but it’s just this year that I decided to blog about it, one can start with the closest region, there’s no rush at all! But if there’s that travel itch so to speak, it’s wise to take a few months off just to ‘scratch’ at it..
Great advice. I studied abroad in undergrad and then did the whole grad school thing. Now I’m a lawyer and saving hardcore for a RTW trip. It will definitely be nice to have the funds to travel for once. Though it’s a difficult balance with the student loan debt, you’ve just gotta make saving a priority (and I’ve started an online bank account just for that travel money!).
If you don’t follow Legal Nomads, then you should. Jodi left her job as a lawyer to travel the world, and is still going. 🙂
Later. Save, prioritize travel as part of your finances and set yourself up to take a long and satisfying trip. Something really long term, at least 6-12 months.
There is plenty of time to travel later! After studying a semester abroad in Spain I went back to Australia for two years and worked and saved before moving back to Madrid for two years, teaching English. Then it was another three year stint working and saving back home before going off on my first solo trip (Mexico) at the age of 29. Whatever you want to do, you can make it happen! Time is not your enemy 🙂
If you’re worried about money, check out the websites for WWoofing, and workaway.info. They’re work exchange set ups all over the world, and the perfect way to really immerse yourself in different cultures on the cheap!
Great advice, Kate! I agree that going home, saving up money, and doing a big trip next year or the year after is probably the smartest idea. Stressing over money while you’re on the road is THE WORST. It sounds like she enjoys traveling, so she hopefully will be able to prioritize it and ensure that this isn’t her last hurrah!
I did a little of both… I paid for my own way through private undergraduate and law school… my trips were far and few between, but I took them! After law school when I started working, I had the money to travel, but no time off work. Again, I made the best of the situation and took one epic trip annually. I’m finally at the point in my life (at nearly 32 years old) where I have finally found the perfect balance.
As usual, great post and advice, Kate!
And don’t forget to enjoy your last days in England, dont let the “travel or not question” control you 🙂 and you also can try to plan a trip by Ryanair (england->anywhere), and then travel by bus in Europe, is quick, cheap and nice. Wish you all the best, dont forget to tell us what you’ve decide
What a great question. I had the same one myself, after I spent a year abroad in Australia when I was 16-17. I wanted to travel after for a year, before I went to college. My parents said no, so I listened to them. It took some time (10 years) but I finally started traveling again at 27 and after 14 months of living abroad, I don’t regret it at all. You should really see what its like to travel solo, there is nothing like it in the world and it isn’t for everyone. If you think it is the right choice, figure out a way to finance it. Teach English somewhere, volunteer with WorkAway where you get your room/board taken care of, become a nanny, do whatever it takes to save the money and the fly, fly, fly away!
As always, great advice Kate!
I was in a similar dilemma when I was 20 and studying abroad in Rome. I cried my eyes out when my study abroad came to a close. I almost attempted to run off and travel right there and then.
Instead I waited a couple years, finished my degree and saved money for almost two years.
Now I have a degree, a year working in the real world, and am now living my dream of travelling full time. And I saved up enough (worked three jobs and was boring) that I can travel for at least 8 months with out going into debt. For an anxious lass like me it was pretty important to make sure I wasn’t diving into debt.
While I feel that you can travel anytime, I do think that it is much easier for me to travel than some of my friends who are already locked into careers they’d like to pursue or have families. I don’t think it’s impossible for them but it does seem like there would be many more struggles to organize long-term travel.
Anyway, my advice: finish your degree and save some dolla dolla bills and take on the world!
I think the most important thing to consider isn’t age, but finances. At 20, you have such a long time left to travel in future!
Between my second and third years of uni, I went to SE Asia with a friend. We did it all on whim. I didn’t save any money especially for the trip, had no idea of a daily budget and skipped interesting sights because I was worried about money.
It was so much fun, but I’m having to plan another trip back to all the places we went, simply because we missed out on so much by not having planned and saved enough money. I’d say it makes sense to wait a little longer to travel, thoroughly plan what you want to see and do, and save the money you think you’ll need, plus half as much again.
This is an important point, Jo — it really sucks to have to skip cool sites because you don’t have the money. Always save much more than you think you’ll need, because you WILL get the opportunities to spend it!
This is really great advice. Travelling later should be ok – just make sure you DON’T let life get in the way. You must prioritize your travels if you want them to happen. Don’t let your fears creep up and stop you. Don’t let other people’s fears creep up and stop you (most especially your parent’s fears it sounds like). Saving up some money and doing a little more research is great but don’t let the travel that you want slip through your fingers. Do you have to go back to the US? Could you work in England? Much closer to Europe if that is where you want to travel. Much cheaper flights. 🙂 Good Luck
So much great advice here! So refreshing to see some travel advice that is both inspiring and practical!
Kate’s advice is spot on: THIS IS NOT YOUR LAST CHANCE TO TRAVEL.
Don’t forget you have age on your side. You’re ONLY 20 years old. Plenty of time. Most importantly, finish your degree.
I’m a British person so I would agree with Kate that if you still have a few hundred pounds left, travel every weekend. Eurolines is from £5.00, Megabus around the UK is from £2.00. Check out the Aussie free mags if you’re anywhere near London, they always offer cheap trips to Europe and Turkey. Travel by night on the coach (bus), so that you don’t have to pay for digs.
Leave on Friday and come back very early on Monday. Eat sandwiches and very cheap beer and wine from the local supermarkets. Why not? You’ll never want to drink that stuff when you’re all married and responsible, so drink in now! Chat with the locals who all love American folk (no matter what you hear on the news), hang out with them so that they’ll show you around. Museums are free, lots of walking tours are free, the history and culture of Europe is all around you and is absolutely free of charge!
I’m British, so I did a GAP year before university. I also lived and worked abroad for free, after graduation to get some experience. I did this for 2 years and then went back to the UK. I did a corporate job for 2.5 years and then went travelling. I did Asia for a year and then landed in Berlin where I live as an expat. The money I previously saved lasted me 10 years so I chose to do something that I liked without the pressure of money worries.
In short, travel a little until it’s time to go home, then go home. Finish your degree, put some pictures around your home as to where you want to travel, work and save like mad for a few years, keep looking at those pictures, don’t settle, get itchy, get that scratch, then come back.
We’ll be waiting!
I just turned 30 this summer and there are times I wish I had been less cautious and started traveling and developing an international career sooner, but at the same time I don’t think it’s impossible to continue pursuing my travel bug. When I was 19 I went to London and loved it and afterwards I went on tours with family, but I found my way to Denver, Colorado to search for stable work and settled in after I started dating a guy for three years. I thought I’d never travel or work overseas again, but after breaking up with my boyfriend and working temporarily in California, it became evident that I still had the desire to satisfy my desires to travel. I looked for work overseas, but when I became to old to get a Holiday Visa, I thought it would be over. Thank God I was wrong. This summer I was a Fellow with a Sustainable Fashion Company, Run by Rural in Peru. This opportunity not only gave me the chance to travel, but also to discover a new career that I had been looking for. I’m looking into this field now so that I can travel and I can be a part of something that’s meaningful for me. That’s why it’s important to listen to Kate and realize this is not the last time you will travel. 🙂
Even though I don’t have kids, I think it would be much harder to travel for long periods of time after you have a family, which is why people to tell you to do it now. But don’t freak yourself out into believing this is it. At your age, I would also recommend looking into Holiday Visas since they are good for people ages 18-30 and allow you to work in certain foreign countries (most are up to 6 months). There are times I wish I had been braver or not so worried about my money and traveled when I was younger, but things still worked out for me to travel and work internationally. Money, of course, is always a concern, but try organizations like BUNAC that help you find hospitality jobs overseas or working as a waitress back home to stash some money away for another adventure. Anything is possible, it just takes your persistence and patience :).
What great advice, Brooke. Thank you for sharing!
In a previous post, I remember Kate suggesting that people travel instead of paying of college debt and many people posting that they agreed with her. This post seems to have garnered just as much attention but instead people are leaning towards establishing themselves and then traveling.
I never agreed with the deferring of paying of college debt, thinking that your 20s was the only time in your life you would get a chance to travel. I really enjoy that this post encourages people to make travel a priority and to think of your future. I’ve seen several people now that are in in severe debt because they chose to neglect their financial responsibilities and thinking they would never have the opportunity to travel once they “grew up”.
As Kate stated, “This is not your last chance to travel.”
Set yourself up and travel when you can afford to. From weekend trips to year long adventures. Make it the priority and you will get out traveling.
Hi, Jason —
I just want to clarify that when you say that I told people to travel instead of paying off college debt, that’s an oversimplification of a long and complex answer. You can read my full post here: https://www.adventurouskate.com/ask-kate-should-i-pay-off-my-student-loans-before-traveling/
Kate, I completely agree with your advice to this reader. Although I’m a strong believer of traveling while you’re young and unencumbered, I don’t think a trip should ever be approached as your one and only opportunity. That’s putting way to much pressure on yourself. Plus, as someone who planned a month-long European backpacking trip for almost a year, I can honestly say that planning is a rewarding (and important) part of the travel process.