I often talk to people about the best time in life to travel — and in particular, the best time to travel for a longer stint, half a year or even a few years. There are pros and cons to long-term travel at any age, and in hindsight I’m happy with how I’ve managed it so far.

But I thought I might share my thoughts and advice for anyone who’s trying to decide how to fit their travel dreams into the rest of their life.

Travel in Your Late Teens and Early 20s

If you travel either before, during or directly after you finish your education (whether that’s high school or college), then you are likely to have a whole heap of fun. You probably don’t have any particular responsibilities back home (no job or mortgage or elderly parents), so you can travel in a pretty care-free way and without a deadline if you want.

The major downside is that you probably won’t have much cash to do it with, unless you are able to work along the way (something I highly recommend, actually — not just for the money, but for the experience). You might also find you’re more focused on partying and having fun than some of the other interesting parts of travel so that’s something to consider; you might be just as well off partying at home and then hitting the road a few years later.

Young Boy Diving in Gibraltar
Free Diving, Gibraltar © Jon Rawlinson

Travel in Your 20s

If you take off to see the world later in your twenties, after starting a career, then the first thing you’ll have to get used to is people telling you you’re crazy to do it (that’s what I heard a lot of when I left my “good job” to go to teach English in Japan). Don’t let what other people think stop you! At this age you might have a little more maturity to gain more from your travels, and you’ve probably had a chance to bank some savings behind to fund them, too, but you probably aren’t married or dealing with children, yet.

However, depending on where in the world you’re from and what career you have in mind, you may need to listen a bit to those nay-sayers and figure out if having this gap in your resume will do your career (and bank account and other important things) too much harm.

Travel in Your 30s or 40s

As far as long-term travel goes, your 30s and 40s are one of the least likely times to see you hit the road. Many people will be in the thick of a career, will have partners and children, and may have elderly parents to help out too, so it’s obviously the trickiest time.

However, if it fits in with your life, it’s actually a fantastic time to travel. You’re still physically fit; you probably have assets back home; you’ll know your passions and interests and be able to travel to suit them; and you’ll really appreciate the chance to see the world.

And if you have kids, consider taking them for an extended trip with you. My parents took my sister and I out of school in Australia for a six-month camping trip around Europe when I was nine (and that’s quite a while ago, long before the internet — so I’m pretty proud of them for doing it) and we all got so much out of it. That trip certainly cemented the travel bug for me and much of how the rest of my life has turned out can be attributed to their decision to show us the world.

Man Hiking During Active Retirement
Active Retirement © Bigstock

Travel in Your 50s and 60s

Towards the end of your working life, you might discover that taking some extended trips isn’t as hard as it sounds. Once you reach the point where you have fewer family responsibilities — or at least children who are semi-independent – you will hopefully have more disposable income and you should still be reasonably fit, all good prerequisites for enjoying some good traveling.

The parents of a good friend of mine certainly decided to make the most of that phase of their lives — and still in their late sixties make a long trip each year — and describe it as “SKIN” — Spending Kids’ Inheritance Now! I’m often jealous when I hear about each trip they take (although their children aren’t so thrilled with the dwindling inheritance!).

Travel in Retirement

If you’re fit and healthy there’s no reason why you can’t just keep traveling. Depending on your profession and background you may be able to find volunteer or even paid positions to help you travel long-term without spending too much of your savings.

I wouldn’t advise spending your whole life working hard assuming you’re going to travel for the first time in retirement, in case health issues catch up with you first. But I certainly can imagine taking my already regular travel habit and turning it into practically a full-time job once I reach retirement age.

… Or Just Travel Now!

But here’s my last piece of advice: if you already have itchy feet and aren’t happy to just sit around waiting for “one day”, simply ignore all of the above and travel NOW, in case you never get the chance again. Life’s too short to make too many plans too far away, and you never know what kinds of twists and turns your life might take that will get in the way of your desire to travel.

6 Responses

  1. Elaine Schoch

    Love this post. After my dad died pretty suddenly at age 54 and before doing all the travels he had planned – I made my bucket list. I’m proud to say I’ve traveled to all the spots on my list, minus one, along with a ton more. I say travel now, life is too short.

    Reply
  2. Nate

    I agree with the “NOW” advice.

    One thing I always thought though – if I had of travelled, long term, when I was in my early 20’s, my life would be *very* different now.

    Reply
  3. Andrea

    I did my “big trip” last year, the year I turned 40. Now I’m smitten with the travel bug and need more more more! I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to do my traveling… I’m sure I WILL still be traveling then (my dad is 76 and still an avid traveler) but I don’t want to wait any longer. Great post, thanks!

    Reply
  4. Daniel McBane

    In my case, I also went to Japan to teach English for a year, but that year turned into three and even after leaving Japan, I just ended up in China for another two years. Now it’s nine years later and I still haven’t returned.

    “Now” is the best time, without a doubt. For me, “now” was my mid 20s, but waiting a few more years would have only postponed the inevitable.

    Reply
  5. Jonathan Look, Jr.

    I am definitely one of the luck ones. I recently turned 50 an decided to take early retirement and see the world. Before I got “out here” long term I had no idea that people of any age seem to be able to do this if they are willing to make then necessary arrangements. I can’t call them sacrifices. Sacrifice is ignoring your dreams and “feeding the machine” of consumerism.

    In the end who cares how much stuff you have? It is living a full life of adventure that matters.

    Reply
  6. Christine B.Osborne

    I began travelling my my early twenties and I have travelled ever since. Only stopping long enough to earn enough money to continue on to another place. I have nearly finished a book on my adventures in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and other countries. You can get a taster on http://www.travelswithmyhat.com.

    Ideally, in relation to your question on which is the best age to travel though, I would say early–as I did–then presuming you’ll marry and raise a family–which I didn’t– later in old age.

    Thank you.

    Reply

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