How Travelling In Your 30s Is Different Than In Your 20s.

Life lessons learned travelling solo

So many people view a gap year as a once in a lifetime thing, a one shot deal. One year out when you are young to have the adventure of a lifetime before you have to grow up, settle down and be assimilated into societal norms. They are wrong. The grown up gap year or being a nomad without an end in sight have become increasingly popular identities in recent years, and many people are discovering that continuing to travel in your 30s is even more awesome than it was in your 20s!

I have been travelling the world now on continuous gap years or snap years for the past fifteen years. That is a hell of a long time.

When I first started backpacking it was a different world in many respects. Mobile phones were only just starting to become popular and certainly were not the norm, the internet was still in its relative infancy (and if you wanted to use it you had to search out an ubiquitous internet cafe). Lonely Planet were still considered the ‘bible’ and everyone certainly didn’t have one of those damn selfie sticks! A lot has changed.

What I think has changed the most in terms of world travel is the acceptance of a much wider range of social and age demographics into the backpacking world.

Where backpacking used to be for young student age adventurers looking for their gap year experience, over the years those student age backpackers have grown up, many have had families of their own, and still continued to travel. The economic crash saw professionals in their 30s and 40s say screw this and head out on their own extended career breaks, and pensioners – mindful of the fact that the government have stolen their pensions and are about to steal their savings and their house to pay for their care – are sticking two fingers up to society and heading off somewhere tropical for as long as they can get away with too. These groups are far more normal and prolific on the backpacker trail now than they ever were.

Backpacking isn’t just for student age travellers anymore, and that is an awesome thing to see!

Don’t get me wrong, travelling throughout my twenties was awesome and I wouldn’t change it for the world. All the benefits of travel that are so rightly lauded by travel writers were mine for the taking, and I grabbed them wholeheartedly.

World travel in my twenties helped show me who I am, it helped form my social and academic paradigms, it helped form an intrinsic part of my identity that I still carry to this day. It made me a stronger, more open minded and worldly person. It didn’t do much for my humility it seems but it is certainly true that I can look back on my twenties with no regrets, because for all the profound effects travel had on me it was a hell of a lot of fun too. The island hopping, the lounging in hammocks, the hostel parties, the adventures and once in a lifetime experiences. I had a blast.

The thing is, I still do.

When I hit my thirties, my desire, my need for travel didn’t change, but I inexorably did, and the way I experienced travel changed with me.

For the better.

I’m not talking about the fact that I am getting older now and like my creature comforts more, although that is certainly a definite change.

I am much more likely now to avoid the beach parties in favour of a good book, and although I still stay in my fair share of budget accommodation and dorms (because unfortunately that lottery win never did happen), I am completely comfortable switching between backpacking and flashpacking as needed so I can – far more often than I used to – get a cushy private room with a hot power shower and a lot more comfort.

Luxury flashpacking bemused backpacker (2)

Hell, I have a career too now, I can afford to splash out a bit. That wasn’t an option when I was 20 and skint!

I travel much more slowly now too, but this has been a constantly evolving way of travel throughout my twenties. Back on my first gap year I made the same mistake every other first time backpacker does and tried to see everything in one short trip. It was of course impossible. Now I don’t rush things, I stay still a lot more and spend longer in each place. It may mean I don’t see as many places on any given trip, but I see so much more of the places I do see.

When I was in my twenties, like any long term traveller, I occassionally arrived home to the inevitable societal judgement that came with not conforming to what everyone else was doing, not least of which from my friends and family. ‘When are you going to settle down’ and ‘when will I be a grandmother’ seemed to become the shrill battlecries of my mother whenever I saw her.

In effect I had become a social outcast in many ways. Many of my friends had settled down, bought the house, had the kids and begun the inevitable slow suicide of paying bills until you die.

I hadn’t. And I felt a little bit ostracised from society because of it.

I’d bought into some aspects of it of course, I went to university twice and achieved two degrees and after a stint in the military I changed careers and have – what is now – a relatively high ranking nursing career. But I still travelled for long periods whenever the hell I wanted to. I broke through the norm, and whilst that made me strange to many of my peers, it also gave me a profound sense of freedom from the rat race and helped shape who I am now.

And that is truly one of the biggest differences of travelling in my thirties as opposed to my twenties.

In my twenties travel gave me so many profound life epiphanies because I was still searching for who I was, who I wanted to become. Two degrees and two careers later I have that now. I know who I am. I am comfortable in who I am and I am happy with it.

I don’t need travel to shape me anymore, I can just travel for the sheer enjoyment of new experiences. I am not seeking a direction in my life anymore, I have it. I am completely comfortable in my own skin and that has allowed me to simply observe the countries and cultures I am visiting a lot more than I used to. I am my own man. I don’t travel to ‘find myself’ like I did in my early twenties, now I am in my thirties I travel to enjoy travel.

I achieved the career that I wanted as I reached my late twenties, I am fulfilled in that aspect of my life, but I also have travel too. I have found a way to have it all, and that is truly fulfilling.

Having it all really is a dual benefit in many ways. I don’t travel for nearly as long as I used to of course, in my twenties I could take a year, two, even longer out if I wanted. In fact I did. The cost of having a career and a few responsibilities in my thirties means I can’t do that all of the time (a full gap year is still an option if I want it to be), but it also means that by adapting my travel style, by travelling for six or 7 months every year then working the rest, I can use my life experiences of travel and adventures such as volunteering as an expedition medic in different countries to boost my career, and I can use the rest and relaxation travel gives me to stop the inevitable stress and burnout that happens to most nurses or anyone in long term, stressful careers.

Michael Huxley

My travel has helped my career, and my career has helped me to travel.

Work burnout and stress for many of my colleagues who don’t have what I have is a very real thing. I see it all the time. That is why I cannot ever imagine living that way, why I don’t allow my carer to be so much a part of me that I get to that point. I don’t need to seek a way to get balance between my work and my life like so many of my professional peers do. I already have it. And that is because I continued to travel into my thirties. Yes I have many more responsibilities now than I did when I was twenty, hell even when I was twenty five, but travel has helped me deal with that.

A big part of this is knowing that I am my own man. There is a danger here of course of that slow, inevitable decline into the grumpy old man persona, but for now I am immensely comfortable in my own company and have the self confidence and self esteem to know that I do not need anyone else for company or identity, so solo travel for me is a far more rewarding experience now than it ever was. Far from looking for company or other backpackers to have awesome adventures with in my early twenties, I’m just as happy spending time on my own exploring a city or a country on my own terms.

But there is a much more profound aspect to travel in my thirties too. When I was younger I was still forming a lot of my opinions, asking questions and bouncing around the world in a sense of bemused wonderment.

I’m not saying I know everything now, that would be immensely untrue and stupid beyond belief, of course I still ask questions and keep my mind open to change, but a lot of the opinions I hold now have now largely been formed from my travel experiences, my academic learning and my exposure to the world around me.  The dazed wanderlust and culture shock doesn’t affect me now as much as it used to, and I have formed opinions based on past experiences that allow me to see the world in a whole different light.

Now that I am older and (hopefully) just a little wiser than I was in my twenties, I can understand the world around me on a much deeper level, and that informs my decisions on a daily basis.

A prime example is how an elephant trek during my very first visit to Thailand – and the literal blood on my hands as I reached down to pet the elephants ear after seeing a mahout hit him with a spiked stick – helped me look deeper into the issues surrounding elephant tourism and has given me no real ethical choice but to become a vociferous advocate for animal rights and responsible wildlife tourism.

I realise the effect I have as a traveller, and the potentially positive effect I can have on responsible tourism.  I make far more conscious decisions toward having a positive impact now in my thirties than I ever did in my twenties.

Visiting the Lemurs at Chester Zoo

Yes I am a different man in my thirties than I was in my twenties, and the experiences and the way I see travel is different now. But one thing that has never changed is my absolute love for travel.

I still love the feel of pulling my aging, worn backpack onto my probably even more aging and worn back, and arriving at the airport ready and willing for a brand new adventure.

Who says a gap year is only a one time thing? Who says you can only backpack when you are young? Hell, backpacking has only gotten more awesome with time and I say bring on backpacking in my forties, fifties and even beyond that!

Backpacking is the experience of a lifetime, and it should be for a lifetime too!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Related Articldes

How Backpacking And Volunteering Can Help Your Career.

Is Backpacking Changing Or Am I?

Study, Work, Career And Gap Years, The Middle Way.

What Type Of Backpacker Are You?

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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34 comments on “How Travelling In Your 30s Is Different Than In Your 20s.
  1. Such an amazing post I love it.

  2. Love this. I’m in my mid 20s and have been travelling since finishing Uni, love hearing stories of people who have been able to do it for such a long time! Keep exploring!

  3. Jane H says:

    I’m getting into my late twenties now and have been budget travelling for a few years, and I’m definitely noticing some of those things too, I’m travelling a little slower and I’m definitely staying in more private rooms in dorms and craving my own space a bit more! Great post.

  4. Brianna says:

    I must admit that I enjoy travel, and life in general, much more in my 30s. I have a greater sense of who I am and am far less likely to spend time on something I don’t like or want. Life is far too fleeting!

  5. erikastravels says:

    I’m glad that hitting your 30s hasn’t stopped you from traveling! I’m in my mid-twenties now and don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon (or ever!). And even though I haven’t hit 30 yet, you’ll probably find me reading a good book vs attending a hostel party, too… This is a great, introspective post!

  6. What a great post! I’m on my 30’s and surely related to it!! With age we tend to appreciate different things and places but the urge for traveling and ‘hit the road’ is always there!

  7. Megan MacNee says:

    As someone who is about to turn 30, I definitely appreciate your insights. I’ve already noticed how I travel changing from where I want to stay to how I spend my time while I’m doing it. Thanks again for sharing.

  8. Two Can Travel says:

    I’m about to enter my thirties and I totally agree! I’ve spent a majority of my 20’s abroad, traveling and working, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. While I can afford to travel better now, I still don’t mind the backpacker lifestyle occasionally. I’m actually staying in an all girls dorm room in Sihanoukville, Cambodia right now, and today I’ll go to a fancy conference at the Sokha Hotel. It’s all about finding your own balance 🙂

  9. Rosemary says:

    Great read and something that I’ve observed personally as well. I think the older we get, the more self-confident we become and that in turn changes our perspective with life.

  10. Great post, I’m just starting out on my travels as a 22 year old, so it’s interesting to read of your shift in perspectives on travel as you matured into your 30’s! Thanks again!

  11. escapepea says:

    Loved your comparisons – I started to travel when I was 40 and often find myself wondering what would I be doing differently if I was in my twenties. Suspect it would involve more parties and shared dorms!

  12. John says:

    Great post! I started traveling just recently. I did a solo backpacking trip last month, and I liked it as much as traveling with friends.

  13. Julie says:

    As an ‘older’ person dreaming of travelling the world your site is just so inspiring. Thank you!

  14. Lindsey says:

    I think traveling in my 30’s…I am more open to going to ‘interesting’ places instead of the typical norm of Germany….Italy…for me now it’s like Morocco…India…Pakistan? Haha, who knows. But I’m more intrigued to go to these places before total chaos erupts to make them inaccessible.

    • I actually hear that quite a lot Lindsey, the more people travel the more adventurous they get and the more they want to travel! I have to say though that there will always be fluctuating accessibility issues with certain countries, but that doesn’t mean they will always be so. 🙂 Thanks for the comment and enjoy your travels. 🙂

      • Lindsey says:

        I agree there will always be conflicts with certain countries. But you never know 30 years down the line…back during WW2, whoever thought of traveling for fun to Japan and Germany? Let’s hope to be able to visit these sections of our beautiful planet someday safe. Happy travels!

      • Very True. Things are always changing and travel can always help with that too. 🙂

  15. ntxhaisva says:

    Your words, “In my twenties travel gave me so many profound life epiphanies because I was still searching for who I was, who I wanted to become. Two degrees and two careers later I have that now. I know who I am. I am comfortable in who I am and I am happy with it.” THIS. I’m still at this phase of my life. A part of me wants to rush and figure out my life, but a part of me keeps telling me, “slow down, because these are the moments that will really help you to grow.” Still hustling. Thank you for a wonderful read!

    • Aw thank you for reading it, and the kind words! That small part of you is definitely right, just slow down and enjoy the experience. All those little moments will happen for you too and they will let you know when you have figured things out. 🙂

  16. Sarah says:

    THIS: “Many of my friends had settled down, bought the house, had the kids and begun the inevitable slow suicide of paying bills until you die.”

    I’m 31 and about to spend 8 weeks travelling around Europe with my best friend. Nice to know I can do this regularly and still come back to the life I have should I choose.

    • Life is exactly what you choose to make of it Sarah, and you can change paths, change direction and hop back on any given path any time you choose. The only one who makes that decision for you is you. 🙂

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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