5 Reasons I’m Glad I Prioritised Travel over Career in my 20’s

By on October 1, 2015 in Musings, Top 5 Travel Inspiration with 39 Comments

5 Reasons I’m Glad I Prioritised Travel over Career in my 20’s {Big World Small Pockets}

When I was at school it was an almost anticipated expectation that I’d either be a lawyer or a journalist by the age of 25. You know, somebody with opinions, money and a high-flying career. School was easy and enjoyable for me you see and with supportive parents, a gifted confidence and all the opportunity in the world, the move towards a stable, solid and successful career seemed inevitable.

Then I went to Southern Africa before university and everything changed. I guess the propensity had always been there; I was always a little different, a little out of the box, a little alternative, but Africa fuelled in me a fire I hadn’t realised needed to be stoked, a fire that couldn’t be put out.

That fire was a deep passion for travel, a deep longing for the freedom of the open road and a deep motivation to explore and discover the world, to learn about it, to soak it up like a sponge.

I did end up going to university after my Southern Africa journey and I loved it. I then ended up successfully completing a Postgraduate Masters in London too, but always my study was punctuated by episodes of travel, the fire still burning strong in my wild heart and itchy soles.

I tried to balance the 2 for a while – the building of a strong foundational career with the fulfilling of a burning desire to see the world, but I soon learned these 2 weren’t compatible for me at that time.

One day, in my early 20’s, sat on the shores of Lago Atitlan in Guatemala, on the day of the Spring Equinox watching the sunrise, I decided a new dawn had come for me too. No longer would I try to straddle the parallel banks of travel and career. From now on I would take the leap over to one side, the side my heart was calling, the side that made me happy. From now on I would be a career wanderer, a professional nomad, that would be my chosen path.

Having lived that dream for 5 years now and having now left my third decade behind me, I want to share with you the 5 reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s.

Young, Single and Free

Young single and free

Even at the ripe old age of 30 years and 11 months (cough cough!) I realise that I will probably never experience the sense of youth, freedom and wild abandon that life presented me with in my 20’s. Still on the road and still prioritising travel over career to this day, I have nevertheless felt, even within the short year since I turned 30, that my priorities have stared to change. I still want to soak up the world, but I want to do it before 11pm and I don’t want to be hungover for it!

I also have a partner now, something I never had in my 20’s, and taking someone else’s feelings and wishes into account does alter things. Inevitably you become a bit less social, meet a few less people and life gets a bit quieter. Inevitably you get a bit more responsible and lose a bit of the wide-eyed wonder you possessed in younger days. That’s just life.

My 20’s were rollicking years of incredible memories, wild nights and beautiful connections, things I really don’t think I would have experienced to the same extent had I spent 40 hours a week behind a desk next to people who were more similar to me than they were different. Being young, free and single in my 20’s, and using the opportunity these changeable fortunes afforded, is definitely one of the key reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s.

Disposable Income and Good Health


In keeping with this young, single and free theme is that fact that I also had a disposable income during my 20’s. Albeit not a very a large one (I travelled for 2 years in Latin America after leaving home with only £4000), I nevertheless didn’t have to commit my money to anybody or anything else during this time.

I was lucky enough to have received a bursary for my studies and help from my parents, meaning I finished my education debt-free, and without dependents or mortgages to uphold, my money was my own. I also owned no possessions beyond a rundown old mini and a laptop. This meant saving was fairly easy – even with low paid arts jobs and the cost of living in London – because I could easily control my outgoings.

On top of having a disposable income, another one of the reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s, is because I was lucky enough to have good health. Being young and fit means you can budget even further, it means you don’t mind roughing it on mates’ floors or eating tins of beans for a week. It means you don’t mind skipping meals and just having a beer instead or waiting an extra hour until 5:30am so you can get the tube home and not fork out for a taxi.

All these things helped me save more money and helped me spend less money while travelling too. If you don’t mind where you sleep, what you eat or whom you share a car with, life is certainly cheaper. My 20’s were a key time for making use of this budget-friendly, carefree lifestyle and I’m glad I did it when I could.

Plenty of Time to Work Later

Plenty of Time to Work Later

Becoming a budget queen in my 20’s also made me realise how easy it can be to save while you’re working and how, presumably, this opportunity will still exist as I get older too.

I know people who have settled down early, lived long-hour career-dominated lives during there 20’s and promised they’ll travel when they retire. To me this makes no sense. Once you’re in the rat race it strikes me that it’s always harder to get out – normally because you have commitments to other things and other people. As such, my logic dictates I should travel BEFORE, if ever, I join the rat race.

As far as my poorly sighted financial knowledge goes, it also strikes me that we’re all going to be working till we’re about 75 now anyway, devoid of pensions to help us survive in other ways. As such, one of the greatest reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s is because there’s plenty of time to work when you’re older and I’d definitely rather have a bit of fun beforehand thanks very much! It’s also true that more people are establishing or changing careers later in life too as doors to higher education and lifelong learning are swinging open all the time. What used to be paramount – that you work to establish your career fresh out of university – just isn’t what I see as reality in the world around me anymore; there’s plenty of time, so go see the world a little first!

Travel is a Gift, so Use It

Travel is a Gift

After all, I never want to forget that the ability to travel is a gift and one that I have been lucky enough to receive. Never before have generations been given the technological, financial and social tools to see the world as mine have today. Add into this mix, the fact that I’m born into a country and nationality with a strong global currency, stable government and a largely welcomed passport and my luck is more than doubled. The fact I am a woman, able to travel the world alone in my 20’s, makes my position one of almost unbelievable fortune.

For a long time, this was something I felt very guilty about, something I found hard to justify. Was my desire to travel just a gratuitous fulfilling of a middle class British privilege? In many ways yes and it still is. But now I also see my ability to travel as a gift, one that I have been lucky enough to receive. Like any gift, I do not wish to abuse it, to rub it rudely in other peoples’ faces. Instead I try to be grateful for it, every day.

And, to this day, I know of no better way to show my deep, deep appreciation than to make use of this incredible gift, to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities it has afforded me, As such, one of the most profound reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s is because this allowed me to live the gift of travel that I have been fortunate enough to receive and to show my real and unending gratitude by making full use of it, by travelling fully while I can.

Life is Short

Life is Short

For we all know life is short. We get told it all the time and we say it ourselves a lot too. That’s because it’s true. Yet somewhere, between our plans for the weekend and our to-do lists during the week, we forget this, we forget life really is short. Sure, we all have to make money in some way, at some point, we can’t live like tomorrow will never come, but we can take risks and decisions sometimes that help us live our dreams, whatever it is we desire, whatever we might regret not doing in this short lifetime.

I remember reading the words of a great Tibetan Buddhist, Lama Surya Das, when I was in Ecuador and to this day they still resinate with me greatly. In his book Awakening the Buddha Within, the Lama states that no one ever dies wishing they’d spent more time in the office. 4 years after reading these words for the first time, I still can’t think of a single person I know who might have wished such a thing. Remembering this is one the key reasons why I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s. Life is for living and life is short and when mine ends I want to have seen as much of the world as possible and if that is tomorrow, well then I know I’ve given it a good shot!

I understand not everyone is the same and not everyone can be or wants to be, so that’s why this article is about MY reasons I’m glad I prioritised travel over career in my 20’s. I do not expect them to be anyone else’s; they are simply an expression of my position, not a condemnation or accusation of others.

So, I’m interested, have you travelled in your 20’s or prioritised it later in your life? What are your experiences, reasons and understandings?

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About the Author

About the Author: My name is Stephanie Parker and I'm a travel addict! With a background in the arts, I've always enjoyed writing, creating and sharing. This, combined with my love of wandering the globe and a deep-rooted nomadic spirit, led to the creation of Big World Small Pockets. Originally from Jersey, Channel Islands, I'm now based in Australia and backpack the world upside down collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .


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There Are 39 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Adoni Mosquera says:

    What a wonderful blog!! An inspiration for all those who think travelling wouldn’t give them the experience and knowledge they need to have.
    I met Stephanie in a cafe in jersey and she heard me talking in Spanish. Her passion for travelling brought us together and I was amazed at her ability to understand different cultures. She could relate to me. Despite we were from different hemispheres, we bonded like friends who had been together for years. And there she was, a year later telling me she wanted to explore the world before she hit 30. And she left her beautiful island to explore. Good for you Stephanie! Me with my year wished I have lived yours xxxx

  2. Nikki Wall says:

    Great article! I did some traveling in my 20’s and early 30’s, but for me those were the years that were fraught with responsibility, so to speak. But I always had that deep longing for travel that you describe, and that has never left me. Now that I’m in my 30’s, I’m an empty nester, and my husband and I are about to make the big travel leap! Couldn’t be more excited! Also, as a 30-something, I had to laugh at “I have nevertheless felt, even within the short year since I turned 30, that my priorities have stared to change. I still want to soak up the world, but I want to do it before 11pm and I don’t want to be hungover for it!” There’s a heck of a lot of truth there! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks so much Niki and glad you could relate to the different travel priorities us 30-somethings have! Sounds like you have a great adventure ahead of you – look forward to hearing about it!

  3. David Daniel says:

    I was talking to my housekeeper today (I can address that!) about traveling around the world. Although her cousin once went to Las Vegas – gack – she had never been much beyond the borders of the Mexican state she was born in. Aside from the financial burden of travel, at 38 her family had been her primary concern and it just never really meant much to her. We joked that her son was growing up in a different world. He is attending college in Merida – 4 hours away by bus. He’s already seen more of her home country than she has!
    That conversation made me more grateful than ever that I have been lucky enough to have a career, a currency, and the options to go where I have. We (as travel bloggers and such) often forget that the ‘rest of the world’ is full of ‘normal’ people who for whatever reasons do not get to experience the joys we see… and as hard as it is to believe… some don’t even want to!
    Great post, by the way!
    (I can explain the housekeeper! As a housesitter, she ‘came with the house’… HOWEVER, I pay the woman 3x what the homeowner typically pays her. She works hard and deserves something that I would consider close to a reasonable wage. Plus, she is just a really nice lady too!)

    • Steph says:

      Absolutely right Daniel, it is important that we remember how lucky we are to be able to see, experience and enjoy so much for the world, because it’s definitely only a small population of the world’s population who can. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing your thoughts

  4. I love this post! I’m nearing my 30s and just started prioritizing travel within the last year. I can’t get enough! I’ve been very fortunate to have a successful blog, and I’m building a business, so I can travel and earn a living at the same time. You’re right that our generation is very privileged to be able to do that. I just want to take advantage of it after having paid off my student loans, and having a decent chunk of money saved!

    • Steph says:

      Once you start you can’t stop Shannyn. Maybe we should warn people that travel is addictive! We are lucky indeed and you’re right to take advantage of this fortune. Congrats on your blog success and happy travels! 🙂

  5. I actually did it all in a different order. I was in a relationship throughout my 20s, I had a stable job, savings, retirement fund and I even got married. And 2 years ago, when I was 32 I realised that i didn’t want this, so I quit the job, pulled the money out of the retirement fund and got a divorce and now I live in Thailand. I might be very poor when I retire with no career and no savings, but I will be happy. I know that 🙂
    Good post. Keep up the good work.

    • Steph says:

      Wow, good on you Jo, it takes real courage to live your dreams, but I’m sure you haven’t regretted it for a moment! Can’t wait to get to Thailand and explore there someday, I hear only good things! Thanks for the encouragement and glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Zen says:

    I quit my 2nd job- 2 years into working- to travel full time too 😉 It didn’t quite work out and I haven’t been to as many places as u but I’m glad I did 🙂 If you’re interested you can read about it here- http://hapinesswherever.com/2015/09/wandering-wednesday-the-almost-adventure/

  7. Really enjoyed this post!! As I am in my 29th year and moving toward getting married and a slightly new adventure, this really resonates with me. I do feel quieter these days and it’s more about time with my partner than wild partying and risky adventures. But travel will still be a part of our life for years to come. I also went to college and got my master’s in Scotland. I was fortunate to have those educational opportunities and I loved them, but even now, career is still not my priority and I think it’s hard for more traditional people to understand that. Thanks for sharing !!

    • Steph says:

      Absolutely Amy, couldn’t agree more. That’s why I think it’s so nice to connect with others of a similar mindset and on a similar path – I know it helps me at least! Thanks for reading and happy travels. Where you off to next?

  8. Gemma says:

    Awesome post. I’m in my late 20s, and left the UK almost 2 years ago. I started traveling a bit late compared to many, but I don’t want to go back, even though it means my current expat job in New Zealand is an after uni entry level one. If I’d not traveled, I would have been working my way up the ladder, but I don’t regret it for a second. I count myself lucky that I actually have a job to do with my career (lab work) and that I’m not working in a cafe, but even if i was, i would still do it for the experience of working and traveling abroad, because now I’ve done it, travel is in my blood, and I know it will remain a huge part of my life, whatever the future holds! 🙂

    • Steph says:

      That’s great Gemma. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us and great to hear that you’ve found a great job whilst travelling the globe too. New Zealand is such fab country, hope you continue to enjoy it!

  9. This is exactly what I am going through right now! I’m in my early 20’s and am currently in the process of saving up money from my full time job before I quit to travel for five months next year! Reading this post has definitely further reinforced my need to travel and not get stuck in a daily full time job!

  10. Mahatma says:

    This article resonates so deeply with me! I’m 22 and I just graduated college. While many of my friends and peers are looking to establish elite careers and meet potential life mates, I am strongly considering spending the majority of this decade travelling. I spent a semester abroad last year in Paris and I loved every minute of it. Hopefully by next year, I am off to a new destination for a long-term period.

    • Steph says:

      Glad it struck a a cord and good luck with your plans. Sounds like Paris really wet your appetite for seeing the world and great that you have plans to explore more!

  11. Ashley says:

    Great read! I can relate to both sides. I caught the travel bug when I was 21 and moved to Scotland for a few months. I had the time of my life! When I came home everything changed – my drive to work on my career in the film industry, my long-term boyfriend – they no longer seemed fulfilling. I’ve been travelling on and off since and doing what it takes to save up for big adventures. I’m in my late twenties now and do feel like I need a better balance between travel and building a career. That definitely involves a 11pm bed time and a strange shift from night owl to early riser. I think it’s easy to forget that a career isn’t one set path, it isn’t linear and it doesn’t guarantee stability in the future. Travel has taught me that I can always adapt to any situation and where there’s a will, there’s a way – if you really want something. It’s taught me a heck of lot more than sitting in a cubicle. And inspired ideas on how I can hopefully build a more fulfilling career or projects even, somewhere in the world 🙂

    • Steph says:

      That’s awesome Ashley and I totally agree with you, a career isn’t linear these days and there are many many invaluable things we can learn from travelling, which can open many many doors. Good luck with all your dreams, no matter where they take you! 🙂

  12. Kate says:

    Great post. I’m stuck with a massive amount of student loan debt to be repaid, and so I’ll probably do some of this in slightly reverse order. However, it is important even when you’re stretched for cash to take time and a bit of money for yourself now and then. It took me many years, but finally earlier this year, at 28, I finally went on holiday abroad and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Even with my debt ($130K) I managed to slowly save up some cash to travel. 🙂

    • Steph says:

      Wow, that is a big debt Kate, but well done on you for studying as well as getting to travel and follow your dreams. Very impressed. Best of luck with it all 🙂

  13. Eva Bosh says:

    I can relate to your words so much! When I decided to leave my career in Croatia and start travelling for a living, a lot of people thought I was crazy. And couldn’t believe I was “throwing away” the stability I had there. But being in my 20s and thinking that there’s nothing more to my life than work (when in fact I was young, single and free) just made my wishes to explore the world stronger. And I’m so happy I listened to my gut and decided to go for it. 🙂

    • Steph says:

      That’s awesome Eva! It’s so great to hear from people who have been through similar situations and don’t regret it either – even if many think we’re mad! Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂

  14. Samantha says:

    I’m totally with you on the disposable income and good health. I’m still in my 20’s (entering late 20’s), but even now I think back to the things I did when I was 20/21/22 that I wouldn’t do now and it was because I just started traveling so I was open to everything. I didn’t mind sleeping in a car, I didn’t mind wearing the same 2 shirts traveling for weeks and things like that. Basically things that I wouldn’t do now but I didn’t mind back then. Of course everything is a balance, there are responsibilities in life we all have!

    • Steph says:

      Absolutely Samantha – I guess it’s all about weighing up those responsibilities at different times of our lives and deciding what’s right for us as a result. For many, myself included, life in the twenties presented a key opportunity to travel that couldn’t be refused! Now in my 30’s, and still going, it’s not decision I regret for a minute because I don’t think that same opportunity will necessarily present itself again … we’ll wait and see! 🙂

  15. Kim J says:

    I’ve recently returned home from a year travelling around Asia and now I’m struggling to figure out my next steps. It’s so easy to fall into old habits (i.e returning back to the ‘desk’ life) but I know there’s so much more to discover.
    Your article reminded me of the reasons I decided to go travelling, and how pursuing our travel goals (at any age) is a decision worth taking. I went traveling with my partner, and whilst I agree that being in a relationship can quieten things down, it was fantastic to meet so many other couples on similar journeys like us. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and happy travels!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Kim, thanks for your lovely comments. Yes it is so easy to fall back into the old patterns of home, including the desk jobs. I did this many times before I actually finally managed to break the comfort zone habit. Everything will come at the time it needs to, just remember to keep focusing on what is most important to you now and to keep laying the path for where you want to be tomorrow!

  16. Stacey says:

    Great post! This is something that resonates with me as I’ve spent my entire twenties traveling and living abroad. I’m now considering heading to uni in a year or so (for the first time_ at the ripe old age of 28, and I wouldn’t take these years back for anything- even if I will be 10 years older than everyone else.

    • Steph says:

      Nice work Stacey and glad you’ve enjoyed all your adventures over the years. It’s never too late to study and one of the best things about Uni is that you get super long holidays to travel in! haha 🙂

  17. This is such a fantastic post! I had a lot of similar thoughts in my post http://travelpraylove.com/10-reasons-to-put-travel-before-your-career/
    I totally agree that there is a lot of time for work, but your 20s are such a magical and free time, that wasting that time sitting in an office or study hall just isn’t ideal. 🙂 LOVE the post! Thanks for sharing!

    • Steph says:

      Thank you Jaimee and looking forward to checking out your post soon. Glad you agree with my sentiments too, I know how I’d rather have spent the last decade!!

  18. Valter says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article! Funny, honest and just something so many can relate to. Glad I came across this (just showed up on my FB feed!). Hope you get to travel a lot more – bigworldlargepockets is the next step? 🙂 Ciao from Rome!

    • Steph says:

      Thanks so much and glad you enjoyed the read! More travel is certainly the name of the game … large pockets however? Well, it will be a while before that! If ever! Ciao 🙂

  19. Dan Vineberg says:

    A nice, sober look at the changing priorities of a traveller as they move from 20 to 30. I’m only 25 and already I feel the need to shift away from the binge-drinking culture that follows so many in their early 20s. I enjoyed this post a lot, nice one Steph

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Dan, so glad you enjoyed the post and could relate a little. (I started to feel the same around 25 ish, so just wait until you hit 27/28!)

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Dan, so glad you enjoyed the post and could relate a little. (I started to feel the same around 25 ish, so just wait until you hit 27/28!)

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