20 Trips to Take in Your Twenties
These years can also contain myriad milestones: The first time you’re able to legally order a beer; the first time you enter the “real world” workforce; the first time you get a credit card. All these landmarks fall under the general umbrella of “life-changing,” whether or not there’s any accuracy to the cliché.
But the first time you use a squat toilet will definitely change your life.
There’s a reason why countless films, books and poems are dedicated to the mind-altering effects of traveling when you’re young. Travel memories are stickier than other memories. Five years down the road, they stay with you in a way that the minutiae of your day-to-day life won't.
Travel tastes, as with your tastes in hairstyles and (hopefully) fashion, evolve throughout these years, too. From backpacking and hostel hopping during semesters abroad in college, to shared ski chalets with friends you’re surprised to find you’ve known for more than 20 years, every unique experience brings something valuable to the table.
Sappiness and squat toilets aside, traveling in your twenties is virtually guaranteed to change your worldview. There’s almost no better way to learn about yourself and about the world from the perspective of a global citizen than by venturing out of your comfort zone and into an unfamiliar culture.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of trips that every twenty-something should consider taking, from the eye-rollingly obvious to the off-the-beaten-path obscure. We based our selections on factors of safety and accessibility, as well as on personal experiences and input from well-seasoned millennial travelers.
Some of these destinations are better suited for slow travel over the course of weeks or even months—they’re best experienced in between life phases, jobs or semesters of college—while others can be conquered in a long weekend.
Consider this list not a set-in-stone guide, but instead a jumping-off point that may spark your curiosity about a part of the world you’ve never before considered stepping foot. Because if there’s one rule for traveling during your twenties, it’s that there are no hard-and-fast rules.
Go backpacking in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is full of gems, from the more obvious Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, to the less appreciated Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Philippines.
Southeast Asia is one of the most incredibly welcoming areas of the world, particularly for young backpackers.
Activities here are plentiful, from breathtaking volcano hikes in Bali to world-class scuba diving in Malaysia. There are small hippie villages to explore, such as Pai, Thailand, and crazy, sprawling cities to intrepidly navigate, such as Bangkok—and almost everything in between. In other words, this part of the world offers something for every kind of traveler, particularly if you’re the type who enjoys going about daily life in elephant-printed pajama pants.
For English-speakers, too, the language barrier here is less pronounced than in other common backpacker circuits like South America or even Western Europe. And while flights to and from may be on the pricier side, once you arrive, you can live like a king for a fraction of the cost of a single night out in New York City. It’s also easy to country-hop on budget airlines for shockingly low fares.
Experience New Orleans
There’s almost no better party in the world than Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Among young Americans, it’s practically a rite of passage.
Beyond the obvious, though—yard-high hand-grenade cocktails and collecting beads of every size, shape and color—New Orleans has a rich history and a unique culture that stands apart from the melting-pot persona of many classic American cities. This is a town with its own brand of energy.
From authentic Cajun cuisine to the jiving live jazz scene that seeps from the very pores of this city, New Orleans is full to the brim with character and personality. It’s worth visiting both during Mardi Gras and at other times of the year to explore what the town has to offer beyond Bourbon Street.
Go to Tokyo
Eat your heart out in Mexico City
Mexico City is one of the most livable, culturally stimulating, and refreshingly cosmopolitan cities in the world. It’s a foodie’s dream, with cheap, delicious street food options at every corner. It’s home to the Frida Kahlo museum, which we promise is the only museum we’ll put on this list. It’s also an easily navigable city for travelers, with options for Uber, taxis, and useful public transportation.
The Condesa, Roma Norte, and Polanco neighborhoods are some of the most desirable places for travelers to call temporary home. There’s a lively nightlife scene spread throughout Mexico City, as well as tequila and mezcal tastings that can easily masquerade as “cultural exploration.”
If for no other reason, go for the taco tours.
Take a food tour in Peru
Getting a selfie at Macchu Pichu isn’t the only reason to head to Peru. Peruvian cuisine is known throughout the world as some of the best—and healthiest—on the planet.
You haven't tasted ceviche until you’ve been to one (or more) of Lima’s cevicherias. When you visit Peru, your new favorite meal of the day is automatically lunch.
Whether you embark on an organized food tour or simply hop from hole-in-the-wall joint to five-star restaurant, it’s hard to go wrong with any meal choice. And it’s not just fresh fish: Even self-declared carnivores will find the quinoa in this country delectable. If you can swing it budget-wise, Central in Lima consistently makes the top-ten list of the best restaurants in the world. An experience there is well worth the splurge.
Tango in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is a twenty-something's paradise for more reasons than the astonishing selection of affordable Malbecs. Neighborhood hopping around Buenos Aires, from Palermo Soho to Recoleta to downtown, is an ideal way to explore the city’s multifaceted offerings.
Go on a street art tour. Visit the San Telmo market on Sunday. Buy yourself a mate gourd, learn how to drink it properly, and hang out in the park to people watch. Eat dinner at 10 p.m. like a true Argentinian, and then stay out on the town dancing until sunrise on a Saturday. Or Tuesday.
Or, if you can swing it, hop on a flight down to Patagonia and gape in slack-jawed wonder at some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world.
Get sporty in New Zealand
New Zealand isn’t the easiest or cheapest destination to reach, but it’s an adrenaline junkie's dream.
Whatever your thrill-seeking heart desires, New Zealand offers it bigger and better than most: Bungee jumping, sky diving, sea kayaking or wildlife hikes are only a few of the adventure activities available in the land of the Kiwis.
Both Auckland and Queenstown have emerged in recent years as a hot travel destination for young people.
And not to mention, New Zealand is almost painfully beautiful. It has everything from mountains to rainforests to tropical beaches. We’re talking about a part of the world where they filmed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so you know the scenery is eye-poppingly epic at pretty much every turn.
Go camping in Israel
Tanned bodies, intriguing accents, beaches, hummus...all valid reasons to add this cultural hot spot to your list of must-visit destinations.
The vibe is lively, the locals are friendly, and personality abounds in both the city and its people. Twenty-somethings may find “the scene” in Jaffa, an up-and-coming hipster neighborhood, where tea lights line streets made of old Jerusalem stone.
The entirety of Israel is approximately the size of New Jersey, which makes it easy to explore from top to bottom. To the north, luscious waterfalls cascade through a lush green landscape. In the South, huge craters in the desert give off the appearance of another planet. Here, camping and stargazing are prime summertime activities. There’s also an extensive hiking trail that circumscribes the entire country, which may appeal to the physically adventurous.
Get away from the crowds in Portugal
Lisbon looks exactly like the city you imagine when you think of quintessential romantic European getaways: narrow cobbled streets, stunning architecture and fresh, authentic cuisine that holds true to its cultural roots.
Although the city has no shortage of charms to capture your attention, travelers in the know won’t regret renting a car and heading out of town to explore the less-frequented parts of Portugal. There's a reason—many reasons, actually—that Portugal was named Travel + Leisure's 2016 Destination of the Year.
The northern region of the country is an unexpected delight: Almost completely tourist-free, it’s an ideal location for outdoorsy activities. Porto, famous for port wine, is another town that’s easily worth a visit. And to the southwest, beaches and national parks provide optimal sunset-watching opportunities. Backpackers will find the party in Lagos; couples seeking quieter surroundings will find the region just outside of Lagos dotted with romantic bed-and-breakfasts.
Ride a bike in Amsterdam
Sure, Amsterdam has a bit of a reputation to uphold. But there’s more to do in this city than visit any number of its famous coffee shops.
First and foremost, Amsterdam seems to contain more bikes per square meter than it does people. (This is not a factual statistic, but the city certainly gives off this impression.) It’s one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, and exploring via two wheels opens up a literal world of possibilities for tourists. There’s art, culture, food and music galore, and a quick conversation with a local will point you in the direction of a spot to hang for whatever floats your boat.
In the warmer months, travelers will want to visit the beautiful parks smattered throughout the massive city, including Vondelpark, the largest and arguably most famous park in all the Netherlands.
Morocco is one of those bucket-list destinations that lives up to the hype.
If there’s one word for this country, it’s vibrant: vibrant culture, vibrant clothes, vibrant markets. Marrakech is a sensory smorgasbord you'll never forget, alive with unfamiliar, enticing aromas, and visual splendor.
Checklist items for Morocco include: Take a trek through the desert on a camel, explore any number of the Marrakech markets, catch a snake charmer’s performance while meandering through Jemaa el-Fnaa, ride a hot air balloon, dine at the Casablanca restaurant, and buy a “mystery box” from a street vendor (and lose the key to it before your flight home).
Safari in Africa
On the costlier end of experiences on this list, African safaris are nevertheless well worth the price tag. Some of the world’s most fascinating wildlife tableaux exist in this special, fascinating part of the planet. In Botswana, you’re likely to get up close and personal with lions. In Kenya, the diverse landscape of the savannah is like something out of a childhood storybook. In Rwanda, trek among gorillas and get an unparalleled peek into the majestic world of these awe-inspiring, intelligent creatures.
In addition to costing a pretty penny, these safaris tend to be a minimum of five to seven days, so they’ll require more of a time commitment than something planned on a whim. And it goes without saying, this is one excursion you’ll definitely want to book with a reliable, trustworthy tour company.
Get your feet wet in Goa
India can reveal a lot about a person—you either love it or hate it, and you seldom hear someone who has visited the country express lukewarm feelings.
Goa is a solid place to start exploring this incredible but often overwhelming country, particularly as a young person. If your idea of a good time consists of trance parties, beach chilling, and hanging with expats, Goa is your go-to for getting your feet wet in India. Travelers often tout Goa as a blissful mix of spirituality, sun, sand and spice.
There’s also a wide range of possibilities in Goa—anything from cheap backpacking hangouts to luxury villas—so whatever your tastes may be, it’s likely you’ll find something to satisfy your palate.
Take a road trip on the Best Coast
Hop around Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is often stereotyped as Western Europe’s less hip sibling, but it’s home to some of the most culturally interesting and architecturally compelling cities in the world. Not to mention that the cost of living (and visiting) is generally lower than in London or Paris.
Prague and Budapest are prime hot spots for college students and young people, particularly in the summer months. Thousands of hostels, bars, clubs and cafes run the gamut from dive-y to luxury. (Side note: The Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than any other nation in the world, which means that beer is frequently cheaper than water.)
A few other cities to hit on this circuit: Belgrade, Serbia; Bucharest, Romania; Varna, Bulgaria. And the cities are really only about a third of the real attraction: Venture into the countryside for scenery that feels like still shots from Planet Earth.
Do Oktoberfest right—in Germany
Oktoberfest is one of a few annual European events -- on par with the likes of Yacht Week -- that attracts hundreds of thousands of young people passionate about the art of the party. Beer flows, skirts fly, hangovers abound, and let’s not forget the lederhosen.
Booking Oktoberfest can be tricky, as flight prices skyrocket around this peak time of year, the cost of traditional accommodations can be astronomical and Airbnb hosts are notoriously picky about the tenants they’re willing to accept (if you’re a 25-year-old American bro, you may as well forget about it). Coveted spots in the beer tents are also infamously hard to come by. But if you’re willing to plan in advance and put in the legwork to attend this epic event, you’re almost guaranteed an unforgettable experience.
It’s also a quick hop away from Berlin, one of Europe’s cultural epicenters, which could easily hold its own as another entire destination on this list.
Explore nature in Slovenia
For nature lovers, Slovenia is a country of boundless treasures. From mountain biking, to camping on beautiful Lake Bohinj, to summating the daunting Mount Triglav, adventure sport opportunities are around every turn in this quiet corner of the planet.
(A word of warning: Beware of the local Slovenians’ definition of the phrase “beginner-level hike.”)
Driving through the countryside is a slightly more serene way to spend a few days exploring the outskirts of Ljubljana, the capital and largest city in Slovenia. The Dragon City, as its sometimes referred to, is a quaint European tourist destination that has perfected the art of riverside patio dining.
Though not exactly a party destination, Slovenia in general is an idyllic setting for a re-set, or for getting in some quality time with Mother Earth. English is reasonably prevalent in Ljubljana and locals are generally quite amiable, but outside of the city prepare to rely on Google Translate to converse with village dwellers.
Traveling is innately rewarding, but actually making an impact upon the countries and cultures you visit takes a travel experience to a whole new level.
Sometimes, these efforts are as extensive and physically intense as building housing for low-income communities, or offering aid to areas of the world devastated by natural disasters. Other times, voluntourism activities may be more about aiding local businesses, teaching a language to young kids or working on organic farms.
A variety of impact-focused organizations exist for travelers who want to add philanthropy to their list of on-the-go activities, ranging from long-term, immersive programs to shorter, social-good-meets-vacation companies. Many of these programs operate in underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia, or Central America.
Take a completely spontaneous trip
Especially for those who are hard-wired to plan every detail, a dose of spontaneity is not only healthy, but also transformative. So take a week off work and book an international trip on a whim at least once before you hit the big 3-0.
Plan it based on a sweet Airbnb listing you happened upon while killing time at the office. Sign up for Scott Keyes’ cheap flight recommendations, and book an absurdly cheap flight somewhere you’ve never even heard of before. Book a spontaneous $69 trip to Europe. Go somewhere to learn a skill, or the basics of a language. Play GPS roulette with your other friends who love to travel. Visit your Facebook friend from college who just announced she’s moving to Sydney.
Sometimes these trips are messy. Sometimes they lead to more than a few tears-of-frustration moments. Sometimes, they’re a letdown. But sometimes, they’re the best travel experience of your life.