I started my twenties thinking that I would be a social worker in New York City. I would find a job, start my career, and then do the college-educated thing. I’d get better at being a social worker (or something related), get promoted, and work my way up. Eventually I’d get married and have kids and probably move out of the city, but I’d be OK with that because who wants to raise kids in the city anyway? Yup, I had it all figured out — and then the economy collapsed. And there were no jobs; no ways to move up in my career. Feeling stuck and sad and overwhelmed, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. Instead of spending my twenties working my way up the career ladder, I spent them traveling the world, moving to a new country every three to nine months. I did that from age 24 to the day after I turned 30, when I caught a flight to San Francisco with the plan to stay awhile.
With traveling to more than 20 countries in just over five years, it’s fair to say I know quite a bit about trips you should take before you turn 30. (Because, you know, I took them.) That’s not to say you can’t take any of these trips after 30. I fully intend to keep traveling for my entire life and in fact I’ve already gone to two foreign countries this year. But it’s more that there’s a certain experience of being in your twenties that all of these trips either benefit from or are easier for.
So here you go: seven trips to take before you turn 30. I hope you have as much fun as I did!
1. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is the city where it all began for me and while it’s undoubtedly a city that can be enjoyed at any age, it’s also an amazing party city. New York claims to be the city that never sleeps but I can tell you as a former New Yorker that it has nothing on Buenos Aires. My first night there we went out dancing, stumbled out of the club at 7 a.m., and then went and got beer at the pizza place across the street. It was glorious in the way that type of debauchery can only be when you’re young, hangovers are still minimal, and you don’t have any major commitments.
It’s cheap enough that you can you do art or start a food pop-up or do any of those other amazing, creative things that young people just can’t do in big cities in the U.S. anymore, because they’re getting priced out. It’s a city of beauty, art, nostalgia, and nightlife like I’ve never seen before or since. Get there.
2. A Backpacking Trip
Backpacking is super fun — for a very limited period of time in your life. There’s something awesomely romantic about trooping around some foreign lands with all of your worldly goods (minus the stuff you stored at your parent’s house) on your back, but let me tell you: After about age 25, those backpacks hurt and hostels aren’t cute anymore.
I recommend Europe, if you can swing the slightly higher cost, or South and Central America over Southeast Asia, if only because you’ll find a more interesting variety of other backpackers in those locations.
India is chaotic and intense and beautiful and overwhelming and you may get food poisoning. It’s a lot to take in; travel can be on the rougher side; and you’re surrounded by people at all times. It’s also one of the most unique and beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to, so be sure to check it out really at any time in life, but especially before 30. You’ll be able to stand those train berths a little better. Trust me.
4. A Cross-Country Road Trip
This is one I didn’t do in my twenties and I really wish I had. I went as a child with my parents, but obviously that’s a whole different experience than going on your own or with a friend as an adult. The United States is vast and beautiful and there’s no better way to see it than by car. Pick a route, grab a tent, gas ‘er up, and head out to see this beautiful country of ours.
5. A Hike Up Acatenango Volcano
Acatenango Volcano is a in Guatemala, not to far from the popular town of Antigua Guatemala. While Acatenango is extinct, it’s directly next to Fuego, which is an active volcano that will put on a show of spewing lava all night while you sleep just below eye level with the summit. Most websites describe the hike up Acatenango as “difficult” but I’m here to tell you that unless you hike all of the time, it’s an extremely hard hike. It takes about eight hours up and maybe five down and you don’t sleep much that night because Fuego is a show-off and the boom of a volcano erupting is real.
But it’s also one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life.
The first time I went, I was 13 and I fell in love with this hot, hectic, beautiful country. The second time I went, I was in my late twenties and I lived in Saigon for nine months. I absolutely love Saigon — and I also would never, ever live there again. It’s too hot for me in the long-term and I’m still scared to drive a motorbike.
However, I full-throatedly recommend visiting — and it will be fascinating. Eat all the street pho. Drink at least one cafe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee) per day. Ride on the backs of motorbikes or, if you’re adventurous, rent one and drive yourself around. Saigon is special and should be on everyone’s list.
A little rougher around the edges than her neighbor Costa Rica but leagues above Honduras in terms of safety, Nicaragua is the perfect place for a mini-backpacking trip in your twenties. It’s cheap and the natural beauty is stunning. Don’t miss the island of Ometepe, partying in surf shacks in San Juan del Sur, and boating around Las Isletas just outside the colonial town of Granada.
So there you have it: seven trips to take before you turn 30. And for those of you who are already on the other side of that decade (with me), don’t let anyone tell you that means you can’t take amazing trips, too. You just might want to choose an Airbnb over a hostel.