As much as we might feel young at heart forever, there are apparent differences between travelling in your 20s and travelling in your 30s. While many of these changes aren't necessarily bad ones, if anything I've met travellers in the 60s who endlessly inspired and excite me, everyone grows old. And how your travelling experiences change are interesting to document and think about as you grow. I love learning from other travellers, especially those who are older than me. When I turned 30, it was a like a switch got flicked. Things took me longer, I was more tired and suddenly didn't feel like I could do everything. Other travellers who went through a similar change were super helpful to me in setting clear new goals and changing my expectations. So I wanted to document this for myself here so others can learn from me and my experiences with travel as I got older.
Accommodations get an upgrade
Travelling in my 20s meant searching for the cheapest hotel or hostel I could find. Often these would be in not so good locations, pretty far out from the centre of town. And while I still managed to find some great deals and pretty decent hotels, for the most part, they weren't always the stuff of dreams. In Australia, I will never forget walking into our hostel and seeing a dead mouse right in the centre of the room and knowing we had no choice but to stay there. So we cleaned up the mouse ourselves and just tried to pretend that it never happened. In my 30s, especially now that I travel almost always with my partner, our hotel choices are much more appealing. There are no dead animals on the floor, and most of the time these accommodations are in prime locations in the city, close to the action without being overbearingly touristy. Airbnb has also changed the game in terms of places to stay. Now I can find a quirkily themed apartments for rent that feels more like staying in a secret playhouse than they do a sterile hotel. In my 30s I've travelled enough to know the truth from the BS and how to read a listing or review of a hotel for those key signals that this isn't a great place to stay. Proof positive of this was on my last trip to Mexico City. We had initially booked a fantastic hotel for a GREAT price in a popular neighbourhood. But the more and more I read about the area of town and dug deeper into the reviews, the more I realised that despite it being such an awesome price and has 5-star reviews, it was located in a super touristy and busy area that completely shut down at night. We opted to cancel that reservation (thank you free cancellations on Expedia!) and rebooked a different hotel in a smaller bohemian neighbourhood which felt safe, quaint and picturesque. I'm glad I went with my gut as I recalled the times before when I had stayed in a similar kind of area and it just wasn't for me. For others this might be the perfect place for you but for me, I knew it wasn't going to be a good fit.
You take your time
In my 20s, I remember my friend and I would book a two-week vacation in Europe see 4-5 different cities. We would be up at the crack of dawn to get to the next town in time to still fit in some sightseeing before everything closed. Then onto the next location. We carefully planned what we ABSOLUTELY had to see and made sure to make that a priority, but there wasn't a ton of time left just to explore and meander. We would have loved to spend more time in each city, but back then our budget didn't allow for it. It seemed like a waste of an expensive international flight not to try and see as many cities as we could while in this new continent. These days, although the time I have for leisure travel has actually been reduced, I choose to spend my week's vacation in one place instead of rushing from country to country. I make a list of a few AREAS to explore instead of a list of singular sights. This means I can spend an entire day just in one spot, discovering things I never found online, and therein I get to share that with all of you readers! I have NOTHING against jam-packed travel itinerary since it indeed allowed me to discover which countries I liked most and didn't like when I was younger, but now that I'm older I merely prefer this kind of slow-travelling.
Visiting those costly cities isn't out of the questions
Often times when travelling in your 20s, you'll be researching things like "the cheapest cities in Europe to visit". These traditional less expensive cities mean you can have a fantastic time but still pinch those pennies. As you age, cities like New York, Paris and Singapore suddenly become viable options. It wasn't until I turned 30 that I was FINALLY able to afford to travel to Japan and it was a life changing trip! Cities with a cheaper cost of living are often well-suited with being younger. Places like Thailand, Mexico and Greece all feel more adventurous and perfect for younger travellers. While the more expensive destinations usually have a more refined and mature atmosphere which makes it a comfortable place to go as you age.
Free time is harder to come by
I had this idea when I was young that when I grew up, I'd be able to afford all these amazing trips where I'd travel for months on end! But the problem with ageing is the responsibilities you have both at work and in your personal life seem to get in the way of just up and leaving to travel the world. Work barely enabled me to take off two weeks for my honeymoon, and when I got back, I felt the full force being away. The idea of a "sabbatical" just isn't the norm anymore as more and more people aren't staying with companies for years on end. In your 20s, you actually have the time to take off for a few months between school semesters as long as you've worked your butt off during the school year making money to do so. Or better yet, you might have the chance to do a year-abroad and see more of the world that way. But when you get into your 30s, you have a career, not just a job. There is no longer a "summer break" unless you're lucky enough to be a teacher. Those few weeks of vacation you get (if you get any paid leave at all!) are very precious, and you really learn to appreciate every second of your travels. It's perhaps for this reason that you'll find yourself spending more money to stay in a more central area hotel which lessens the amount of commuting you'll have to do.
You have more confidence
I have learned A LOT about travelling since my first trip overseas. My dad was going there on business and traded in a first-class ticket for two economy and took me with him. What I didn't know what that when we got there he would be busy the entire time (although I probably should have assumed this) and I would be all on my own. I clutched the notes and directions he made for me like they were my lifeline and ended up making a lot of mistakes but totally falling in love with the experience of travelling. Nothing prepares you for the pitfalls of severe jet lag like living through it. No dry runs or hypothetical conversations can give you insight on what to do when you lose your passport. I remember time after time not trusting my gut and being roped into a scam or tourist trap. Or I knew it was a trap and was just too shy to speak up. Although I always feel like I'm learning, I'm definitely braver and more confident as a traveller now compared to when I was 20. I speak up when I feel like something is wrong, or I know well enough not even to venture into something which feels too good to be true. I'll call a waiter on his added "tourist taxes" or go out of my way to get a uber instead of a sketchy taxi that is bound to rip me off. The other thing which I feel more confident about is travelling alone. Sometimes you and your partner or friends just can't get your schedules to match up. But that doesn't mean you can't still head out on an adventure by yourself. Dining alone doesn't have to be scary; it can be an opportunity to meet new people. You get to do exactly what YOU want to without any compromises. Being alone when travelling is actually a chance for you to reconnect with yourself in ways you just don't have the opportunity to do otherwise.
You know who your real friends are
I have travelled with many different groups of friends and partners throughout my life. And nothing tests a relationship like travelling. Travel is truly incredible but it also involves lots of stress, compromise, exhaustion, problem-solving and more which can weigh on those relationships. When you're in your 20s, I feel like you're more optimistic. You feel like you go into those trips with the best of intentions and optimism. New friendships feel fresh and exciting and travelling with new friends can feel like the best idea. You think you don't have a history, so don't have the chance of negativity from the past influencing the trip. But it also means you don't know their personality, their travel style or even their financial constraints. I travelled all over the world with one good friend who I'm still proud to call my best friend today. We never fought, always understood each other's likes and dislikes and also learned that sometimes that means having a day apart instead of dragging the other to do things they don't want to. Other travel companions fell by the wayside either just due to us drifting apart or often just because we didn't get along as travellers. I find that in my 30s quality time with my partner or my friends are some of the best advantages of travelling together. When you get older, you have less and less time to spend with your friends, and this intimate occasion is a great way to reconnect.
You appreciate travelling with your family
Speaking of time to reconnect, let's talk about family. When you're in your 20s, there is nothing worse than being forced into a family trip. Maybe you're itching to be independent and feel like this is holding you back. Perhaps you just want to have a romantic trip with your new partner, or maybe you want to let loose and party! For me, it was probably the independence that I appreciated most about travelling without my family. I felt so grown up and independent when I turned 2, even though looking back I totally wasn't. I still lived with my family in my 20s and being away from them felt like freedom. Now, in my 30s, this couldn't be further from the truth. I adore getting the change to spend so much time with my parents and siblings, even my in-laws. As an adult (or as close to one as I can get) I get to spend time with them on a different level. I think travelling helps you learn things about people you might not otherwise discover. I had such a great time travelling with my aunt who I'd otherwise not really see outside of the holidays. Seeing her in this environment was so cool and I feel like I got to know her more as a person rather than just a family member. The older you get, the less and less time you realise you have left with your parents and I know for me, I want to try and make those moments count.
You eat incredibly well
I've always been a pretty savvy traveller and managed to find local cuisine at low prices, so for me I've never found myself eating at McDonald's for three days straight just to save money. There are always little pubs, cafes and restaurants which serve amazing meals for low prices if you know where to look. But there is no way that when I was 20, I'd have been able to afford to eat at the various Michelin Star restaurants I've been so lucky to have been able to dine at now that I'm in my 30s. I've eaten some of the most exquisite, transcendent meals of my life in my 30s. But even outside of those "one in a lifetime meals" eating in your 30s means you might not have to be as rigorously diligent about checking menu prices. Chances are your budget might not be so rigid, and you can generally find places to suit your tastes and budget anywhere you are. I don’t want to make this sound like I’m super rich and able to eat expensive meals every day, that's far from the truth. I’m actually one of the biggest cheapskates when it comes to eating out and I still gasp at cocktails which cost $25. But in my 30s I've learned to appreciate fine dining a little bit more and can afford to indulge in that from time to time.
You have a better idea of what kind of travel you like
In my 20s, I wanted to travel to all the most famous travel cities, without ever thinking about if they were somewhere I'd enjoy or not. I wanted to tick off those "top 10 destinations" off my bucket list (at least the ones I could afford). And while I think I learned a lot about which places I didn't like, as much as which I did, if I could go back and change a few plans, I think I would. I think I would have thought more about what I wanted and less about where people told me I NEEDED to visit. I discovered that more and more that I found myself drawn to bohemian, artsy cities instead of glass metropolis'. I also noticed that some Europeans cities felt very similar to each other and I now go out of my way to visit places which feel markedly different than other cities. In your 30s you are more steadfast in your likes and dislikes and this makes a great impact on where you want to travel. Everyone was so surprised when I visited Mexico City last year but honestly, it was one of the best trips of my life. There is nowhere as bright and colourful as Mexico City and despite everyone's scare tactics about Mexico, we felt perfectly safe everywhere we went.
Time to relax is more important than seeing it all
When you’re 20 there aren’t too many enormous, unavoidable stresses or time vacuums in your life. School and relationships might have their ups and downs but nothing compared to careers, or even more than that, kids. Vacations, especially those without kids, become perhaps your only opportunity to relax and unwind with just your partner, or perhaps with your friends. Those precious vacation days mean more than just a chance to travel somewhere new, it means a moment to catch your breath. You might find that you can’t and don’t even want to go-go-go, you want to take things slow, to enjoy a coffee in peace and quiet for once. Maybe the kind of travelling you do changes. I’ve never been one for all-inclusive resorts, but I found myself considering one for the first time in 33-years just to get away somewhere warm where I didn’t even need to think about my schedule every day. While I still opted not to do this, I for the first time really did understand why people are drawn to those types of vacations.
You realize you can't keep up with your younger self
When I took my first trip at 30, I went about it much in the same way I always did. Getting up at the crack of dawn and going as hard as I could to fit as much into my day before night fell. Very quickly into that first day, I realised that that just wasn't going to work for me anymore. For the first time in my life, I let someone convince me to take it easy, to go back to the hotel for a nap before heading out again in the evening. And let me tell you, that nap was felt impossibly amazing. I woke up feeling refreshed, not worried about the things I didn't see or missed out on, but with a renewed sense of adventure for the rest of the evening. I definitely wear out more easily these days. That means not ticking off all the boxes on the bucket list. But feeling healthy and happy is more important than seeing it all. As you grow, you realise that it's not about how many things you see, but how you see them. How you let even those few memories and sights itch themselves into your heart and your mind.
Technology has changed
I remember when I was in my 20s, the first things we'd do when we'd arrive in a new city was hit up the tourist information for a map of the town. We carried these paper maps around with us everywhere we went, by the end of the trip they were half disintegrated from being so overly used. Now and again we'd print off a few Mapquest directions to and from different pre-planned destinations. If we got lost, there was nothing to do about other than asking for direction or backtrack as best we could. Nowadays most big cities have free wifi all over the place, romaing is getting cheaper and cheaper on most phone plans, and there are even portable wifi devices where you can bring the internet with you. There is almost no chance of getting lost or needing to read a map. In a lot of ways, this saves a ton of time and confusion but it's also a little sad. I feel like staring into my phone to get the perfect route to my destination is a bit disconnecting. I always challenge myself to use those old paper maps from time to time and still ask locals for directions when I get lost instead of just reaching immediately for my phone.
Sleep isn't optional
When I was young, I loved saving money by travelling when I should be sleeping. This meant overnight trains, buses and flights. I loved planning around these overnight journeys since it felt winning free money I'd otherwise have had to spend on a hostel or hotel. I didn't care how tired or uncomfortable I was. I'd chug down a few cups of coffee and be able to ride out the rest of the day no problem. These days, I'm lucky even to get eight hours and not feel the sting of exhaustion by mid-afternoon. I still miss the money-saving opportunities of the overnight trains, but I don't miss the fatigue.
While I might miss certain aspects of being young, I love getting older. I feel more connected to myself and therefore to my travels. I feel like I travel better, deeper and more comfortably, both physically and emotionally. What shifts did you see in your travels as you got older? If you're still in your 20s what other questions do you have for this ol' "senior" about travel in your 30s? Let me know in the comments!