The One Piece of Travel Advice I Wish I’d Known at 20

by Gabby Beckford
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Though I have I've been lucky enough to travel more often than most 20-year-olds, I realize that there are many things in this world that I've left to see and experience.

So much so, in fact, that it's a bit overwhelming at times. While it's impossible to know at the moment if a decision will be the best choice in the long run, you can't help but wonder. I find myself wondering things like,

To what extent should I actively seek adventure, and to what extent should I just let it find me?
What mistakes am I currently making that I don't realize?
When I look back on my travels, will I have any regrets?

Well, the best way to get an answer to any question is to ask it! I reached out to travelers with a little more life experience than I, and posed the question: If you could talk to your 20-something self, what is the one piece of travel advice you would relay? What travel tips do you want to share with younger you?

Of the many responses, the following were the insights that resonated with me most deeply. So, young travelers, heed this advice and learn from the travel tips of those who have come before us! And of course, this advice doesn't only pertain to those in their 20s — travelers of every age can benefit from this advice, even if it is just a reminder. It's never too late to travel like you're 20.

The general consensus was: be present. Which is simple yet profound advice, as being present in our lives is often forgotten.

This collaboration has definitely put travel more into perspective for me, and hopefully, it will for you as well!


If you're in Bangkok and you run into a group of young travelers that are going to a full moon party, go with them. If you're in Argentina and a group of travelers is going dancing, go. If you're in Dubai and you find a group of people going sky diving, go.

I've backpacked around the world in my 20s and had an amazing time, but looking back there are a few times where I, for some strange reason, thought about all my actions. I tried to be somewhat of a responsible traveler. Don't be like the young me. Take each chance, each opportunity, be a “yes” person. Thankfully, I changed my perspective by the time I was 23 and I've said yes to everything. Currently living in Colombia as I'm writing this! Take chances and have fun, you're only in your early 20's once.

Princess Walsh, The Traveling Princess, 27 


A large majority of people tend to plan trips by browsing extensive lists of typical tourist attractions. A roller coaster of activities, sightseeing, and restaurants, which are often squeezed into increasingly tinier schedules. Thus, recently I have made an effort of exploring what each place also naturally has to offer. And this is something I wish I had learned when I first started traveling.

To make plans, but be as flexible as possible about them. To enjoy being able to sit in a park to observe the locals in their daily routine. To stroll around cities and learn how to pay attention to what surrounds me. To hear from locals suggestions for restaurants and places to see – some completely off the beaten track and rarely mentioned in my supposedly great guide. It may require a certain commitment to allow a trip to be detached from claustrophobically packed schedules, but it is certainly worth it.

Filipe from Loose Translations, 29


Especially these days with the ability to consistently be in touch with home through social media, Whatsapp etc., I think its very easy to focus on what you’re missing out on rather than experience where you are. This is something I wish I had been told [when I was 20]. And even though I have frequently been told it over the years, including in a text from one of my lovely friends just this morning, I still struggle to escape FOMO (fear of missing out)!

Focus on the here and now without rushing yourself, and don't be content with just experiencing life over the top of a cell phone screen. When you get home, you'll appreciate it.

Lottie Reeves, Princess in a Caravan, 33


I didn't really start traveling until I was 24 or 25. If I could go back to being 20, I'd tell myself “you, right now, are fully capable of traveling on your own to any place you wish.” I think at 20 I felt very young and tentative! I lacked some of the confidence I have now, and the knowledge that many, many young women travel safely around the world. In short, the advice I'd give myself is “you are ready.”

Amy, Two Drifters, 29


Being from the Philippines, a trip to Europe is such a big deal for me. All these beautiful places that I only see on TV and read in books, never have I imagined that I'd be able to actually visit them and see for myself. So on my first European trip, I spent 7 days in 3 different cities – Paris, Rome and Munich. Looking back at it now, I've no idea how I managed to put all those cities in a week.

I was there for the photos. I wanted to make sure that I'd be able to capture each and every move that I do in my camera without really experiencing the place itself. As long as I had a photo of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican or at the Marienplatz nothing else mattered. In the end, I didn't really enjoy it. For me, it was like a race against time because I had to be able to cover as many places as I can so I could take a photo of it. Now that I think about it, it didn't really give me any valuable experience except for a sh*tload of photos that I took. I wasted time and money on that trip – I wish I stayed only in one city and explored and learned about it in depth. I think that's what a good traveler should be.

Noemi, Pinay Flying High, 32


There are plenty of excuses why we shouldn’t travel – you can work on your career, buy a house, settle down, and stay close to home where everything is easy and “safer.” We hear this message from the people around us and sometimes even echoed in our thoughts.

It is easy to get scared and give in to these excuses, which is exactly what I did when I was in my early twenties. I was trying so hard to be responsible that I missed a lot of great opportunities for great adventures. Now that I am older and wiser, I travel as much as possible. Traveling has taught me so much about the world, helped me grow exponentially as a person and has brought me countless moments of joy.

It is possible to travel and still have a career, be safe, buy a house and maybe even settle down one day. I would encourage anyone else who is yearning for more travels, to go for it and not let any excuses get in the way!

Chantell Collins, Budget Travel Babes, 30


Time goes fast, so don't wait for others to have the time, the money, and a similar interest in the destination you want to reach to go on an adventure. I waited for 2 years for a friend for going to Morocco. When she had time, she had no money, so we always changed the travel to Morocco for a road trip around Spain. It was nice but I haven't visited Morocco yet… And then I had three free months before starting my new job in Italy: I wanted to travel but no one else had vacation time.

Today, I'm doing a solo backpacker trip around Australia! It took me 8 years to discover that if I want to go somewhere I don't need to wait for other people. So, if you want to go somewhere, just go solo!

Esther Sanye, Trip to Adventure, 28


Try not to worry too much when things don’t go the way you expect because they often won't. Choose to see the adventure within the misadventure. Sometimes, it’s those moments when nothing seems to be working out that end up turning into some of the greatest memories of your life.

When I was 20, I left my job in finance, packed a backpack and bought a plane ticket to Australia. I spent months traveling the country in an old van, which was an absolutely incredible experience. 6 years later, the moments I find myself looking back on most frequently are the ‘misadventures’. You know, those times when life throws you a curveball and everything just seems wrong? In retrospect, those curveballs usually led to some of my greatest moments, but I didn’t realize this at the time.

If I could give my 20-year-old self some advice, it would be to allow spontaneity to take over more often. When things go wrong, don’t complain. Instead, ride it out to see where life takes you. You never know, it could turn out to be your best adventure yet.

Courtney Lee, Jetset Brunette XO, 28


It doesn't matter how near or far you are to a new destination! Short distance travel to a place you haven't been to will still bring you new experiences! More often than not, travelers tend to overlook the advantage of going to nearby places. We tend to always think of the beyond — the far away. Since we tend to prepare just for the big trips, why not take it slow and give short day trips a shot?

I bet you haven't encircled the entirety of your hometown. Wake up early on a Saturday. Drive your car or take the bus. Go on your own or let your friends come with you. Go to that one place everyone has been talking about but you haven't tried yet, or go to that place you've been fancying for so long but haven't gotten the chance to visit. Grab every traveling opportunity there is, may it be a grand one or not.

Carmela Del Espiritu Santo, Carlades, 23


By 20 I had already spent 5 months living abroad in Sydney as an exchange student, and I knew I wanted to explore more of the world. But I was under the impression that my savings wouldn't take me very far, and that if I wanted to really explore the world I would have to live and work in another country for an extended period of time. I didn't realize backpacking and being nomadic for a little while was an option. As a result, I decided to teach English in Bangkok full-time. Yes, it was stimulating to be in a new country but what was I doing? I was working 50 hours a week living in the city – I wasn't exploring, meeting new people, trying new things.

So overall, my advice is that if you want to go traveling and you have money saved up or can save up some money at home (which is usually more lucrative and faster than trying to save money while working abroad anyways) then DO IT! Your savings will take you farther than you think.

Michelle Vogel, Mish Vo in Motion, 25


Sometimes I feel like my twenties are “reversed”. At 28, I'm unfettered by possessions and exploring the world but at 20, I had a car and a house and was two years into college and a career path. It's not that my life was “boring”; I loved my friends and had an active social calendar (a.k.a. worked all day, partied all night). But I was doing the things a lot of people don't do until they're 25+, and I was doing them in a tiny, conservative town with little to no diversity.

I was always restless. Deep down traveling's what I'd always wanted to do, but I talked myself out of it so many times because I was concerned with doing what was “right”, rather than what was “right for me”. Maybe it's a case of “If I'd known then what I know now”, but traveling is so educational and rewarding on so many levels and I can't even imagine where I'd be (or where I'd have been) if I'd chucked it all sooner.

Natasha Peterson, The Boozy Backpacker, 28


The one piece of travel advice I wish I'd known at 20 is: take your first trip before you plant your roots, even if you have to go alone. When I graduated high school I immediately started to build a future settling down. I didn't think twice about the things I wanted, just the things I was “supposed” to want.

Now, many trips later, and 22 years old, I realize what makes me happy isn't the societal norm. I am working on paying off a car and student loan debt, while also having bills to pay in my efforts of achieving a traveling lifestyle. A life that, had I taken my first solo trip a couple of years earlier, would be a lot easier to achieve.

Jessica Beck, Beck What The Heck, 22

What travel advice and travel tips would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Leave it in the comments below!

The One Piece of Travel Advice I Wish I'd Had At 20 | Packs Light

Gabby Beckford

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Tracy December 14, 2016 - 4:20 AM

I have to go back 30 years to talk to my 20 year old self – my advice would be to keep in contact with those great people you meet when travelling!

I am still in touch with many I met 20 plus years ago in my 20’s but I wish I knew where some of the others were! It is easier now in a world of social media than it was even a few years ago!

So make the friendships along the way and keep them for life! I have friends all over the world I have known for over 20 years now – how lucky am i!!!

Tracy – aged 49 and 3/4

Gabby December 14, 2016 - 7:36 AM

Aw what great advice Tracy! I love it!
I hope to have such lifelong friends as you do 🙂

Media - Jet Set Brunette May 8, 2016 - 2:20 AM

[…] The One Piece Of Travel Advice I Wished I’d Known At 20 – Packs Light […]

Cristen April 13, 2016 - 9:50 AM

I absolutely love this post! I wish that I had traveled before going to university because you and your priorities change so drastically. I thought that I wanted to be a genetic counselor but now I don’t think that I would be ‘long-term happy’ with that career choice. I’m 28 and finding my way again but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Gemma February 29, 2016 - 7:18 PM

Great advice! I particularly agree with saying yes! I’m naturally quiet so this was a big thing for me…and I’ve never regretted it! I also agree with put down your phone, ate you traveling to meet people and have experiences or to show off to friends at home?
I totally agree with not waiting for someone, go solo. I’ve learnt more about myself than I thought and made some great friends from just going!

Sarah February 15, 2016 - 5:50 PM

Such great advice to 20 year olds! Wish I was 20 and reading this 🙂

Hannah February 4, 2016 - 6:39 PM

Wonderful post! I think I resonated with each and every point you made. Especially ‘DON’T BE IN A RUSH TO SETTLE DOWN’. I luckily never made that mistake – but I’m a devout advocate to of this when it comes to my friends. Great read, thank you!

Natasha February 4, 2016 - 3:13 AM

Love, Love, Love this!

I especially the be a yes person and the you’re never too young to travel — I started traveling at 26, but wish I had done so a lot sooner!! 🙂

Great post!

stephanie February 4, 2016 - 1:57 AM

Some gret pieces of advice in this post. personally i wish that i started travelling sooner, but the truth is I didn`t know that I even wanted to travel!
I agree to travel slow, solo and to say yes to every opportunity. We regret the things we didn`t do. Life`s too short for regrets.

Bilna Sandeep February 3, 2016 - 11:26 PM

Loved all these advices..

And agree to them all..I loved it travel for experiences and not for photos..There are some beautiful moments we can only experience and may not be captured in full…

It’s nice to meet so many bloggers here..would love to check them all out..

Cynthia February 3, 2016 - 11:17 PM

Really loved this post! Many of these things I’ve actually been consciously trying to change recently 🙂

Alicia Rose February 3, 2016 - 10:35 PM

This is great, for someone who never really dreamed of just traveling. At 20 years old I was in a dark place, using drugs and destroying my life inside and out. 6 days before my 24th bday I took off to Thailand with a one way ticket but planned to return in about 4 months. 7 months later I am still here. Learning all about living abroad and myself. I can’t imagine doing it at 20 so hats off to all the early 20s travelers. And yes, say yes to everything, stop obsessing about pictures, and put the phone down. Love it.

gogabby February 4, 2016 - 10:32 AM

Thank you for sharing your life experiences! You’re truly inspiring to be able to confront your demons and then choose to take action against them. I hope all is going well for you Alicia!

Jeanette February 3, 2016 - 12:35 PM

I would tell my younger self: have an account that is just for traveling.

Christine Maguire February 3, 2016 - 11:25 AM

Such great advice here, it’s hard to think which one is my favourite! I would say travel as soon as you can, and definitely don’t put off travel when you can go by yourself!

Cristina February 3, 2016 - 9:29 AM

This is a very useful post…
Let me think. I would definitely tell my 20yo self to listen to the most experts’ travellers suggestions! I remember believeing I knew everything I had to know to visit a city – this is never true, you have to seek ideas and suggestions to live your adventure in the best way possible!

Meliisa L February 3, 2016 - 9:18 AM

Yes to everything! Especially the phone.

The Muser February 3, 2016 - 9:08 AM

Great post! Loved it!

I Left Home February 3, 2016 - 4:36 AM

This is such a great list of important things to keep in mind and work towards while travelling. I particularly agree with “Travel for the experience not the photos”, “put down your phone”, and “Travel slowly”! We are definitely slow travellers – sometimes spending weeks at a time in one place. We enjoy getting to know the rhythm of a place, creating out own little routine in that part of the world.
One thing I definitely need to still work on is to “Embrace spontaneity”! I know travelling has helped me be less stressed about planning, and in turn I have learnt to be more trusting and patient. 🙂 Thanks!

Petr February 2, 2016 - 11:18 AM

Great post and helpful advices, thanks for that!

Tania Mukherjee January 30, 2016 - 10:51 AM

Amazing post! Extremely insightful and true! Loved reading it!

Filipe Marques January 29, 2016 - 9:39 PM

Thanks for featuring me 🙂 Overall this is a great post with an amazing idea behind it 🙂

Sky January 27, 2016 - 11:19 PM

At 21, every piece of advice on this list hit close to home! I am definitely trying to be a “yes” girl!

Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere January 27, 2016 - 2:58 PM

I agree it is so important to leave the phone in the hotel room and just focus on the here and now. The memories in your phone don’t mean much if you’re not really present! The tip that I need to take to heart is to quit waiting for others. I know where I want to go, and I even have the money to go right now…I’m always waiting for other people to be ready as well. Perhaps this will be the year!

Heather January 27, 2016 - 1:56 PM

Great post! I have found that when I am traveling I am my best self because I am present, open-minded, and thankful for the experiences and life lessons the world has taught me! 🙂

Amber January 27, 2016 - 1:22 PM

Fantastic advice! I definitely agree with traveling slowly!

Arzo Travels January 27, 2016 - 1:15 PM

Beautiful pictures and great tips, thanks 🙂

Joanna January 27, 2016 - 1:09 PM

Hi Gabby
Thank you for this insightful post! I wish I could do slow travel but I work full time and currently have only 20 holiday days per year. So I tend to squeeze from my travels as many experiences as possible…

Michelle January 27, 2016 - 12:59 PM

Very good advice!! I always try to keep to most of these tips here but sometimes I forget and get in a rush… We live and learn, don’t we? 🙂

Simona January 27, 2016 - 12:57 PM

Nice advices! Keep up the good work, travel for you and your soul not to impress people!

Tiny Traveller January 26, 2016 - 8:27 PM

All solid advice and I implore anybody reading this to take heed 😛 I pretty much live by these rules

gogabby January 26, 2016 - 8:38 PM

I’m so glad it’s all relevant to your life! As a 20 year old it’s definitely great advice to me for the future 🙂

Kelly January 26, 2016 - 4:25 PM

Yes agree travel slowly and locally. We have been traveling in the USA since there is so much to see and experience.

Theresa January 26, 2016 - 3:06 PM

Some great advice for people of all ages. I will add that you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not having had a perfect travel experience. The more you travel, the more you learn and adjust your style. There’s nothing wrong with taking photos – well, unless it is an excessive amount of selfies.

gogabby January 26, 2016 - 3:16 PM

great advice!! Very true, expect the unexpected and roll with the punches 🙂 thank you for your comment Theresa!

Joe January 26, 2016 - 3:00 PM

Some brilliant advice here that, yes, I wish I’d had when I was 20 as well. I would add advice extending from Filipe’s to travel slowly, which is to spend time getting to know local people, rather than spending every night in the hostel bar etc with fellow travellers. Nothing at all wrong with the latter in itself, but if you’re spending all your non-sightseeing time with people who are not actually from the place you’re visiting, then can you say that you’ve really experienced it?

Sarah January 26, 2016 - 1:34 PM

Such great advice! When I was younger, I never used my phone abroad, but sometimes I get stuck to it. Need a reminder from my younger self.

Amy Baker January 26, 2016 - 11:49 AM

All good advice. Just this week I made a promise to myself to do some local travel. I live an hour north of NYC and yet rarely hang out there like I did as a younger me.

Kevin Wagar January 26, 2016 - 11:27 AM

Great list and amazing advice from these travellers. Some of my best memories have come from spontaneous adventures. Going with the flow makes travel so much more special.

Travel Pockets January 26, 2016 - 11:06 AM

Great advice! I’m definitely guilty of few things on your list 😉

Jack Moscrop January 26, 2016 - 11:02 AM

Lovely piece, so much in it, and yep, “Be present” is great advice.

Andy Watt January 24, 2016 - 4:05 AM

Don’t plan too far ahead.

There’s nothing wrong with having a rough plan, and indeed having bookings early and knowing what your doing and when might actually save money. However I’ve found that for all my planning, be it over the year or a month I’ve found that often spanners love to throw themselves in the works and if you’re afraid of breaking the grand design it can have a serious impact on the enjoyment factor.
So have a rough plan, but have no issues deviating from it. Perhaps there’s a cool place someone mentions that you fancy. Maybe you get offered a job somewhere that’ll both be an experience and pay for another month of travels. Hell, I’ve booked flights, been offered a job for 8 weeks, and then cancelled the flight in 20 minute spells before.
When I was in Asia, when I was totally winging it, it was the most enjoyable care free part. I was meant to go to India but changed my mind and decided to spend longer in South East Asia. I was meant to go up to China but flew to Istanbul instead.
And always think, if you miss something… Just an excuse to go back some day.
Sometimes a little chaos is perfect.

gogabby January 24, 2016 - 10:53 AM

Fantastic advice thank you for adding it!! Very similar to “Embrace Spontaneity” and very important! 🙂

Sophie January 23, 2016 - 11:50 PM

Yes to all of this!


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