10 trips to take in your 20s

Travelling the world certainly doesn’t come with an age limit, however your 20s really are the perfect time to get out there – it’s the decade where you have the least amount of responsibility and most amount of freedom. Plus they’re the years where you’re willing to sacrifice comfort for the challenges and adventures that come with budget travelling and backpacking! Personally I can’t imagine myself wanting to share a $5 a night dorm with 10 20-somethings when I’m 50 years old- but that’s just me.

Deciding to travel around the world in my 20s was the best decision I could have made, it opened my heart and broadened my mind in more ways than I could ever have hoped – and the adventures that came with it were unparalleled. After the chaos of COVID-19 subsides and the international borders open, here are just a few of the amazing affordable trips I recommend you taking. The world is still out there waiting for you – so get dreaming, start planning and begin saving!

In no particular order:

Follow the gringo trail through Latin America

Guatemala

This is a big one and maybe a trip worth saving for when you have the time – as you need at LEAST 6 months if you want to visit most countries. Follow the trail from Mexico through Central America before moving onto South America. Whether you start in Brazil or Guatemala, it really is one of the most exciting, challenging and culturally rich trips in the world and a must-do for any traveler seeking real adventure.

Explore Europe by train

This is a more attractive option if you’re not quite ready for a Latin American adventure. Interrailing around Europe is seen as a right passage for people in their late teens and early twenties and with good reason. Get on a train with your pass and you can go almost anywhere in Europe; visit the canals of Amsterdam, the remnants of the Berlin Wall or visit the beautiful buildings of Prague within a matter of days! If you don’t fancy the train life, hire a car or overland it with buses and you will have just as good as an experience. Every country has something unique to offer and it certainly isn’t just about drinking your way around Europe…although the beer halls of Munich are 100% worth a visit!

Voyage across the spectacular vistas of Iceland

This may be less budget-friendly but certainly a trip worth doing if you only have a couple of weeks to spare and depending on what time of the year you plan to visit you’ll be able to find great deals on flights and accommodation. 

Iceland is a place of mystery, with earthy landscapes of distinct beauty and endless vistas of green mountains, volcanic sand and cascades of water. With reliable infrastructure and accessibility, Iceland is the perfect destination for a road trip adventure. You may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights if you’re there during the winter months!

Discover the endless wonder of South-East Asia

There is no better time to see South-East Asia than in your twenties; it is by far one of the easiest and most welcoming areas of the world to travel around and if you’re new to the backpacker life and feeling a little nervous  – you’ll never be far from a familiar voice because this is a very popular circuit for British, European and Australian backpackers. Whether you’re here for three weeks or three months, there is much to see and enjoy; from exploring the lush green territories of Vietnam to lazing on Thailand’s island beaches and maybe even hiking active volcanoes in Indonesia – there is something for every kind of traveller and with everything being considerably cheaper than at home (food, alcohol, transport etc) you’ll find that your experiences and money will go much further than you expected.

Trek to Everest Base Camp

Everyone should complete one amazing trek in their life and Everest Base Camp should be at the top of any hikers list. The trek is more affordable than you may imagine (£1,500 with a little more for flights) and whilst it requires a decent level of fitness – you don’t need to be a world class athlete to complete it. You will finish the trek with memories and friendships to last a lifetime and a real sense of achievement having walked amongst the giants of the Himalaya and having witnessed the highest point of this earth with your own eyes. A must-do for any person looking for a soul-searching adventure, not just a bucket list check.

Find your way to the famous Citadel Machu Picchu

Whilst we’re on the subject of great walks, this list wouldn’t be complete without a journey to the famous Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu. Whether you decide to do the historic Inca Trail or the physically demanding and equally visually stunning Salkantay Trek, these epic multi-day treks to Machu Picchu will leave you with an appreciation and respect for the cultural heritage of Peru and its beautiful mountain regions. The Salkantay route is perfect for travelers on a budget or who have arrived in Peru without a plan ( you can book the Salkantay trek a few days in advance whilst the Inca trail requires bookings almost a year in advance). No matter the trek you decide to take, your efforts will be rewarded with a trip back in time to see how the Inca people lived and thrived during the 15th Century. And if you get there for sunrise, prepare yourself for a magical experience like no other!

Drive the East Coast of Australia

From Melbourne all the way up to Cairns – this significantly famous route is popular with backpackers and young travelers all over the world and you can see why. Explore the wonder of Australia’s east coast and enjoy a mix of buzzing modern cities, adrenaline activities, chilled beach towns, sandy havens and some of the world’s most beautiful coastlines. Though this isn’t the most budget-friendly of the trips on this list, if you’re wise with your money you can make it go far. Australia isn’t cheap but the memories you make will be priceless!

Head to Middle Earth for the adventure of a lifetime

If rocky mountain vistas are more your cup of tea, head to New Zealand! Consider a working holiday visa to help support yourself whilst in the land of the long white cloud because similarly to Australia, NZ isn’t cheap. Having said that, it’s worth every penny saved – take your time exploring this incredible country and soak up its natural wonders, pacific coastline beaches, endless mountain ranges and lush greenery. I’d recommend renting or buying your own cheap car to get around and really explore the two islands at your own pace – especially if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. No trip to New Zealand would be complete without ticking off all of those stunning film locations! Remember to pack for every season and stock up on that factor 50 as the sun in this part of the world takes no prisoners…

For the bold and daring…a motorbike loop through Northern Vietnam

This is really one for those daring travelers looking for an adrenaline adventure like no other and there is no better way to feel the winds of freedom than on a 4 day motorbike loop through the wild mountain passes of north Vietnam. The Ha Giang Loop is cheap and very popular with young travelers – even if you feel too nervous (or too sane) to do it on your own, you can just hop on the back of an “easy rider” who is sort of like an experienced motorbike tour guide and they will safely get you around the 4 day loop. As these excursions are arranged through the same company, you’ll be among other travelers and staying in the same huts along the way and therefore a unique opportunity to make new friends, share food and drink and make memories that will last long after you’ve returned home.

For a cultural awakening like no other – head to Japan

Spend three weeks enjoying the rollercoaster that is Japan; get lost in the electric mayhem of Tokyo, hop on the Shinkansen and feel the weightlessness of riding the world’s fastest and most efficient trains. Explore the streets of Ancient Kyoto and perhaps catch a glimpse of a real Geisha, witness Mt Fuji with your own eyes, eat your weight in Gyoza and Ramen, visit the historical sites of Hiroshima and find your Zen in the green highlands of Nikko. Japan is a land of both immense history and futuristic bliss, the contrast alone is enough to make you fall in love with it. If you’re looking for the ultimate cultural awakening, this is the place to come to.

The world is still out there waiting to be explored and whilst the future may seem uncertain and foggy as COVID remains prevalent, the borders will ultimately open again and countries will need conscientious travelers to help lift up their economies. Keep dreaming of those distant lands and start planning your own post-COVID adventure, it is never too early or too late to go!

Jessica Green

I have been travelling the world solo since March 2019. I’m currently “stuck” in New Zealand because of COVID. Follow me on Instagram for all of my updates – I’m always happy to make new connections!

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The art of eating alone: me, myself and a bowl of ramen

I looked down at the bowl, positioning the chopsticks between my fingers and stirring the ramen around and around in a clockwise motion in the hopes of distracting myself a little longer. The restaurant was local and small with single pane windows to the outside that revealed it was raining heavily, the daylight fading with a sudden haste and mixed with the humidity of the summer air – created a blurred view of the world on the other side. I could barely make out the shadows of people moving back and forth in the low red lights outside. Kyoto felt surprisingly quaint for its size, nestled with little alleys to hide yourself in, perfect for someone like me looking for a spot to eat away from the masses that congregated in the city. I looked up from my meal again for what felt like the 20th time, I still wasn’t being watched, much to the dismay of my internal anxiety demon. I was alone and totally inconspicuous. It wasn’t my first time eating alone on this solo trip but it was the first time I had come face to face with the great culinary adversary; the chopstick, which added another layer of stress to my situation. I took a final deep breath, looked down at my meal for one, chopsticks at the ready – and began.

On my travels in Japan I discovered that so much of the intrigue of its culture lay in its embrace of solitude. Meals (contrary to how I’d been raised) didn’t have to be shared amongst friends, family or colleagues and that to eat alone was very common. Where I come from the restaurant experience is quite the opposite; it is a social transaction. You dine out to converse, to laugh, to be around other humans; it is a communal experience, therefore the idea of dining alone can seem unfamiliar and even terrifying to a lot of people. The first time I found myself in a position where I had to eat alone at a restaurant when travelling was a peculiar one indeed.

Waves of paranoia would often circulate around my mind when I first began travelling alone and had to come to terms with eating by myself in a relatively formal setting.

“Is this weird? Are people looking? Does it look like I don’t have friends? Do I look lonely? Wait…am I lonely?

I wondered whether other diners felt sorry for me, in fact I convinced myself they did. We’ve all felt it at some point, sympathy that is, for the person dining alone in a crowded restaurant regardless of their reasons for doing so. But it’s not like I hadn’t eaten alone before – however I saved this for the likes of small cafes; perhaps a panini or muffin with my coffee whilst I kept my head buried in a book. It was different, it was casual. And yet how different was it really? I’ll admit that eating alone wasn’t a regular occurrence and I nearly always found fellow travelers to dine with, other individuals searching for the comfort blanket of another to eat and converse with – just the same as me. However when I did eat alone, it took a while for me to become comfortable with it and I always relied on the crutch of an object to fill the gap that another person would; a book, my journal, my phone – they helped, they were safe.

This fear and anxiety changed when I travelled to Japan, which introduced me to a space where I could eat alone comfortably without care. I know that from popular culture and word of mouth that I was supposed to find Japanese cities overbearing and stressful. But I didn’t, finding more corners and alleys of quietness in hectic areas than I expected. In Tokyo, every other street offered a small haven away from the chaos of the city life – small restaurants where worker bees could grab a quick bite to eat without the need to talk to another person. It was normal to eat alone. To the average person, that may seem very lonely and depthless. But it was this quietness, this secluded realm of eating in private amongst a sea of others doing the exact same that eased me into an enjoyment of dining alone. I was just another person. There was comfort in that, which gave me enough strength to walk into a small local eatery in Kyoto, perch myself on a stool at a high table and order a bowl of ramen – without my phone, book or journal to lean on. I simply sat there, imitating the persona of a person who seemed comfortable in their aloneness, despite feeling anything but.

I’ve never been comfortable with the theory of “fake it till you make it” in any circumstance, but it did work.

Naturally my mind worked tirelessly to make me feel as though this was an unnatural thing worth being drawn attention to – but nobody else was watching me, not even the server (who only glanced up every now and again to honour me with a polite smile). I relaxed into it, this was fine, this was normal – my anxiety easing and an unusual sense of confidence and contentment came over me. Even if I was being watched, what was the issue in what I was doing? I was hungry, just like anyone else with an empty belly at 8pm. My eyes searched the quaint room, there were two other people in there sitting separately; local men with their heads buried in their ramen bowls, ravenously slurping up their noodles with ease and confidence. Seeing this made me realise how much the anxiety of eating alone actually comes from a place of not being comfortable with your own company. A big part of my journey as a single woman travelling the world alone was to become not just comfortable but happy with my aloneness and I hadn’t really understood that the enjoyment of eating played a role in this. I loved eating and I loved being with people, but I also had a strong introverted quality that made me someone who loved being alone too, more often than not. And yet somehow I hadn’t managed to make the bridge between my aloneness and eating, until now, 6 months into my solo trip.

My bowl arrived with a smile and polite bow from my server. It was a welcoming bowl of chicken ramen, the steam of the broth filling my nose with a warm invite. And so I ate, for the first time without a book perched next to me to occupy my eyes, folding up the noodles using a technique I’d adapted over the last few days, focusing my efforts on every mouthful. The aromas were delicious. I looked up occasionally to the blurred world outside, which was moving slower now, the sky an obvious indigo and the red lights of Kyoto glowering deeper as I took my time to enjoy my meal in a welcomed silence.

It became clear to me that eating alone was in fact a practice of slowing down and appreciating the small moments I had to myself where I could reflect on my day or simply forget about everything for a while. For the first time I didn’t need a book to lean on or my phone to lead me into a false sense that I wasn’t totally alone. And I didn’t want to either, it was a rare moment where I wasn’t totally fixated on my aloneness, in fact I welcomed it. As terrifying as I thought it was going to be, it made me realise how much I enjoyed a stolen few minutes of contentment, of being happy in my own company and for it to be enough – in the chaos and stress of travelling the world. It was just me, myself and a delicious bowl of ramen, caught in a moment of untroubled calmness.
And believe it or not my meal tasted better because I took the time to enjoy it without worrying about anything or anyone else around me.
I spent the rest of my Japan travels in similar fashion, often dining alone and sometimes with others, but always with the confidence of someone happy with herself – and it helped me to make peace with the fact that this was part of the journey, this is what it meant to be a solo traveler.

Eating alone may not seem like that big of an achievement until you find yourself in that position feeling as exposed as you could possibly feel. It takes practice. It isn’t always comfortable and sometimes you just want to dash in and out, wolfing down your meal as quickly as humanly possible through fear of being judged by total strangers. It takes a great amount of courage and self-acknowledgement. But with a little practice, those anxieties break away and you find that it feels less like a social nightmare and more like an opportunity to really slow down, reflect and simply be. Maybe you’ll need a book to keep you company to start with and that’s okay, eventually you won’t need anything at all but yourself – the world becomes background noise, and there is joy in sitting alone with a good meal.

There is an art to eating alone. And it begins with being content in your aloneness.