Essential Travel Experiences to Have Before You're 30

As the great Aaliyah once said, age ain't nothin' but a number. And while traveling is wonderful at any number -- people who spend their money on experiences are happier than those who spend their money on stuff, blah blah, blah -- there are certain kinds of travel experiences that just make more sense to have in your 20s, before you develop a pesky sense of responsibility, professional and familial obligations, or a newfound sense-of-your-own-mortality aversion to risk.

In other words, how LO can you YOLO? Here are some travel experiences to get out of your system (and, umm... maybe make you a better, more fulfilled, more culturally sophisticated person?) before you join the ranks of those who can legitimately say: "I'm getting too old for this shit."

dance party with strangers

Party with strangers whose names you don’t remember/never knew

My friends call this unique single-serving-friend phenomenon "Cowboy Guy." I forget why exactly, something do with a dude in a cowboy hat in New Orleans. It doesn't matter, but to Cowboy Guy (spread it!) is to truly laissez les bon temps rouler. Basically, you meet strangers, you become fast friends, you spend an outrageous night of drinking and debauchery with them, and you forget their names the next day (if, in fact, you ever knew them).

And I'm not talking about doing sex (see below). This is just dumb camaraderie born of partying, and while you can do it at any age, it's really something you should experience before the clock strikes, "I can't believe it's 2am and I'm still out!" Also, you can Cowboy Guy (it's gonna catch on!) with a group of friends or alone. But stranger danger, of course. We would be remiss if we didn't urge you to exercise caution as much as realistically possible.

travel in asia
Captain Yeo/Shutterstock

Go somewhere where you don't know the language

Why? Because it sucks. And it's intimidating. And nerve-racking. And it's pretty much the worst. It will test your mettle and self-sufficiency in ways few other life experiences will, and THAT is some true character-building right there. How much can you really know about yourself as a person if you've never tried desperately to charade, "I've been drinking and forgot where I'm staying" to a non-English-speaking stranger before?

Teach English in a foreign country

This used to be a lot easier and much more lucrative. Now, if you can get hired, it's just a good way to get free room-and-board in a foreign country for a few months. Also, resume experience! And an immersive cultural something something something where you learn things and grow and what not.

soccer game
PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

Attend a once-in-a-lifetime event

It can be the Olympics, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the World Series, Mardi Gras, Carnival in Rio, Oktoberfest (in September) in Munich, Burning Man, whatever. Granted most of these events happen once a year (obviously, not the Olympics), but the expense of attending most of them as well as the simple time and life constraints means that for most people, going once is once-in-a-lifetime.

Have a one-night stand in a foreign country

As promised: doing sex! Why in a foreign country? Um, why NOT in a foreign country? Sure, you can, and probably will, also do this within the continental United States, but a steamy one-night romance in an exotic foreign land -- like Canada! -- is just one of those life bucket list items. Because it just is.

hiking travel girl
Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Climb something, jump off something, dive into something

Climb a mountain. It doesn't have to be Kili, just climb a damn mountain. Or go bungee jumping, or skydiving, or whitewater rafting, or scuba diving, or hell, even river kayaking and snorkeling will work. Just do something outside the norm of what you would usually do at home, and push your personal limits a little bit. Because if all you're doing when you travel is the same old "Hey, we should totally hit that Starbucks outside the Eiffel Tower" stuff you'd be doing at home anyway, what really is the point? Challenge yourself. Let yourself surprise you.

Go on vacation ALONE

A lot of the things mentioned on this list are a hell of a lot easier to do -- and probably more fun -- if you're flying solo and not at the mercy of your friend herd. Traveling alone is some next-level me time, and at the risk of sounding sensational and cliché, it will change you as a person. (In a good way!) Spending a week by yourself (added bonus if it's in a foreign country) is an accelerated master class of learning how to handle your shit. (Also, here's our guide to how to do it.)

hostels travel

Spend an entire trip staying in hostels

Why? Because once you're in your 30s you'll probably be making enough money that you'll never have to do this again and therefore will never want to. Staying in a hostel is... an experience. It's not an experience that everyone enjoys -- as an only child who managed to never live with a roommate, I for one did not. But people do. And I'm glad I did it! Now when I talk about how horrible it is to stay in hostels, I actually have some basis of knowledge rather than just assuming I wouldn't like it. Also, hostel life will certainly help facilitate some of the above experiences, so just do it.

Eat something that grosses you out

Because, much like trying Brussels sprouts even before they were "cool", you might find out that you actually like something. Alternatively, that something might also awaken you to the implicit ethnocentrism in your food choices and what you define as "gross" or "weird." (One man's foie gras is another man's diseased goose liver.) It might even make you a more culturally sensitive person. Or, at least, just enable you to say, "I went to Russia and ate fish eggs on fucking everything." (Seriously, everything.) Whatever, you do though, please don't start insisting that you'll only eat 'authentic' fish eggs, 'cause that's pretentious and annoying.

fancy meal in paris
jan kranendonk/Shutterstock

Splurge on a stupidly decadent meal at an insanely expensive five-star restaurant

Because YOLO.

Backpack through wherever the kids are backpacking these days

Europe is "over," and it's all about Asia now, right? Well, regardless, do it while you can because once you have serious grown-folk responsibilities, that Eurail or Shanghai Maglev train has left the station. Forever. Until you're retired. At which point, you'll travel by chartered busses full of blue hairs.

Go to a music festival by yourself

Going to music festivals with all of your best friends is tons of fun, sure... until the one guy who ALWAYS drinks too much and starts fights with strangers drinks too much and starts a fight with a stranger, or the one single girl who ALWAYS drinks too much and starts crying drinks too much and starts crying. (The latter can also be replaced with "demands to leave before the headliner has even gone on.") Like traveling/vacationing alone, there is a certain under-appreciated freedom in going to a huge music festival stag -- you can see who you want to see, eat what and when you want to eat, push to the front of whatever band you care about the most, come and go as it suits you, while also creating ample opportunities for Cowboy Guy symbioses.

road trip american usa

Road trip across the country

Explore America the Beautiful in the best way we energy commodities-dependent Americans know how: by car! A cross-country road trip should be a mandatory American experience. You can visit a dozen foreign countries, but can you really say you're well-traveled if you haven’t even been to a dozen states? See all the landmarks -- from the impressive (Lincoln Memorial) to the cheesy (everything on Route 66) -- visit as many national parks as you can, and just generally get to know this wildly diverse, often remote, endlessly scenic country of ours. Ahhhhhhhhh 'Murica.

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Nicole Rupersburg is past the point of "I can’t believe it's 2am, and I'm still out" but still finds herself saying that more often than she'd like. She has done the majority of the things on this list but is not going to specify which ones. Follow her IG @eatsdrinksandleaves.