Before I went on my first trip abroad, I spent many months (a couple of years, really) pondering where I should go and what I should do.
There were so many places I could go: Thailand, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, France, and on and on.
And, there were so many things I could do: teach English, volunteer, backpack, do a language exchange, live in a home-stay with a family. The options seemed endless.
As a result, I spent a lot of time reading travel advice on the internet, postponing my trip abroad for just the right opportunity, and making sure I weighed out the pros and cons of each choice.
As I look back, I'd say most of that time researching wasn't necessary.
I wish I had just pulled the trigger and gone abroad without overthinking it. As long as I had my backup plans in place and access to money, I would have been fine.
A lot of people today are in the same boat I was in. They wonder if they are ready to go abroad and to make the jump into the unknown of a foreign place.
I would encourage those people (whoever you are) just to take a deep breath and go.
And, to that end, here are five reasons you should go abroad before you are ready to.
1. The older you get, the less agile you are
Going abroad (especially for months) involves a certain amount of unknowns, particularly if you are traveling to less-developed countries.
You never know when you might have to hike up a flight of stairs with your luggage, for example.
You never know if you will have to walk a long distance to get from point A to point B. You never quite know if it will be hard or easy to find your specific destination.
All of these activities involve agility and ability. Unfortunately, these things tend to decline with age. It will be relatively harder to do them if you are a lot older.
I remember one time in South America I had to lift my large, completely-full suitcase over a subway entrance, then carry it down three flights of stairs, then up another three flights of stairs, then up another three flights of stairs at my hostel.
Even I, as a young man, was huffing and puffing at this. I remember saying to myself: there is no way I could do this if I were 60 years old!
When you are younger, you have the agility and adaptability to face the physical challenges of travel, especially budget travel.
This is why it is best to go abroad when you are young as opposed to postponing it until you're much older, or of retirement age. Ya ain't getting any younger!
See also: What is a Hostel? The Complete Guide
2. It is good to expand your mind as early as possible
“Travel is fatal to prejudice,” wrote Mark Twain.
One happy benefit of spending time in foreign lands is that your mind opens to new ways of seeing the world, and you open yourself to new experiences.
These experiences can often be formative and can broaden your perspective on the world and your place in it.
Thus, while it is great to have these experiences at any point in time, they have a greater ability to impact your life if you have them earlier in life.
Think about it: if you have rich, formative experiences in your 20s or 30s, you will experience the benefit of that experience for the remaining decades of your life.
You will see the world with a new set of eyes from that point forward.
As the saying goes, “a mind expanded cannot be made smaller again.”
If you wait until retirement age to travel, by contrast, you may feel you are late in getting these new insights and perspectives.
Also, later on in life, you might find yourself with a stronger tendency towards the routine and the comfort of the familiar.
Your perspective might not be so easily broadened, and your preferences may be narrower.
Going abroad earlier in life–even before you are ready to– has potentially huge, mind-expanding benefits for the rest of your life.
3. Going abroad fuels creativity
Traveling abroad is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your own life, not just on the world.
If you are facing an upcoming decision, or a nagging feeling like you want to change the course of your life, travel is a great way to whip up the creative juices.
In my opinion, we as humans underestimate the effect that a specific environment has on our thoughts.
Many people believe their creativity levels would be the same regardless of where they find themselves, and that their ordinary routine should be sufficient to generate whatever creativity they need in their lives.
I've found the opposite to be true: changing your environment seems almost necessary to obtain the creativity you need.
If you change your environment, you give your brain a chance to “reset” and see things from different angles.
You realize the positives and negatives of certain choices, and perhaps you see new possibilities that you hadn't considered.
Time in a foreign land is a great way to see with new eyes, and changing your environment is a great way to refresh and re-invigorate your creative juices.
4. Learning a language takes time, and the earlier you get to it, the better
Before I started traveling in Latin America, I spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish on my own.
I would study nearly an hour a day and think that I was making significant progress.
The truth is, I wasn't making nearly as much progress as I thought I was, and I was using the excuse of “needing to learn more Spanish” as a way of delaying going abroad.
Learning a foreign language as an adult is not an impossible task, and it can be done at any age.
But, you'll acquire a language faster by fully immersing yourself in the foreign culture whose language you want to learn.
All of the aspects of learning the new language would be intensified as you use it in daily life.
And your learning curve will be much steeper if you find yourself in situations where you need to use the language.
Plus, once you have acquired a foreign language, it stays with you much like riding a bike. Thus, the earlier you learn, the better.
So, if it is ever a life goal of yours to learn a foreign language to fluency, don't wait– go to your target country and learn there. It works out to be a much more efficient way to learn.
See also: Learn Spanish Fast – Six Strategies for Success in Latin America
5. You learn self-reliance
One of the biggest reasons to go abroad before you are ready is that you will learn how to overcome things you didn't plan for.
No matter how well you plan before your first trip abroad, there will be things you failed to prepare for, and things that you over-planned for.
In these situations, you will learn how to create solutions for a wide range of problems– from doing laundry in a sink to not getting scammed by money changers, to finding a secure place to keep your passport.
You will learn that there is always some course of action that will make your life easier, and it might take a little ingenuity or help from someone to get it done.
This is an incredibly important skill to have in your life, and the earlier you learn it, the better.
As you navigate through the rest of your life, you will be able to draw upon those situations in a foreign land where, even though things may not have been comfortable, you were able to find a way through.
You met the challenges and overcame them without losing your head.
All told, there are substantial reasons not to postpone your trip abroad. You don't gain a lot by delaying, and you stand to gain much by just going.
So, let's suppose that after you've read this article, I've convinced you.
You realize that there are HUGE benefits to going abroad before you are ready to…
So what's next?
The next step is simple: get a departure date and buy the ticket.
You ain't getting any younger!
Matt has been traveling the world for over 7 years, primarily in South America, but likes to keep a low profile. He likes to encourage others to go abroad, to learn to dance, and to drink capirinhas.
Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
- G Adventures for small group tours.
- World Nomads for travel insurance.
- Hostelworld for booking hostels.
- Rail Europe for train passes.
Thursday 27th of June 2019
Hi, Matt thanks for crafting this wonderful blog post.
by the way traveling abroad is not an easy task. There are a lot of things you need to think and do before you actually start traveling.
This blog post provides the necessary motivation to start traveling.
Sunday 30th of June 2019
Hi Eden, thanks for reading!