It’s been a long time coming, but travel is FINALLY back.
After more than two years of staying at home, the world is opening up again. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that means my friends are gallivanting around the world again, posting photos on Instagram, and making us all envious with their food TikToks.
Am I jealous? Absolutely. I love traveling and exploring new countries. But more than anything, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful because I traveled extensively around the world five years ago—back before COVID-19 was even part of our collective vocabulary.
As borders open, many of you are probably suffering from extreme FOMO for all the places you could have visited and photos you could have taken. And if you’re looking for a push to embrace your dream to travel the world, I’m here to give you exactly that.
You see, I believe that everyone should live abroad in their 20s. Not only is it extremely enjoyable, but my experience taught me so many things about myself, others, and the world around me.
I lived abroad in my 20s and it was the best thing I ever did
From the moment I graduated, living abroad was at the top of my to-do list.
I had a full-time job in the travel industry, specifically because it would allow me to go abroad. Everything I did in my job was centered around eventually getting promoted to another office overseas.
Eventually, I got my job offer to live in Shanghai, China. I spent 18 months there, followed by a backpacking stint in Europe and Southeast Asia, an accidental two-year stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (thanks COVID), and a year in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Those were the best years of my life (so far).
I made lifelong friends in each country, many of whom I still keep in touch with on a regular basis.
I got to see places I would never have seen otherwise.
I ate some of the most delicious and authentic food in each country (Thailand, I’m looking at you).
And I learned so many life lessons that have shaped who I am today.
If you’re in a position where you can move overseas, I’m here to tell you: do it. If that wasn’t enough of a push, here are ten reasons why living abroad in your 20s is absolutely worth it.
10 reasons to live abroad in your 20s
1. It’s an opportunity to meet new people
Growing up, you probably hung out with the same circle of friends. You went to the same places to hang out, ate at the usual restaurants, and knew the same people.
It was comfortable, sure. But it was probably also mundane.
If you’re anything like me, that all changed when you went to college or started working.
Suddenly, I met all of these new people who came from completely different walks of life but had similar interests to me. I heard their stories and realized how much of a bubble I’d lived in up until that point.
Living abroad is like going to college…but on steroids.
Not only are you meeting new people—you’re meeting new people from other countries and cultures. This is a fantastic opportunity to expand your friendship group and befriend people you would have never encountered otherwise.
More importantly, you’re all drawn together to the same place for a shared reason. A desire for adventure, a goal to “make it” in another city…these common interests and shared expat experiences mean you’ll forge bonds that are hard to explain or find elsewhere.
Need any more encouragement? I met the love of my life while living abroad, as did many of my other friends.
2. You experience different cultures
Did you know that people in Japan always take their shoes off before going inside? Or that the week before Lunar New Year, Vietnam is drenched in the color red? Have you heard that people in Montenegro are so welcoming they’ll literally pour you a shot of rakia if you’re trying to buy a coffee?
I had no idea either until I lived abroad.
In my five years overseas, one thing was abundantly clear: every culture has its own set of quirks, customs, and principles that make them unique. It was fascinating to see the different ways locals greeted each other, what people did during the day, how people spent their downtime, and the occasions that were special to each country.
What I found even more fascinating was the variation between regions as well. For example, in Vietnam, people in Hanoi were very different from those in Ho Chi Minh City. Everywhere I traveled, I felt so grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in these cultures and learn more about their way of life.
3. Uncover local gems
When I first went to Japan, I did what everyone else did: I opened up Google and typed in “best restaurants near me.”
Unsurprisingly, all of the “best” restaurants had a queue like this:
I spent the first few days queueing for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks. Then I met a local who took me to another place where there was no line—and the food was absolutely amazing.
A similar thing happened when I lived in Queenstown. There’s an infamous burger joint called Fergburger with a line around the block. I queued once or twice for my food before one of the guys at the gym told me I could call ahead and order online to skip the queue. From that point on, I called ahead, then smugly walked past everyone in line to pick up my order, all because I had this inside tip (you’re welcome).
While it’s incredible to discover local hotspots when traveling, it’s even more incredible to have your own spots that you go to when you live in a city. There’s a sense of belonging that comes from having a regular cafe or bakery that you go to, and it’s something that can only be gained from spending a prolonged period in one place.
4. Get out of the daily grind
I don’t know about you, but when I graduated and started working, I found myself stuck in a routine that felt like it would never end.
Mondays in the office were filled with small talk about the weekend, followed by Wednesday’s “hump day” chatter and Friday’s discussions about weekend plans. I’d be excited on Friday night and dreading Sunday evening. I’d hang out with the same people, go to the same gym, and visit the same neighborhood.
Sure, it was comfortable—but your 20s aren’t for being comfortable. This is when you’re supposed to experiment and try new things to figure out what you actually want in life.
Living abroad allowed me to do just that.
Moving to a completely new country was the shake-up I needed to snap out of the daily grind and switch up my routine in a way that I would have never done if I had stayed in the same town. It was a good way to break up the rhythm of daily life and gave me a reason to explore a new neighborhood every week or travel to different cities on the weekend.
This shake-up showed me just how important it is to keep things interesting and try new things. And surprisingly, this habit stayed with me well after I returned home.
5. Gain independence
I was already living on my own before I moved abroad, but I still lived in the same city as my parents and close friends. When I moved overseas, that all changed.
If I needed something, I knew it was completely up to me to figure it out. I couldn’t just call them up and ask them to give me a lift or help me move. It was me and me alone.
Don’t get me wrong: this prospect is pretty daunting. However, it’s an incredible learning experience because it teaches you how to truly be out there in the world, by yourself, doing your own thing.
Over time, I found that this sense of independence translated to other aspects of my life, such as my job and relationships with family and friends.
6. Get a new perspective on your home country
I spent my formative years in Sydney, Australia. And truth be told, I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I went away.
See, in Australia, we have subsidized healthcare, gorgeous beaches, and an abundance of nature. When I moved to Shanghai, it was the exact opposite: I had to pay for healthcare, travel by plane to a (substandard) beach, and live in a concrete jungle.
Before living in Shanghai, I took everything I had for granted. But going back to Australia, I was so much more appreciative of what I had.
At the same time, I also realized just how secluded Australia is from everywhere else. It was refreshing to feel connected to global news, access the brands I had always heard of, and be in the same time zone as most of the world.
While I theoretically knew this, it took leaving home to truly appreciate both the good and the bad parts of my home country.
7. Use it as a springboard to travel
You know what the best part about Europe is (aside from the croissants and insanely good cheese)?
That you can literally hop on a train and be in another country with a completely different culture and way of life, all in a couple of hours. Living abroad gives you access to a plethora of countries that would have been tough to get to otherwise.
When I was in Shanghai, it was Japan and Korea. When I was in Vietnam, it was Southeast Asia. In New Zealand, I took the opportunity to road trip the country. All of this was done on weekend getaways and public holidays over several months.
Sure, I could have visited these countries without living there. But it would have taken years, not months. New travel opportunities are just SO accessible when you’re living abroad, and it’s likely that you’ll be country-hopping before long.
8. You understand what’s universally important to everyone
When you live in a completely new environment, you quickly start to notice the similarities as much as you do the differences. For me, the starkest realization was that, at a fundamental level, we’re all very simple creatures.
Everywhere I went, people were happiest when they were eating good food, surrounded by their friends and family. This profound little realization helped me reframe what was important in my own life and showed me that you don’t need much to have a full cup.
9. It sets you up for success in your career
My parents’ reaction to me traveling the world went something like this: “You can’t possibly do that! It’ll be a huge career setback.”
Funnily enough, I found it to be the exact opposite.
Yes, there was a gap in my resume. But it was also a talking point for anyone I came across. I managed to win a client because of our shared love of travel. I built rapport with an employer because I had a global lens after spending time overseas. One of my managers took a keen interest in me because I understood Chinese business culture. And none of that would have been possible had I not lived abroad.
When you play your cards right, living abroad is a competitive advantage—NOT a disadvantage.
10. You realize what’s important to you
After spending so much time abroad, I realized where I wanted to be: close to my friends and family at home. I felt like I knew exactly what “home” was to me, but it took living overseas to come to that conclusion.
My friend, on the other hand, is the opposite. She’s been living abroad for well over a year and has no intention of coming home anytime soon.
That’s another magical thing about living somewhere else: you gain clarity on the life you want to live. Whether you find your home away from home like my partner did, discover you love traveling like my friend, or just want to settle down like me, none of us could have come to that conclusion without first moving overseas.