When are you too young to travel?

If you feel like you're ready to travel, do it.
If you feel like you're ready to travel, do it. Photo: Getty Images

The older travellers think you're too young. They see you gap-year kids, all bright-eyed and enthusiastic glassy-eyed and drunk, and they're pretty sure you're not getting the best out of the travel experience.

After all, what can you really understand about the world when you're fresh out of high school? You don't care about culture. You don't want to gain a deep understanding of a foreign country. You don't want to learn a language.

And even if you did want to do any of those things, you don't have enough money to make it happen. Unless your goals are to slurp instant noodles and drink cheap South-East Asian beer, you're going to fall sadly short.

Those gap-year travellers, however, see things differently. They look at the backpackers in their late 20s or early 30s and they probably feel a bit sorry for them. They've got so much to worry about – jobs to go back to at home, mortgages to stress over, long-term partners to hold them back from the shag-fest that gap-year travel can become.

So who's right? Are you better off travelling when you're young, or travelling when you're older? Do you take a gap year right now, blow off uni for 12 months and see the world, or do you wait until you've got some professional experience and some money in your pocket?

With the first round of university offers coming out later this week, it's a question plenty of young people will probably be asking themselves. If you end up being rewarded for your 12 years of toil and bullying with the offer of, say, an arts degree, you might well consider packing it all in and going overseas.

I say: do it.

There's no fail-safe answer to the travel-now or travel-later question. There is no absolutely right decision, because there are some great arguments for either side of the equation.

But for me it all comes down to this: if you feel like you're ready to travel now, then go and travel now. Because things change, and you might never get the opportunity again.

I've taken three "gap years" now – once on leaving high school, once after a few years in a the workforce, and another in my early 30s – and each has had its own appeal. It might be true to say that people straight out of high school are a little naïve, and that they don't have the understanding of the world that they might have in 10 years' time, but who really cares? The idea of travel is to enjoy yourself – and school-leavers know how to enjoy themselves.

There might be a worry among school-leavers (or, more likely, among their parents) that you'll catch the travel bug and never come home, never finish that degree – or even start that degree. That's a legitimate concern, although travel is all about setting your life on a different path. Chances are you will come home to study refreshed and more mature, but if you don't, you'll end up doing something probably far more interesting.

The other issue is money. If you don't have much to spend when you're young, how can you see all the things you should be seeing? You can't. And even if you could you wouldn't see it through the same eyes and appreciate it in the same way as you will be able to in 10 years' time.

But that shouldn't stop you having a go. The only major downside – if you can call it that – to travelling right now is that it will probably doom you to a lifetime of wanderlust, to spending all of your money on going places and seeing things. Once you've got the bug it's hard to shake.

That means you'll probably end up taking several gap years. You might take another one when you finish uni, before entering the professional world. You might take a career break in your 30s, before having kids.

There are things you'll take from that era of travel that you could never have appreciated as an 18- or 19-year-old. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go right now. Uni can wait. There's no education quite like seeing the world.

Do you think it's better to travel when you're fresh out of high school? Or is it better to wait until you're older? Did you take a gap year when you finished school? What was your experience like? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

The writer travelled at his own expense.

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