How to Travel through Your Twenties Without Worrying About Money

Money makes the world go round and it’s also a big factor in helping you go around the world. 

Twenty-something Americans probably aren’t in the best place to save up for vacations or round-the-world trips. They usually have entry level jobs, student loans and very little acquaintance with the practicalities of the real world. 

But they also have some of the best visa options available. 

Graduating university in 2009 I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but I knew it involved travel. I looked into trips to India, volunteering abroad and even going back to school abroad. All things that are a lot of work to achieve and some of which cost quite a lot of money. 

Then I found a compromise between the travelers dream and the graduates reality, a work-holiday visa for Australia.

This visa allows 18-30-year olds, from quite a few countries to live and work in Australia for a year, however they choose. One of the only limitations is that they can only work for the same company for six months.  

I wouldn’t have known this visa existed if it weren’t for some serious soul-searching and even more serious searching on the internet. After college I found out it was possible to move abroad, earn money and not need a company or benefactor to support me. 

Once in Australia, working and holidaying, I learned that Australia wasn’t the only country offering this opportunity. While a lot of the other countries under the world-holiday-scheme are closed to US citizens like me, there is enough opportunity abroad for young Americans to travel and work throughout their entire twenties. 

If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a single decision made in my travels, but here’s how I would advise young Americans with an appetite for travel to get on the road and stay on the road as long as possible.

Study abroad (2-4 years)

The Donaldson Library
photo credit: stevecadman

As far as travel goes, the younger a person is, the more opportunity he or she has, mainly because of school. For twenty-something’s sake, I’ll focus only on university but quickly mention that even younger than university age, students can enter an exchange program, take part in school-sponsored trips, even win scholarships to travel abroad for academic purposes.

These days there really is no excuse for university students not to take advantage of international opportunities. Here’s the thing, university is expensive no matter where you attend. Why not spend that money not only learning about a subject, but also learning about the world?

A semester abroad may cost slightly more, but often times it’s pretty much the same as a semester in the States. Some student visas even allow people to work in that country, which takes away the huge concern of being able to earn money while abroad. 

If students plan their four years at university strategically, they could spend a whole year, maybe even two, studying abroad. The great thing about studying abroad is that it’s pretty much open in all countries around the world.

Students could even go further than just studying abroad and actually attend a foreign university.

Work abroad for current students and recent graduates (3 months to 2 years)

fog over Istanbul skyscrapers
photo credit: j.o.h.n. walker

Travel may be the last thing on a recent college graduate’s mind after Sallie Mae starts asking for money. But the year directly after college offers a few opportunities to live and work abroad that disappear after that year.

Ireland has two types of opportunities open to American students and recent graduates. First is the J1 program, which allows students to work a few months every summer of university in Ireland. Next is a 12-month work holiday visa to Ireland open to people enrolled in post secondary education and those who have graduated in the past 12 months.  

Applicants must prove they have funds of €1,500 ($US1,900) and a return ticket or €3,000 ($US3,800) altogether to qualify.

BUNAC offers recent college graduates a similar opportunity in Canada. Their ‘Work Canada’ program is open to US citizens age 18-30 who graduated in the last year or are currently are full-time, degree-seeking students at an accredited college or university. 

Through BUNAC eligible candidates are offered 12-month work authorization in Canada. The program costs $405, which can be a bit of money to save. Luckily, Canada is close enough to the States that people considering this opportunity won’t have to spend as much on airfare. 

Other work abroad options offered to current or recent university graduates, include a six-month work holiday pass in Singapore as well as internships all over the world.

Internships are often unpaid or ill-paid. So why not use a money-less summer to see not only what it’s like to work in a specific work sector, but also to work in a different country. 

Not to keep mentioning the company, but BUNAC offers an ‘Intern in Britain’ program as well. While BUNAC will help with visas, giving interns the ability to be paid during their internship, it is up to the internship-seeker to find an offer.

Internships abroad can be found just the same as in the States. Internship-seekers should contact companies in their particular field to learn about opportunities open to foreign students.

Working holiday Australia and New Zealand (1 to 2 years and three months)

taps
photo credit: rick

Opportunities to work abroad aren’t just open to college grads. In fact, what I think are the easiest two opportunities for twenty-somethings to travel, mainly require people to be age 18-30. 

As I mentioned at the start of this article, the sort of kick-off to me recognizing all opportunities abroad offered to US citizens was the working holiday visa for Australia. Well this visa is also offered in New Zealand.

The visas are pretty much the same, except US citizens have the option to extend their visa up to three months in New Zealand by doing three-months of farm work in the country. As of right now, an extension is not possible for US citizens in Australia. One other difference to mention is that the visa application fee for Australia costs $270, whereas New Zealand charges no fee to Americans.

I was shocked to see how easy these visas are to obtain. Basically, people must fill out an online application including personal details. As long as the person applying doesn’t have health concerns or a criminal record, he or she is usually admitted very quickly. I received my Australian work-holiday visa in a few hours and my New Zealand visa in a few days. People with health concerns or a criminal record could still be accepted, it just involves more paper work. 

On a side note, BUNAC also offers an IEP Work Exchange Visa Program for New Zealand. This is open to people 18-35 years old, even if they have already had a work-holiday visa for the country. It costs $550 and allows people to work in the country for 12 months. 

The next step (1 day to forever)

soda-lake-6537
photo credit: simonsun08

By timing your applications and the order of these visas correctly, the combination of them should bring people from age 20 to 27. That’s not including all of the traveling participants will be doing in between. 

After exhausting all the visas easily available to you, it’s time to use lessons learnt on the road to stay on it even longer. 

One option is teaching English abroad. People can earn enough money to maintain a living in countries like Thailand or Guatemala or they can actually lead a somewhat profitable career in places like South Korea or Japan. 

Another option is sponsorship. It can be a difficult process, but places like New Zealand and Australia actually need more people in certain work sectors, especially skilled jobs like carpenters and nurses. Consider the work-holiday visa just a foot in the door to two countries that have a plethora of opportunities. 

People interested in staying abroad even longer may consider going back to school abroad. This is very expensive, but it’s a plausible option.

Finally, those who want to stay abroad badly enough will just find a way outside the realm of visas and citizenship. I’ve met so many people on my travels who just found a country they loved and refused to leave. They work at bars, in tourism and as nannies, sometimes completely under the radar. I’m not condoning it, but I must mention it to prove that there is almost always a way to stay on the road. 

Now that the money excuse is out of the way, why aren’t you traveling?

Bobbi Lee Hitchon has been traveling the world for over two years. She’s had working holiday visas in Australia and New Zealand. Read about her adventures abroad at Heels and Wheels. Get to know her on Twitter and Facebook.

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90 thoughts on “How to Travel through Your Twenties Without Worrying About Money”

  1. I love this article! It came at a perfect time since I’m filling out scholarship applications to do an internship abroad (literally, right now). Thank you so much for all of the info, Stephanie!

  2. Great tips. I studied abroad during college and started research the day my senior year began. I’ve been in Spain teaching for nearly five years, have a work visa and am in their social security program! Those who do the research with their goal in mind can always find a way.

  3. I am currently living abroad, working at an engineering / management job – my first job post graduation, too. My work visa, plane ticket and relocation costs were covered in full by my employer at home. You’d be surprised how few professionals accept to relocate outside of their culture (or are able to survive it, really), and how much of an asset your travel experience and willingness to move can be in a job search.

    However, as someone who backpacked and lived abroad extensively during her student days, I have to warn you that working abroad is a radically different experience. One isn’t intrinsically better than the other, but if you expect long term employment abroad to be similar to long term tourism or working holidays, you risk being disappointed. You will experience the culture differently, probably be more integrated with the locals on a daily basis, be confronted to some aspects you wouldn’t have seen as a traveler, probably have a harder time fitting in the travel scene…

    It’s a great experience as long as you know what you are getting into.

    1. This is true. I think the working holiday visa is a great opportunity to see the work force abroad and in that first year, I found it was just fun. But of course work is similar all over the world. It’s not all one big party. I just think for people that struggle with money in their 20s, which is most, these are ways to get on the road.

  4. Once I finish grad school (and convince my boyfriend that I’m NOT joking about it), I fully intend to do a working holiday visa in New Zealand. I only have 5 years left before I’m too old, and I don’t plan to regret not doing it once I’m 30!

  5. One of the best and concretely encouraging articles on traveling while in 20’s and with not a lot of money! GREAT post, seriously.

  6. Great tips here. I’m 24 so I’m currently thinking about how I can make the most out of my 20’s and travel before I hit the 30 mark and visas are harder to get so thanks for the tips 🙂

  7. Wonderful post =) Unfortunately, I turned 30 last month so most of these options are no longer available to me (except for that NZ work visa for 18-35 year olds that I am looking into right now, thanks for the tip hehe)… BUT, on the bright side, I spent my 20s studying and working in Italy. Going abroad is definitely possible if you’re hungry enough. I look forward to my next overseas stint, wherever that will be.

    1. Sounds like you have you have your own tricks! Italy seems like a harder spot to get working visa, but would be a dream place to live. Let me know how the BUNAC visa in NZ turns out. It’s a great option for over 30s.

  8. Great tips on traveling for young people. I am 20, turning 21. However, it’s sad to say, having a close knit traditional family can have its disadvantages. I’m having trouble convincing my parents, mostly jut my dad to let me actually study abroad.

    But he does however, like to travel, so we get a lot of family trips during holidays. I guess that’s one way of traveling without worrying about money.

  9. Completely agree with encouraging people to take advantage of study abroad options. If I could go back in time, this is the key experience I wish I could’ve had, and still ponder trying to make it happen with post graduate studies.

  10. If I could go back, I’d study abroad for a whole year instead of just a semester, shit, I’d do the whole thing abroad. It is a necessary experience in my view, really helps with perspective helping to define yourself and what are your interests.

  11. Thank you so much for this post, I found it really helpful! I traveled to Australia about four years ago through the People to People Ambassador Program. They offer trips all around the world for people of all ages.

  12. Excellent post! I had no idea about the visa to Ireland, could be great for people in the US who’s parents might not approve of more far-flung destinations 🙂

    Amazing write up.

  13. One of the things I find hard about traveling through your twenties in addition to the finance situation is traveling while trying to balance a career. Really great post though. Often time people regret not traveling more when they’re young.

    1. I’ve struggled with that a bit. For some careers, you might find more opportunities abroad or that your experience abroad makes you a better candidate for future jobs. But it all really depends on your career. Sometimes you do need to choose which is more important to you at the moment, but not always, so I wouldn’t write travel off completely.

  14. I took off for Southeast Asia as soon as I finished my master’s and got some travel time under my belt before Sallie Mae came a-knockin’. Now that I’m actually paying those loans and still looking for work, I’m feeling a little trapped, but it’s good to know there are always options out there!

    (boy do I wish I could freeze time and stay in my twenties forever!)

    1. That’s what’s nice about the working holiday visas. You can still earn money while traveling, therefore pay for any debts at home. In the case of Australia it might be even easier to pay of debts at home as the Aussie dollar is stronger, wages are much higher and the country has a lot more jobs to offer than the States at the moment. I would look into a bit more. I know loans are annoying, but with a bit of planning you can still travel and manage Sallie Mae 🙂

  15. i am born and raised in Ireland, 20 years old and just need to go asap! there is nothing here for me and i was thinking of going to Australia, Canada, Sweden or The USA, i just don’t know where to start. . .

    Can i just get the Working Visa and a 1 way flight and just wing it when i get there?

    1. Yes. It’s part of the visa that you do NOT have to have a return flight. At least I know that for certain for NZ and Australia. Other countries may be different. You’re required to have so much money in your account. But not a return ticket. Just get out there and see how you go. I can almost guarantee you will love it! I’ve met a lot of people from Ireland traveling, so there are quite a few opportunities available to you.

  16. What about working in Europe? I always thought I’d just get a working visa and wait tables in london for a bit after college, but it doesn’t seem there are any options for US citizens to work in Europe. You mentioned teaching, but you still have to go through the visa process- I guess you’d have to get a school to sponsor you?

    1. Speaking from personal experience, it is pretty difficult to get a work visa in Europe (and particularly the UK) unless you have a company sponsoring you. Bummer.

    2. The opportunities in Europe are not as clear cut as the ones I mention above, but there are quite a few open to you. Yes, if you were to teach you would have to go through some sort of a work exchange or TEFL program with a school and they would assist you from there. I know Spain has a few opportunities. I would check out the blog: Christine in Spain to learn more on that. She has been living there for a few years. Also for opps in France, check out C’est Christine. For opps in Germany: Travels of Adam. Beyond that just google work in Europe and you will find quite a few companies that offer programs. Some can be pricey though.

  17. I also graduated University in 2009, spent 2 years in the “working world” in my small hometown in Pennsylvania, but couldn’t shake my desire to see the world. I always had a fascination with Europe, but I knew I didn’t have the money to travel around the world. I did some research and found out about a program in the beautiful city of Prague called TEFL Worldwide Prague, which certifies you to teach English worldwide. I applied, got accepted, quit my job, packed my bags and moved to Prague and haven’t regretted it at all. Because I took the course, I was able to land a job here in Prague. I’ve also made friends from all over the world, made fellow American teacher friends, traveled to places like Budapest, Bratislava, Munich and Amsterdam, and I can continue to do this because the expat lifestyle in Eastern Europe gives you just enough money to live comfortably. I’d highly recommend doing something like this!

    1. I saw this program as well! It looks awesome. Great to hear a success story with it. Prague is a beautiful country. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up teaching there one day. Thanks for sharing that.

  18. hi bobbi 🙂
    this gives me hope.however would you happen to know about these work visas for people coming from other countries?
    regards
    🙂

    1. Yay!! I know a bit about visas for other countries just from meeting people abroad. What country are you from? I can say in general, Australia, New Zealand, UK and Canada have loads of working holiday visas available to them. They pretty much have an exchange with all four countries, plus I know there is a working holiday visa for these four countries in Japan. A lot of South American and Asian countries can do a working holiday visa in NZ. Plus these countries can often do a language course/work visa to English-speaking countries. The more you look, the more you find. I’m always checking out opportunities and there are loads. The ones I mentioned above are just what I found to be the easiest for US citizens. Good luck!

  19. Just finding this post now. Excellent, excellent stuff. I’ve been looking for opportunities to go abroad without being completely irresponsible. (I had just settled on being irresponsible and going to Southeast Asia with almost no money when I stumbled on this post!) I just graduated from college in May, and, at 22, I’m reading to go!

    Question: Do you find a job before or after you apply/get your visa? Or do you just go over there and job search the same as you would here? Do you have any links or information or advice on how to proceed, for someone who has no idea where to begin?

    1. Very exciting. Happy this post could help. It depends on what kind of visa you are applying for. All of the ones in this post you would get the visas first. That’s what’s nice about the working holiday visa, you don’t have to worry about finding a company to sponsor you. Just go and find work the same way you would at home. Good luck.

  20. Being a Kiwi is also pretty awesome – you can travel to a ton of countries without visa stress and plenty of countries have working holiday arrangements in place. It’s definitely easier when you are younger – for example the US visa for fresh university grads within a year of graduation!

  21. So, even if you obtain a work visa, how do you find a job? Is it just like job-searching in the United States (internet, hard-copy applications, etc.)? Should you obtain a job or a work visa first?

    1. Once you have the work visa, you find jobs just as you would at home. Create a resume, apply in person, search the classifieds online and in print. I have had no problem at all finding work abroad. I found work in hospo to be the easiest, but I’ve also worked at newspapers, which is what my degree was in. It’s really up to you when it comes to finding work abroad.

  22. My husband and I are full-time US travelers right now but once we’ve seen all 50 states we plan to take it abroad. This is such wonderful information for us! Thank you so, so much for sharing!!

  23. Great write-up! In case anyone’s looking at Singapore, I’ll warn you now the visa’s easy enough to get but it’s incredibly hard to find an entry-level job. Most employers won’t even look at your application if you aren’t Singaporean or a Permanent Resident.

    I bought a one-way ticket there after graduation and thought I’d be able to find a job as easily as I did in China, but it took six weeks (and Singapore is hella expensive so those six weeks completely burned through my savings)! ALL of my expat friends there were in their 30s and brought in by their companies. I wrote more about the process here in case anyone’s interested: http://expatedna.com/2011/11/30/singapore-working-holiday-pass/

  24. I wish I’d read this post sooner! I’m a recent college graduate (well, since 6 months ago) and eager to live abroad. I’m looking into different ways and potentially go back to school to get my masters. I know some foreign schools/programs are pretty expensive, however, I’ve found that quite a few of the grad schools in Europe are actually cheaper than American universities. Very highly ranked schools too.

    PS: when I studied abroad in France during college, my tuition in France was cheaper than in-state tuition at my university! 🙂

  25. I really wasn’t expecting to find out so much about travel opportunities. Thanks a lot for compiling all of this.

    I was once interested in studying abroad. But I didn’t finish college, that’s out of the picture.

    Working abroad is looking like a more realistic option for me right now. Freelancing affords me that opportunity.

    I recommend that other twenty-somethings also try their hand at freelancing. It’s becoming a more common profession. When you control the money you make, it’s a lot easier to travel.

    1. So happy you found this post helpful! Freelancers have it best because they don’t really need to worry about work visas, just stay for the duration of the visitor visa and head to some place new!

  26. I’m glad I found this article. I’ve been trying to find a way to leave NY for a while and traveling has always been a passion of mine. I’m 26 and I don’t have the cliche goals of find a husband and having kids. All that’s on my bucket list is to see the world… then I could die happy and content. How much do you recommend saving up before taking off to another country? I’d love to leave at the end up the year but I’m sure that’s not enough time to apply for visas, etc.

    1. Applying for visas takes barely any time (Assuming you are an American citizen). I saved 20K for my trip around the world and that is usually the standard, but it depends on what you are planning to do abroad.

      1. Steph, what did you do about housing? Did you secure a spot prior to moving there? Have you visited the places you moved to prior to going?

        1. Hmm, well when I moved to London I reserved a room in a hostel and stayed there until I found housing. We usually do something along those lines. Best not to rent an apartment til you can see it first hand.

  27. Thanks for the great article!

    I am considering doing farm work in Australia by the start of next year. I am looking at going through an agency, they help with paperwork and set me up with interviews with farmers. They require anywhere from $800 to $1200, would you recommend this approach?

    All the best

    Jake

    1. Are you already in Oz and trying for your extension? If so, make sure your country is allowed to apply for extensions. When I was there Americans didn’t have this option. Found that out after a month of farm work, but anyway. If this is what you are doing and you are, say from the UK. I wouldn’t recommend going through an agency. It’s really easy to find farm jobs in Australia just got to whatever area of the country is in season at the moment. The paperwork is extremely easy too. I’ve not done it myself, but I watched a friend do it and it was nothing. However, if you are referring to purely coming to Australia on a visa that requires you only do farmwork, then I can’t really help. I knew a lot of people from Asia who had to do this for NZ and they said they contacted specific companies and got a letter from them for immigration, but I don’t know much more than that, sorry.

    1. It’s impossible to travel without money, but if you find opportunities to work or study abroad you can travel with less than most people expect!

  28. So what exactly does BUNAC do? Has anyone used it before? I know they assist in getting a visa, but are there any companies that assist in getting employment?

    1. When I went to the UK with BUNAC, they assisted me in getting the visa and offered services to help with finding housing and employment, although the responsibility was on the individual once they arrive. The UK is full of employment agencies that can place you once you’re there, I assume Oz and NZ are probably similar.

  29. I ended up signing up with Global Work & Travel. I highly recommend them. They guarantee work within 5 days after arriving to the city of your choice. Aside from work abroad programs they also offer internships, volunteer programs, and travel groups.

  30. All of this is so true! We have the best opportunities to travel when we are young! I studied abroad during college and also spend sometime working in Australia on the Work and Holiday visa you spoke about. I will be returning in a few weeks to finish the visa out. Unfortunately I do not have worked lined up for this trip. Any blogs or websites you would recommend for finding work abroad?

  31. I’d like to echo some other comments about foreign universities being much cheaper than American ones, contradicting what you said in the original article – “People interested in staying abroad even longer may consider going back to school abroad. This is very expensive, but it’s a plausible option.” I am doing my Master’s degree in Brazil and since I’m at a federal university, it is completely tuition-free. Teaching English allows me to make enough money to live comfortably. I’m pretty happy to be doing grad school debt-free!

  32. I would really love to embark of this journey of travelling abroad to study and work.Living the dream of making my family proud.Am a young boy age 19years,am so interested in this opportunity.Little help from you would be glad.

  33. Recently graduated in May from UGA, 3 months ago, but planning on doing study abroad for the first time in Spring 2017 as a former student re- applicant. I’ll be 22 so I should still fit in?

    1. I turned 22 during my study abroad trip to England and while i was slightly older than the average study abroad student it was no big deal.

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