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)

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)

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.

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

  1. 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:

  2. 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!!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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

    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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 🙂

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