There are a lot of articles on traveling in Thought Catalog. Date a girl who travels, how to travel on a budget, date a guy who travels, X benefits to traveling, date a dog who travels, etc. Suffice it to say, our generation has traveling on its mind.
Airfares, adjusted for inflation, have never been lower. And discount carriers are constantly trying to figure out more ways to pack more and more humans into those flying tin cans so they can drive down prices even further. So if you’re going to travel, you’ve never been in a better time to do it.
But you shouldn’t travel. Not after you just get out of college. It’s one of the most financially destructive things you can do. It doesn’t matter whether you can do it on a budget. Or if you “learned so much” while you’re doing it. No matter how many rationalizations you throw up, the biggest reason not to travel is the fact that you’re consigning yourself to economic insecurity for the rest of your life if you travel for extended periods of time in your 20s.
The vast majority of us will report the vast majority of our income on a W-2. We make our money on company time doing company work. And life will continue in that state of affairs for the average career. And that’s perfectly okay. Being an entrepreneur is tough. The hours are long, the pay isn’t great unless you’re the .01% that gets lucky enough to experience a “liquidity event”. You’re the first one in the office, the last to leave, and the last to get paid. It’s a rough road to ride. But I digress.
If you look at income for the average person over the lifetime of their career, it looks something like this:
Your earnings start off low, which is understandable. You’re new to the workforce. You have the least amount of experience and the shallowest professional network. So jobs are hard to come by and the pay isn’t that great. But as you grow older, your earnings will increase as you accumulate experience and grow your network. And it will plateau somewhere in middle age, either in your late 30s or early 40s. If you’re lucky, you can keep that high wage (while inflation chips away at its real earning power) for the rest of your career.
If you’re not so lucky, then working life gets really hard if you find your job displaced by technology, market forces, or skill erosion (which is a real thing once you reach your 50s and 60s). Employers are less willing to take a chance on an old employee, who has higher salary expectations and likely an outdated skillset. And it gets much worse if you find yourself out of work for more than six months. Because employers will assume that if you couldn’t get a job in the first six months of unemployment, there’s something wrong with you.
Personal anecdote time: A few years ago, I was working at a small auto insurance company when I was asked to interview a candidate for my job after I moved to another position. I interviewed the prospect. He seemed nervous, but did well in the interview. I said the same thing to my supervisor. My supervisor took a look at his resume, circled his 2 year employment gap in a red pen, and said “this doesn’t look good at all”. The prospect was not hired.
Statistics show that when an employee gets laid off in a recession, there is a 50/50 chance that they will have to accept lower pay at their new position. And half of those who took a pay cut took a cut of 20% or more. And there are plenty who take a job at half their former pay or less.
I say all of this because the smart play for us 9-5 (6) types is to travel up the career path as quickly as possible. You want to get to your apex earnings as fast as possible. And then once you reach that wage ceiling, you need to save as much of it as you can. Because you never know when you’re going to be next on the chopping block. Job loss sucks, and when you lose your job at a high position, there is a very long way to fall.
So where does traveling come in? If you travel after college, you’re not only spending money on airfare, hostels, incidentals, food, etc, you’re also incurring a huge opportunity cost in the form of lost wages and lost experience. The vast majority of employers are not going to treat travel experience as a plus when they look at your resume. The hiring manager, most likely a middle aged person in the peak of their earning power, is going to look at the gap the same way my supervisor (a middle aged white guy, by the way) did.
The more years you spend not working in your 20s is another year you can’t get back. Workers in their 20s are treated way differently from workers in their 50s. Employers are more willing to take chances on them, because they’re cheap and inexperienced. But the more time you spend in your twenties not climbing the ladder, the further you fall behind your peers who considered their 1 week vacation to Florida a good travel experience.
Back when commercial air travel was still in its infancy, it was reserved exclusively for the rich. They were the jet set, trotting all over Europe and Asia without a care in the world. Because their trusts and investments gave them all the money they ever needed. What’s a few thousand here and there on airfare and hotels?
The rest of us have to work for a living. But there’s a smart way and a dumb way to work. And the dumbest way to work is to take extended periods off without gaining any valuable skills or experience in the interim. If you aren’t rich, you shouldn’t travel for extended periods of time right after college. You should be doing everything you can trying to establish your career. Because traveling is still reserved for the rich.