The Opportunity Cost of Travel Now, Later, and in Retirement

Alec Shklyar, Money, Personal FinanceIn today’s age of innumerable travel blogs, the question often beckons: should I travel while I’m younger and have less responsibility or when I’m older and have more money? There are pros and cons to both, clearly. When you are younger, you may have less responsibility but you often don’t have the fiscal resources to truly take advantage of an immersive travel experience. Of course, that is not to say you are diminishing the impact of your travel at all, but it does certainly reduce your options to a certain extent. On the flip side, traveling while you’re older can be tremendous. You can budget for the finer things, stay in hotels—not hostels, and even afford good food. However, as can probably be guessed, you are generally confined to a restrictive time frame since you have, likely, by this time established a career where you play an integral role that cannot be neglected for extended periods of time. In light of all this, I have elected to list the various benefits of travel now vs later, what it means for your wallet, and most importantly: is it worth it?

Your teens & early 20s.

While this is less likely considering your finances are most likely strained, this option does pose a number of benefits. First and foremost, time. Time plays a role of integral significance when it comes to traveling because it dictates responsibility or the lack thereof. You probably have not worked your way up the ladder in the rat race that is your career, and so the opportunity cost of both salary and career development are thankfully limited. Then again, if your career development is limited then so is your financial backing. One way around this is to work while you travel—a phenomenal option that should by no means be overlooked—but this will inevitably take away from the precious time you are using to travel in the first place. There are many different schools of thought in this regard and I leave it up to you to make the final decision, of course.

Your 20s

A time to let go. A time to find yourself. A time for maturation as adolescents become adults and integrate into the workforce where they will remain until retirement. Your 20s, in regards to maturation, seem like the perfect time to travel. You are young enough to retain the vigor that traveling nonstop requires and perhaps you have even developed a fair bit of financial backing at this point. However, your career development will likely be stifled if you choose to leave the foundation you have spent your education and the beginning of your professional experience lying. Many may claim that to travel in your 20s is to undo the progress you have made, but to be frank, I feel that to travel in your twenties is likely the best time (while working) because you are unencumbered by family, unrestricted by significant occupational responsibility, but still have the resources with which to travel comfortably and for an extended period of time.

Your 30s.

To be totally honest, traveling in your thirties is probably the most intelligent financial or socially responsible decision. The opportunity cost in regards to salary will probably be much greater than it would have been ten years earlier, and this is often a time where individuals are looking to start families, to fall in love and purchase their first home. /your 30s are time to live the American dream, and while that’s certainly a beautiful time in life, it also means traveling is less likely.


I realize I left out a few decades, but your 40s and above, until retirement, are more or less the same idea with respect to opportunity cost and raising a family. Retirement, though, if you’re healthy enough, is without a doubt the best time to travel. Although you may not have the energy of your twenties, you will be free to explore without an anchor. With no job to remind you of reality and the responsibilities inherent within it, you can make good use of your fiscal resources without feeling like you need to report back to the office. There is no reason the twilight of life cannot be the highlight of life. The tail-end of your career can be just the beginning of your travel. To truly take advantage of life for everything it has to offer, you need to feel unencumbered by work. Retirement does just that.