At 20, I felt like I had all the time in the world. Things got real when I turned 26 — I was in Paris a few days before my birthday to revisit all my favourite art museums while I still qualified for the youth discount. I didn’t feel any different the day I turned 26 but all of a sudden, literally overnight, I became an adult (at least in the eyes of the French museum ticketing authorities).
Many people find turning 29 to be worse than turning 30. I turned 29 in Tokyo, partly because I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and partly because I wanted to be in a big, crazy city to distract myself from the fact that I was now only one year from the big 3-0. No matter how much you’ve accomplished, turning 30 is still scary as hell.
As my last days as a 20-something are drawing near, I decided to make a list of everything I’ve done in my 20s that have changed my life. If I could relive my 20’s over again, these would be the 30 things I would do all over again.
For those of you going through your own personal “crisis” in dealing with such a huge milestone birthday coming around the corner, I hope this list will be an inspiration of things you can check off your own bucket list for living a kickass 20’s, and to go into your 30’s feeling like a champ.
1. Live abroad
Coming from a blog called The Perpetual Expat, living abroad predictably tops my list of things you should absolutely do in your 20’s. Expand your mindset, make friends who are totally different than you, learn a new language, date some foreigners, eat weird food…the possibilities are quite endless.
2. Do something that scares the sh*t out of you
What’s life if you don’t get your adrenaline pumping every once in awhile. Go surfing, skydiving, bungee jumping, or whatever your jam is. It’s exhilarating, and once you learn that you can smash your fears, everything else in life feels like a piece of cake right?
3. Find your dream job
Way too many people get stuck in jobs they hate, and many for their entire lives. Your 20’s is a decade for experimentation, and figuring out your passion should be at the top of that list. Do internships, try out jobs in different industries, network, don’t be afraid to quit jobs you hate. Always look for more.
I’ve tried a ton of jobs in my early 20’s, ranging from teaching English abroad, to freelancing as a graphic designer, illustrator, travel writer and proofreader. I even did a master’s degree in European-American studies with the intention of working for an NGO.
I found my calling after designing at Nike at 26, and I’m currently at Google. Remember that your dreams are never out of reach.
As fellow Canadian Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
4. Backpack the world
There’s something weirdly satisfying about the trips that you kind of just wing, staying at hostels that are borderline sketchy, partying with people you’ve only met 10 minutes ago, and seeing as much of the world as you can possibly can with your adamantly heavy backpack. So expand your horizons and check off all the countries you’ve always wanted to visit.
Your 30’s brings a new type of traveling that’s greatly exciting in a different way, but it will never be the same as the raw youthfulness of traveling in your 20’s. Something about being the only 30-something in a hostel full of gap year backpackers also just doesn’t have the same appeal.
5. Travel alone
I love traveling as a couple or with friends, but often, nothing beats the excitement of traveling alone. Everyone should travel alone at least once in their life — it’s an awesome way to step outside your comfort zone, explore places at your own pace, meet people you normally wouldn’t talk to, and be as crazy and daring as you can possibly be.
6. Learn a new language
Little did I know that taking a German language course as an elective in university one year would lead to me living in Europe for almost four years. I never became fluent in German. Actually, I learned that I’m pretty terrible at learning languages (we can’t be good at everything right?), but hey, you’ll never know how life-changing ordering a beer in another language can be until you give it a try.
7. Give back
The more you travel, the more you realize that the world is a lot less picturesque than what shows up on your Instagram feed, especially once you leave the developed world. There’s a lot of struggle, suffering, and yet it seems like the people who have the least seem to have the most to give. Being older means caring more about others and the world around us. Donating to charities is one option.
If you don’t have the budget to do so, give your time by volunteering. It’s one thing to talk about wanting to help others. It’s another to actually do it. It’s highly rewarding.
8. Treat yo’ self
Making money should be about enjoying the finer things in life, so don’t be afraid to splurge on yourself occasionally. Buy yourself that designer bag, those sweet limited-edition Jordans, a memorable stay at a 5-star hotel. Those late nights at the office aren’t all for nothing. You deserve it!
9. Save for the big things
With the previous point said, figure out how much you can afford to save out of every paycheck and make it happen. You don’t have to sacrifice things like traveling or occasional luxury splurges, but strive for financial independence, pay off your student loans, and start saving for the big things.
Being nearly 30 means having a pretty expensive decade ahead of you — while it’s different for everyone, many people tend to get married, buy property, and/or start a family in their 30’s. That sh*t gets expensive.
10. Get fit
They say exercise is the one habit nearly all ultra-successful people have in common. In fact, Richard Branson even calls it his #1 productivity secret. Building and maintaining a regular workout routine requires work, mental endurance and sacrifices (goodbye boozy brunches) but it becomes easier over time and your body will thank you for it.
If you’re fit when you’re younger, it’s easier to stay fit when you’re older. Sure you can diet to lose weight, but do you really want to eat salads for the rest of your life? There’s also a big difference between being “skinny fat” and actually being lean and toned. If you’re dreaming about that beach bod, if you don’t work for it in your 20’s, when will you?
11. Read often
Learning shouldn’t stop after we’ve graduated from school. Expand your mind and learn something new everyday. Remember, knowledge is power!
12. Fall in love
Have flings, date foreigners, fall in love with someone who’s totally not “your type.” You have the rest of your life to “settle down,” but how will you know who your type is if you don’t let different people into your life?
13. Get your heart broken
Dating comes with its fair share of heartbreaks. Luckily it’s all part of growing up! (or so they say).
14. Eat weird food
This is an easy one for me because growing up with Asian parents, you grow accustomed to eating things like fish eyeballs. If you can eat that, you can basically eat anything. Realize that Kung Pao chicken isn’t really Chinese food and that there’s more to Mexican food than just fish tacos, and your food horizons will feel infinite.
15. Go snorkeling or scuba diving
Earth is made up of 71% water, so if you’re only exploring the world by land, you end up missing a whole lot. Going snorkeling (or more adventurously diving) in exotic locations around the world opens up a whole new world of marine life waiting to be explored. Aquaman, are you out there?
16. Find “home”
I moved out of home to go to university when I was 18 and it was exhilarating. Since then, I’ve lived in so many cities in so many countries, I’m not quite sure what to call home. I refer to myself as being Canadian, and I’ll say “home is Toronto,” but truthfully, I feel more at home in Sydney, Amsterdam and especially New York City than my “real” home.
And that’s ok. Home doesn’t have to be where you were born or grew up. Live in different places and find a place you can call home.
17. Experiment with your style
As part of your self-discovery, finding your personal style is one that’s often overlook but nonetheless important. Experiment and find what speaks to you, whether you’re a minimalist, a trend-setter, a bohemian, an accidental goth, a hipster, or you simply prefer all-black outfits with a nice pair of kicks. Invest in some staple pieces that you can wear forever, like a nice leather jacket, or a wool coat.
Be unique, be bold, and don’t be afraid to have fun with your wardrobe. Harry Winston once said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”
18. Go on a road trip
Just you, some good music, some friends (optional) and see where the road takes you.
19. Live minimally
It’s easy to accumulate things but it’s always hard to declutter. Living in a studio in New York City forced me to live minimally and I haven’t looked back since. You don’t really need five ugly Christmas sweaters do you?
20. Get a tattoo
While we’d probably cringe at the tattoos we dreamed of getting in our teenage years (a big thank you to parents everywhere for not letting their kids do so), I’d like to think that we’re finally mature enough in our 20’s to get something permanent on our bodies that we won’t regret in a few years.
Create something meaningful — it doesn’t have to be big or highly visible —but something that speaks to you, find a tattoo artist you love, and think of it as a souvenir from your 20’s.
21. Talk to strangers
The older we get, the more we tend to form our own tight-knit social circles, and feel less inclined to make new friends. However the world is full of interesting people and you never know what relationships can form from a simple “hi” to someone you don’t know.
22. Go to a rave or music festival
Get crazy, do things you’re relieved that you don’t remember doing, because hey, we only live once right?
23. Get a travel rewards credit card
If you travel often, getting a travel rewards credit card can be immensely rewarding. Purchases using the card translates into points and miles. If you can pay off your balance monthly and don’t have one already, I would recommend doing some research to see which best fits your lifestyle.
I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and one of my favourite perks is the access to airport lounges. Nothing feels more adult than reading the newspaper with some free drinks and food, all from the comforts of a private lounge while waiting for your flight right?
24. Learn about politics
It can be hard to avoid bias, and the older we get, the more people tend to box themselves into a certain mindset. Often it sways too conservative, sometimes it can become too ultra liberal, and people become unable to see things from a different perspective. Learning more about world politics, and opening your worldview can be a great experience. Accept that everyone is different — and embrace those differences.
Watch the news objectively, read newspapers or magazines, or listen to podcasts (my favourite is The Daily by the New York Times which is on Spotify). Being informed makes you a smarter traveller and a more compassionate human being.
25. Create something
As a designer, I create things all the time as part of my job. There’s something exhilarating about seeing your work come to life — whether it’s a commercial on tv, illustrations on a company website or billboards in New York City. It’s cool looking at something that thousands of other people are also looking at and think, I made that.
Before becoming a designer, I was always in the mindset of creating something — from this blog, to an e-book, to even paintings I’ve sold and gifted. Taking an idea and bringing it into the world is an awesome feeling that everyone in their 20’s should experience.
Make a song, start a podcast, patent an invention — find something you’re passionate about and just make it happen. Even if all that it amounts to is low-key bragging rights at a party.
26. Don’t waste your weekends
Once you start working, weekends always feel like they come and go way too quickly. The amount of weekends we have in our 20’s are limited, so try to set a goal to do something every week — go to that party that’s too far away, check out the gallery crawl with people you don’t know, hang out with friends you haven’t seen in awhile, dance until sunrise, be a tourist in your own city, go on a hike even if the weather isn’t great. Don’t let excuses get in the way of doing awesome things.
There’s always time to Netflix and chill when you’re older.
27. Fail at things
There’s no better time to hopelessly fail at things than in your 20’s — you’re wise enough (hopefully) to learn from your mistakes and young enough to figure out better ways to do things. So fail, fail, and fail some more. Then pick yourself up and discover all the things you don’t fail at.
28. Dream big in New York City
While I’m all for seeing as much of the world as possible, if there’s only one place everyone should visit, it’s New York City. Don’t get me wrong, there’s many incredible cities in the world, but there’s just something about New York’s unmatched energy and brimming diversity. Get out of Times Square, and you’ll feel like the entire world has come to New York City.
You’ll eat the best food of your life, experience things you didn’t know existed, and best of all, you’ll meet people from all walks of life — all with big dreams and a city to make it happen. There’s never a dull moment in the city that never sleeps and you’ll never feel more alive.
This is a city that has changed my life in a million ways. If you have the opportunity to live in New York City, that’s even better. As they say, If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. There has never been a truer quote.
29. Make time for family and friends
Life gets busy in your 20’s, and people change and grow. Balancing things like work, after-work events, travel and whatever else you have going on might be hard, but always find time for your family and friends. Family might always be there for you, but people don’t wait for you forever. Life is short, don’t take anyone for granted.
30. Live life on your own terms
Everyone has a different path in life and different ways of getting there. When you’re young, it’s common to be told by seemingly wiser and older people that you should get married or buy a house by XX age, or you shouldn’t pursue this or do that because of X and Y reasons. The truth is, there’s no one correct way of doing anything, and often the most successful people are ones who took an unconventional path in life.
While I hope this list serves as an inspiration for how you can live a decade full of fulfillment, remember that our youth doesn’t die the moment we turn 30. Jessica Chastain landed her first Hollywood role at 31, Stan Lee didn’t create his first comic until he was 39 and Vera Wang didn’t become a fashion designer until she was 40.
So do what makes you happy and never stop chasing your dreams.