After a stunning introduction to international football, the Tottenham Hotspur winger has his sights set on next year's FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil, but his path to the top has been unique in its circuitousness.
Aged 17, he joined third-tier Yeovil Town for the first of nine loan spells that would include stints at Leyton Orient, Milton Keynes Dons, Ipswich Town, Watford, Millwall, Leeds United, Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers.
In Yeovil, an unglamourous market town in southwest England, Townsend and hotel room-mate Jonathan Obika - another Spurs loanee - smuggled in an electric stove in order to maintain a healthy diet.
"We went so young," recalls Townsend, who is expected to start in England's friendly against Germany on Tuesday. "We were so young, naive and professional. We wanted to do everything right and make our loan successful.
"We took an electric stove and we used to take turns to cook for each other, and clean for each other. It was a humble beginning, really. I just cooked the basics - pasta, anything pasta-based I could do."
It was the beginning of a haphazard introduction to professional football for the youngster, but by then he had already been given a taste of the ups and downs to come.
A member of the youth set-up at Spurs from the age of eight, Townsend was informed in his mid-teens that the club had decided to release him - only to be told a day later that he had been reprieved.
"I've grown up a Spurs fan and I've always wanted to play for Spurs, so to be told you're not good enough is obviously heart-breaking," Townsend said. "But then, 24 hours later, I was back in, so I was delighted, and I wanted to take that second chance and not let it go again."
Trials by fire
The road ahead was no less undulating, however, and by the time he was loaned to QPR in January this year, he had made only 15 first-team appearances for Spurs.
Though QPR were ultimately relegated, Townsend's time at Loftus Road proved a success, but he returned to Spurs to find the club ambitiously stock-piling players in a bid to return to the Champions League.
"I think it was last-chance saloon for me," Townsend reflected. "You see they were spending money on various different wingers, so I knew when I got the chance I'd have to take it, and thankfully I did."
With Aaron Lennon sidelined by a foot injury and record signing Erik Lamela being eased into life in north London, Townsend, now 22, took hold of the right-wing position at Spurs with both hands.
And when his form was rewarded with a first England cap against Montenegro last month, he produced a man-of-the-match display crowned with a fine goal in a 4-1 win that took Roy Hodgson's side to the brink of World Cup qualification.
Townsend watched the last World Cup as a fan during a family holiday in Cyprus, but although he accepts that he now has a "foot through the door", he does not want to get carried away with dreams of the Copacabana.
"Obviously when you're a youngster, when you're at school in the playground, you pretend you're at the World Cup; you pretend you're at the World Cup final, taking the winning penalty," Townsend said. "You go to bed at night dreaming of lifting the World Cup. I'm no different to any youngster, but I think now it's a genuine possibility, I don't think I've allowed myself to think about it or talk about it.
"I'm with the England squad now and the main aim of us being here is to impress the manager to try and get in the squad. Of course everyone thinks about it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't."