Practical Advice For Students Who Dream Of Traveling
World travel is possible at any age. However the best time to travel is when you’re young. Here are some tips for students who want to start traveling as soon as possible.
The other day I received an email from a young reader. Like many high-school and college students who reach out to me, she was asking for advice about how and when to start traveling.
Here’s her message (shared with permission):
She’s not alone. I receive a few of these messages each week, which tells me that many of you have similar questions. Hence this article.
It’s not something I’ve been able to answer well in a simple email.
For high-school and college students, thinking about the future can be confusing. I remember what it was like. Society is telling you to get a degree, get a career, get married, pump out some kids, then retire.
Some of us just aren’t ready for those milestones right now.
So today I wanted to share some travel advice for students who would like to travel more, but don’t know where to begin.
My Personal Experience
I didn’t start traveling around the world until I was 29 years old. It wasn’t until I was well out of college and working in the real world that I became interested in the budget backpacking lifestyle.
However 11 years earlier, when I graduated high-school, I packed up and drove across the country from New Hampshire to Montana and become a ski-bum for a year.
I told my parents it was to claim residence and take advantage of cheap in-state tuition before starting college… but really, I just wanted some time off after the previous 13 years of school!
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My “year off” was both difficult and rewarding. Working multiple jobs (cooking, roofing, landscaping), playing in my free time (snowboarding, hiking, parties) and learning how to be a responsible adult.
When it was over, I enrolled in college the next year with in-state tuition feeling focused and ready to learn.
Should You Go To School?
I’m not comfortable answering this question. I don’t know you. I don’t know your background. These kinds of decisions are extremely personal. What works for one person might not work for someone else.
However I can share my personal experience and a few suggestions.
If someone else is paying for your education, than yes I think you should go to school. Don’t waste that opportunity. You can always travel after school like I did. Or even during, which I’ll explain more a bit later.
If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, and must finance your own education, I don’t think paying for school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” will help. You’ll probably end up in debt with a degree in something you don’t enjoy.
Maybe take a year off. Figure some shit out. Travel. You can always enroll in school next year. Or look into other forms of education, there are plenty of free options available.
In my opinion, going to college with no direction is a waste of money. The US education system is far too expensive and screwed up these days. A university degree no longer guarantees a good job.
Travel While You’re Young
I’m glad I went to college. I had fun, learned a lot about business, and I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons my travel blog has become so successful over the years. Business & marketing skills I learned in school.
But I’m also happy I took a year off before starting college. While I didn’t use my year-off to travel around the world, looking back I wish I had.
All of us dream of traveling extensively one day, but sadly many people can’t drum up the courage or drive to attempt it. We procrastinate and make excuses because it’s easier. For me, I thought international travel was too expensive. Of course now I know that’s not the case.
The best time to travel the world is now, not later. Even if you are currently a student. Travel now, while you’re young, fit, healthy, and comfortable with a lower standard of living — willing to backpack on a budget.
Because it only gets MORE complicated in the future, not less.
OK, you may also be broke, unemployed, and secretly reluctant to give up the security of familiar surroundings, but don’t let these fears ruin your dreams. Think of them as challenges to overcome.
Follow these guidelines if you want to start traveling sooner.
Start Saving Money
As a student, it’s a lot easier to travel on a budget then when you’re older. Young people are generally more comfortable traveling cheaply and open to things like sleeping in hostels, eating street food, etc.
However you can’t count on winning the lottery to pay for your trip, so that means you need to tighten your belt. Take an extra evening job. Work over the weekends. Move into a cheaper apartment, or even back home.
Cook your own meals instead of eating out. Stop spending money on alcohol/cigarettes/coffee/video games/iPhones. Sell your car. Use public transportation.
Saving money isn’t rocket-science, but it’s going to take sacrifice!
How much should you save? That depends on your travel plans. In cheaper destinations like Asia, it’s possible to get by on $30 per day. I recommend aiming to save $1000-$2000 per month of planned travel.
So if you want to travel for 6 months in countries that cost an average of $50 per day, you’ll need to save $9000. Plus enough for a plane ticket home, travel insurance, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Enroll In Classes
Are you in school right now? One of the benefits of being a student is that you have access to professionals that can help on your path towards a life of travel. So if you aren’t quite ready to take off around the world, you can start preparing for the future.
For example, learn a new language. It’s not necessary to learn the languages of every country you visit, but your travel experiences are far more rewarding when you’re able to speak the native tongue.
How about signing up for courses on photography, videography, writing, graphic design, computer programming, social media, online business, or tourism marketing? You can enroll through the school, or learn using online courses, podcasts, and video tutorials.
You never know, you could stumble upon your dream career this way. Start learning skills that can help you make your travel dreams come true.
Education by other means is a viable step you can take right now if you would like to travel more in the future. Even if you’re busy with high-school or college, everyone can still find time to read!
Read books about budget travel. Read books about online entrepreneurship. Read books about marketing. Read books about writing. Read books about saving money.
Here are some of my top recommendations:
- I Can Teach You To Be Rich
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- How To Travel The World On $50 A Day
- Choose Yourself!
- The World’s Cheapest Destinations
- On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
- All Marketers Are Liars
Are you currently in school but want to travel over the summer? Did you just graduate but are low on funds? Why not consider a working holiday visa, which lets you visit a foreign country and work for a few months.
There are plenty of opportunities for students to work abroad doing things like sheering sheep, picking grapes, teaching kids to ski, working as a bartender, teaching English, or starting a corporate internship.
Popular destinations for working holidays include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Ireland, and Singapore. The travel & international work experience from a working holiday can help boost the power of your resume to future employers too!
Working Holiday Application Information:
Most universities offer an option to work or study abroad and gain valuable experience as part of your degree. It’s a wonderful way to start traveling, arranged and approved by your school.
Study Abroad programs offer the chance to study in a new country, often in English, although you’ll certainly pick up some of the local language just by living in a new culture and surroundings too.
These programs provide a crash-course in self-confidence and self-reliance within a structured study environment, and you may even be eligible for scholarships or grants.
This is probably one of the easiest ways to convince your parents to let you travel. Yes you’re traveling, but it’s for school! How can they say no to furthering your education with international experience?
Take A GAP Year
If you’ve finished college and want to explore the world, you could plan a GAP year and make the most of the time between college and a career. Or, take a year off after high-school before starting college.
The GAP year (or Bridge year) is very popular in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. It’s practically a right of passage. Students save money and travel before starting college or a career.
While not so popular in the United States, it’s definitely an option, and growing in recognition. In fact, even Malia Obama is taking a GAP year! I hope more students follow her lead.
Many colleges will postpone admission for a year allowing you to travel without losing your hard-earned place. Higher education experts agree that students who take GAP years do better than those who don’t.
In addition to a working holiday visa, one popular option is to work abroad as an English teacher. At one time I was looking into this myself, planning to teach English in Japan for a year.
It never happened, but many travel addicts have decided to make money this way. Basically you move overseas and teach children or company employees how to speak better English.
The job is in high demand, and can often pay well.
Most positions require a college degree first, and there’s a certification process too. But once you have all that sorted, it’s a wonderful way to see the world and make some income.
Many students dream of volunteering abroad and helping solve problems in the developing world. I understand. I did some volunteering when I first started traveling. It makes you feel like you’re making a difference.
This can be a good thing. But I’ve also learned over the years that not all volunteer organizations are doing good work. Some are downright scams to steal your money. Many others are doing more harm than good.
While international volunteering is certainly an option for students, I suggest you tread carefully. Please read this article before you start any kind of international volunteer project.
Convincing Your Parents
So, you’ve decided you want to travel more. But your parents don’t like the idea, or your friends think you’re crazy. How do you convince them? With scientific facts and testimonials of course!
If you want to take a GAP year, you can share this study showing that students who take GAP years end up doing better than students who don’t. Plus, if it’s good for Malia Obama, it’s good for you too.
If you want to volunteer in other countries, let your parents read this long list of famous Peace Corp Alumni. Remind them that volunteer experience is highly regarded by top universities & companies.
If you want to spend some time working abroad, explain to your parents how the best companies in the world prefer to hire employees with international work experience.
Do you know any adults who took time off from school to travel? Relatives? Friends? Teachers? Ask them to have a chat with your parents and help calm their fears.
Travel As Education
You know why the US State Department is actively trying to get more students to study abroad? Because it actually makes America stronger.
International travel experience is helping students get ahead in life. It’s good for business, good for government, and produces an intelligent, empathetic, and well-rounded society.
No, travel by itself is not better than a formal education.
But travel is a type of education. You learn about cultural differences, discover universal truths, gain personal independence, and figure out what’s going on beyond the curtain of media propaganda.
Combined with a formal education, students who travel are going to do better than those who don’t.
So yes, make it a point to travel more while you’re young, even if it’s just for a few months. It might not be easy, and it might take some planning, but I’m confident you won’t regret the experience.
Student Travel Resources
Here’s a list of resources for students who would like to find a way to travel more while they’re young.
- USA Study Abroad Office
- American Gap Year
- City Year
- Global Citizen Year
- IES Abroad
- Institute of International Education
- Grassroots Volunteering
- The Peace Corps
Have any questions about how to travel as a student? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!