Five years ago, I (melodramatically) posed the question, “Is it smart to travel young?”
At the time, I was 22, working in Paris as an au pair. Though I loved my life in Paris, I feared I had preemptively ruined my career by taking a gap year.
I certainly hadn't, but I understand why I felt that way. While I corralled French children and earned a pittance of a salary, my friends racked up prestigious internships and started their careers. In comparison, I felt unaccomplished, and was worried about falling behind.
Now that I’m several years into my career (and newly admitted into grad school!), I wanted to respond to the original question.
The short answer is yes, it's smart to travel young, depending on your circumstances and goals.
The long answer? Travel may or may not help you find the right career, but it will undoubtedly help you grow as a person. If you do it right, you'll acquire invaluable friends, skills, and experiences.
How travel changed me
But then, a few months after graduation, I moved to Paris for a year. And after Paris, I spent a year backpacking the world, mostly solo.
After two years of living and traveling abroad, I was a girl transformed. Travel had changed me, in ways both big and small.
One way is that I became more outgoing. After navigating dozens of hostel dorms as a solo traveler, I could strike up a conversation with almost anyone.
I also became more self-reliant. If I could barter with a tuk-tuk driver in Delhi, I could certainly negotiate a lease in Denver.
Most importantly, travel gave me self-confidence in spades. This came from knowing that I could do hard things: learning fluent French in less than a year, backpacking the Himalayas, scuba-diving with sharks despite my lifelong fear of them.
By proving myself to be capable time and time again, I gained confidence in my own strengths and abilities. And as I'm sure you know, confidence makes all the difference in every area of life: career, love, and everything else.
Why traveling is easier when you're young
When you're young, you have a higher tolerance for just about everything, from dirty hostel dorms to day-long hangovers.
Physically, being in your early twenties is like a super power: You can fall asleep anywhere, including a bean bag in a hostel common room. You can drink like an Australian (for a few weeks, anyhow). You can eat pad Thai every night and mysteriously not gain weight.
Another benefit of traveling young is that being broke feels less problematic. Cost-cutting measures like sleeping on airport floors and cutting your hair in the sink seem weirdly fun and almost romantic.
Travel is a joy and a privilege at any age. But travel, especially long-term budget travel, is easier to do while you're still in your twenties and have yet to accrue many responsibilities.
So if you just graduated from college and feel an overwhelming desire to travel, do it. To even consider traveling abroad is a privilege, and not one that everyone has. You are not shooting yourself in the foot by deciding to travel — you are investing in yourself and the person you will eventually become.
(One caveat is that there are certain jobs that recruit at the end of college, like consulting, so if that's your ideal career path, perhaps post-college travel is not the best idea.)
That said, be responsible. Have savings, get your vaccinations, and buy travel insurance. Social media enthusiastically espouses the idea of quitting your job to travel, but moving or traveling abroad is a big decision, and should be carefully considered.
. . . . . . . . . . .
In my opinion, the best way to travel after college is to work abroad. That way, you'll be able to make money while also exploring the world.
Here are some ideas on how to work abroad after graduation:
- If you have hefty student loans, consider teaching English in Korea. My friend Audrey made $17,000 in one year while teaching in Korea.
- If you’ve always wanted to learn a language, au pair in Europe.
- If you love road tripping, become an adventure tour leader and lead people around the United States.
- If you're outdoorsy, pick up a seasonal job like working as a lift operator in Colorado or guiding kayakers in Alaska.
- If you're a strong student, apply for grants or scholarships that let you study or work abroad after college (I really wish I had done this). Some ideas: Rhodes Scholarship, Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Fulbright Program, Watson Fellowship.
All this being said – I'm so happy I traveled young, and I feel fortunate that I was able to do so. The two years I spent living and traveling abroad were some of the best of my life.
And given the chance, I wouldn't change a thing.
What do you guys think? Do you think it’s smart to travel after college? Did you do so yourself?