Practical Advice For Students Who Dream Of Traveling

travel advice for students

Travel Advice for Students

Travel Tips

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):

“My name is Almaries, I’m 19 years old from Puerto Rico. I have a dream but I don’t know where to start. I want to explore every corner of the Earth. I want to travel, live adventurously, be nomadic. I know there are ways to save money, but how much is enough? When is the perfect time? Do I need to get my university degree or could I just start tomorrow?”

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.

Student Travel Advice

Me at 19 years old, with hair!

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 became 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.

Travel During School

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, then 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.

Traveling in Hostels

Start Saving Money

As a student, it’s a lot easier to travel on a budget than 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.

Read Books

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:

Working Holidays

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:

Study Abroad

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?

Traveling with Friends

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.

Teaching English

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.

For more employment options that let you travel, read my post highlighting some of the best travel jobs.

Student Travel Volunteering

Volunteering Abroad

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.

One organization that I think is making a difference is the United States Peace Corp. But again, it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into. You probably won’t change the world.

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 study abroad, explain how foreign schools provide better value than those in the Untied States. Tell them that the US State Department provides resources for students to study abroad.

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.

READ NEXT: 9 Reasons To Study Abroad

Have any questions about how to travel as a student? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

12 Comments

  1. I love this post. I quit college to dive into traveling for myself and for my blog (www.ProjectUnchained.com) and received a lot of flak from others about leaving college.

    One “friend” told me he’d beat me up if I were a family member. My father withdrew all his financial support.

    But I know a 9-5 isn’t for me. I love the thrill of travel and entrepreneurship. I love the excitement of not knowing what’s next. Of having to figure it all out yourself. Of the limitless possibilities of ideas you can realize…

    I’m sure you feel the same. I love reading your blog, you’ve got the skill to create a post which is both practical and emotion-inducing. Keep it up, Unchained one!

  2. I totally agree with this post. I didn’t follow a traditional path either. Dropped out of high school, got married, got divorced, went to college and joined the Army. One of the best decisions I made was going to community college instead of a traditional 4-year school. I was able to figure out what I wanted to study (history), and since I had to pay for everything myself it didn’t break the bank. Now that I’m older and have traveled to 20 countries, I’m about to go back to school for a much needed skills update and a 4th degree. It’s never too late to travel or go back to school!

  3. This is a really great article. I went directly from high school to college, did a variety of jobs that I didn’t particularly like, and then eventually caught the travel bug in my mid 20’s. In retrospect it would have been awesome to have taken a gap year between high school and university, but I’m nevertheless happy I started traveling before I became too bogged down with responsibilities. Now I’ve relocated permanently to another country and couldn’t be happier :)

  4. Definitely agree with the gap year philosophy and that heading straight into college is no longer “the answer” for many students. I would also recommend looking at alternative higher ed programs, such as Unschool Adventures, Carpe Diem Education, and the Wayfinding Academy in Portland, Oregon.

  5. This article was very interesting to read. I’ve been following you on Snapchat because I really enjoy watching people travel from their perspective. I want to travel the world one day and I will. I’m currently 21 and go to university I convince my parents to do road trips here throughout California, I tell my parents “hey I need a break from school” and they usually say alright and we’ll go to places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or out the state like Tucson Arizona etc. Being a student gives me more urge to travel and it’s something that can be done, for example just recently I went to Mexico then to Canada just in one summer, I also went to Oregon and Washington and it’s all affordable prices. It’s pretty amazing to travel and attend university at the same time. I’m currently studying geography and it’s pretty awesome to study the culture part of it and other things that will sure help me in my travels. Thank you for sharing this incredible article.

  6. Hello Matthew. Your article is really honest and full of interesting tips! Well done. We are sure that it will enable a lot of people to find out what they should do. It’s never too late to study. I (Cécile) started to study again in my 30’s and I am now a teacher! I won’t have considered this idea when I was younger! Do things will passion and you succeed anywhere! Keep up the great work Matthew! We are massive fans! Patrick and Cécile

  7. Yeah I didn’t really leave the USA except for 1 day in Mexico until I was 27. As of 32, I travel full time. But I’m able to do it because I didn’t have kids, had gotten divorced, and moved my career online. That takes so much work. If I could go back, I’d start traveling at 24 full time. I wouldn’t have skipped school for it or my 2 years in Teach For America. But I should have done it instead of starting a career I wasn’t in love with.

    1. Sounds a lot like my situation. Starting a career after college that just wasn’t for me. However I think it’s also a feature of our generation — realizing we prefer freedom & experiences over material goods like houses and cars.

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