Recently, I have gotten a bevy of emails from 16 to 21 year old women asking for advice on their dream of taking a year off to travel. This poses some difficult ethical dilemmas for me that I’d love your help with, dear readers.
Namely: How can our advice to these young prospective travelers balance my worship of travel as education, with my passion for all youth to obtain the educational degrees and work experience they need to succeed in the 21st century job market?
First, here is where I am coming from, personally: I am a 28-year-old who worked full-time as a public high school teacher for six years, saving money through work for this long voyage, and building up slowly for a year away through shorter international trips of one week to three months.
Before flying out of Boston for this nine-month Around the World trip, I had already volunteer taught, taken classes, or traveled through eight Latin American countries and smatterings of Europe during my summers off as a teacher.
Knowing this, here is my advice-in-progress to 16-21 year olds eager to take a year off to travel.
1. Getting a college degree is ESSENTIAL in this economy, and though you may very well appreciate schooling better after a little time away, once you leave the conventional “river” flow of education, sometimes it is difficult to get back in.
NEVER lose sight of the fact that you need to get your behind back to school ASAP after travel, or you will end up with worse jobs later down the road, and thus smaller earnings with which to embark on future travels!
2. Second only to a college degree in importance is work experience. Make SURE during your time out of school that at least half your time is spent in volunteer (or even paid) positions. Another useful and educational option is to take short-term classes— anything from language to massage!
Not only will this help you learn new skills and give your resume a much-needed boost through volunteering or coursework, but being part of a helping or learning organization will make you feel less lonely and more like your travels are worthwhile.
3. Think carefully about whether you want to take an entire YEAR off to travel. Remember that as a college student, you have nearly 3 full months of summer vacation, and for me, that was the perfect amount of time for my first half-dozen voyages.
To be honest, I’m in month eight and a half of travel right now, and it’s really pushing my limits, even as a 28-year-old with extensive travel experience! Consider starting small and working up to a year.
4. A major concern I have about young people without full-time work experience traveling is MONEY– specifically the capacity to have enough self-created savings. Trust me: it is a whole lot more satisfying to travel knowing you earned all your funds your own self, and that’s hard to accomplish for a full year’s voyage unless you have been working full time for several years, which most people under 21 have not.
Moreover, it’s more delicious to experience long-term travel if you’ve been in the working world for a few years and thus know what it’s like to compare.
That said, a lot of this blog is about how travel can be accomplished for less than $1,000 a month (or $30 a day) once you get past the expensive initial plane tickets. This means that it is more than possible for young people save enough through their part time jobs for a few months of travel– which brings us back to point number three: reconsider taking a full year off.
5. While I believe the majority of travel is just as safe as being at home, people embarking on their first long-term travel experiences must ALWAYS keep a good head on their shoulders.
Southeast Asia, for example, is full of literal buckets of alcohol for cheap, and as a result, it is also full of 20-year-old travelers projectile vomiting, falling off treacherous heights, or having pregnancy scares.
There are also always, alas, swindlers, gropers, robbers and worse (and yes, you can click each of those words for articles about each)– though of course the good people of this world far outweigh the bad. Know that you will learn a ton in your travels, but try to learn it the wise way, not the hard way!
6. Now, here are some POSITIVES about traveling as a 16-21 year old! First, this “Gap Year” business is very common in Europe between high school and university, and thus you will be in very good company in areas such as Southeast Asia and Australia to which such Gap Year-ers tend to flow.
Second, the experience, perspectives, and skills gained through travel will give you a much more mature and wise view once you reenter your former life and educational path.
Third, this is an increasingly globalized world, so the knowledge of other cultures you will accrue will be invaluable in your later job searches– and general future interactions with other humans.
To summarize: Never forget your education, make sure at least half your travel is volunteering or taking classes, consider starting your travel career with voyages of two to three months instead of a year, try to earn your own funds, be wise to be safe, and know: travel IS awesome and extremely educational, so you’re on the right path!
What else am I missing in this advice, readers? And young prospective travelers, what further questions do you have?
Photo Note: All these pictures were taken in Granada, Spain, which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!