The quick answer to this question – do you need a university degree to travel? – is of course a big fat ‘no’. It’s not as if you’ll be asked for your university diploma when entering a new country and you certainly won’t need to show proof of extended study in order to check into a hostel or hotel.
But what I really want to talk about is the role that a university degree can play when it comes to living a life that involves long-term, and in many cases, indefinite, travel.
It’s a common dilemma. Should I go to university or should I start traveling right away? Then some university students spend long hours wondering if they should just drop out and chase after their travel goals without graduating. When the road calls, the call is powerful and it’s only natural that it often lures people away from three or four (or five) more years of formal education.
First of all, by no means do I think having a university degree to travel is vital. I’m a firm believer that any determined individual can transform travel into a lifestyle, regardless of their educational background, work history or skills that one would use to make their resume/CV look more impressive.
However, I will also state that having a university degree does indeed make life much easier for those interested in embarking on an indefinite trip and trying to earn money around the world.
The truth is that in many cases it doesn’t matter at all what you study at university or even how well you perform. The important part is just having that extra level of education.
How is this important?
Many organizations and companies out there in the world that you might decide you want to work with often won’t consider hiring or working with people who do not have a university degree.
Let’s look at teaching English, or any other language for that matter, overseas. If you were to show up in Thailand or Turkey looking to earn money by teaching English, you would naturally begin applying to language schools and other educational institutions that hire such teachers.
And while many of these language schools won’t require you to be a certified teacher or even have a certification in TEFL or TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language), they will usually require you to have a university degree before they can hire you. They often don’t really care what the degree is in, but they just want to know that you have one.
Simply put, having that degree gives a potential employer, client or organization an additional level of confidence in you.
Both you and I know that a diploma doesn’t automatically prove you’re a mature, responsible and hard-working individual but that doesn’t change the fact that a degree does make a difference for those interested in finding such work as teaching languages, working at resorts, becoming a tour guide/escort for a tour operator, working on board cruise ships or even working with an NGO (non-governmental organization), among many others.
A FEW REAL LIFE EXAMPLES
In my own life, having my university degree certainly helped me rise up to the position of Tour Manager in just a couple of months when I worked on board cruise ships myself. If I didn’t have a degree I might not have been hired in the first place and even if I was hired, I certainly would not have been given a chance to become a department head.
And even when I had to return to the US during my earlier years of travel in order to find work and refill my bank account for a couple of months, I would not have been able to work as a substitute teacher at a high school in Boston (and save up a good amount of money) without my degree.
A good friend of mine went to Australia on a working holiday visa and because of his degree was able to land a well-paid job with a company in downtown Sydney, earning five times the amount that many others on a working holiday visa earn when working in a bar or picking fruit.
Of course, money is not always the goal (and I’m not saying it should be), so this might not matter to many travelers. But money may matter to some and one’s earning potential may be a factor in whether or not a person decides to attend university before setting off on their travels or try to combine the two by studying abroad (where living expenses may be cheaper, you may not have to pay additional tuition and you can take advantage of such things as inexpensive student flights.)
So, to sum it all up…
Having a university degree to travel is absolutely not vital, and I’ve met plenty of people out there without university degrees who have turned travel into the lifestyle they always dreamed of. Dedication, a willingness to be creative and keeping an open-mind are far more important than a degree or any particular knowledge or skill set. If you can manage that, you can achieve anything.
But again, that one piece of paper, that university degree, can help quite a lot and there is no denying that, when combined with those qualities above, it will allow you to take advantage of even more opportunities that you may discover while traveling this wonderful world of ours.
What do you think? What have been your experiences traveling long-term with or without a degree? Perhaps you’re currently debating the value of university…do you have any questions that weren’t answered above?
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thank you for the information you provide, I just purchased your Guide and it is incredible so far…you told me to read this blog about the pros and cons of having a Degree or not.
Currently I am 28 and looking to Travel, however I am considering to get a degree since it seems logic for me, well i wanted to share with everyone who is seeking a degree but is unable to afford it, there is a University in California named “University of People” ( i am not affiliated with them, just pure recommendation), that gives people who have financial situations but would like a Degree, a chance. This University would be perfect for anyone in the world. It is Online, I would say check it out for anyone seeking a Degree and Travel at the same time.
I thought I should just add that doing both is an option, me and my partner will be studying through UNISA while we teach english in Thailand next year on-wards.
While it requires a bit more hard work and dedication, it doesn’t mean we have to wait 3 years before traveling, or putting our studies aside for even longer.
Hey Earl, I’m leaving for Indonesia in a few weeks, hoping to start living my life as a world traveler. I don’t have a degree and I really don’t want to go back to school. I was thinking I could find odd jobs that paid well enough to sustain my travels but now I’m worried I won’t because potential employers will be looking for graduates and if I do find work I won’t get paid the amount of money I would if I were a graduate. How have travelers without degrees sustained themselves?
Hey Sandy – It’s definitely a bit more difficult without a degree but you can always start with a site such as workingtraveller.com and see if you can find something. In the end, once you’re overseas, it’s up to you to show a potential employer that you can do the job and that it would benefit them to hire you. So it might take some extra determination and effort, and you’ll probably start off earning less than if you had a degree, but you can make it happen if you’re dedicated enough to achieving your goal.
This is sadhana from India. Presently doing my third year engineering in southern states over here. I recently figured out my passion and interest in travelling…am getting crazy about it..but the problem is I dint start my travelling yet. Am confused about how to start and as Wat student or just as a fresh traveller.I feel it to be better if I start with my masters studies.so I jus need u r suggestions on what should I do now.coz doing ms over there will normally costs high both tution and living expenses.so beyond this how would I travel with lot of stuffs not debts on my head.apart from all this confusion arises as am a girl..that too from southern Asia. .Earl would it be helpful for me to travel if I do ms in travel and tourism????? And to say truly I found it blog more and more effective what I need..Thanks for it posts..
When you say a degree when travelling is beneficial, do you mean a bachelors degree? Would an associate’s degree suffice? Next year I’m studying with the UofN (University of Nations), which I quite recommend to people who have yet to go to university and wish to travel. It has a cross cultural requirement to study away from where you hold nationality and holds many options for seeing the world while you obtain your degree. With UofN you have the option of either getting an associate’s degree, bachelors, (or go further yet, to a masters). Would you recommend getting a bachelors degree or would simply having an associate’s fulfil most requirements?
I’m want to take a break from working in London and work abroad / travel whilst working. I don’t have a degree but have 4 years worth of experience in the media industry, 2 of those years being at a major corporate entertainment company. Do you think I would find it easy to find a job in another country with this past experience, the big name on my resume and no degree?
Hey! If you live in Switzerland (like me) the whole thing gets a little more complicated. I’ve got traveling in my blood (my family owned a big traveling business) and the only string that attaches me to the live I am currently living is the contract I’ve signed 3 years ago. I’m an apprentice of Mason (Construction Worker) and in order to live in switzerland, doing a contract like this is pretty important. I asked myself a lot whether i should just pack my stuff and go, or finish that contract. Like you already said, theres no general answer to that. I’m finishing that contract because it expires in 6 Months (which gives me some time to prepare for a long term travel lifestyle), the Job already sucked most of my soul out (i’m 19) but that had no effect on my desire to travel 🙂 For all those people out there who stand in front of that wall and simply don’t know what to do: Get some distance and change the perspective, maybe you can learn something important from the situation you’re currently in and even if wanderlust almost rips you apart, sometimes you’ve just got to be patient and take the first opportunity to break free. In my case, the end of that contract.
See you out there one day!
[…] across the globe. If it was, everyone would be doing it. It takes a lot of courage and passion to travel long-term. But if you truly believe in this dream, then read some of the other articles on this site–or […]
Great post and great discussions! Quick question though, you don’t walk around with your diploma in your backpack, do you? Will a copy of it be proof enough abroad?
Hey Celeste – Yes, a copy of the diploma generally works just fine.
Can work carry a USB with all your important documents there? and if it’s necessary print what you need?
Thanks for the info, I guess the problem I had was that I wanted to live a nomadic as opposed to sedentary existence, and very few blogs (even traveling ones) have much info on how to be a nomad for (theoretically) forever. Some of these ideas look great!
The question I have is, if you have “met plenty of people out there without university degrees who have turned travel into the lifestyle they always dreamed of” could you perhaps give some examples on those individuals, what they do, and how they were able to make it a reality?
I’m well aware that having a degree will make that much easier to get a job somewhere, but money is an unfortunate reality, and the situation I am in currently won’t allow me to afford much college, if at all. That’s what’s stopping me.
Hey John – Just have a look at the below post and many of the options you see there can be done without a degree. It takes a little creativity in some cases but if you build your own opportunity instead of relying on traditional jobs, nobody is going to ask you for a degree!
Hi Earl! I’ve only recently discovered your blog after being a regular reader of a number of other travel blogs, and have truly been intoxicated by your articles – the articulate writing, intriguing stories, and really really sound advice. I am an 18 year old American high school graduate doing a gap year across the country before I enter college next year (from outside of Boston, currently living and working full-time for an organization called City Year in San Jose, CA). I have considered long-term travel a future goal of mine for a number of years, and reading this and many, many of your other posts has me excited and makes me realize that any choice that I make I need to own. If I decide to start traveling full-time immediately after college, so be it. If I don’t start until I am 40, 50, or even 60, that is ok. And if for whatever reason, I am very much happy living the life of a part-time traveler, that is something I can own and be proud of as well. I am currently taking an online TEFL course (just in case!) just for kicks, and trying to pick up Spanish here in California to add to my skill-sets. I just wanted to let you know that I am fascinated by your continuous journey, and truly, truly inspired by your commitment to doing what you love. I know not much that I could compliment you on would be a first, but I sincerely hope I have the stones you do to dedicate myself to a life of happiness, not conventionalism. Cheers and Happy New Year Earl. Enjoy your last few weeks in India!
Hey Gabriel – Well, it seems to me, based on your comment, that few things in life will stand in the way of you following the path that makes you happiest. And the fact that you are open to all possibilities only solidifies that feeling as you really never know what twists and turns will come your way. The key is welcoming all the changes and being open enough to adjust your life according to a change in your goals and dreams.
Hope you have a wonderful year ahead and if you ever have any questions at any time, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m actually originally from outside of Boston (south shore) as well 🙂
i will love a university which allow students to travel during study hours !
I really want to just start traveling as soon as I can, but I know I should go through university first. It is kind of tough thinking about that because all of those fees are going to put me in a massive debt which will take me a while to pay off when I just really want to get out there ASAP!
Hey Tyler – Make sure you read some of the other comments on this post and on the post “How I Can Afford My Life of Travel” as several people have explained that you don’t need to take a lot of time in order to pay off your debt. So many people who have debt have been able to travel, simply by doing some research and finding creative ways to rid themselves of that debt very quickly!
I disagree. I went overseas straight after high school. I spent a year and a half away all up. 10 months living and working in one place and the rest travelling throughout Europe. Now I’m back home and at uni studying a bachelor of international studies majoring in international relations and two different languages. Because of my time overseas I now know what I want to study. I now know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I tried to spend a bit of time in each city I visited instead of rushing through ticking them off and I now have a list of many more places to get to know slowly over the rest of my life.
It’s something I think every high school kid should do before committing to years of study.
Hey Olivia – I think each person needs to look at their own situation and decide what’s best for them. While you obviously had an amazing experience, and many people who would follow your footsteps would also have such a life-changing experience, some people already know what they want to study or aren’t quite confident in their ability to travel at that age. I’m the first one to promote travel but I do think that everyone’s situation is different and so, for some, studying first may be in their best interest.
I wish that everyone wanted to and could travel before college though! It would certainly make a very positive impact on the world in my opinion.
Hey! I am currently in my first year at university, and was seriously toying with the idea of travelling, indefinitely, without first graduating. As I am only 17, however, even though I have enough savings, I’ve been working many undesirable shifts to allow me to establish some financial security, I thought it better to perhaps wait until i’m older, which might make things a lot easier. I turn 18 in December, and so did not think it would be a particularly beneficial combination of being a minor, with no real formal education behind me. When I do travel it will, most likely, be for good and so achieving undergraduate status should help me in the future. It’s extremely hard waiting to travel, especially as I have never been outside New Zealand, and hearing about other’s experiences overseas. I guess I was somewhat looking for an excuse to simply pack my bags now, but your article helped to reinforce the fact that it will be better to complete it now, it’s not a bad life, studying, and I will be free to commence travel, for however long I desire, afterwards!
Hey Sera – It does seem as if you’ve already made your decision and like you said, it does seem to make sense for you. After all, you clearly are quite intent on traveling at some point and I doubt that you will lose that desire while you finish your studies. And like you said, once you graduate, you’ll be free to take off and you’ll end up finding a lot more opportunities as a result of that degree!
Great post which I can really relate to! Having spent a few years working (home and abroad) and travelling after high school I started at university last year…and completely hated it! I’ve just dropped out after my first year and won’t be able to return to a different institution until September 2013 due to the application timing. I’ve always been a firm believer in choosing education because it is something you genuinely want to do or because it is necessary for something that you really want to do. In my case I am tempted to not go back because the lifestyle did not suit me and the location was a nightmare but I intend to keep my options open because I am certain that a lack of degree would close a lot of doors for me. For some jobs experience is better but as someone who would like a structured lifestyle that also allowed me to travel, I think that the qualification will help me to achieve this or to know that I can do what I want or go where I want and have that to fall back on when I get home or decide to settle. My ‘life’ skills gained from the workplace and being abroad make me far more suited to most jobs than university has/will but employers don’t often take the same view! However I think that it is also important to recognise that you’re only young once and for most people this time without commitments is ideal for spreading your wings. You don’t need to go straight to university…you can sign up as a mature student…you can save like crazy all year and spend every summer travelling or working abroad. But then, as I found out, the ‘university experience’ is one best enjoyed in the traditional sense when you’re 18 and it’s easy to find yourself at 23 having done a lot of amazing stuff but having nothing that your friends at home can relate to or not really being able to say that you’ve made a life for yourself…
I have only just stumbled across your blog and I think you are doing a great job. Your stories and approach to travel, as a lifestyle, is inspiring. It has caused me to reminisce, question and muse over my own global jaunts.
Thank you for attempting to answer this question. I have spent countless hours weighing up the importance of a degree and if I should turn my back on formal education in pursuit of travel goals. I haven’t got the guts to quit university, which means on some level I must think it is important. University also offers great travel opportunities such as exchange, internships and volunteering abroad.
I disagree with the comments of 18 being to young to travel. Taking a gap year and choosing to travel during university breaks have been the best decisions I have ever made. The experiences and time spent on the road helped mature, shape and define the person I am today. I believe exposing yourself to different cultures, languages and experiences is the best way to “grow” and learn. If you can begin doing this from a young age- why wouldn’t you?
Hey Hayley – Thank you for adding your thoughts and welcome to the site! And I do tend to believe that if you’re already in university, it pays to complete it before heading off for longer travelers. You’re not far away from the end and once you have that degree, you’ll have plenty of more opportunities to help ensure you have a chance to achieve all of your travel goals.
Your inputs have been really helpful. I am 26, hold a degree but not in travel or tourism.I like travelling and have travelled to places in India, my country and am working. I figured out my passion is travelling and would wanna it to my career.. I was wondering if you could just guide me how to go about it as a fresher traveller.
Hey Kapil – Thanks for the comment. Basically, you should try and find a way to earn money overseas so that you can do a little traveling without having to worry. A good option can be working on board cruise ships or working in the hospitality industry in a place such as Dubai. With cruise ships, you can work for 6 months, save up your money and then travel during your vacations in between contracts. This is always a good option for anyone.
Other than that, you need to look at your own skills and knowledge and try to determine how you can turn that into a job. Maybe you have some skills that would allow you to earn money on a website such as Odesk.com or Elance.com. You just need to be creative and really figure out how your background can help you get out there into the world!
I have been considering traveling and teaching overseas (I’m majoring in Education), and right now I’m getting my transfer degree at a Community College. I wanted to apply to school out of the country when I graduate from my two year school, but do you think it would be best to wait until I get my University degree in the States first before I start planning to travel?
I hope that’s not a stupid question, I usually don’t follow through with the things I want to do because I’m not a risk taker!
Hey Skye – Are you looking to travel or study overseas after your two years at Community College? If you are looking to study at a school in another country, then you should definitely look into your options as that is a very rewarding way to complete your education. If you want to travel instead of school, then it’s a personal decision but as you’ve probably read in this post, there are both pros and cons for traveling before finishing university.
And there’s no stupid questions at all…we all had to figure things out at some point and that’s what this blog is here, to help make it a little easier (hopefully). Let me know if I misinterpreted your question or if there is any other questions you may have!
I wasn’t sure if studying abroad would be a better option than just picking up and going after I have gotten my degree here at home from a university. I think I’ll look more into studying abroad, and keep reading your blogs 🙂
Thanks for answering my question, my parents act like I’m crazy when I mention leaving the States!
Hey Skye – They are both good options! Studying abroad is worth looking into….it can be a great start to one’s travels and give you plenty of options for future opportunities as well. Let me know how it goes and if it helps, I certainly don’t think you’re crazy!
Just wanted to add to the masses in saying how awesome I think what you are doing is. You are truly “Livin’ the dream bro”. Well my dream that is.
I’m currently in college in Canada, obtaining my Early Childhood Education Certificate, followed by my Infant and Toddlers and my TESL. It isn’t a University degree, but as an ECE I have all the training to teach up to Kindergarten (Technically if it weren’t for the teachers pushing us out lol) What are the chances, with all of these qualifications, of me teaching in English in Thailand? I guess I should also throw in there that I have been trying to teach myself Thai for the past couple of months. Speaking that is, reading is a whole ‘nother ball game.
Keep up the awesome work 🙂
Thanks for the comment Chelsea! Obviously I can’t say for certain but with all of that certification, I can’t imagine you’d have too much trouble finding a job. That’s a lot more certification than most people teaching English, even if they do have degrees. Also, you can always check out a site such as EslCafe.com where you can browse job openings and even apply for teaching positions so that you can see if your certifications are enough to get the job (which I really do think they will be).
Tripp, you hit the nail right on the head! Too many students make the mistake going right on to college not knowing what they want to do, wasting time and money. You did the right thing by waiting, and going traveling was a good choice for finding out who you are first.
Each generation has different challenges. As I graduated back in 1966, I had the draft to face, so to keep from going to Vietnam, I had to stay in school. I was lucky in that I knew what I wanted to do in life while in seventh grade. I continued right into college after high school, mainly to avoid the draft. It caught up with me as I ended up being one unit short for required progress (too many parties) and got drafted after my third year. But, the two years in the military ended up being the best thing that could ever have happened to me (like your 3.5 years of traveling). When I got out, I not only had four years of GI Bill money to burn through, but I also had a much better attitude. Now, I was there because I wanted to and my grades showed it. All told, it took me ten years to graduate. I had fun changing my major and minors to get all four years of GI Bill money when only having one year left to graduate.
Now that you have your head pointed in the right direction, I wish you luck in whatever you do in life. Now that you know the value of travel, don’t feel like you have to stick to the books for four solid years. I took my time continuing to enjoy life by splitting my life into thirds while working toward my degree. I would go to school for a third, then work for a third then go traveling for a third. I’d come back from traveling all refreshed to hit the books again. You don’t have to be in a big rush to graduate as that could only mean working for the rest of your life, or not.
Im 21 and have been graduated from highschool for almost 4 years now. This is such a important topic to me because, with travel being such an important part of my life, it really is a difficult decision; University or travel? When I was 17, done highschool, I really didn’t know what I wanted from school. Which degree to get or what school to go to. I stressed myself out so much trying to do what I thought I had to do, instead of doing what I wanted to do. So, I decided to decline my acceptance (weeks before school was going to start), stop stressing and just start traveling and living life.
I’ve now been to Bahamas, United States, England, Cuba and 5 provinces in Canada. I don’t regret my decision on holding off on school, because I knew I would get there when I’m ready. With one more trip to go, I’m starting my degree in the fall and now I’m confident and ready for that part of my life; the broke student:)
If I would have started my degree when I was 17, I would have ended up in a program that was absolutely not for me, maybe even dropping out. (Wasting valuable travel money on tuition with nothing to show for it!) I feel that I’ve grown so much in this last few years and I really appreciate what education has to offer, in a way I don’t think possible by 17 year old me. Im as excited for school now as I was planning my trip to swim with the sharks, or to see stone henge, and I think thats key to graduating successfully.
I really enjoyed your article and in conclusion… Ive been traveling for 3.5 years now, without a degree and Ive had a blast! However, I realise how important a degree can be to enrich my life and my travel experiences. To get a degree or not get a degree, just go with what your gut is telling you, if you were ment to go to university, it will happen when your ready for it!
Hey Tripp – Clearly you’ve done what is best for you and it seems like you made the right decisions all along! It takes some courage to follow your own path but as you’ve experienced, the results are usually positive. In terms of going to university, you’ve shown that it doesn’t have to happen right after high school. There is still time and if a person doesn’t feel ready for that stage in life, then they can always explore other opportunities and return to the idea of university at a later point if they so desire.
I’m really happy that you’ve had such wonderful travel adventures so far and that you’re now so excited about school!
Earl and Steve C, thank you for the support!
I’ve learned it can be easy to follow the beaten path, everyone understands it and can relate to that choice. I’d like to think that I really did make the right decision, even though it took some time to realize my success!
And a comment to Steve C, I’m definately considering a year studying abroad, but I’ve never thought about taking my time to get my degree. Who’s to say you have to finish it in four years? If so that would be great, however if the travel bug does call, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to take a semester off to reboot my excitment and reasoning for school. Thank you for that view point:)
There is no such thing as wasted education, and it really doesn’t take that long to get a degree, in the grand scheme of things. However, having a degree in something you don’t enjoy might be a waste.
I’ve traveled more as a grad student than ever before, mostly because I get to go to conferences in interesting locations, which also means traveling for free! I’m heading to Peru in September, and staying for a few weeks longer than the convention to see a bit more of the country.
Hey Melissa – That’s not a bad way to travel at all and if done correctly, there are plenty of opportunities to travel while we are in the midst of getting an education. Your trip to Peru seems quite ideal and that’s excellent that you’re sticking around for a few more weeks afterwards 🙂
I went to university straight out of high school and I’m so glad I did. It gave me time to develop socially and figure out what I wanted to do. I ended up getting really involved with international affairs at my university and did 3 study abroad trips! I worked part-time during the year and saved up money. Now I’m doing a graduate degree abroad and gaining even more international experience. I hope to pursue a career that will require me to travel. 🙂
I think university can be a great time to develop yourself. Study languages, learn about the world, study abroad, and apply for special programs like the Critical Language Scholarship and Fulbright.
Everyone learns differently and there are so many options out there!
Hey Ramona – I’m glad you mentioned that you’re doing a graduate degree abroad as that is another option that combines studies with travel. And you did 3 study abroad trips during your undergraduate years?? I wish I did something similar!
Agree with you completely. I’ve been out of Australia for almost 9 years now and I would never have been able to last that long with out a degree to gain work teaching. You arrive in a new country, get a job teaching english with your degree, learn the ropes, meet people, make contacts and so many opportunities develop 🙂
@Chinatravelgo – That’s generally my thoughts, although there are plenty of ways to earn money on the road without a degree. But to get a higher paid position that might enable a person to travel longer, a degree is quite important. Keep on enjoying your adventures!
Thanks for the timely post. I was questioning my commitment to school after a challenging day and your post appeared in my inbox. Thanks for helping me renew my commitment. My big question is, what is considered a degree by most int’l employers? A 2-year or a 4-year?
Hey Shauna – In general, a 4-year degree is what they are looking for although a 2-year degree will also open up additional opportunities, just not as many I’d imagine. Glad you regained some motivation to push through school…if you’ve already begun, you might as well finish it and reap the benefits!
[…] is the ability to pick up someone else’s ball and run with it. When Wandering Earl recently asked do you need a university degree to travel long-term? I expressed some surprise that he thought you […]
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can still travel while you are studying. Most universities have some kind of exchange program and you can often study overseas for up to a year without adding anytime onto your degree. I know that in NZ (where I studied) if you want to do an exchange (outside of NZ) you often don’t even need to pay international fees and this makes a huge difference. We have a great student loan system here so while studying abroad you just pay your normal fees and you can even still get government assistance (i.e. a weekly student allowance) while you are away. I don’t know what opportunities there are for exchanges if you are studying in other countries but it is always a great option to look into.
Also (again this many not be an option for everyone), while I was studying I worked part time and saved and travelled in my university holidays. This was a great way to keep motivated at university because I knew I had something to look forward to at the end of the university year and it stopped me from dropping out to travel instead.
I know those might not be possibilities for everyone but they are definitely worth considering/looking into if you are feeling torn between studying or travel. I have just finished my degree and am setting off on my travels in March and it feels so good to know that (even if I don’t end up using it for a while) I have a degree to fall back on. But at the same time I also totally agree that university isn’t for everyone and if you are committed and work hard you can get to where you want to be (most of the time) without a degree.
Great post anyway, I think this will help a lot of people!
Hey Renata – Your comment will help a lot of people as well! Those are some great things to think about as it’s true that we don’t have to choose one over the other. There are ways to do both and for many people, this may be the best option. Congratulations on finishing your degree and on the start of your new adventure next month!
Thank you so much! I am really looking forward to it, maybe we will bump into each other somewhere in the world 🙂
Hey Renata – That would be great of course! I look forward to it…
nice post! I think having the skills and knowledge you acquires while studying helps process the experiences you have overseas; to contextualize the world a bit more, as it were. I’m actually finishing off a dual degree in International Studies and Economics – I’m in Buenos Aires, my school is in Melbourne. I think online education, with all its flexibility, is a really exciting new development, and I think you’ve inspired me to write a post on it myself! I’ve already blogged about a semester I completely while properly on-the-road (not settled as I am here) and the best way to balance travel and study, it’s a href=”https://brinkofsomethingelse.com/2010/05/how-to-balance-a-penchant-for-travel-with-your-further-education/” title=”here” for anyone who’s interested.
Hey Camden – Online degrees never even occurred to me while I was writing this post but they do open up an entirely new set of possibilities. If we can work online from anywhere in the world, why not be able to study from anywhere as well?
This was a really interesting post- and I think the fact that you even wrote it shows how travel has impacted your opinions. Like you, I am an American. We don’t do gap years, so many Americans don’t have passports. Culturally, we don’t put a huge emphasis on that sort of exploration. I think most Americans assume you need a degree to do anything these days. I think Americans often have a pretty strict view of success and if often includes a linear path: college, entry level job, better job, better job – and maybe grad school somewhere in between. I like that you call this in to question – mostly b/c it shows how even Americans expand their horizons when they travel long term.
Once I started traveling for longer periods of time and meeting more non-American travelers, I wished Americans did Gap Years – I didn’t even know about the concept when I was 18. I also started to wish more parents encouraged travel the way they encourage things like Law School. They develop you in different ways – but they don’t have to be as mutually exclusive as we think. (Ie it doesn’t make you a slacker if you travel). I know that strict dichotomy has often held me back – the want to be “successful” by a known standard versus the want to explore and figure out what sort of success specifically I hope to strive toward.
Thanks for writing this.
Also – I don’t often comment but I love reading your blog.
Hey Nicole – Thanks for that and I’m happy to have you as a reader, especially with the useful comment you left above! I too remember when I first studied abroad in Australia and I discovered that the majority of young adults take that gap year and head off for an overseas experience. And my first thought was similar to yours…that it would be nice if more Americans did the same. The benefits are undeniable but I find that in the US, travel is often viewed as time spent not working, which looks like a negative thing in the eyes of a potential employer.
That seems backwards to me but it is enough to keep some people away from the road. Many seem to fear having to come back and trying to explain why they chose not to build their career and why they chose to ‘waste’ time traveling instead!
Excellent article Earl, I got my degree in a field that I detest (polisci) and never want to work in but I feel just having that piece of paper allows me to travel with the security that I can pick up jobs overseas. This is also an inner battle I am facing now, getting my master’s degree and bettering my future in a 9/5 I never want to work or following my passions (traveling) and studying internet marketing so I can live that vagabond life I want.
@Vagabonnder – That is a tough call and it’s never easy to choose the more unconventional path, no matter how strongly you feel that such a path is what you need to take. Although, as no decision is permanent, you could always give the internet marketing a try by setting aside 6 months or so to get it started and then after that period reasses the situation. Then maybe you’ll want to continue or perhaps you’ll then want to go for the masters.
I won’t disagree that a degree can open doors, particularly early in a career that would otherwise be closed.
I know however that it isn’t an essential my last employed position in Saudi Arabia, was as Head of a Division, my salary in excess of $100K USD, and I don’t have a degree and I was only 35 at the time too. Once you have a good track record in your career – qualifications become irrelevant. It helps of course, that I’d made a lot of effort to promote my professional profile – so that I was almost a “brand name” in my field.
Now I work for myself, some months are much better and some infinitely worse – but I absolutely know I don’t need a degree to get by on.
I don’t have a University degree but I am looking into a massage therapy program. From what you have seen on the cruise ships and resorts you’ve worked at do you think that this would be a viable alternative?
Hey Trevor – As for cruise ships, there is always a need for massage therapists so it can definitely be worth it. Whether or not it is an ideal alternative to a university degree is a personal decision but in terms of getting a job on a ship or at a resort, you will have plenty of opportunities if you are a skilled masseuse.
Although I’ve already commented on this topic, it just occurred to me that the cost of an education varies widely. I live in California and the cost to go to our state university or college systems are quite different than in other states. My daughters will do their first two years in our local community college then go off to finish at a four year institution at quite a savings. Private colleges are quite expensive here as everywhere.
My point is this; it pays to do your homework to determine where you go to school. If it takes living in another state for six months or a year to establish residency so you won’t have to pay out of state tuition, than that’s what you’ve got to do to lower your education’s cost. Also, don’t think that you have to go to a prestigious university to get your education. Most employers don’t look at where you went to school or what grades you got, they only want to know if you graduated or not. A degree gets your foot in the door.
My personal story included receiving 4 years of GI Bill money to finish my education. Sadly, now it takes a four year commitment to receive GI Bill money where I only had to put in 19 months as a draftee. I also worked while I attended school.
I know it’s way different now, but you do what you’ve got to do to make it happen. Borrowing money should be your last option. Everyone has different abilities. Some only dream, but others find a way. I’m glad that I learned at an early age that I didn’t want to earn a living with my back but with my head; not that there’s anything wrong with that (the back part).
what’s your university degree for?
Hey Alice – My degree is in Sports Management 🙂
I think it depends on what you want to do. For me, I would like to teach overseas. In my specific situation that fact that I have a degree will be extremely helpful for me. I also have a masters degree which will provide me with more money. Can you get by without a degree… sure. I can’t imagine after traveling and I decide t settle down that I would want to go back to school. I like the idea of getting it all done and feeling FREE and able to travel.
Hey Meg – That is important, that feeling of security. It is nice to know that the degree is already taken care of in case things do change and you find yourself at home looking for work. But in the meantime, you’ll spend some wonderful times overseas teaching English!!
Thanks for writing this article Earl because this one hits close to home for me. I’m 26 years old and have never obtained a degree but have spent the past seven years living and traveling abroad while returning to my hometown of Orlando Florida to occasionally work. This lifestyle worked out for me temporarily and people supported my ideals, dreams and aspirations. However, in recent years I have found this lifestyle very unsustainable. Besides, I can’t say, “I’m a student” forever while my sister goes to medical school and I’m still bussing tables at a restaurant and selling camping gear at an outdoor retailer when my money runs dry. When I was younger, I cared most about mountaineering, rock-climbing and learning foreign languages and I’ve found the best way to achieve those goals were to do them, travel and practice them in the real world (not sit and read a book regarding these topics). In some ways it’s true.
I don’t want to give and don’t expect you to read my entire life story here but I am now married working low paying jobs in my hometown while my wife finishes her degree in Colombia. I had to move back to Florida because without a degree work became more and more scarce in Colombia. If I had a degree I would have had significantly better prospects and at least a full time job even if it didn’t pay handsomely.
My point is if I could turn back time I would have obtained a degree sooner before the global economy changed and could actually afford my classes.
What I’ve decided to do is obtain a certificate as a wilderness EMT, mountaineering and rock-climbing and work around the world as a mountain rescue guide. Most of these schools have student loan options.
I do plan to obtain a degree eventually but I don’t think that it is a smart decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a degree “just in case”. I want to spend that money if I know that I will use it to improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams and aspirations. But who knows? I might be completely content working as a multilingual climbing instructor 🙂
Thanks again for the article!
Hey Kevin – I appreciate you sharing your story and you certainly brought up some very valid points. I particularly like what you said about not spending thousands of dollars on a degree just for the sake of it. It does make sense to spend that money for an education that we are absolutely interested and excited about, one that will help us achieve our goals, and if we don’t know what that might be yet, perhaps it is wise to hold off until we have a better understanding.
On a side note, being a climbing instructor doesn’t sound too bad I’d say! I’m sure there are plenty of people with degrees who would have preferred to learn those skills instead 🙂
I think that to travel long-term, you don’t need a degree. But to find a good job overseas, it makes it a lot easier 😉
OK I got the degree, when does the traveling start? 😀
Hey Mina – Right now is a good time, although I have no doubt that ‘someday’ you’ll be there for sure 🙂
I’m quite glad that I earned my degree and THEN started traveling. I think a gap year is an incredible thing if done correctly–perhaps to learn another language, volunteer in another country, etc. I sometimes wish that I had taken advantage of the year between high school and college to live in France. However, just partying at various beaches around the world–I’m not sure how beneficial that is, and those are the “gap years” I’m seeing plenty of in Southeast Asia right now. I don’t know how much my actual degree has helped me in terms of traveling–although the journalism degree does help with blogging and finding work on the road, like when I worked in PR in Melbourne–but I do think that those four years at college gave me time to grow up, sort out my priorities, save money and become a more responsible traveler.
Hey Christine – I like the idea of gap years myself and also wish I looked into that before university. We seem to feel similarly about having a degree. It’s not necessarily the specific classes one takes that will help later on in life, but the time spent maturing and hopefully figuring out our goals in life. Of course, one can learn these very same life lessons while on the road but as you pointed out, often times at that age it’s much easier to party it up, which certainly doesn’t provide the same benefits.
What you learn in the degree is not particularly important, but having one definitely is. In many countries, having a degree and/or technical background is essential to getting a work visa to stay in a single country long-term.
If you are earning your income online and traveling to a new country every 60 or 90 days, then a degree is not necessary. If you need to work in foreign countries, a degree will help a lot.
Thanks for bringing up the point about the work visas John! That fact alone makes a strong argument for having a degree as opportunities do become limited if one cannot obtain a work visa for a particular country.
Good discussion Earl. Sure you don’t technically ‘need’ a degree to travel, but how much of the world would you appreciate as a 17-18 year old getting out of high school?
The university (or any tertiary) education gives you some more time to grow as a person, hone your likes and dislikes, see how the world operates but as you mentioned, gives you the benefit of being able to walk into a job overseas or on the road.
Hey Andrew – I think you’ve said it perfectly. And just as Christine mentioned above, this is why so many younger travelers end up on the party circuits around the world instead of gaining more of an education from their adventures. Having that time to mature and understand life a little more is certainly a major benefit of spending several years at uni.
Good topic Earl! Although I have a degree, I don’t know if it specifically aided me in my travels. I’ve always planned my long term traveling w/o the need to work in another country. I’ve always figured that for what I did, (general engineering construction estimator) I could never get paid as much as I do in my own country (USA). It’s better value to work here and spend there for me.
However, my opinion is that an education makes you a more interesting person and that the years you spend getting that education expands your knowledge, teaches you to achieve deadlines and to put up with peoples’ (teachers) BS without getting angry. I did my time and I have the paper to prove it, whether I learned anything or not. There were several classes totally out of my major, but met requirements as general ed., which opened my mind to totally other fields. I’m inquisitive by nature, but my travels were much richer because I was introduced to areas that I wouldn’t have been had it not been for meeting requirements for my degree.
So, if you don’t want to continue your education, I’m sure you can come up with a million reasons not to. That’s your choice. I’m just glad it wasn’t my choice! BTW, it took me 10 years to graduate, but I did it. In those days, I lived life in thirds: work, school, travel, then, do it again. That’s why it took me so long.
Hey Steve – It seems to be a common theme here in the comments that it’s not actually what we learn from our professors that provides the greatest benefit, but what we learn about life simply by experiencing a university environment. And that does make perfect sense. Also, as an extra bonus, university does give us a little bit of a taste of many different subjects, which may help us discover something we are truly passionate about.
But I’m also glad you mentioned your style of working in the USA and then traveling, and repeating that process. This does show that working strictly overseas is not the only option either. Once can create a lifestyle similar to what you did and still achieve their travel goals.
Really interesting post! I’m currently college senior (1 1/2 more semesters, YAY!) and I’ve have PLENTY of days where I just wanted to drop out and travel. I was able to study abroad last summer. It was my first time “really” abroad (minus Canada and the Bahamas). The experience was so wonderful and I learned so much more about the culture I was in than if I went outside of the program. I definitely think having a degree will help give me more opportunities to travel. I’m majoring in journalism with a minor in global studies, so the possibilities of what I can do with my degree are HUGE. Over the past year I’ve been really interested in teaching English abroad, so I’m really glad I never gave into the urge to drop out. I can’t wait to graduate and hopefully get into a program in South America or Europe. Thank you for posting this!
Hey Nichole – It’s great to hear the perspective of someone who actually went through the internal debate of whether or not to drop-out of school. And I think you’re right, the degrees that you’ll end up with just might open up additional opportunities that will allow you to travel. And if you’re looking at teaching English after graduation, well, it’s a good thing you stayed in school!
I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and wish you luck with your studies 🙂
Really interesting discussion! I agree that, in this day and age, just having that diploma can open up a lot of doors for a person. It can also be a good fall-back for someone once they decide to stop traveling (because, let’s face it, being a permanent nomad isn’t going to be a good fit for everyone).
And, for me, I’ve found that school has helped me far beyond just my professional life. The things I’ve learned over 4+ years of school have helped me be a better, more open-minded traveler, too. Perhaps that’s just one benefit of attending a liberal arts college.
Now that I’m in grad school studying tourism and hospitality, it’s amazing to me how I’m already starting to look at the way I travel more closely. For me, this part of my schooling is helping me figure out exactly what kind of traveler I want to be. And, to me, that’s very valuable.
Hey Amanda – That’s another important point…that a degree will help a person when they stop traveling. As appealing as travel can be, like you stated, traveling ‘forever’ is not for everyone and at some point, most people will decide to slow down or even settle to some degree. And having the degree sure makes the re-adjustment easier, even just in terms of being able to get a decent job instead of having to go to school later in life or doing something that you are not really interested in.
I agree that a college degree is important but I think it’s more important to avoid the debt that usually accompanies it. My husband and I are recent college grads and would love to travel but the cost of living plus the loan payments keep us from being able to save money, especially when I couldn’t find a job even with a degree. Do you know anyone who travels despite debt? It seems like all the people who are truly free to travel are free from debt first. In that case, it will be several years before we’re able to go on adventures.
Hey Christine – The debt issue is a tough one. I had some student loan debt myself when I began traveling and I simply deferred the payments for two years until I could come up with a plan. Luckily, this is when I began working on board cruise ships where I was able to pay off the debt and still save some money on the side for my travels. The thing is, if you are working at home to pay off the loans, there’s nothing stopping you from working overseas or creating your own independent source of income that allows you to work from anywhere. Not only will you have income to pay off the loans, your living costs will probably be much, much less than what you are spending now at home. You could set yourself in any number of countries quite inexpensively, find decent paying work and still enjoy the experience of being in another culture. Obviously it’s not as easy as just picking up and moving to Turkey tomorrow but it’s definitely possible to be overseas even with debt.
A good website to check out is: ManvsDebt.com There’s a great deal of useful info on that site.
Hi Christine – I don’t travel permanently but I am in the middle of a year of traveling. I racked up thousands of student loan debt from college and law school and ten years after finishing law school, still have a lot to pay back. I don’t recommend deferring loans because the interest keeps accruing and you end up owing more in the long run. I initially factored my monthly payments into my budget so I could keep paying while I traveled. But in the end, I made the controversial decision to cash out one of my 401(k) accounts (I had 2 from different jobs and kept one) to pay down about half my loan balance, which pushed back my next due date for about 6 years. As a result, I’m accruing much less in interest and I don’t have the mandatory payment hanging over my head when I return.
I completely agree that having a degree will undoubtedly help you in the workplace. As you stated, some companies won’t even give you a second look if you don’t have a college degree. HOWEVER, that being said, I too often see job postings nowadays that require a college degree or higher. Basically they won’t consider you for a job if you don’t have these minimum requirements. But as travelers, we all know that you learn so much more about the world and life by doing and seeing than by simply sitting in a lecture hall. I am a strong advocate of education, but the world is changing and a university degree doesn’t and shouldn’t qualify a person for a certain position. A recent video showed that a large number of high school students don’t even know the name of their own Vice President…these will be college graduates in a few years. It’s a bit scary!
Hey Lindsay – It is true that the education gained from first-hand experiences is much deeper and more valuable than what we may learn in a classroom setting. On the other hand, if those same high school graduates who don’t know the name of the Vice President were sent out into the world at that age, I’m not so sure they would learn much through travel either. I’m just guessing of course! And even though a university degree shouldn’t qualify a person for a certain position, unfortunately, it still works the traditional way in most of the world at the moment.
But you make a valid point because I don’t think anyone who feels ready to travel should be discouraged from doing so, regardless of the level of education. There is no shortage of people who never went to college and still accomplished unbelievable things in life!
Earl, I know this is not really important, but I’m curious… What did you study at college?
I know most of the time the jobs that one gets are not compatible to ones personality. I imagine trying to travel and work at the same time in a field in which a person has some experience is even harder. So, I’m guessing, the necessary money comes if you search (persistently) all sorts of jobs while visiting those foreign countries, regardless of your college degree.
But, I’m still wondering what college degree would be more useful in a lifestyle that demands constant change of location, in diverse areas with diverse cultures, values, geography, economy etc. ?
Hey Iulian – You are indeed correct with your guess! To be successful in terms of earning money while traveling, in most cases, travelers do need to be quite flexible as to the kind of work they search for. Especially in the beginning, being picky about work is going to make things quite difficult.
My degree was in Sports Management as it had been my goal to be a Sports Agent for a while 🙂
As for what would be a useful degree for such a lifestyle, I think it depends more on one’s travel goals. If you were interested in traveling/living overseas but working professionally, a degree in international business or international relations would help you get such a job. If you were more interested in the travel aspect and were happy with any kind of work, these days, I tend to say that anything computer related is a good idea. Computer skills (website design, development, etc.) are needed all over the world, in every single country, increasing the chance of being able to work independently and still earn a decent income.
Other than that, I think as long as you study something that interests and excites you, you’ll be in a good situation. These days, people are finding ways to turn almost any interest into a source of income!
Hi Earl, I am quite surprised you came down on this side of the fence, especially given how positive you were about the issue of nationality. Personally I would say having the ‘wrong’ passport is more of a barrier to long term travel than not having a degree.
That’s not to say I don’t agree with you to a point but there are plenty of entry level tourism jobs that don’t require formal qualifications. British tour operators send thousands of staff to the continent each year and while these positions may not pay particularly well many tourism careers start this way. For these jobs I would rank language and catering skills more highly.
On a more casual level most of the jobs that can be picked up by foreign workers are the type that locals with degrees would turn their noses up at. A degree will of course open more doors – particularly in cities away from the tourism industry – and becomes pretty much essential once you move outside of the developed world. Here English teaching is not just the best option but usually the only work available to working travellers.
Where a degree becomes most valuable, I’d say, is on returning home from long term travel, hanging up the travel boots and trying to find a real job.
Hey Shane – I know it may seem as if I’m a strong believer in going to university but I was really just trying to inject a little reality into the debate over the importance of such a degree. It’s also a tough issue to discuss because there’s a huge difference between someone looking for casual work/anything to get by and those who are seeking a ‘real job’ that allows them to travel/live overseas. Obviously the role of a degree is quite different in each of those situations.
And you may be right about the passport being a bigger obstacle, although, if you are from a country that has difficulty obtaining visas to other countries, you’ll have almost no chance of getting those visas if you don’t have a university degree. Also, a degree might give someone a chance to get a job for an international company, which could open up doors that may eventually enable them to spend even more time abroad.
But it is good to know that there are companies, such as the tour operators you mentioned, that do hire those without degrees for their entry-level jobs. That never really occurred to me and it certainly seems like a great way for anyone to get started in the tourism industry if they choose not to go to university 🙂
It’s a very good thing to believe in a university education but I wanted to offer encouragement to those that don’t have a degree and point out some of the many opportunities out there for them.
I would hold up both travel and university as two of the greatest life experiences there are and I’m glad to see people posting here are thinking in the long term and want to enjoy both.
Hey Shane – I appreciate you offering additional encouragement as I can see how my post might have lacked some of that in the way I wrote it. As you pointed out, opportunities do exist for everyone and so, in the end, no matter what a person decides in terms of university, they should never feel as if they have no options at all. That is definitely a point that I want to stress as well!
A degree also can increase your social status–in certain countries more so than others. A lot of cultures tend to prize formal education. Without a solid foundation, eye-brows are raised and people may not take you seriously. This has been the experience of many who travel. A degree can be a plus in social situations too. People tend to gravitate toward those who are perceived to be educated and cultured. A degree leaves your imprint on the food chain. Your blog is excellent. I find it inspiring. Please keep up the great work. You are on a hero’s journey and we support you.
Hey Archan – Thanks for that comment and I certainly do appreciate your support! Depending on one’s goals, a degree can definitely plan the role you wrote about. And while it may not always be fair, such an education can lead to a perceived status and in certain countries, that is quite important when looking for work.
My husband and I dream of moving overseas (traveling indefinitely); however, he doesn’t have a degree. I have an engineering degree, but I don’t want to be the one employed overseas because we have two small children, and I would need to be home with them.
Lack of a degree has held us back for sure.. I also agree with your earlier sentiments that a degree is not a means to all ends. If I had it to do over again, I’m not sure I would have sought a degree (and student loans that are FINALLY paid off). Sure wish my husband had one though!!!
Hey Stacy – That is a dilemma but luckily, there are still opportunities for those without a degree. Just to throw out one idea, if your husband took a TEFL course and became certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, he would be able to find work almost anywhere. Having that certification would take the place of a degree and language schools would be interested in hiring him.
On another note, congrats on paying off those loans!!
Or… your husband could stay home with the children and you could find work instead. Stay-at-home dads are all the rage nowadays 😉
Seriously though, I teach English in S Korea and I know a couple who is doing that. The woman is also an English teacher here and her husband stays home with her two-year-old and I think freelances online doing a variety of stuff. I think he has a degree, but he’s not a native English speaker so he couldn’t find a job here.
This is quite an important subject for me. I’m finishing college (UK) this summer and haven’t applied to go to university. I would love to down the line but at the moment it just doesn’t seem feasible. I love travelling and would love to get a job in the travel and tourism industry. However, my lack of university education could hold me back…
Hey Gemma – It could hold you back but at the same time, it’s no reason to give up on your goals! You just need to find a creative way to get your foot in the door and then prove that you have what it takes. We can accomplish amazing things in life and even though I mention the benefits of a university degree, I still believe that anyone can achieve anything they want regardless of their education!
Hi Dearls. I’m glad you tackled this question. I get quite a few emails with the same query and agree that while it’s not a pre-requisite to long-term travel, it does help secure additional options, both for your on the road work, and for after you return. (If you do return, that is!) While many certainly travel without a degree, it’s always good to have as many paths open to you as you can muster.
The way I see it, the skills you need to travel are rarely ones you’d learn about in university, but the consequences of having the degree can help take those skills you’ve already got and bring you to a new level, especially once combined with the adaptability and curiosity you foster on the road.
Hey Jodi – I should just delete my post and replace it with the last paragraph of your comment. That paragraph is exactly what I was trying to say 🙂