Why You Should Not Drop Out of College to Travel

This post was a long time coming. It’s the emails you guys.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from readers. However, I get a lot of emails from people asking me for advice- which honestly, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would ask ME, the girl who can’t be bothered to change out of sweatpants most days, for seriously life advice.

People do though, and I always try my best to give them a wise answer that hopefully won’t totally screw up their life if they listen to me. Which isn’t always easy.

Anyways, a very common question that I am asked often is some variation of this:

I’m a sophomore/junior/ incoming freshman in college. I am desperate to travel and see the world! I want to leave right away but my parents/friends/ conscience thinks I should wait and finish my degree. What do I do?”

Listen up: I have no control over your life, nor do I want to have control over your life. That said, I am NEVER going to advise someone to drop out of college.

Now maybe I seem like someone who would be sympathetic, and trust me I am. Take a year off before/after/in the middle of college to travel if you want. It’s good for you. But don’t throw college out the window entirely.  Here is my reasoning:

Education is Valuable

The friends you make in college are valuable!

Someone in the comments is going to try to debate me on whether a college degree is worth anything anymore in this economy, I just know it. That’s not what I’m talking about. Credentials can be useful, but even more useful is knowledge.

If you do it correctly college teaches you so much. I can honestly say there is no way I could be doing my current job without those 4 years of education under my belt. Critical thinking, time management, work ethic, college taught me all these things. Not to mention how to write clearly and comprehensively. My job may not directly require a degree but without the writing skills that I learned in college I would never in a million years be able to make a living this way.

You Can Travel AND Go to College

Study abroad!

The fact is that travel and education are not mutually exclusive, in fact they go together really really well. There are a ton of opportunities to travel while you are in college.

Study abroad programs are the most obvious answer. I never understood why more people don’t take advantage of study abroad options. Theoretically you could spend as much as half of your college years living in other countries (I know people who have done it). Studying abroad is also a great way to get your feet wet with the experience of living abroad.

If that doesn’t work with your academic schedule, there are still tons of other opportunities: volunteer trips, summer programs, hell even just backpacking around on your own one summer. Our write Kay is a full time student and she has written tons of articles on the subject including: Challenges of a Traveling College Student,  The Honest Truth About Studying Abroad and Ways to Travel Post-Graduation.

The World Isn’t Going Anywhere

This may sound off from someone whose website tagline is “Why Wait to See the World?” I think that’s why I get a lot of these emails: people feel this urgency, that they need to take control of their life right now or it will never happen, the opportunity will slip through their fingers like sand. I totally understand that.

But I also know, from experience, that is not how it works. This is not your one chance to seize the world.

Do people drop out of college for good reasons? Sometimes, yes. My Dad dropped out his sophomore year and drove cross country. He went back though because he realized that education is important in all of it’s different forms. He went on to get two Master’s degrees.

Finally, I will leave you guys with the piece of advice I give most people who write to me: If you are asking random people on the internet to weigh in on your life choices, chances are you already know the answer to your question. Deep down you know it, you just can’t, or don’t want to acknowledge it.

This is a blog about living a purposeful life. College, like travel, can have a huge impact on your life when done correctly. Don’t sleepwalk through your education, embrace it, use it, make it work for you. Then take it for a spin around the globe.

26 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Drop Out of College to Travel”

  1. Great post. I would just add this from my own experience – college can help shape your desire to travel the world and your interests as to where you want to go. When I eventually took my year off to travel at age 35, I never would have focused on the former Soviet Union if it hadn’t been for what I studied in college – I majored in Russian and East European Studies and took 3 years of Russian language. So much of what I learned from those classes gave me perspective on my later travels.

  2. I would also just like to add that I thought about dropping out many times because I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the academic role and expectations of my giant state school.

    I spoke with a lifestyle blogger I still admire to this day, Chelsea of seablanket.com, because for lack of better words, I wanted to be just like her. She basically gave me a sharp no and told me that she wishes she had the opportunity to be in college like I was.

    Long story short, it will always be boring in the now and traveling full time will always look more glam. But like this article states, there are many advantages and most importantly opportunities for anyone to make their college years work.


  3. If it weren’t for college I wouldn’t have realized that I love being a teacher. If it weren’t for grad school I wouldn’t be able to teach at an international school. I would always advise people to go to college, even if they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. People can always do summer internships overseas and still attend normal classes during the school year.


  4. Really good post! Well to be honest there’s so many angles on this one. First of all, I don’t agree that everyone should go to college. Some people would be more tailored for technical education. But let’s bag it all under the education umbrella.
    As you clearly said, the best advice for someone really keen on travelling – more than the occasional holidays – would be to study abroad. First because you would have your goal of travel, 2nd you wouldn’t have to drop your education in the middle, plus it’s such a rich experience valued by employers as well!
    After you finish your education – or very close to that – why don’t you apply for internships abroad in a country you would see yourself living or keen to visit?
    Still if you’re not satisfied, apply for a job that requires a lot of travel, and be mindful it may not be as sexy as it seems, it can be pretty tiring! But I’m glad there are people out there that never get tired of travelling every week 🙂

  5. It’s funny how you preemptively address someone knocking the value of education in this economy. I am with you. I’m a sucker for education and think it is valuable. It will NEVER hurt to have those letters after your name.

  6. I love school, particularly college, I have learned so much just from my year at a community college and I know for a fact that I don’t want to just drop out of college. But I also want to travel during my 20’s. So my plan is to take a gap year or a semester off between each degree I get and of course try to study abroad when I can. This way Im getting my education fix for a few years and then I can take a break and enjoy the world as well. Who knows if Ill be able to afford to do this, but I think this plan is the best fit for me in the long run.

  7. I get so many emails from people in college who “don’t know what they’re doing with their life.” WELCOME TO COLLEGE. That’s why you’re there. I’m all for exploring after you get your degree, but I think there’s something special about the shared growing-up experience at university. +1 to everything here!

  8. Agreed. Although I don’t feel college is for everyone, any education is a good education. There’s always value in learning. My travel bug actually ignited in university when I did a semester in England. I don’t think a lot of students realize the insanely awesome study abroad opportunities they have.

  9. I knuckled down to do my degree and sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. But then I remember that it helped to get me my first job, and then the jobs after that… and all this work in journalism, and the experience, set me up for my copywriting business I run now from all four corners of the globe.

    So was it worth it? Yes. Because it led on to bigger and better things. It was the first small step.

  10. Long time reader, first time commenter. You are totally right in saying that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There is plenty of room for both.

    I’ll be 26 when I FINALLY get my degree in April, but in that time I also did a ton of travelling. I spent so much of that time totally confused about what I wanted to do, and there were points at which I thought I was done with school. Looking back now, I somehow managed to fit in extensive travel, career development, and a college degree. Added bonus? No student debt. Part-time studies + work allowed me to “pay-as-you-go” and have money left over for travel.

    I think that it’s important to think critically about why you decided to go to college in the first place. Education is SO valuable in so many ways, but the traditional path is not the only way to get there.

  11. Great advice. I am the queen of studying abroad! I’ve done summer writing courses and/or workshops in Prague, Wales, Russia and London. Truly, no matter what your age is, summer classes are the best vacations because you’re learning, meeting people and getting to know another culture. I would have done a year abroad in Nantes during university but was too crappy in French. Oh, and then I did a graduate degree in Seoul. Can you tell I’m a huge fan?

  12. Completely agree with you, Steph! I have 2 degrees and while some really question whether my second degree was worth the money, I know it was. I did my Bachelor at home in Canada, so for my Masters I went to London. It cost me an arm and a leg but the opportunity to make friends with people from all over the world, to travel all over Europe on weekends and have a chance to even study in China, was well worth it. Without it, I would probably still be living in a bubble in Canada.

  13. Great advice. Our daughter is 16 and we are trying to cram everything ‘travel’ in now. Already this has shaped her desire to go into the medical field after being in the South Pacific and Haiti and seeing the need. Fact is, we really should stop spending her college money on travel, but it’s hard to balance the two. 🙂 I don’t want her to have college debt, but I want her to know other cultures. We will spend the next two years looking for scholarships!

  14. Great post. I studied abroad in Australia during university and it was the best thing I could have done. Intertwining travel and education is shockingly easy compared to other lifestyles, and that hit me the moment I started full-time work. University gave me so much, not only education but thinking for myself, writing, friends, and growing as a person. My time in Australia would never have happened if it wasn’t for university – and to study abroad is a completely unique experience.

    The thing I wish I’d have done for more travel, and what I’d suggest to anyone else, is go travel in the summers. They are the longest summers you will ever have, and 100% allow for continuing education and months of travel at a time. Do it all!

  15. I totally agree with you on this. But I’m a nerd and loved school, so that’s no big surprise. I just wanted to chime in with another option for university students who can’t afford to study abroad or can’t find a study abroad program that matches their needs: get a student work visa. That’s what I did for three summers in a row when I was in college. I got my visa through BUNAC, and worked in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. It costs a little money and requires a bit of red tape, but is much cheaper than studying abroad. Plus, you get to make moneys and hang with the locals and when you return to college in the fall you can brag about how you spent the summer pulling pints in a British pub. It’s possible I did this. A lot.

  16. Great post, so true. One thing I would add, which others have mentioned, is that you can do your whole program abroad! Especially possible for postgrad, but even too for undergrad.

  17. “The World Isn’t Going Anywhere” – so true. Thanks for writing this article, I think many people struggle with this topic. You stated this fact and it is such a relief because one day, I will see whatever place I want to see, and that feels so good. Thanks for your encouraging words. Lots of Love! 🙂

  18. Hey Steph 🙂

    My first reaction to this post was that I agree so much with everything you’ve said. I think the part that resonates with me most is that if you’re contacting a stranger on the internet for advice with your life choices, you probably already know what you really want.

    But then I thought about it a bit more, and I thought, well, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to quit study to travel the world, if study isn’t working for you.

    Now that’s not what I did, I did a solid four year double bachelor and rewarded myself with a trip to South East Asia when I finished it. I didn’t even study abroad (which is something I regret). But the thing is, I LOVED uni and I loved studying. I was getting a lot out of it, and I really wanted to be there. But not everyone does. Plenty of people go to uni or college because it’s what they’re “supposed” to do next, regardless of whether it’s what they want to do, or what feels right for them.

    When study doesn’t feel right, when you’re not interested in it, it’s very hard to stay motivated. And when you’re not motivated, you’re not going to get a lot out of it. A friend of mine, who topped the state in mathematics in the final year of high school, got the marks to study law, so she did. And she did terribly, because she wasn’t interested in it. She finally switched to mathematics, and started getting straight High Distinctions again, and became a much happier, more energetic person. My point is, there’s not a lot of point to study if you’re not getting anything out of it.

    I think education is important and I could not be doing the job I’m doing now without my education, but I also don’t think everyone needs to do the standard bachelor’s right out of high school. Some people need to get straight into a business, like my incredibly bright friend who went into real estate knowing she would be bored with further study. For some people, quitting study to travel might be the thing that helps them find their motivation and their desire to do something that works for them.

    Anyway, that’s my thoughts. 🙂 Study isn’t right for everyone, and it’s not worth much unless you want to be there. Quitting to travel might help. But it’s a decision everyone needs to make for themselves, based on their gut.


  19. Well said, Steph…”The World Isn’t Going Anywhere”. Nothing can compare travel experience, all the socialising and exploring bring so much energy, positivism and knowledge about the world. The best possible way of travelling is a study abroad program, the perfect scenario for combining studying and travelling, I’ve been on a program like this and it is really a life changing experience I will never forget. Getting a college degree is a very important thing that shouldn’t be neglected, it leads to better chances for a well paid job, therefore you will be able to afford great holidays abroad.

  20. I agree 100%. College was one of the best times of my life — when again will you have the chance to learn so much from people so much smarter than you? When will you get the opportunity to meet and mix with people that have similar interests as you? Plus, college teaches a lot more than academics — I gained so much life experience in college, I can’t even begin to put it into words. You might discover things you never knew you liked, meet people you never would have met — many of the same things that are appealing about travel. So why not do both? Study hard, save your money, and then take a gap year after college 🙂

  21. I don’t regret my life choices for one minute BUT I dropped out… not of college, before that. I didn’t even finish high school, tho’ at the time it was not mandatory to stay in education past 16, I dropped out a year later.

    I am not by any means stupid, or unintelligent. I quite like learning, but I fell in love with a boy who lived in Spain and I wanted to be with him. Long story short, I was put under a lot of pressure to forget him & rebelled. I lived in Spain with him for 4 years. I learnt a language, I had a good job there, too.

    Since coming back to the UK, I have taken other courses, and considered a degree several times but with the rising costs & the fact I want to work as well, it just hasn’t been feasible (especially since I’d need to do an extra year to catch up). I don’t regret my choices, only I wish I’d finished high school. Plus, honestly, I still don’t know what I’d want to study, or what I’d plan to do with it once I’ve got it– and it’s an awful lot of money to spend & not know what to do with it.

    Regarding the ‘study is not for everyone’ comment above. I do agree to a point, my brother who is four years my junior, he cannot read or write. Again he’s not stupid (tho’ don’t tell him I said that), he’s a genius with computer’s, and encouraged in the right direction he’s become incredibly successful (even writing program’s for facebook a year or so back- at least that’s the one that impressed me the most).

    I think what I’m trying to say is, don’t close doors. Don’t throw away chances. Finish high school, and if you don’t want to go to college straight away, defer. Or apply after travelling for a year. Keep your options open.

  22. I would volunteer the idea that education is NOT the same thing as intelligence. A good education will teach people how to think on their own, however, a life of travel does that as well. There are also those who attend prestigious schools merely to add them to their resume for a semester or two in order ti network within a certain arena and then drop out to pursue the success they need without the high and ever increasing price of college tuition. Mike Rowe said it well: “We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who will never be able to pay it back, for jobs that no longer exist.” Ultimately, to each their own. 🙂

  23. I dropped out of college. Not to travel but I’m very glad that I have more time to travel now. I would love to be able to get my degree and study abroad but it’s just not possible right now.

    So far since dropping out of school I’ve started one small business and I’m working on another project right now. While I’m sure having a degree will open more (different) doors for me while traveling I refuse to let not having one hinder me. By the time I’m actually able to go back to school I probably won’t even need to.

  24. Hi steph! I love this post. It’s such a well balanced and wise approach to the dilemma many face with college and travel. I was definitely there many times where I wanted to drop out of my music program. I’m glad I stuck through. You can read my post on my blog http://www.creativeheart-travel.com about how I stayed in school and traveled during the summer time.

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