What to Study When You Want a Life of Travel

Welcome to the first post of Twenty-Something Travel Guest Post Week! The topic of this one should be pretty popular and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Humanities, Sociology, Psychology? No, that’s not quite right. Maybe a semester of Fine Arts with a focus on Islamic Architecture; that will pave the way nicely for a summer of field work in Turkey. Then again, languages could be a great alternative, after all people are connected by the spoken word. Portuguese might be easy to pick up, or even Catalan, yes, it’s close enough to Spanish, and I do love southern Spain!

My four years of undergraduate studies in university were plagued with doubt, second-guessing, and about 5 switches of majors and minors. In the end I emerged with a bachelors in Humanities and German Studies, but the truth is I could have been wielding any degree because paper alone does not determine the course of your life or your travels.

Post secondary studies can open many doors, but at times it can also feel like you’ve walked straight into a trap – especially when you are sitting in a lecture hall in the dead of winter and you can see nothing out the window but a veil of grey. It was during those Canadian winters that I kept asking myself, “Do I really want to put myself through four years of this when I could be sunning myself on some beach along the Andaman Sea?” Well, actually, I just might…

My advice to wanna-be travelers struggling with school is:

Choose a field that you are passionate about and find a way to combine that with travel.

Do you dream of teaching English to cute children in Japan? Do you want to develop your business skills through an internship in Singapore? Is it your dream to work in the fashion industry in Milan? Do you want to be involved with a NGO in India? Or have you always wanted to join Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan?

Don’t shun the dream because it seems outlandish and adults raise an eyebrow every time you share your aspirations. If you don’t stick up for your dream, then who else will? Instead, be prepared to work your arse off to make it happen. Be serious about your education (university, college, vocational training, or whatever it may be), save money to help fund your travels, and apply to every possible opportunity overseas that fits the bill.

Why did I choose Humanities? To sum it up: people and their ways fascinate me! My degree allowed me to study the Timurid architecture of Uzbekistan, Guatemala’s civil unrest, European art history, Germany’s literary movements, Greek belief systems, and anything else that provided a window into the way a culture functions. And well, German Studies was just a strange niche that I found incredibly intriguing.

When I think of all the doubt and uncertainty I felt in those days, I realize that a lot of it was self-imposed; I didn’t have the guts to stand by my choices and I allowed other people’s opinions to chip away at my confidence. I may not have emerged with the most useful skill set, but I loved every moment of learning. My education was for me alone, and in a way, reading about all those foreign lands only helped fuel the wanderlust I had felt all along.

So back to you, dear reader. Whether your field of interest lies in ancient history, medicine, microbiology or graphic design, with a little creativity you are free to pursue those opportunities abroad. The first step is to admit to yourself what it is that you’re aching to do.

Don’t silence the dream that’s squirming inside of you; the only remedy is to chase after it.

Audrey is the girl behind That Backpacker. She was born in Canada, raised in Argentina, and now finds herself teaching English to a mischievous bunch in Korea. When she’s not exploring her current home base, she’s hunting for authentic Indian curries, and plotting how to get more stamps on her passport. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for more adventures!

35 thoughts on “What to Study When You Want a Life of Travel”

  1. What a great post, Audrey! As a fellow almost graduate of humanities, I can totally relate to this. I attended classes from Islamic theology to medieval German literary studies throughout the last five years of studying… And although I never thought I would end up studying this long, I love how every class broadens my horizon and fascinates me in a new way! Studying humanities and traveling are a wonderful way of getting to know the world!

    1. Thank you Julika! I loved Humanities. I feel like it opened me up to so many parts of the world that I had never really considered before. I could have gladly kept taking more courses, but alas, after four years I had all that was required to graduate. Good luck with your studies!

  2. If someone is confused about what to major in because what they really want to be doing is traveling, hell, I say take a year off and travel! Why spend all that money on an education when you don’t know what you want?? I seriously think the biggest problem with the higher education system in the US (besides the fact that it’s absurdly overpriced and undervalued) is that high school graduates aren’t urged to take a year off before college. If you want to travel, go effing travel!!

    1. I tend to agree with Michelle – if you want to do it, go for it. University will always be there when you come back, plus going off for a year will tell you if it’s something you want to do long term!

    2. I think gap years are a great idea. It gives you a chance to travel, volunteer, experiment with a few jobs, and ponder what you’d like to do before you actually invest time and money into it (then again, sometimes you actually need to invest these two things in order to find out if something is right for you). I took a year off after high school, but it definitely wasn’t the popular choice for most graduates. The trend hasn’t quite caught on in Canada the way it has in the UK…

    3. I wouldn’t use study to travel, because you never know if you can get an exchange program and have the money for it bc study is expensive. Would rather work a year, save money and then travel to that destination. If you can do it, dan good for for you.

      1. audrey actually im inspired a lot with your inspireing post but i have some question for you
        1.actually should i take humanities to became a traveller?
        2.im from india i love ti travell a lot but i dont have enyone to guide me to choose travelling as my career
        3.what should i study to get a job in traveler channels like TLC
        DESTINATION AMERICA etc and such channels
        plz could you help me get into my passion TRAVELING
        plz help me
        my name is sherin
        facebook ID is sherin saji
        I hope you kindly help me
        my number is 8129534388

  3. Such a good topic! I was so confused in general going through UNI – I knew I wanted to travel so I studied Tourism?! Kind of wish I just went travelling instead- so as Michelle and Marco have said… study isn’t the be-all and end-all.

    But on the flip side- there is always time for travel as well 😀

  4. I can definitely see the argument of taking the year off to travel, but I think the post is geared more for those who want international travel to be a long term part of their career.

    I completely relate. I bounced around all sorts of humanities majors before finishing with a double in history and psychology. Now my career has turned more towards languages and travel, but I studied what fascinated me and the experience has shaped me into who I am today.

  5. I wish I could have read this years ago when I was entering university! I fell into a career I didn’t really care for when all I wanted to do was travel. Good on you for staying true to yourself and realizing your dreams!

    1. I wish I had figured this out before I started university! The first few years weren’t easy, but I’m glad I chose to follow my gut instincts in the end.

    2. Same! If I could go back, I would have chosen a different major. Being able to blend your interests with travel is a great idea. The thing about university was that I didn’t know what my interests were at the time. They surfaced after I graduated and traveled. Sometimes it takes traveling to figure yourself out as a person.

  6. Wow! Was this post written for me? I am currently at a university in Canada writing finals through a particularly cold and rainy winter. I fully understand the longing to be sunning on a beach! Thanks for this inspirational post to keep me going and I love your advice on going for dreams. I often try to rationalize what I want or pick something more realistic. Thanks!

  7. Awesome topic Audrey! I am doing my masters in Computer Science abroad and so far it has allow me to live in France and Romania and I have travelled to many European countries too. I agree it’s not easy, there are times when I ask myself what I’m doing millions of miles away from home and working like there’s no tomorrow but the excitements and adventures being in a foreign country always beats that feeling. Kudos to you!

  8. I think your greatest takeaway was in the intro — your degree does not determine your life or travels.

    I studied politics with an Asian studies minor — with some Irish lit/history thrown in — and while I found my classes extremely interesting, I’m hardly finding them useful.

    I should’ve been a comm major given the field I work in now, but I’m glad I didn’t! I enjoyed my elective classes, ones I likely wouldn’t have been able to take as a comm major.

  9. Interesting post. I studied international development (at York University in Toronto). That definitely opened a lot of doors for me. Although my career is not in that field now, I often think about it and how I can use what I learned abroad. I would love to be some sort of project manager overseas for an NGO or something. Right now I don’t have the skills but every now and then, international development creeps up on me.

    1. Look at that, we went to the same university! International development is a field that tugs at me as well. I’ve been able to do some volunteer work in Latin America, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking to gain some of the skills to pursue that kind of work. (Thought it’s also something that can be done back at home, so you don’t need to travel too far to gain the experience.) 🙂

  10. If you’re in a STEM field and doing research in college, it can be a bit tricky to fit study abroad into your schedule. Most STEM degrees have more rigid requirements of when (read: what year) you need to take classes. The best way to do study abroad in STEM is to do it over the summer or take a year off to fulfill a minor or second major abroad.

  11. I also think that message in the beginning was pretty powerful: “paper alone does not determine the course of your life or your travels.” I’ve never been the kind of person who even thinks about things. If they feel right, I do them. So for me, the issue wasn’t if my degree (PSYCHOLOGY) would help me travel. If it was, I would’ve stuck with my first attempt at English Philology. The issue has always been HOW to use my degree.

    To tell you the truth, I’ve been torn about using my degree at all, lol. I’m not looking to become a therapist or a counselor, and even though I want to try life coaching, that’s hardly anything I can do whilst traveling (though… who knows?). So right now I am trying to combine some of my other passions (writing, photography) with travel, and we’ll see what happens there.

    Thanks for this food for thought. You’re absolutely right. Happy holidays!

  12. I never really thought of all the options available while in school that would allow me to travel, yet through books and varied interests I’ve longed to travel and learn about cultures and histories. It’s interesting that you post the questions about teaching English in Japan or working with Doctors without Borders. It is amazing how many opportunities there really are. I didn’t finish university, because I left to ‘travel’ as my husband took various jobs that brought us around the US, Canada and Europe. Travel has been a wonderful education and I don’t regret it a bit. I learn something new, exciting or fascinating every single day because I travel 🙂

  13. This is a great post, Audrey… it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately since I went back to school after 4.5 years of business school. I’ve taken a completely different path to a lot of people who want a lot of travel in their life, and at the moment it feels very much like a big waiting game because my course load and program is so intense. You can imagine the amount of self doubt I am feeling and by the way you described that veil of grey in a Canadian winter, you probably know just what I am talking about. On the one hand, I could have already been doing a lot more traveling, and on the other hand, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and I wouldn’t want to be anything different in my future. I see it as an investment, not only of money but of my time. Doing what I am doing now will help me see the world in the way that I want to, when I want to.
    Thank you for your words! xo

  14. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only person who feels that way! I swear I was just ranting the other day that I had completely set myself up in the wrong majors for what I want to do: travel and help people.

    But at the same time, I have always loved history and couldn’t see myself majoring in anything else. Thanks for assuaging my fears! I’ll definitely be defending my major and my career goals from now on–I can make it work =P

  15. I studied anthropology and have a minor in French, and at the time really did think that I wanted to be an anthropologist or archaeologist. I had grad school plans and everything. However, after a less than pleasant field experience the summer after graduating, I realized maybe that’s not the field for me after all… I don’t like being covered in dirt all the time, especially without access to running water!
    I don’t regret the classes I took though because I did learn alot about other cultures, human evolution and history, which I do find very interesting… it’s just not what I want to do for a living!
    The French minor helped me get the current job I have now, (and gave me my first opportunity to travel and study abroad in 2008) so clearly that worked out a little better.

    But sometimes I still wish I had something to “fall back on”. I still don’t really have an idea what I want to do with my life/career long-term, so having a seemingly “useless” major doesn’t help me to not worry. I’m sure I’ll figure something out one day though!

  16. I was lucky enough to find travel blogs and figure out I wanted to travel indefinitely, when i was 18. Since then, i planed out my occupation based on my likes and the ability to work from anywhere. I loveeeee art so i’m getting a graphic design degree and learning web development on my own, so in 2 years, i’ll be a web developer and designer and backpacking across South America!

  17. Oh my gosh thank you so much for this post! My mom has been telling me for years that I will not be able to travel with my career choice(Nursing/Spanish)and my dreams were squashed. I am graduating from high school this year so I am pretty naive and I am already saving up for a trip to Europe when I go to college haha 🙂 Thank you for this encouraging post even though when you wrote this you probably didn’t know it would be this encouraging lol. Thanks once more.

  18. Hello!
    I just wanted to thank you for this post.

    As somebody who’s had a lot of doubts over the last few months about whether or not my current studies will allow me to travel and go abroad, this has helped me a lot with my insecurities.

    I’ll just do my best and work hard for my dreams. That’s really all I can do, and I think my current major is the right thing for me.

    Thank you. 🙂

  19. A suggestion that might surprise other readers: be an Art History major!

    It allowed me to travel and live in France for a year and travel to so many other countries in search of their best art and architecture!

    And then… a Master of Museum Studies! My program had seminars in Mexico City and Paris. What is not to love?!

    I’ve since worked in Korea and most recently, Ecuador!

  20. If you major in business and/or marketing and you join an international company, you will travel the world on the company dollar and you’ll make enough money that you can travel on your paid sabbaticals and vacations too. You can be a trainer or program manager and you’ll have lots of opportunity to travel to interesting places. I found this blog by accident by Googling for covered Italian entryways and I was intrigued because my oldest son is just now graduating school and wanting to travel.

    My advice to anyone that wants to travel like I like to travel is to work for an international company and ask for the travel because the truth is that a lot of people get sick of it after a while and/or it becomes harder when you have children at home.

    Happy travels!

  21. Hi Audrey. I’m an African student in my final year of UG studies in International Business from India. I am very confused about whether to go for my masters or teach kids in korea. my parents want me to apply to different universities abroad for my masters program possibly on a scholarship. But I want to earn as well. I heard about people going to Korea to teach through TEFL but I don’t even know if Africans are allowed to teach there. I want to travel too. I need some kind of advice or motivation as I’m not even sure about what course to take for the masters program. Thank you

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