Many college students join the workforce after they graduate, but others take a more unconventional path: traveling the world.
Fueled by wanderlust and a sense of adventure, these grads head to far-flung destinations, often without a plan for what to do next.
While stepping away from the job hunt might sound like it could derail your career development, sometimes the opposite is true. I spoke with four college graduates about how traveling the world helped them discover careers they love. Here are their stories.
1. Finding a career that hadn’t been on her radar
When Ashley Nitransky graduated from Niagara College with a degree in tourism management and public relations, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. But she knew she loved to travel, so she saved money to turn her dream into a reality.
“I accepted a seasonal hospitality job so I could work during the summer and travel throughout the winter,” said Nitransky. “I ended up staying at that job for five years and traveled everywhere from the U.K. to Thailand, India, and South Africa in the off-season.”
Sticking to a strict budget helped Nitransky meet her savings goals, and she traveled on the cheap by backpacking and negotiating prices when she could.
“When I was backpacking, I constantly found myself in situations that pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Nitransky. “Even the most seemingly insignificant things — from successfully navigating a foreign city by myself to haggling with a local at a market — boosted my confidence exponentially.”
Ultimately, it was this confidence boost that led Nitransky to start blogging at Ashley Wanders and to look for freelance writing jobs, even though her background was in hospitality.
“Eventually, I landed a job as a copywriter while I was living abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland,” said Nitransky. “Travel has transformed my life in so many ways, but I never expected to find my career path on this journey.”
Although Nitransky finally found a job she loves, her path to get there wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“My family wasn’t particularly supportive of my travel lifestyle, but I decided to pursue an ‘unconventional’ path anyways, and I don’t regret it for a second,” she said.
Her advice? “If you want to travel, don’t let other people’s opinions or societal pressures stop you. You’ll never have what you truly want in life unless you learn to ignore both,” said Nitransky. “Take that leap of faith and live the life you want — not the one others expect of you.”
2. Learning how to apply her humanities degree
After majoring in the humanities at Trent University, Nora Livingstone wasn’t sure how to use her degree.
“Like most millennials, I was told to get an education and then a job would just happen,” Livingstone said. “Well, I went to school for environmental studies and cultural anthropology and waited the four years to see what job would come from that.”
When no job materialized, Livingstone decided to travel to Nepal and volunteer with local organizations.
“I ended up volunteering in a few different places in Nepal and then Thailand and found out that I had an eye and an ear for logistics and coordination of volunteers,” she said.
This experience ultimately led her to co-found a benefit corporation called Animal Experience International (AEI).
“We send people from all over the world to volunteer experiences all over the world,” Livingstone said. “This is never the job I thought I wanted because I never knew it could be a job!”
Her work with AEI has brought her to countries across the globe, including Oman, Mongolia, Guatemala, and Malawi. As Livingstone says, this work never would have come to be if she hadn’t traveled to Nepal after college and fallen in love with international volunteer management.
“Traveling after college helped me find the real me, the social entrepreneur who helps other people to find themselves,” said Livingstone.
3. Getting a foot in the door of the travel industry
For most of her life, Philtrina Farquharson hadn’t left the U.S. “I didn’t have any interest to go anywhere outside of the United States because I was scared of the unknown,” she said.
But when her sister invited her to Costa Rica two years ago, Farquharson discovered a passion for travel, which eventually led her to work in the travel industry.
“Traveling after college changed my life,” said Farquharson. “I became open-minded to new ideas and possibilities. I was able to grow as a person, which caused a [change] in my career.”
Having graduated from St. John’s University with a degree in public relations and image management, Farquharson took her skills to one of the biggest PR firms in the travel and lifestyle industry.
She now works with hotels, destinations, and airlines to build their brands, and she has returned to school to earn her MBA.
“I hope to continue to work in the travel industry as long as I possibly can,” she said. Since her trip to Costa Rica, Farquharson has visited five other countries.
Even though she’s also balancing student loan repayment, she said travel is possible because she makes it a priority in her budget.
“My best advice for loan repayment and traveling is to budget,” she said. “Always prioritize your bills first and save a percentage of your check towards travel. It will definitely add up!”
4. Turning into a location-independent digital nomad
Apart from a few small trips as a child, Alex Peters didn’t travel much until after college. Inspired by wanderlust, she saved money for over a year before taking a three-month solo backpacking trip around Europe at the age of 24.
Her experience as a solo traveler was life-changing. “Not only did I become more independent and resourceful in all outlets of my life backpacking solo, [but] it also opened up the world to me in ways I had never experienced at home before,” she said.
In particular, she learned about the growing community of digital nomads, who work from anywhere with an internet connection. Along with blogging at The Wayward Walrus, Peters makes money online with her other skills.
“[I found] my passion for writing, marketing, and web development, which I was able to do on the road,” said Peters. “[I] still continue to do so while I save for my next adventure and continue paying off my student loans each month.”
While student loans can be a big financial burden, they don’t have to stand between you and your travel goals. With a job that lets you work and travel at the same time, you could build your career, visit far corners of the globe, and chip away at your debt.
Finding ways to pay for long-term travel
Traveling might seem financially impossible, especially if you’re dealing with student loans or other expenses. But by finding ways to save and earn extra money, you eventually can turn your dream into a reality.
And while many new graduates are worried about getting a jump-start on their career, the truth is it often takes several years to find the right path after college.
Rather than being a distraction, traveling the world could lead you to your professional calling. At the very least, your experience will make for a great story at your next job interview.
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