I’m a huge proponent of travel as a means to develop the self. Going to a new country is daunting, exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time, and even if you take a trip with the intent of having a relaxing vacation, you almost always are pushed into moments of duress along the way and forced to grow as a result. I can't count the number of lessons I've learned about the world and how to navigate it due to my past travels, and every single trip I've taken has had a profound effect on me. Of course, everything you experience has the capacity to change you in some way, but I'd like to think that travel is a particularly effective way to test yourself and your relationships while still having fun.
If you’re reading this, you clearly already have decided that you want to travel after college. You’re just looking for an appropriate excuse. Well, here are some excuses; hopefully they serve to justify your choice. (I certainly approve.)
Think about the foreseeable future. When’s the next time that you’ll have a guaranteed period of free time in which you can do something spontaneous? Next Christmas? No, you’ll have to see family then, if you even can get off work. Plus, adults work over the summers, so summer is out, too. Maybe your job will give you vacation days, but you can't count on many in an entry-level gig. That timeline doesn’t have a lot of give in it. You’re about to start working — really working, for the first time ever — and that means you can kiss goodbye to your freedom to travel. Take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts.
Four (or more) years of undergrad is no small thing. Although it might not seem like it as you sweat under the June sun, waiting for 3000 people to march across the stage until it’s your turn to get that final handshake, you’ve actually done something really special by making it to graduation. The fact that you got your grubby hands on that diploma is definitely an occasion for celebration, and there’s no better way to celebrate than by jetting off on vacation with people you know and love.
At college, you had the experience of getting to know a whole bunch of people from varied backgrounds, many of whom likely live far from you. Now, with graduation looming large, all your friends are considering their options, deciding whether to move back home or to go off to a new city in search of a job. You’re going to have friends scattered all around the country, and the next opportunity to all be together in the same place won’t likely rise up until one of you gets married (shiver). So, use this moment as an opportunity to get the gang together and take a little trip to spend some more time together as a group before geography separates you all.
As someone who studied abroad, I can attest to the fact that — surprise — cultural differences do exist. Being exposed to a different culture can be jarring, especially when you’re in a country where no one speaks English and you have to try to find some way to communicate. It’s a very humbling experience. If you’ve never had a moment where you felt utterly lost and incapable of finding your way, you haven't been pushing yourself enough. Try it out; your empathy will grow as a result without a doubt.
Learning how to travel is an important skill, and it’s a lot more difficult than Instagram would have you believe. In order to travel well, you need to develop your capacity for planning ahead, something that a lot of us struggle with. In order to travel successfully, there are so many things to keep in mind: you need to get to the airport on time, pack responsibly, keep track of how much money you have left, communicate with your bank and your phone service provider, pack adapters, book tickets to visit famous museums in advance, research what you want to do and still remain flexible when plans inevitably go awry.
Older people are always complaining that youth is wasted on the young. By not traveling, you would essentially be proving them right. When you graduate, you're in your physical prime (unless you've allowed Senior Week to ruin your physique, that is). There’s no better time to hike the Alps or swim around the Galapagos Islands. In a few years, your body will no longer find those ideas tempting, so you might as well do it while you’re able-bodied and open-minded.
One of the biggest lessons you’ll learn when traveling is how to advocate for yourself. When I tried to buy a SIM card for my phone in Rome, the clerk told me that I needed to pay double the price that was listed on the provider’s website. At that point, I could barely speak Italian, and the clerk spoke no English. I was close to giving up and paying extra just because communication was so difficult, but then I steeled myself and brokenly explained to him that the price was wrong, while a line formed behind me and I turned bright pink with embarrassment. Eventually, we connected, and he understood that I wanted a different type of coverage than the one he was trying to sell me. Although it was only a small victory, after figuring out a way to cross that language barrier I felt like I could do anything. It was a huge help in developing my confidence, and you'll experience a similar moment without a doubt in any non-English speaking country.
In many countries, student discounts last up until the age of 27. That means that this immediate, after-graduation trip could be much cheaper than it would be if you delayed it. You just need to know where to sniff out those discounts — almost all museums have student discount prices posted at the door, while you typically need to ask if they exist at restaurants and clothing stores. Traveling as a (recent) student also means that you can stay in hostels without raising eyebrows, which means even more money saved.
Debt is not a joke, and it’s very hard to pay back. You might not look at the funds you’re spending to travel as a huge investment, but when you take into account the money you could be earning in the same amount of time if you were working a job, the cost of travel seems to skyrocket. If taking a trip might hurt your finances in a big way, it probably isn't worth the risk.
If you have been offered a job, you can’t very well ask your prospective employer to hold off the starting date until you get back from Prague. Don’t waste a job opportunity to travel the world — although travel is exciting and can help you grow as a person, establishing yourself in your desired career is undoubtedly much more worthwhile in the long run.
You should always put your mental health first. Whether it’s because being so far from home would give you anxiety or because you’re coming off a big breakup, sometimes your mental health can mean traveling abroad isn’t the best idea. Do what you need to do to keep yourself happy and healthy, and save your big trip for a moment when it won't affect you as negatively.
Can I take a gap year after college?
Of course! If you’re planning on heading to grad school after college, taking a gap year to recollect yourself before diving into more academic work isn’t just possible, it’s actually smart. That way, you’ll have the time to create a thoughtful application to your institution of choice, and you can think deeply about whether grad school is the right choice for you before rushing in.
Can you study abroad after you graduate college?
News flash: graduate school exists in other countries, too! Going to grad school abroad is a great way to combine a passion for travel with working to further your career, even while you’re away from home. Graduate programs at international universities are often cheaper than their American counterparts, too, so you might have some extra cash to spend on weekend trips if you play your cards right.
Where should I go on vacation after graduation?
It depends on what you’re looking to accomplish with your vacation. If you and all your friends want to go on vacation together as a last hurrah, it makes sense to go someplace closer to home and less costly, since that will be easier to organize and a more comfortable option for everyone. Renting a cabin in Vermont or Maine for a weekend and driving up together would be a lovely post-graduation vacation for a large friend group. If the group is a little smaller and the goal is less saying goodbye and more seeing the world, head off to Budapest, Berlin or Mumbai with your closest pals. Whether you spend your time in hostels or hotels, the experience of being abroad with your friends will test you in all the right ways, and you’ll come back stronger for it.
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