Seventeen or eighteen–this is the age when most Americans are told they need to decide what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. We are told to make these decisions about our majors and classes based on the careers we are supposed to have figured out before we are even of legal drinking age.
We work our asses off, go into debt and, more often than not, leave after four years not even remotely interested in what we’ve studied. It’s not in our culture to take time off to travel after high school, but it should be.
Instead of looking like a failure, a quitter, or a bum for not going to college right away, Americans who take a year off to travel should be viewed as strategic, ambitious, and inspiring. The Australians do it, the youth of the UK do it, and there is no reason why Americans shouldn’t do it, too.
Get out there, learn about the world and yourself, and then come back and make a more informed decision about your future.
You Will Learn About Yourself
People may not realize it at first, but when we travel, we often meet ourselves. A year abroad will challenge you, shape you, and bring you closer than ever to understanding yourself. The journey will constantly test you and reveal your true person in how you deal with challenges.
You will have a moment of truth when you have to handle a missed bus to the airport in a country where you can’t even speak the language and when you respond to seeing poverty and environmental damage in a country that is not your own.
You will find out if you can really think on your feet when you have lost the business card to your hostel, you forgot your map and you have no idea where the hell in Beijing you actually are. All of these reactions, interpretations and gut feelings will help you get closer to yourself.
You Will Learn About New Career Paths
How can you be expected to choose a career when there are so many paths out there that you haven’t yet explored? A year of travel isn’t all about gallivanting around the globe, sightseeing, and partying with your hostel-mates. Many people use it as an opportunity to explore their interests in work.
From involvement in the tourism industry through hostel work or tour-leading to teaching ESL, volunteering in orphanages, or working on farms, a year of travel allows you to test the professional waters to see what you are actually interested in before committing to a four-year college degree.
You Will Network
Networking is everything these days, and with the use of the internet, it has never been easier. While traveling, you are bound to meet friends and acquaintances that with whom you can easily keep in contact through social media sites, no matter where you are in the world.
You will meet people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures who will possess unique skills and interests that can inspire you and also meet people who are on different career paths that may be beneficial to you in the future. Collaborate with the Brazilian marketing executive you met at a bar in Amsterdam or have your writing featured in your friend from Vietnam’s magazine.
You Will Try New Things
Trying new things is all part of the experience of traveling abroad, and it is bound to happen to you. Take a Thai cooking class, and discover your culinary passions or try Muay Thai boxing, and discover that you actually have some real talent.
Perhaps you will discover a love for learning the Chinese language or a real knack for teaching children after your experience with teaching abroad. The things you try for fun or just for the experience may be the very things that shape your future career and interests.
You Will Experience Different Lifestyles
In a year of travel, you will meet people with lifestyles that you previously had no idea were even options. The English teachers that live and work in new countries every year or the business owners who opened restaurants and shops on tropical islands–their lifestyles may leave you in awe.
Freelance travel bloggers and web designers may blow your idea of nine-to-fives and office jobs out of the water when you discover that they make a decent living while traveling around the world and working their own hours. Perhaps your idea of a career will change when you meet the surf instructor who spends his work days doing what he loves and his time off in a hammock by the sea. Knowing that these lifestyles exist can make a difference when deciding what to do with the rest of your life.
Even if you don’t want to be a world traveler, a year of wandering can do you some good. You’ll learn about yourself, network with interesting people, and maybe add a thing or two to your resume. It’s worth a shot!
Featured Photo via Unsplash