How do all-nighters spent camping under the Saharan sky’s swathing starlight, beneath the Northern Lights that illuminate Iceland’s horizon, or on the sandy shore of an iridescent sea of stars on the uninhabited Vaadhoo Island sound?
Exceedingly more enticing than all-nighters spent camping out in the library.
And the statistics book you’re reading in that library might not be the kind of content you feel like studying; you want to be exploring the ways of the world—its people and their many cultures.
Your abiding curiosity feeds your impetus for traveling, and quitting school to do it seems like an ideal move. But how do you know if the decision to quit is right for you and are you prepared to take that risk? Will you regret it?
Travel Is Valuable Education You Won’t Get in School
Speaking languages you’ve never heard, indulging in meals you’ve never tasted, partaking in religious customs you’ve never understood, dancing rhythms you’ve never danced—that’s all far more alluring and edifying than sitting in a classroom from which textbooks will predispose you to people with whom you’ve never engaged and places to which you’ve never been.
According to research commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, these new experiences can actually improve cognitive health, too. Your brain actually reacts to unfamiliar, complex stimuli by forming new connections as it tries to categorize whatever it is that you’re taking in. This process develops the brain and keeps it active in a similar way as practicing a new hobby.
Global travel company Contiki also recently published a study, “The Power of Travel,” which suggests that travel has some powerfully positive impacts on young people with regards to their self-confidence and how that impacts their educations and careers.
Sixty-three percent of the travelers studied said that their travel experiences have improved their education and employment. That’s because 75 percent of them said that they are more confident and can perform efficiently on many different tasks. 63 percent of them said that travel has helped their ability to solve problems efficiently, and a quarter of them said that they are more likely to set goals for themselves and regularly achieve them.
Traveling Could Teach You What You Want to Study in School Later
Traveling teaches you as much about yourself as it does about the place you’re visiting. Experiencing new things inevitably means discovering yourself and, when you’re off the grid and unencumbered by the burdens of everyday life (read: social media), you have time to reflect on those discoveries. It’s rejuvenating, really.
Traveling solo, in particular, can also quickly teach you your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes—all of which will help you in school down the line. That’s because traveling unaccompanied in places where you’re ignorant of almost everything means you have only yourself on which to rely.
You have to have your own back, trust your own instincts and be your own pilot and co-pilot during times when you’re equipped with only the most rudimentary sense of how things work. It’s all challenging, but it’s equal parts enriching.
Maybe you’ll discover that you’re really good at communicating and you decide to pursue studies in media. Maybe you’ll discover that you know how to keep your cool in stressful situations, and you decide to pursue psychology to help others do the same.
According to a study by Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School professor, travelers who’ve lived abroad are more creative, too. The more countries people live in, the more creative their work tends to be. This could also affect your school decisions, and maybe you’ll decide to chase a creative career in the arts because of it.
Traveling Will Change You in Ways School Never Will
Your travel experiences are immortal because the places you go will always become a part of you, and you will always look at the place to which you return with new eyes.
In other words: You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone—or you’re gone from it. Traveling to places that have less by your personal standards? It will inevitably make you more appreciative of the people and things you treasure.
Likewise, traveling to places where people seem to have more, or eat better, or meditate and pray better, or balance work and life better, etc. might ignite a fire under you to obtain the same quality of life upon your return.
Besides, when you’re at home in your dorm, in a classroom, on campus or wherever it may be, your responses to different cultures are very often molded by the company you keep. And you consciously or subconsciously temper your curiosity because of that.
Traveling opens your eyes and arms with modesty and empathy; the more we understand each other’s inimitable lives, cultures and adversities, the more mindful of one another we become.
Science has even proved it time and time again. For example, in the aforementioned Contiki study, three quarters of travelers also said that travel has created an awareness of other cultures. This has led to increased tolerance and/or compassion. And well more than half said they often feel a sense of kinship with people from different ethnic groups.
Research lead by German scientists also found that students who had studied abroad for at least one semester tend to show an increase in open-mindedness toward new experiences, cordiality and emotional stability.
But Degrees Open Doors…
The job market is a tough place for those without degrees. But you wouldn’t be alone—just over a third of American adults have a four-year college degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This number is the highest ever recorded, but it also means that not everyone goes to or finishes school.
Personal finance magazine Kiplinger conducts a yearly search of the most lucrative college majors out of 215 common options. In collaboration with PayScale and Economic Modeling Specialists International, Kiplinger looked at the average starting salary (less than five years’ work experience) and median salary (at least 10 years’ work experience) for each major and analyzed the projected 10-year job growth for each field.
There are lucrative, longevity-promising fields in which having a degree would be wise. These include actuarial mathematics, physicals, business administration, finance and economics, information security, computer science, information systems, nursing, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering, according to the research.
Employers are certainly hiring in those fields. And they’re going to college campuses to recruit for open positions within their companies. According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2017 Spring Update, more than three-quarters of employers plan to be on campus recruiting for both full-time and intern/co-op positions in 2018. Slightly more than 99 percent of them have indicated plans to hire bachelor’s degree graduates, 53 percent are anticipating hiring M.B.A.s and 58 percent are planning to hire graduates with other master’s degrees.
So, in other words, not having a degree of any level might make competition that much stiffer for you.
And You Might Lose Motivation to Pursue School Later
If you postpone school, it might be more difficult for you to hop back into student mode later on if you decide you want to go back. Think about it: You’ll have to relearn how to be a student, and that’s not even always easy the first time around, let alone a second time. You’ll also have to readjust to all the nuances of the academic world, like AP writing style guidelines and standardized tests.
Speaking of tests, you may also have to retake tests (or even classes) that can actually expire; if you’re gone long enough, the school to which you’re applying might want to see more recent grades. And it’ll be hard to muster up the motivation to take those tests when you’ve forgotten much of the material.
On top of feeling unenthusiastic about sitting in classrooms again, or retaking tests to even be permitted to sit in those classrooms again, you’ll also be among the older students in your classes depending on how much time you take off.
Age might not bother you. But it may pose challenges such as making it more difficult to find common interests with others on campus. And friends are the support systems that keep a lot of people motivated—and that make school arguably more bearable.
The Fact is, You Don’t Need to Quit to Still Travel
It’s really quite unnecessary to quit school entirely to travel. You do have the option to travel the world while still studying. Or travel the world during breaks from your studies.
One option is to take a gap year. They’re not quite as common in America as they are in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world. But they’re an ideal alternative to quitting school. You can take 12 months to pursue non-academic goals while backpacking, working abroad or volunteering.
Another option is to earn college credits in abroad programs. Or take online classes with your home institution while traveling. Most offer programs that allow students to spend entire semesters or years in other countries. In fact, the number of students in the U.S. who studied abroad for credit during the 2015 to 2016 academic year grew 3.8 percent, according to the Association of International Educators, so it’s a popular route.
Prefer to travel all over on your own? As opposed to traveling with a program to live and immerse yourself in one new country. You might want to consider taking online classes that are available. This way you can still earn credits anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. Just make sure you’ve got enough willpower to log in to your classes. Even despite how much you really feel like exploring. Or surfing. Skiing. Hiking. Eating out or whatever else it is that’s tantalizing you that day.
Otherwise, utilize your allotted time off to travel. Students are typically offered months off. They get them in the summer and during the holidays in the winter. And they also get a week or two during the spring. Take those breaks to quench your wanderlust and hold you over until the next one.
But, Ultimately, It’s Up to You
Ultimately, the choice is yours. But you’ll want to take into consideration everything we’ve talked about so far. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons depending on your own unique situation and values.
Do you typically struggle to find motivation? Think you’ll have trouble getting back into the swing of things later on? You may want to reconsider quitting school altogether. Already have a job lined up after school? The line of work you’re pursuing doesn’t require a degree? It doesn't place preference on applicants with degrees? Then quitting school might not be as difficult a decision.
Regardless, regret nothing. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll come out of your school or travel experience a wiser, hopefully more mature and better-equipped human.
And it’s what you do with your knowledge after all of it that really counts.