When you head out to travel perpetually you’re eventually going to run out of money and need to find work at some point. While there is an incredible array of self-employed, skill or knowledge based, or grunt types of work out there that travelers can do which require neither degree nor formal education, there are also many types of relatively good paying and potentially interesting jobs that do require at least a BA degree. Simply put, having that certificate expands your options, and creating as many potential streams of income as possible is a large part of the perpetual travel experience.
While there was once a day that you could float around the world teaching English with being a native speaker your only credential, this possibility is fading fast. Schools and governments really demand and check the validness of degrees now — so don’t bother wasting $50 on one of the fake ones that you can get in the streets of Bangkok.
If you scheme about financing your travels through teaching English and you don’t have a degree degree your options are far more reduced than they would be otherwise. The high-paying countries, such as Japan, South Korea, the Gulf States, will not even look at you unless you can prove that you have a university degree. While it is currently still possible to find work sans-degree in some other countries where the demand for English teachers is greater than the supply, this window of opportunity is closing rapidly. Even China, which has such a high demand for native speaking English teachers that the schools will pretty much take any Anglophone with a pulse, now demands that foreign teachers have a university degree to be issued a work permit.
Which brings us to another major benefit of having a degree that goes beyond working and making money: that certificate that proves that you completed four long years of post-secondary schooling is needed as a basic requirement to work legally in many countries.
Now, I’ve never had a problem with working under the table and have no moral qualms about it, but when you’re trying to save up a good wad of cash to dive into that next bout of high paced travel, not having to worry about how you’re going to extend that tourist visa for the umpteenth time is an incredibly huge advantage. It’s truly clutch to be able to land good paying jobs on the road and obtain the visas that allow you free reign to stay in a country until you’ve made enough cash to continue traveling on.
Amanda, a long term reader and participant on Vagabond Journey, has been grappling with the university question for a long time now. She’s a traveler, and just wants to get on with her journey, but she had the opportunity to go to college and found herself at an impasse. “Is it worth it?” she first asked me probably around three or four years ago. “Yes,” I replied, “just do it and get it done with, it will give you wings later on.” She fluttered in and out of school since then, doing some traveling in between semesters off. Now she seems to be at a breaking point: she wants to start traveling the long road but still has a year and a half of school left. She explains:
You are right about me needing to finish school, I simply find myself incredibly impatient… I am getting my degree in archaeology with the full intent of using that as a tool to travel. I have had a minor set back and have to wait a bit longer before I can even enroll in order to complete my degree. My goal is to finish my undergrad (seems like it’s taking me an eternity…), travel and attempt to pay back as much of my student loan debt as possible, then find somewhere to go to graduate school, preferably in another country.
It’s so difficult, though, to resist the urge to pick up and leave at any given moment. Mostly because I now know more than ever that I can and am fully capable of living on the road. It’s difficult to convince myself that being stationary for a bit will benefit more in the long run.
I was in a very similar situation once. I only had one semester to go on my degree and I kept putting it off. I was riding a bicycle across Eastern Europe and had no desire to go back into a classroom. At that point, my school was done dealing with my whims: “Our program is changing, finish your degree now or you have to start all over.” I gave in, and finished the degree. I’m glad I did.
I know what this feels like to look down a long, arduous path, and to know that it’s better in t he end to just walk it. I didn’t get my B.A. until I was 27 years old, though I began going to college a decade before this. I went to university in starts and stops, enrolling, dropping out, changing schools, taking semesters off, taking online courses, studying independently. Sometimes I couldn’t see the point of continuing — I’d already made good headway as an archaeologist and my ambitions really didn’t require a degree — but I kept at it.
Mainly, I continued going to university because I enjoyed it (as well as the fact that I could live off of financial aid). I also went to an international school, so I could travel and live abroad, do interesting projects, study language and culture while cultivate my skills for future travel, as well as get branded with a university education when it was finished. But this doesn’t mean that the path was completely straight forward. I really just wanted to be on the road going wherever I pleased. Sure, the independent study semesters in Morocco and Central America were just about ideal, but I really just wanted to cut the leash and be on the road in full.
I understand Amanda’s drive to move, especially since she studies in the United States and does not have the wanderlust taming perks of going to an international school. If I was in Amanda’s place I probably would not have made it. By my mid-twenties there was no way that I would have harbored the possibility of going back to my home country to study for years on end. I graduated because I was able to study internationally for three years. While I went to a special international school, many conventional universities offer ways to study abroad for multiple semesters, which is a key way to travel, build up your knowledge and experience, and get university credit as well.
Having that degree, though it’s a big investment of time, and, in many cases, money (mine buried me with $80,000 of debt), is ultimately a major advantage on the road. If you are a native English speaker and you have a degree you are pretty much ensured employment in the non-Anglo world as a teacher. Just stick your finger down on a map in a country that’s outside of the cultural West, and chances are you’ll be able to find work there. This is a powerful ace in the hole to be able to lay down at your leisure. If you’re credentials are in a particular discipline like IT, engineering, management, medicine, logistics, business, marketing, etc . . . then your options are even more wide open.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that you can’t work legally abroad or live the PT life without a degree, but I will say that less doors will be opened to you. I traveled without a degree for many years, so I understand the limitations that are presented as far as employment or getting work visas are concerned. I had the chance to wipe away these limitations, and I took it.
Though I can’t say that I’ve really used my B.A. for much of anything yet, the fact that I have it means that I can leverage it at will. Who knows, maybe I will wake up tomorrow with the urge to take a teaching job in Japan? Or maybe I will go broke and find myself applying to some newspaper or magazine? Or maybe, if things get real hot, I may find myself digging holes again on an archaeology crew somewhere? On the incredibly small chance that any of this happens, I’m prepared — and that’s power.
Preparation for travel is about having the skills, knowledge, and credentials to make the most of living on the road and giving yourself as many opportunities as possible. That degree expands these possibilities many fold.