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Go to Traveler University A primer on using post-secondary education to prepare you for a career on the open road. As editor of Vagabond Journey Travel I often receieve many letters from young aspiring travelers who find themselves trying to decide between going to university or beginning their world travels. These kids seem to be [...]

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Go to Traveler University

A primer on using post-secondary education to prepare you for a career on the open road.

As editor of Vagabond Journey Travel I often receieve many letters from young aspiring travelers who find themselves trying to decide between going to university or beginning their world travels. These kids seem to be caught in a battle of practicality vs desire, of what they are being told they should do vs what they want to do, of the future vs the present. These letters often pose going to university or traveling as being at odds with each other, as though intrinsically mutually exclusive, as if one must be chosen at the expense of the other. I stand here to say that this is not necessarily so: you can do both concurrently.

Go to university and travel; prepare for travel while in university. Here’s how.

The structure of the traveling life, work, and how knowledge and skills are key for any lifestyle

Studying abroad in China

Studying abroad in China

If your desire is to travel the world as a lifestyle then you are, more than likely, probably not looking for a steady career with any one company for a long duration of time. Rather, you may view working as solely a means to  an end, a way to get the funds needed to travel. This often means taking temporary jobs when you run out of cash or when they are offer. Honestly, this is not as unsteady and perilous of a lifestyle as it may initially sound. Many people wander from temp job to temp job around the world — in fact, the definition of a vagabond is someone who roams internationally in search of work.

I must admit that I have met a few people during the course of my travels who did luck out and now find themselves employed by comapnies, research firms, or universities that sent them all around the world — but these global nomads are in the minority. Most travelers patchwork together a living from a variety of different trades and employ them in serial succession as they move through the world — not usually working in any one place for over three months to a year at a time.

When the cost of travel and living abroad are as low as $5 to $30 per day almost anywhere in the world, many travelers work for a while in one location and then take a considerable amount of time off between jobs as they travel recreationally. Very often, six months to a year of working abroad in a profession like English teaching nets enough funds for a year or two of traveling free from employment.

Work is vital to the traveler, the penniless vagabond is just a sucker in search of a job. There is a certain romance that resonates around traveling the world without money, without working, and without all the responsibilites of the sedentary life, but, I can tell you from experience, that wandering in search of work is truly what bridges the divide between being a mere spectator in the social landscape of a a place and being an active participant.

Traveling for work is often a more successful undertaking if you are prepared with knowledge, skills, certifications, and experience to land jobs when they are available. Much of this knowledge can be gained in university.

It is more than possible to go to university to prepare for a career of wandering the world.

What to Study in Uni to Prepare for Travel

If you wish to use university as a staging ground to learn skills for a life of travel — as well as a way to travel in an of itself — then what you decide to study is of paramount importance. Select a major area of study with regards to how much the knowledge earned will help you in travel.

It is my impression that the prime disipline to take up to prepare for world travel is modern languages. Hands down, being able to understand and use various foreign languages takes a mere traveler to another level as far as being able engage places and people at deeper levels as well as seeking employment. If there is one thing that a traveler should study it is as many modern foreign languages as possible. The traveler who can communicate with people abroad is the traveler with options and possibilities at their fingertips. As luck would have it, most universities offer modern languages as a major area of study.

Unless you feel a particular attraction to a certain part of the world, aim your studies towards the world languages — which are those that are spoken throughout various large stretches of the planet. Study Spanish, French, Chinese Mandarin, Russian, and Modern Standard Arabic. With each language you learn, a new section of the world opens up to you for vagabonding, working, and living. The university was created to open these doors — walk through them.

More on the benefits of learning foreign languages for travel:

Top languages to learn for travelTips for learning foreign languages

Other disciplines to study in university that can be good preparation for world travel are cultural anthropology, archaeology, journalism, geography, or various area studies programs.

Study Abroad

There is no reason to wait for your university studies to end before traveling. Many universities have, or at least honor, study abroad programs through which students can study internationally for multiple semesters or even years as they work on their degrees. I have known students in state universities in the USA who studied abroad for over four semesters. I myself spent six semesters studying between five countries with Global College of Long Island University and had an archaeology field school in Ecuador with Florida Atlantic University.

The benefits of studying abroad go beyond the duel purpose bonus of being able to get a university education while traveling, and branch into the realm of the financial. Generally speaking, studying abroad is often only slightly more expensive than doing a regular old semester on a university’s home campus, and financial aid and scholarships can often be used to fund accommodation, airfare, and other expenses  associated with your foreign studies. If you can afford to go to college and live in Boston then you can afford to study abroad and live in Greece.

If debating between studying in university or traveling, enrolling in study abroad programs is a surefire way to do both. For some universities, doing multiple sequential study abroad semesters may require the petitioning of the proper parties, which can be done successfully if you have a thorough plan of study. Also, be sure to select an area of study that translates well into various study abroad programs. Modern languages is probably the best choice for a major, followed by anthropology, area studies, or other social sciences.

During the course of my university tenure I focused in anthropology and was able to study in various countries and cultures first hand. Rather than reading about the world from a book I was able to go out and see my topics of study first hand, ask questions, and come away with a much deeper experience and vastly more knowledge. In university, I studied modernization in India, the acculturation of minority cultures in Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet, Traditional Chinese Medicine in China, traditional tattooing in Japan, culture in Morocco, travel writing in Europe, journalism in Central America, earned a field archaeology certificate in Ecuador, TEFL certification in Brooklyn, as well as studied Spanish, French, Chinese Mandarin, and Japanese in the countries where they are spoken. In all, I was able to experience a wide span of the world as I worked on projects that eventually lead me to a B.A degree, and, perhaps even more importantly, set me on the path that I’m on now.

The Benefits of a Uni Degree for World Travel

I am the stalwart possessor of a Bachelors of Arts degree from Long Island University (Global College). Though I have been offered many jobs on the contingency that I had this degree and various other certifications, I have only once needed to take one since graduating in January of 2009.

Though I use my university education for professional ends every single day. It was what I learned in university that benefits my current profession and aids in my travels, not just the certificate that states that I completed X amount of hours studying Y subject and came out with a proficency rate of Z.  It was the projects that I began as a student that rolled me right into my present profession as a self-employed travel writer, webmaster, and magazine editor. In addition to cultural studies and foreign language, all three of these occupations were at the core of my university studies, and I gained the experience necessary to continue on with them right after I got stamped with the graduation seal.

Apart from being able to utilize skills learned in university for practical purposes, I must agree with the talking heads, the educators, and parents all over the world when they say that having that stiff sheet of paper which states that you graduated from college is highly beneficial, even in paradigm of world travel.

Many opportunities on the open road will open up before you if you are a graduate from an accreditied university (especially a Western one) in terms of employment as well as visas and work permits. One of the most lucrative, widely available, and seemingly enjoyable jobs that a traveler can pick up today is teaching English. Now, it is still possible to land English teaching gigs without a university degree — especially if you already have experience — but most of the higher paying, good jobs now require degrees. Many of these schools now go through great pains to validate them as well (landing English teaching work with those $5 fake degree sold on Khao San road is a travel luxury of the past). Getting proper working visas is also very often contingent upon proving that you are a university graduate — even many working holiday visas require the applicant to have a four year university degree.

Even if you don’t necessarily use your degree or university education for purposes of formal employment it can still be of great benefit in many other areas of travel.

When to go to university

There seems to be this general notion that youth around the world should pounce on their education, lop it up, and get it over with as fast as possible because providence loves nothing more that to strip opportunity from its youngsters. Now, this isn’t neccessarily true outside of extenuating circumstance.

They told me that it would be difficult to return to university if I left. Well, I didn’t find returning to university very difficult at all. In fact, the more I did it the easier it became. I think it all I dropped out of university no less than eight times prior to graduating at the ripe old age of 27. In fact, I found that going to university after the prime college student years — 18 to 24 years of age — to be vastly cheaper, more enjoyable, and far more productive. Not to get into the economics of this game yet — see the next section of this primer for this — but waiting for the jubilation of youth to subside a little before setting down to your education  is often not the worst idea if you want to get the most out of your university dollars and financial aid.

Financing University

If you have the option to go to university for free, for a low price, or if someone is willing to pay your tuition for you (i.e. your parents, your government, scholarship foundations) then it is my impression that you would be an idiot to not take the opportunity. But if you are in a position where you must face going into deep levels of debt for your education, then additional layers are placed over this decision. I went into debt to go to university, and though I am happy in the position that it helped me get to I cannot say that I am bringing in large amounts of money in any sense. In point, the training that you could receive in university can set you on the traveler’s road and help you land employment around the world, but often these jobs do not pay US wages.

As I mentioned previously, I went to university primarily after the age of 24. This means that I was a financial independent in terms of financial aid and scholarships, and I received vastly higher amounts of assistance because of it. Waiting a few years to attend college could be a good strategy if you are footing the bill on your own.

Choosing a university

Not all colleges and universities are the same, nor will all be able to prepare you for travel equally. Make sure that you choose one that encourages study abroad and your intended major. I obtained a degree from an international university, so the bulk of my education was abroad. Most colleges are not structured in this way, and you may need to work and pull some strings to enable you to study internationally for over a couple semesters.


It may seem ironic that even a vagabond is mimicking what your teachers, your parents, the media, the entire slew of the youth socialization machine in drills into you from birth: a university education will open doors, even on the open road. This is not to say that a degree is needed to travel — that would be ridiculous — but it is to say that a post-secondary education will create more opportunities while living the perpetual traveler’s lifestyle.

If you have the opportunity, go to university. But when you are there, be sure to prepare yourself for a life of travel, study foreign languages, learn about culture, geo-politics, religion, and gains skills that you can use each day as you move through the world.

Go to traveler university.

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Filed under: Study Abroad, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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  • Lauren July 4, 2011, 3:26 pm

    I’ve been searching for an article like this for ages! Last summer I had a bit of a beginning-life crisis trying to decide what I wanted to do with my future. I knew that I wanted to spend my life traveling, and that I didn’t want to bend the exactly way society wants everyone to. I ended up applying solely to the University of Michigan, telling myself that in the great possibility of my being rejected, I would go and travel. Lo and behold, I was accepted. Luckily, I’ve discovered that a major in archaeology would mesh perfectly with my interests and the vagabond lifestyle I desire (it made me smile when I saw it mentioned quite frequently on this site :)). So, although I’ll have to put off my dreams until after the hefty loans are paid off, I have high hopes for the future. Thank you for your words of wisdom, Wade! You are quite the inspiration!

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