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Be AWESOME First, Enter Real World Second: After College Travel Tips

After college travel

Some may disagree with me, but I say it takes guts to go away and travel after you finish college, especially if it’s more than a “Woohoo! We graduated” two-week, partying-in-Mexico bender. If you’re taking some serious time off to travel - whether it’s hopping around Europe, backpacking in South America, or RTW tripping it - before you return to the “real world,” then it’s worth taking some time to really think about what you want to get out of that time. Truly, the possibilities for adventure are endless!

It’s great to be spontaneous, but you won’t regret setting some goals and making some purposeful choices during your travel time that will benefit you long after you return home. Yes, use this time to go a little off the map, have fun, and make some awesome memories! But follow these few tips and you’ll be surprised at how much more you can get out of your post-college travel experience.

Travel with purpose

In other words, do something meaningful with some of your time. Spend a couple weeks of your time abroad volunteering. Kick off your epic trip across South America with language classes. Build in time for an internship abroad or spend a couple weeks WWOOF’ing on a farm. Save money and extend your travel time by working abroad as an au pair. Traveling for travel’s sake is awesome and fun, but someday you’re going to look back and wish you had done something a little extra. Plus, when you get back home and start looking for a job, being able to show that you did something meaningful with your time - whether it’s helping others or taking the initiative to improve your skills - will definitely help.

Traveling for travel's sake is awesome and fun, but someday you're going to look back and wish you had done something a little extra.

After college travel

Set goals

In that same vein, you’ll feel like you accomplished something if you set goals for yourself before you leave. Again, depending on the goals you set, this could be something that is actually helpful when you’re interviewing for jobs and they ask about that little gap you have after you finished school. Maybe it’s becoming fluent in a language, improving your photography skills, or completing a difficult trek, or maybe it’s something less measurable like becoming more confident and outgoing.

Even if it’s not the kind of goal you will want to share with others, it’s something to keep you on track while you’re traveling, something to work toward, and something to keep you going when the going gets tough!

Challenge yourself

Hopefully the previous two tips will help you with this one. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into the trap of doing what’s easy and comfortable when you travel. It’s easy to hop from hostel to hostel and have fun but never push yourself to do things that scare you or are difficult for you. But this is your time to grow and become a stronger version of yourself! Whether it’s jumping out of an airplane, taking a chicken bus, or simply approaching a group of new people by yourself, do it!

Overcome your fears, and just say yes - within reason, of course!

Earn some money - teach abroad!

Did you know your lovely American accent and native English skills alone have made you a desirable employee in dozens of countries around the world? Why not fight off debt (or sustain your nomadic lifestyle!) by becoming an ESL teacher abroad. Popular destinations include China, Colombia, and the UAE, but really, teaching abroad can take you anywhere. Of course, it's probably best to get a TEFL Certification first!

gvn volunteer in nepal

Take time to reflect

It is easy to go into your experience thinking you’ll automatically come home a changed person, or have discovered your future path. Hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t happen without effort. Keep a journal and take time each day to just think. Before you leave, write down some questions you would like to have answered by the end of your trip. Take time every few days to look at these questions, think about them, and write down any thoughts you have about them.

Specialize in a course of study

Who says study abroad has to be confined to your four years at university? There's never been a better time to head abroad to specialize in a subject that you only flirted with in college, or an area of study entirely new to you. If you want to be productive with your travels, why not focus on picking up a second (or third!) language as you go, or becoming an expert in Baroque-period architecture? Sign up for short term study abroad programs, make friends in your classes, and learn a little something.

Go it alone

It may seem like it would be more fun to take a big post-graduation trip with a ton of your friends. But right after college is actually a really great time to travel solo and, cliche as it may sound, find yourself. Even if you decide to travel with others, why not take a couple days away from each other and do your own thing? You’ll likely meet more people, and you’ll have free reign to do and see the things that really interest you, beyond the typical landmarks and sightseeing. You may be surprised by how strong you feel after some solo travel, and how much you just might learn about yourself in the process.

But right after college is actually a really great time to travel solo and, cliche as it may sound, find yourself. Even if you decide to travel with others, why not take a couple days away from each other and do your own thing?

Make friends & stay in touch

You’re bound to meet a ton of people when you’re abroad, no matter what you are doing. But don’t just share a beer and then pass through each other’s lives, never to be heard from again. Exchange email addresses or connect on Facebook, because you never know where things may lead. You may become great friends, or you may become extremely useful connections - even if you are from completely different countries.

After college travel

A year after I met two Australian girls while backpacking in South America, I was living in their hometown of Perth and spending Christmas with one of their families!

Use your travel for good

Why not tack on a volunteer stint to your grand travel adventure? Helping others can add meaning and purpose to your otherwise willy-nilly travels. There are tons of volunteer abroad programs out there, all chomping at the bit to help facilitate a meaningful travel experience for you. Whether your heart flutters at the thought of working with animals or working with children, there's a project out there with your name on it.

Make the most of it!

This may be your last chance to totally let loose and spend a huge chunk of time abroad with no obligations. If you are spending more than a month traveling, you may feel yourself getting homesick or burnt out. Take a second to remind yourself how lucky you are, and keep pushing on! It may be tempting to laze around or even change your travel plans to go home earlier, but don’t! You will likely regret it later.

Have goals. Maybe it’s becoming fluent in a language, improving your photography skills, or completing a difficult trek, or something less measurable like becoming more confident and outgoing.

Following these tips will ensure your post-college travel ends up being a trip full of great memories and no regrets! Once you leave college, life may get a bit more serious but you can still have fun - and the same goes for travel. You’ve already made a great decision by opting to go abroad, and as long as you put in the effort to make it worthwhile, you’ll feel the benefits long after you return home - if you ever do!

Photo Credits: Global Volunteer Network.
Rachael Taft

Growing up in the Midwest, Rachael couldn't wait to get out and see the world. She's studied abroad in Italy and Thailand, interned abroad in Sydney, worked abroad in Australia and Fiji, and traveled to 30+ countries, including backpacking solo across South America. In addition to working in international exchange, Rachael obsesses over all things her blog Girl, Unmapped.