Why You Should Skip School to Travel the World

Nomadic Matt getting an education in the jungles of AustraliaWith the cost of higher education rising dramatically each year, should you forgo college* and instead use that money to travel the world? It’s one of the questions I receive a lot from graduating high school students and disenchanted college freshmen and sophomores. In their emails, they express a desire to pursue higher education, but at the moment, they aren’t sure what they want to do and would rather travel and “figure life out.” School doesn’t seem to be a good fit for them at the moment.

I have trouble answering this question. For starters, it’s a very personal decision to make, one based on your individual goals and desires. I can’t know what is right for you. Only you know your heart’s true desire (and I certainly don’t want angry parents emailing me!). Plus, I personally don’t like giving strangers such life-changing advice when I don’t know much about them.

But while everyone’s situation is different, these emails bring up a topic to think about: when you’re young and unsure of yourself, is school worth it? Or is it better to pursue your current interests and dreams while you work out why you want to go to school?

I think most young people should delay school—regardless of whether it’s to travel—if they don’t know why they want to go.

Now, there is nothing more important than education. You should, of course, continue educating yourself your entire life. Learning should never be confined to just your time in classrooms. I constantly attend business and travel conferences, read, listen to podcasts, and speak with experts to advance my own knowledge. I’m always working to learn, grow, and educate myself.

If you’re a driven individual, whether you go attend college or not will not necessarily be an indicator of your future success. Take Steve Jobs, Einstein, Mozart, Ford, Mrs. Fields, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Da Vinci, Walt Disney, Wolfgang Puck, Mary Kay, or Mark Zuckerberg, for example—these individuals have accomplished great things without completing formal learning programs. Why? Because they were driven, smart, and understood the value of learning itself.

So when I say, “Maybe you should skip school,” I don’t mean skip pursuing an education, I mean skip school itself…at least until you know what you’ll do with yourself while you’re there.

One thing that has always impressed me about other countries is the prevalence of the “gap year.” In many Western countries, when you turn 18, you set off on a trek around the world before you head off to university. The idea behind this is, “Why go to school when you don’t know what you want to study?” I often feel like Australia and New Zealand practically kick people out when they turn 18 to go explore the world and grow up.

Yet here in the U.S., we head right to college after high school. It’s part of the American path: school, job, marriage, house, kids, retirement. And there’s a myth that if you don’t attend college right away, there must be something wrong with you.

But let’s look at some statistics on the growing cost of an education:

Chart showing statistics on the growing cost of an education

College tuition and fees vs. overall inflation

As you can see, the cost of college has gone up much, much, much faster than incomes or other consumer goods!

I know friends from other countries who have said tuition rates have increased greatly for them, even in the UK, where they are raising tuition to 9,000 GBP per year—a 3x increase since 2006 and a 9x increase since 1998! (That’s a big increase, especially since their high taxes are supposed to cover this!)

And all of that is without taking into consideration the cost of housing or books!

So with college as expensive as it is, why should an 18 year old go off to school when he/she has no idea what he/she wants?

Many of my European friends don’t start university until they’re in their twenties, once they’ve determined where their interests lie. Most work or travel first. Some decide to work and go to school at the same time, but they aren’t under pressure to put in four more years of school right when they turn 18 like here in the States.

Now, this isn’t necessarily the socially acceptable answer in the U.S., but I think those other countries are on to something. School and education are important, but isn’t school wasted time when you’re a bored, rudderless freshman? College students often switch majors multiple times, waste semesters partying, or earn degrees they don’t use because they weren’t really sure what they wanted while they were studying.

I think school is important and useful if you have an idea of what you want to get out of it. And if you don’t, don’t go. Work, volunteer, take up hobbies, or travel the world instead.

Travel is an education in itself, giving you the opportunity to learn about both yourself and the world. Travel has taught me how to engage different personalities and nationalities, how to be more independent, and how to survive in uncomfortable situations. Exploring the world definitely forces you to grow up, and, sometimes, gives you direction in life.

Having a college education increases your earnings and opportunity over your lifetime. But if you’re young and unsure of how to proceed after high school, I’d say hold off on further formal education until you can make the most of it and know what you want out of it.

Until then, pursue your dreams.

Take up a hobby.

Get a job.

Travel the world and go on adventures!

Never stop learning, but go to school when you’re ready.

Now, tell me: What do you think? What’s your opinion?

*Note: For non-Americans, we use the words college and university interchangeably to denote a higher learning institution.

  1. Beto

    The older you get in life, the more you realize that at 18 you got forced to make decisions you really knew nothing about. Very few of us are actually that enlightened to choose our “true call” from the get-go, and mistakes can be costly in financial terms. I do have a BFA degree but in my experience that hasn’t been that relevant for my career compared to tried-and-true lessons from the school of life. And while traveling the world won’t earn you a diploma, it will transform your life’s perspective and knowledge in ways you didn’t think possible. Plus, being young is the ideal time to do it – the older you get, the harder it becomes.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree Matt.
    I’m glad I didn’t go straight to university after high school – even though I’m now 30 and going into my 3rd year at university! I floated in life for a few years after graduating and moving out of my parent’s home at 18 (I was a waitress/bartender for 6 years) until I realized I wanted a change and took 2 years to travel. Best decision I ever made, and then when I returned home I realized it was time to start my education.
    I think travel teaches you so much more (and so many different things) than you can learn in a formalized setting. That being said I think university is fantastic and I’m really enjoying it – which I wouldn’t have if I’d gone at 18. Taking a few years off to travel is the best thing you can do for yourself IMO.

  3. Your are spot on with your advice there, Matt. Wish I had that when I was 18. North American parents mean well, but part of the “fear” here in not going to College or University right away is that once you leave school, then you may never go back! That’s not necessarily true. What if you actually need to work for awhile to save up for school because you cannot get financial support from your parents? My Girlfriend had to follow that route.

    You should always continue to educate yourself like you said to keep yourself employable. But, don’t blindly jump into something like University/College if you are not 100% certain ready or know what you want to do with your life just yet. That is a lot of money and time to be wasting in this day and age trying to follow a path that may not necessarily be the right one for you.

  4. There’s also the option of studying abroad. You get to experience a whole new culture, while also taking classes that will help you reach your future goals. It’s a bit more structured day-to-day, but you have time to travel further on weekends and holidays. That’s what I did!

  5. How funny we put up posts the same day basically titled the opposite of one another! I recently posted about Why I Don’t think You Should Quit School to Travel but I say the same as you for people who haven’t gone yet and aren’t sure what to do before Uni, I just add that if you’re part way done my advice is to finish and travel while in school then go on your big adventure! It’s a shame how much the US looks at degrees rather than experience in many cases.

  6. I agree. I went to school without really knowing what I wanted, studied for 5 years, just graduated, and I have no clue which direction to go now. If kids had some time to just stop and think about what they might want to do, this world would have way less unhappy faces in the offices. It’s rudiculously difficult to know which path to choose. So I’m taking my personal year off and will try to figure it out. I pretty much spent most of this academic year traveling, and I feel that it taught me more than all previous years of education. I wish the parents shared your philosophy, Matt!

  7. I did the college route right after high school, and I definitely do not regret it, but I did switch my major a couple times. A lot of times when we start college, we’re not even aware of all the majors out there and our options for studying! I think our culture should encourage people more to take time to figure things out. Unfortunately, many people will judge you if you don’t do the immediate college route! I’m torn on this subject, I’m currently on my year abroad after university, which has been an amazing experience, but it feels so nice to have that degree behind me…

    • NomadicMatt

      I followed the same route and I don’t regret but with the costs so high now, I’m unsure I’d do it again, especially in this economy.

  8. I used to know why I was going to school. Then something changed and I no longer wanted to do what I once had. Then one day I was struck by the idea that I’d like to backpack Europe. I did some googling, found your site, continued researching, found other sites, and suddenly the idea of backpacking Europe for some months became a plan to bicycle all over the world for years. However long it takes really, even if I have to take a break in between.

    Will I decide in the future that this isn’t what I want? Maybe. I don’t think so, though. The desire to see as much of the world as possible in my short life has been there as long as I can remember; I just had to open my mind to the possibilities.

    I’ll still be finishing my Associate’s degree because I only have a few classes left, and the ones that I’ve picked out to take were chosen to help me with my trip(or at least blogging about it so that I can share it with others). Still, even though I know what I’m doing and I’m pretty sure I’ll be happier for it I can’t help but feel a little sad when I see people I graduated high school with graduating college. It’s just societal norms talking, but I feel like I’ve failed somehow. At least all my friends and family are super supportive, even the ones who don’t really understand.

  9. Absolutely agree!! In America we are taught that school = education, but in reality it tends to be experience is the best education. People graduate with PhDs and still can’t find jobs because they don’t have the necessary experience and have to start at entry level positions to get that experience.

    I went directly to a university after high school and I had no idea what i wanted to do with my life. It took me several years and a trial and error phase to determine what I truly wanted to do. Then I added a second major and started looking for work experience to supplement my education. At almost 30 years old I am about to start my MS but I’ve found that my work experience has helped more with getting into an MS program rather than my BA alone.

    One thing I really wish I would’ve done was travel more. I have found that in my field (therapy/mental health/social services), having experience interacting with other cultures greatly enhances chances of employment. I try to get involved in any cultural gatherings I can near my home but nothing compares to direct experience in those other cultures. I still hope to travel more. My ultimate goal is to backpack through Europe when I finish my MS.

    • NomadicMatt

      Experience is very important. I often wish we had the apprenticeship style programs they have in Germany. I think those would go a long way to improve the quality of education in the US.

  10. I definitely agree with postponing school to travel- especially if don’t know what program to take. It’s so hard to decide what you want to do and what college program to take when you’re 18 years old.

  11. I couldn’t agree more, Matt. I studied in the UK. I went straight from college (high school I think in the US) to university and ended up dropping my first course, moving universities, then two years into my second course, deferring my final year to go travelling before finally returning and finishing my degree. The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and so I just did what everyone expected and went to university. I definitely wouldn’t say my degree hasn’t helped me, I believe it has made employers more receptive but I learnt most of my writing skills (I studied Creative Writing) after university, not during. University is not a waste of time, nor is it wrong to go straight to university, but, my advice to people is to know what other options there are. I feel so many people go straight to uni as they believe the only options are uni or crappy job. If I have kids one day I’d make a point of opening their eyes to all the multitude of other options available to them.

  12. Charlie Powell

    Unlike many young Brits I didn’t even contemplate a gap year after school. My school was so keen for us to go to uni it felt like the only option. I’ve just finished my Biochemistry degree and I admit there were times when I completely doubted I was doing the right thing. I’ve managed however to do some backpacking in Europe in the summer holidays between years and now I have a huge passion for travelling and thankfully I’ve saved up enough money to do a big trip after graduation!

    However I don’t regret going to uni when I did one bit! Partly because the fees went up the year after I went, and also, as a previous commenter said, it feels great to have a degree in your pocket. I’ll always have it and I can rest assured that even if I travel for 5 years and come back to the UK penniless I have something that can get me straight into a decent job. However I am painfully aware that although I have a good degree, I feel like I have no skills. So my ambition is to travel, volunteer in all manner of projects and hopefully get a clearer idea of what I want to do. It might not be science. But a science degree is hardly going to hold me back =)

  13. While I agree with the sentiment in general (that we are expected to know what we’re doing too young, and we often get shuffled from high school > university > job without total awareness), I can’t imagine 18-year-old me traveling the world by herself. She would have made an ass of herself and had everything stolen – no, she probably would have given everything she owned away. But I do think I would have benefitted from working for a couple of years and saving money, and getting real world experiences, as you mention at the end of your post. I definitely struggled with what I wanted to do (and still do!), but I think university helped me grow as a person and develop my compassion and ability to see the world through a new lens. I just wish it didn’t come with such a high sticker price.
    I think I left to travel the world at the perfect time for myself, however everyone’s different!

  14. It’s great to travel when you’re young, but I definitely would not have appreciated the experience as much when I was 18. For some people (like me), I think college teaches more than just what’s in books–it teaches independence and responsibility, which can certainly help us as we mature and seek those travel opportunities. Of course, I also think it’s important to take advantage of study abroad opportunities while in college (it really just leads to more travel in the future).

    From the financial standpoint, your argument makes a lot of sense, and the US higher education system is broken (sure glad I attended college when it wasn’t outrageously expensive). Unfortunately, it’s still necessary to get that education.

  15. I’ve learned more on my travels than in any classroom. It’s one thing to learn about the world from a book or teacher, but it’s another thing to explore and see the world for yourself. I believe that I grow as a person with every new place I travel.

  16. I wish I could go back to my fancy undergrad and get as much out of it as I should have. I think taking a gap year is perfect – a lot of my European friends have turned out to be much more focused when they’ve started university later.

    I was just in Israel, where everyone has to do mandatory military service and then usually takes at least a year to travel, so I was hanging out with 24 and 25 year olds who were just starting to think about university. They had such a more mature and practical outlook towards university – one that I wish I had had!

    • NomadicMatt

      As they say, youth is wasted on the young. I wish I could also go back and do more things with that fancy degree.

  17. Maybe I would have gotten even more out of college and been more well-rounded if I had done more travelling first. Although, if it had been reversed I might say the same. I wish the US would focus more on travel and experiences. Depending on what you want to do, it can be hard to even get considered without the pricey degree.

  18. I agree, if you’re unsure of what you want, don’t be afraid to pack up your clothes and travel abroad. Traveling will teach you everything; not only how to live practically, but traveling also will teach to be kind to people.. something most universities won’t be able to provide.

  19. Why to choose travelling or going to school if you can do them together. In Europe there is a program called ERASMUS which offers to study abroad with scholarship. You can visit many countries during your studies and receive a nice money for living. One friend of mine have been in USA, Portugal, Spain, Germany and some other countries with this program. I blame myself for not using this opportunity properly.

  20. This is great advice! I went straight into University out of high school and in the middle of it all, I took a semester off to backpack Europe and lounge on a beach in Jamaica. While I was lucky in knowing what I wanted to do since I was 16, my plans have changed slightly; Sure I still want the same things and have the same goals, but I no longer have a time frame. I no longer care now long it takes me to get there. I’m more interested in seeing every bit and piece of this world that I can before I have too many commitments! While I am currently finishing up University, I have no intention of using my degree for anything in the near future (except maybe burn it to keep warm in the Swiss Alps!)


  21. Coolfam

    I don’t agree! I really really love travel but I think an 18 or 19 year old traveling around the world is too young. I did travel at age 20/21 in between university semesters (traveling in the summer and taking one semester off university) and much more since then. Traveling after you graduate is perfect or after one or two years of working full time is even better (living at home or with roommates and saving up). Once you take the momentum off school, who wants to go back? lol All of a sudden, you’ve got a bigger income and different lifestyle. I will discourage my kids from taking the gap year but if I can, I’d help them pay to do a semester abroad.
    One of my biggest regrets – I totally and completely regret not getting my Master’s immediately after my B.A.
    Now in my 40’s with a husband, three children and a dog, I have enough stuff on my plate that makes it hard to add going to school to it as well!

  22. Christian

    What a great post, thanks for sharing Matt. I made the same decision about university when I was 18. In fact I’m 26 now and still have not been to university. At 18 I decided to travel and ended up going to 45 countries in 3 years. The life experience earnt through this was far greater than the education I would of had going to uni. I can also confirm that I am now working in the corporate world and doing very well ever since without a degree. If you are driven you can achieve no matter what. Thanks again Matt :)

  23. Of course you should go to college after high school. I don’t know of many 18 year olds with the wits to be self sufficient, let alone travel the world. Although college is expensive, so is goofing around finding yourself instead of getting a basic college education. Then go find a self.

    The average wage of a high school graduate won’t buy many plane tickets to Nepal. the reality is that most 18 year olds who don’t go on to college straight away do not fare very well and certainly don’t find themselves eating dinner with Bill Gates. Even those who go on to college don’t do very well if you look at graduation rates. At some colleges, the 6-year (!) graduation rate is barely over 60%.

    Better advice is to go to college after high school, major in something useful (or double major if you must get the unmarketable degree), finish in 4 years. Then if you haven’t had a chance to travel yet, take some time to travel and enjoy the world before going to graduate school of getting a job. If travel is a priority, don’t go much in debt, don’t get married, and don’t have children (in that order).

    I don’t think that a high cultural value on education is an American liability. I find it odd to worry about being too educated before one is ready.

    • NomadicMatt

      But how do these people know what they want to do? It’s easy to say “major in something useful” but when you’re 18, how do you know what this? How do in five years you’ll still want to do it? For some people, going to school right at 18 is perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for those unsure, don’t waste your parents or your money or go into debt for something society tells you you have to do. If you are unsure, wait.

      You can find a lot of jobs overseas that pay well and don’t require a college education.

    • Shooter

      Your post is filled with weirdness. Don’t get married? Why? My wife and I are stronger together than apart and we’ve worked together many times in order to afford our travel. For years, I was a cook and my wife a server. At times, we each worked another part time job to get the money we wanted to travel. And at those junk wages with those crummy jobs, we travelled plenty, and did things that even rich people don’t get to do. For the past 14 or so years, we’ve travelled once or twice a year, usually to another country.

      Some things you say are obvious and more people should listen. Yeah, definitely avoid loading yourself with debt. My wife and I owe nothing to nobody. But don’t have kids? Well, I’ve met lots and lots of younger couples on the road who had kids, and made it work just fine. Americans don’t do this much, but many western Europeans certainly do.

      The American attitude isn’t geared to allow for this kind of dreaming. We’re not taught to think this way. From birth Americans are trained to be unthinking cattle and to tow the line, and so are people from several other cultures. Reject what you’ve been told, ignore the nay-sayers, reject the “American Dream” altogether, and live, instead.

  24. I completely agree 100%. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was 17 and the pressure of choosing a university course was thrown onto me. Actually, it was age about 16…I had to decide what courses to do in my final year of high school in order to get into the right course.

    What the hell 16 year old knows exactly what they want to do with their lives? I, like so many others, chose wrong. I wasted a year and a bit of my father’s money going to university, decided I didn’t want to get that degree, and worked for a bit. Then I travelled, came back, got a degree in something I actually wanted (paid for by myself this time), worked again, and now I’m taking off to travel once more. I feel like going to uni too young is a waste of time and money.

    I’m also quite alarmed by the number of people saying that 18 and 19 year olds are too young to be able to take care of themselves on the road. I beg to differ! You quickly learn how to survive when you realise the only person you can rely upon is yourself. That is the essence of character building.

    • NomadicMatt

      I too beg to differ! I think 18 and 19 year olds can take care of themselves just fine. And like you said, it builds character.

  25. liyuelan

    I can’t agree more,Matt.
    Myself droped out from university after the first year .I cleared that i would definitely waste my 4 years jampacked with classes boring me.The second year , when i was 19, i left school and got a job in Beijing.My first job was real estate agent showing foreigners house for rent.They came to teach English and travel around Asia which seems so cool!Actually I really enjoyed working for them cause i can use English which was my only interest since i was young a whole day and meantime i got many opportunities to walk around hidden corners to find a property.Then i came to Seoul the next year working in a korean company. I found everything in a different county is a big present for me .New Culture, even a lunch in local restaurant with my korean colleague is enjoyable. It was so cool! Now i find my life changed in a positive way and i start to embrace my life from the bottom of my heart .Whatever other looks doesnt matter at all. They laugh at me and keep asking why i left school as if i was wrong, i would laugh at them cause they are all the same .I am planning to attend a university in Spain to study Spanish and western literature next year cause i finally find out what i really want .I am glad to find out my desire even it is a bit late .

  26. Kristen

    I really agree that taking a year off to travel is a fabulous idea and has a ton of benefits including learning more about your interests and career goals, growing up and maturing a bit and giving you focus. BUT what I am clueless about is how is that year paid for? Post-college traveling kids can work by teaching English, for example, but what about the kids who don’t have a background like that? Who pays for the non-American gap year? The parents? Just curious!

    • NomadicMatt

      Kids can work before they go or they can work while they are abroad. There are many, many jobs out there available to travelers without college degrees. It’s how many people afford to travel.

  27. Hi Matt,
    I’m a university graduate, I have a BSc ( Hons) and half a masters ( I quit, it was boring). I can honestly say that those 2 things were never any use to me at all. Sure, I got the respectable job and dutifully worked my way up the career ladder to the lofty heights of Chief Biomedical Scientist. But Y’know what, I WAS BORED OUT OF MY BRAIN! Now I’m a travel blogger, it pays nothing, but I’m that rare thing, happy. My kids are homeschooled, we’re skipping all that school nonsense in favour of travelling with them. I see no need for exam passes, but if they want to go to university, then we will facilitate that. I have to say that university was a wonderful experience, lots of beer, lots of parties, very little work. But at modern day costs, I don’t think it’s worth it. Travel instead, more beer, more party, have a think about life instead of following the herd.

  28. Yes yes yes travel or work you don’t have to go to college to be successful. Figure what you want your life to look like. Dream it, Set Goals, and believe

  29. I agree completely. As a current graduate student, I am of course a huge advocate of traditional education, but I would argue with anyone that traveling, especially immersion/indie travel, is the best learning experience there is. I definitely want a healthy balance of both in my life, but I think we’re too driven by societal pressures in the States, which dictate that the natural path is high school – college – marriage – babies – etc., and taking time away at any of those given points is considered deviating from the plan. It’s hard for many to step away from that path and find their own, but it’s 100% worth it. I wouldn’t change any of my deviations for anything…except the world 😉

  30. Definitely agree. I’m from the US and shockingly took a year off between high school and college to pursue equestrian activities. I think it’s less important what exactly you do before college and more important that you learn & grow. I learned a lot about having a good work ethic, being independent, and dealing with people…something that has paid off many years later.

  31. I completely agree with this Matt, I meet so many people who have started a university/college course with no desire to learn the subject and no idea what they want to do when they leave simply because it seemed like the right thing to do. The years that you spend in education can be used just as well figuring out who you are, what drives you and what you really enjoy doing, better to find this out first than after studying for 3-5 years and still not knowing what you want to do.

  32. Anon v2.0

    The problem is that Americans are brainwashed at an early age to be wage slaves. There is nothing more important to Americans than working some boring desk job for a corporation and getting paid every two weeks so you can max out your credit card buying stuff you really don’t need. That is the American dream. Going to college right after high school is part of that dream. If people traveled instead that would not serve the interests of corporations, who need an excess supply of educated lemmings so they can depress wages.

  33. Ah I love this, it is refreshing & awesome to read somebody taking this angle. I studied lots – I kept changing majors, I just wanted to learn. I spent a lot of time as well as money on my education but never graduated – I think my thirst was for general knowledge, the kind in retrospect that I would’ve gained from traveling.

    I don’t regret the things I studied (Psychology, neuroscience, Health Sciences etc..) but I do think that money (lots and lots of it!) would have filled the gap much more effectively if I had put it into learning through experiencing the world, and coming back to study later in life.

    Now I am 28, and just realising that for me personally, travel is what I have always longer for, and longed to learn from, and I am only just beginning the process of getting out there and starting to.

    One thing that is common in my country (New Zealand) is to take an O.E year – a year after high school but before university where you travel (for many kiwis it is to London) and spend a year working in a pub.. or a bookshop.. or wherever.. before you go to university, or even after university but before you go into full time employment. I didn’t do this.. but I can certainly see the benefit.

  34. I was pretty bummed when I started traveling and learned of the ‘gap year’. I’m from Canada and didn’t even know what it was. I did a three year degree and worked for a year in my field before leaving it all for travel and I never went back nor do I really have a desire to. I feel as though if I had traveled before studying I would have pursued something totally different.

  35. I really admire Matt and all the bloggers who can travel the world full time. I owe $50k on student loan (for 2 year grad school only). It was a private school. I don’t regret that I went straight to college as soon as I moved to the US. I used to hate reading until I got to grad school and now I can’t live a day without reading. And I am constantly learning something new from online classes. You can learn many things online for free, like Web development programming, not to mention Nomadic Matt’s blog. I travel way more frequent than my family/friends do, but I can’t do full time.

    I agree with Matt. School fees are Terrible! I would encourage kids to go to college though. The chance of getting no where is so high if they don’t go to college. I would be worried if my kids decide not to go to college. I know people from my country who moved here after high school, work and work, and never bother learning anything to educate themselves, and never been outside the State they live in. Some end up getting depressed living on low pay jobs and hating the country for high taxes. Does it sound familiar? A lot of people are like that.

    If you don’t want to go to college, you really have to know what you’re doing, know your roadmap, motivate yourself to keep learning, and yes, travel the world while taking care of yourself without supports from parents. Awesome topic, Matt!

  36. Britt

    It’s probably a different situation for me as I’m an Australian and we have a different university system and a different system of university loans (we loan our fees- around $8000 a year from the government at about a 1.2% interest rate- just the rate of inflation- and then pay it back very slowly and in small increments as part of our tax return (it gets withheld by our employers just like tax would) after we start earning $52,000 per annum abouts). But for me being a university student represents the perfect opportunity to travel. My university is huge on exchange programs, you can go on up to two during your degree for 6 months each, you receive bursaries or scholarships for the travel and the government allows you to take a $6000 loan (on the terms detailed above) for every semester you travel. Outside of exchange university gives you a huge amount of holidays- 6 weeks in june/July and more than 3 months from nov-march (our summer). That combined with the fact I can still manage to earn at least $400 a week while still studying (in fact at the moment I’m closer to $800) means that I travel most of those holidays, as do a hell of a lot of other university students.

    Thus it wasn’t ‘either or’ for me because I actually see the time in my degree as time where I do have the freedom to be young and spend my money and time on travel before pursuing my career where I’ll have more money but less holidays/freedom.

    Not surprisingly I’m stretching my degree out as long as possible!

  37. James

    Part of me wishes I started to travel before dropping so much money on a college education, but the other part of me is happy that I did get school out of the way, start working and realise what I didn’t want to do. That whole experience helped me keep finding ways to live and make money for the past several years over 3 different continents. I also think I never would have been able to go back to school if I already exposed myself to the possibilities of living anywhere I wanted and live the life I’ve been living. It’s a tough make but there are definitely good sides to both ways of going about it. Sometimes, doing something like an internship to taste the waters of living overseas, first, can be a good idea. We are posting a multi-part article on our blog about English teaching internships overseas:


    It’s worth a look for anybody interested in teaching abroad but have little to no experience.

  38. If you can get a scholarship I say go straight to school get it over with early. You don’t have to hunt for a career right away. If school is going to cost you and your family an arm and a leg for school then travel first might be best. I always knew I wanted to travel with my family so I got everything out of the way and now we spend all our extra moola on adventures with the kids.

  39. I absolutely love this article and I thank you for having written it. I’m at that point in my life where I start making these important decisions. I think you really have to know yourself to know which options to choose, and for me, that’ll be taking time off to travel rather that begin college right away. I know I can’t sit in another classroom for a while, and since I don’t exactly know what I want to pursue later, traveling will be it for now. I won’t be wasting my money on courses I might end up changing. I would rather get experience out there and then choose my path. But again, it isn’t for everyone, and you have to be able to know yourself enough and be motivated in order for it all to work.

  40. James Altucher recommends not going to college as well, with travel being one of his top alternatives. If you haven’t read him or listened to his podcasts Matt, I would heartily encourage you to check his stuff out!

  41. Julius

    Wow, you really hit the nail on the head on this one, Matt! I’ve been stuck in the limbo of deciding whether or not to put off college and pursue my dreams of traveling for quite a while now. After three years of college I still don’t know where I’m going with it. Despite that, I’m glad I at least earned my AA and placed myself in a position to easily transfer to a university when I decide to go back (as well as not looking like a dropout on my resume!). I’ve recently decided to take the fall semester off and continue to work full-time. Things in my life seem to be aligning themselves in order for me to finally pursue my urge to travel, and I’ve got to thank you for the inspiration and help your website and its other viewers have offered!

  42. I have graduated from software engineering school this year and I was already working for 2 years as a developer when I had my graduation day. If you ask me now if it’s worth being stucked in a town for two years (working 6 hours, being at school for another 6 and studying by night for one month a semester while I was taking my paid time off from work ) I will say no. But if I look back and see how independent I became in this 4 years, how I changed my expectations from life and the people I met I would say I would do it again!
    Now, I know that I will not be able to work for another 35-40 years. But I can work for a year and take a year off to travel (yes, as a software developer in Romania you earn enough) and maybe start something online on my own and keep traveling.
    I look at my degree as a backup plan. If I will manage to have an income out of anything that will give me the freedom to travel I will travel as much as I can. But if one day I want to settle somewhere and look for another challenge I will be able to find a job in about 4 months.
    My honest opinion is that everybody that can go to college should do it. For the experience, for the backup plan, for anything that could make you one day feel better. It is true that here in Romania is easier sometimes because it is free to go to college but if you want to do something you will find the way, no matter how hard you have to struggle.

  43. We fully support this, especially if you want to work in travel or speak multiple languages.

    Why spend thousands of dollars on a college course where you’ll be learning from a dusty textbook, when you could use that money to see the world, have real-world experiences, and learn the language from the locals?

  44. Thank you for a good post. One of my biggest mistakes in life was to go to University, I just graduated and I am worse off than ever. I have about 100,000 student loan debt, the only work I got was in a hotel front desk making 10$/hour. I have no idea how I am going to pay my student loans in the next years.

    I had a job making 15$/hour before entering University but with my degree I can´t even find a job out there today.

    I wished that I would started working right after high school and saved money to travel the world and fulfill my dreams, but I was pushed in University by my family and felt like I really had no choice. I think for me I should have never entered University.

    It depends on the individual what they want to do with their life, they have to find out by them self what they want to do, I agree that if they are not sure then don´t go to school!! School is not for everyone, if you want to go then do it, go learn, but if you are not sure then wait a few years until you a are really sure.

  45. A degree from a good college is vital for a competitive job application. But what if you don’t participate in such contests (many don’t)? Every good job I ever got was because of experience. They actually thought my educational history was, well, odd. When you know how to function, people overlook education. But don’t try to break into a job in higher ed without a degree — they are fixated on the caste system.

  46. totally agree matt!

    holding off on going to college (unless of course you really know exactly what you want to get out of it) is a good thing!

    having been traveling for the past 3 years and living in Costa rica, I feel I’ve learned the “better lessons in life” and while education is good, the experience you get from traveling plays a big part in who you become.

    thanks for the great blog post!

    Pura vida

  47. It’s an interesting idea. I think that both education and travel are extremely important in life. That’s why I convinced my university (Prescott College) to let me do 3 and a half years of independent studies while living in Thailand and traveling across Asia. Best of both worlds and ended up being cheaper than a regular university (yet still received an accredited BA).

  48. Danielle

    This was so interesting. I really wish I read this when I was 17 so I wouldn’t. Waste money at a school that I still have no idea what I want to do with my life!

  49. Nikki

    Okay so I am 17 soon to be 18 in August and I have just recently graduated from high school.. My family expects me to attend college but I am 100% unsure of what I want to do, I am so used to people telling me what to do now that it is my turn to decide I am completely lost. However I have always had a strong desire to travel the world and your post has helped me realize that I wish to travel before I attend college so I can grow into myself!! However I do not know where to start like where to go, how to start this whole process and the little details to configure!! My mom is disappointed that I will not be attending college straight out of high school but I know that it is for the best!! All comments will help!! Thank you

  50. Azza

    ok so i just stumbled upon this. I am a 17 y/o Aussie from Perth and here there seems to be a very strong push for people to go straight to Uni, i have been told by many people that if you don’t go to Uni straight away then your stuffed. I want to go on a gap year to England (to play Cricket overseas) and also travel in Europe but it seems everyone here tells you not to. Thanks for showing that it is ok NOT to go to Uni straight away.

  51. Bob Rye


    Interesting web site and glad to hear there are young people out there still eager to buck the norm and see/live something besides the inside of a class room during their most energetic and informative years. I’m semi-retired now and plan to fully retire next year. But my real life’s journey started in 1969 when I was 19 years old. After completing my first year of college (I never did pick a major), I decided I needed to try something besides “my parents vision of life”. So I thought a year abroad might be worth a try. The plan, I would remind myself, was to travel/work my way through some portion of Europe for 9 to 10 months and then return to school the following fall. I left the U.S. with a 1-way ticket to Paris, $400 cash, and an American Express Travelers Check hidden in the heal of a boot to cover the return airfare if things didn’t work out. I returned to the U.S. 10 years later – or as my mother would correct me, 10 years, 10 months and 21 days later. I spent most of my time in France, Spain, Germany, and Greece with shorter stints in The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. I was completely self sufficient – no parental financial support – which was really the point of the whole thing – could I make it on my own, my way, or did I have to follow the rules of “the establishment”? And although most of my jobs were menial (picking fruits/vegetables, tending bar, masonry (construction) and automobile maintenance apprenticeships, and small resort maintenance man/beach boy), I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I felt alive!

    But to complete the thought regards “skipping college” right out of high school, which I essentially did, I did return to complete a degree in Electrical Engineering – I was 33 years old when I graduated – I worked my way through college. I completed my MBA 2 1/2 years later – paying my own way with some financial assistance from my employer. I’ve had a terrific career in telecommunications and software development and never felt my professional career stunted by my relatively late start. My working career included 12 years with Siemens living and working in Munich, Germany. Along the way I met and married my wife and raised two wonderful kids. Retirement plans are to split our time between Florida and Munich ( we still own our apartment there ) and continue to enjoy Europe during the summer months and Christmas/New Year holiday season.

    So, long story to just reinforce your thought that delaying college and enjoying your youth is a great idea which shouldn’t affect one’s having a fulfilling career. Good luck where ever your life adventures take you.


    • Pam

      To Bob Rye,

      I stumbled across your entry on Matt’s site – what an amazing experience your travels must have been. I’m not sure I have the courage to try something like you did – but I do fantasize about such an adventure. If by chance you ever wonder by this web site again, could you tell me if you ran into young women, on their own, traveling/working their way around Europe as you did?

      Best wishes with your retirement. It sounds like your love of Europe/travel will continue throughout your golden years.

      Pam Springs

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