5 Ways You Can Stay in School and Travel the World at the Same Time

You don’t need to forgo your studies to see the world. There are a myriad of ways to do both if you use your time wisely.

Traveling across the globe, immersing yourself in diverse cultures, learning languages foreign to you and engaging with people who have inimitable backgrounds is an educational experience in and of itself.

Surrounding yourself with French speakers, for example, is the fast track to fluency. And assimilating with people in a city or village much unlike your own teaches you empathy for other people and ways of life.

So why do we place such an emphasis on formal education systems? Couldn’t you just quit school to travel the world instead?

There’s no denying the fact that school is important. It equips you with valuable life skills like discipline and work ethic, and having a degree opens a lot of doors in the job market.

No need to give up on schooling to travel the world.
No need to give up on schooling to travel the world. Tayrona National Park, Colombia.

But there’s a wealth of science that supports the notions that people who travel are more creative, open-minded and generally good.

That said, you don’t need to forgo your academics to go anywhere.

Besides, if you do quit and realize you don’t like traveling or that you only want to travel for a short while before pursuing another career down the line, you won’t have that degree to support you. Likewise, a lot of jobs abroad might even require you to have a degree or to be working toward one.

You can travel the world in tandem with your academic education—you just need to know how to go about it.


Take a Gap Year Between High School and College

Taking a year off to explore the world before diving into school again is OK! Traveling is a different classroom.
Taking a year off to explore the world before diving into school again is OK! Traveling is a different classroom.

While gap years aren’t so common in America, they’re a norm in Europe and Australia.

In case you haven’t heard of a Gap Year before, it’s 12 months of non-academic pursuits, when students spend time traveling, working abroad or volunteering.

It’s typically taken between the end of high school and the beginning of college, so it’s a nice (and much needed) break that’ll allow you to recharge your batteries to avoid academic burnout.

Most importantly, it gives you a full year to think about what interests you actually want to pursue in college. Instead of diving in headfirst, without the foggiest idea of what you want to do with yourself, you’re given the opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you’re genuinely interested in.

Taking a year off to travel will also arm you with cultural experiences and renewed views of the world that you can add to your résumé.

The skills and knowledge you gain while abroad are valuable fodder for any job application which any employer will appreciate. They’ll recognize your resourcefulness, worldliness, adaptability, and ability to navigate difficult situations with ease.

And, because it’s just a break, you don’t have to quit school—you simply postpone it.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that taking a gap year is a commitment that requires some preparation and work on your end. If you don’t make travel plans or if you fail to save up enough money, you could end up wasting the whole year doing nothing. GapYear.com is a trusted resource that can help you get going.


Immerse Yourself in a New Culture by Spending a Year Studying Abroad

Study abroad in France, learn French, gain school credits, make your friends jealous.

Many colleges and universities offer programs that allow students to spend a whole year or semester studying abroad—and evermore students are taking advantage of these opportunities.

While it can be challenging to overcome language barriers, get used to new currencies and grapple with cultural differences while thousands of miles away from your support network, studying abroad is a life-changing experience.

Being an American plopped over in Japan for a semester, for example, might feel like landing on Mars at first. Maybe you’ll grow sick of sushi (is that possible?), and the accuracy of train arrival times will certainly start to throw you off. But you’ll make lifelong friends, learn about a new culture and gain an immense amount of real-world experience you simply can’t learn in a classroom.

Studying abroad is ideal for those with little to no travel experience because you’re placed into programs through which you meet other traveling Americans. Accommodation is included and your college will help organize logistics and offer you support and advice both before you go and while you’re away.


Use Your Time off Wisely and Travel During Your Summer Vacations

These kids get me. Photo by Daniel Clarke of Dan Flying Solo.
These kids...

There are two ways to spend your summers traveling. Those of you who have built up some savings or have another way of acquiring funds can just go and travel. Book a flight, hop on a plane and have an adventure. Easy!

If you don’t have cash readily available though, don’t worry. You can still spend your summer vacation exploring—you’ll just have to work a bit while you’re away

Here are three options available to you on the road:

  1. Become an au pair. Au pairs are like live-in babysitters who offer childcare services in exchange for room and board, meals and some pocket money. They’re in high demand across Europe, especially as evermore families want their children to learn English and be around native English speakers. You can also use that pocket money to travel after your au pairing stint. Consider sites like Au Pair and Great Au Pair to start scouting some work.
  2. Teach English. There are a number of countries around the world that host English language summer camps. ACLE, for one, is an organization that recruits native English speakers to teach in camps around Italy. You can also find teaching jobs all over the world on websites like Go Abroad. You may want to consider Asia and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, where English teachers earn the highest salaries
  3. Volunteer abroad. You can fundraise to cover the costs of your flights. A wealth of volunteering programs—which you can find on websites like Volunteer World and Projects Abroad—will cover your room and board in exchange for your help once you’re there. Volunteering also looks great on your résumé and is an easy way to give back.

Participate in a Cultural Exchange for a True Local Experience

Looking Past the Conflict in Israel: Highlights, Hummus, and My Heritage
Exploring Israel and my heritage. Not through school, but I learned more than you can imagine.

There are a number of different cultural exchange programs available to young Americans. The point of a cultural exchange is to allow people from one country to fully experience a different country. Naturally, this is done by going abroad and immersing oneself in that culture.

Some well-known exchange programs include:


Become Bilingual and Attend a Language School Overseas

12 Jaw-Dropping Photos of China

Maybe summer school didn’t sound too appealing growing up, but it should now because you can do it overseas! Now you can travel and learn something new at the same time.

If you want to develop foreign language skills immersion is key. That’s why language schools are so popular.

If you want to learn Spanish, for example, the best way is to spend a month or two at a language school in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia or even Spain. School fees and living costs in these countries can be very low.

Want to learn French? Take a language class in Paris! Chinese? Beijing awaits!

Once you finish your language course you could travel around the country (or to neighboring countries). And you could still make it back in time for the start of the regular school year. You may even want to consider searching for language schools. They might offer you credit you can apply to your studies back at home.

The fact is, if you use your time off wisely—or just take some time off—you can experience the world.

Whichever avenue you choose, you can rest easy knowing that your degree is still underway. (On a hammock somewhere in the Thai islands, in a farmhouse in Uruguay’s countryside or perhaps in a tent in Australia’s outback.)

Where are you planning to get your first taste of traveling while studying? Let us know in the comments!

READ NEXT: Why You Should Travel and Go Completely Broke


Can you travel while in school?

There are many great opportunities to travel while you’re in school, from going on a study abroad to becoming an au pair for a summer.

Should I take a break from school to travel?

Taking a break from school to travel can be a great way to get new perspective and experiences.

How long can a gap year be?

A gap year typically includes one full school year, but you can also make your gap year longer and start a semester or two later.

Is it OK to take a year off from college?

It’s absolutely okay (and awesome) to take a year off from college to travel. You’ll meet new people, get new experiences, and learn a lot.

What happens if I take a gap semester?

Taking a gap semester in college has different implications at different universities. Talk to your academic advisor to learn what to expect.

About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Nice piece and great ideas. I’ve just moved to Greece to starting learning my second language (first is English) and it’s a wonderful experience to immerse yourself in a new culture. It’s also the best way to learn a language – even a hard one!

  2. Nice!! You have really shared us a great experience and thoughts. I wonder how you can go to so many places and survive with knowing their local language. Traveling is fun but you have to plan it really well to conquer your mission.

      1. Then you must be really talented guy 😉 definitely would love to be like you and travel around the world.

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