Questioning Traditional Education

If you had to choose one of the following 2 paths, which one would you choose that would provide the most value to you and the world?

1. Traditional education (Classrooms, High School, College/University, standardized tests, grades etc.)


2. A long-term indie travel experience (2+ years traveling, learning, volunteering and experiencing the world – you could still learn on your own via online educational courses like Treehouse and Khan Academy)

The world is in a constant state of change, but most traditional attitudes are not. See Mr. Seth Godin’s free e-book on the broken educational system that describes how our current system was engineered to produce factory workers, not creative thinkers who have a broad understanding and experience of the world much like our Indie Travel Manifesto suggests.

The solution?

Many professionals, entrepreneurs, and regular folks are taking themselves or their families on the road for extended travel, taking the classroom with them and educating themselves and their children in a non-traditional manner.

Taking kids out of school and educating them on the road is a growing trend as the world becomes more connected. It’s now realistic for regular, middle-class families to travel for long periods of time, working remotely, and educating their children on the road.

This is not the Jetsons – this actually is happening in greater and greater numbers as the world and connections become more accessible.

Learning at Machu Picchu

BootsnAll is and has been a huge proponent of using long-term travel as education since 1998, whether that means summer trips to Central America to learn Spanish, pulling the kids out of school for a year-long RTW trip, or selling everything for an open-ended adventure around the world.

The trick of it all, is that travel gets you with sights, sounds and food, but it’s like a game. It is FUN, and you learn. Yes, you aren’t in a classroom, but the boots on the ground learning is perhaps the best way to get a “real education.”

With the average cost of College around $25K PER YEAR (USD) now, is there a better way to invest in yourself and your kids (if you got ‘em of course) than long-term indie travel?

A year-long RTW can be comfortably executed for under $20K/year (USD). Is this a better value than the 1st few years of university. Sitting in large lecture halls, memorizing stuff you can learn via Kahn Academy or on your own?

I am asking that question myself. If I could do it again, would I still go to University? I went 20 years ago now, when it was cheaper, but I’m not sure anymore.

Tell me in the comments below – what would you choose if you could “re-do” your life? (It’s not too late of course to still go!)

We’ve dug into this topic many times in the past few years; here are a few feature articles that discuss the value proposition:

Comment below to share your thoughts on this article. More directly, will you share your answer to the following questions?

  • Do you think traditional education is truly the best way to bring your child up?
  • If you had to choose between traditional education and a long-term independent travel experience – which one would you choose for yourself and your kids.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this non-traditional way of education. Even if you disagree, please tell us why?

Photo credits: tinou bao


Leave a Comment

  • Kit Kapphahn said at 2013-08-07T15:37:35+0000: As an adult, I did both a 'work abroad' travel thing and a PhD that involved moving to another country. The PhD is absolutely, without question, the best thing I've done in my life. It's also opened up avenues of travel that wouldn't have existed before. So I wouldn't disregard traditional education. Postgrad study isn't for everyone, of course, and if it's not where your heart lies, don't do it. Other friends have hauled out the backpacks and headed off to follow their dreams, and some came back and some didn't. Travel, like life, isn't a one-size-fits-all.For a kid, it depends on the parent, of course. I'm not having any. But pretty much all the people I know whose parents dragged them all over the world as kids actually ended up feeling rudderless and lost. Kids seem to do better with a home to go back to, though in the summers I would definitely want to take them places and try new things.
  • Jo Fitzsimons said at 2013-08-07T19:08:37+0000: I've done both. I went to university followed by law school and after practising law for 8 years I quit to indie travel and I'm now coming up to my 3rd year of long term travel. I'd say I've learned more useful stuff during my 3 years overseas - history, geography, languages, economics, politics, map reading (almost) and budgeting to name a few, and I'm using my extra time together with a combination of online and kindle books to extend my knowledge on a bunch of things I never explored as a lawyer - philosophy, stock markets, religious persuasions, website design, marketing and selling online...All of that said, having a legal career to fall back on probably gave me the confidence to quit and travel in the first place and I don't regret the time spent gaining a profession. However, like Sean, I didn't have anything like the debt and costs that people face for education today. I suspect if I could go back and do it again, I'd probably follow the same path. When I was younger I thought I needed a formal college education for a good (read: well paid) future. It's not until I achieved it that I realised 'good' doesn't necessary equate to well paid and many doors can be opened without a certificate declaring my so-called intelligence. Now, if I could go back with that piece of knowledge, it would be a whole different matter. It's an interesting topic all round!
  • Cindy Wilkinson McMullen said at 2013-08-07T15:38:05+0000: For Kids? Definitely Travel! The whole" kids get socialized through traditional education" is bogus. Socialization is about learning to be a citizen of the world! We traveled for extended periods three times with our children, taking them out of "traditional" school each time. They always returned more mature, better educated and ahead rather than behind their peers who stayed in school for the year. They are now happy contributing adults with personal values that encompass global responsibility rather than a capitalist framework of measuring success by wealth accumulation. I doubt they will ever feel depressingly wedded to a job that they hate in order to pay the bills as too many Americans do. There is an undercurrent of fear that pervades American society and, largely as a result of their travel experiences, my sons just don't buy into it.For adults? When my husband and I reached our late 50s we sold everything 9literally everything!) and began traveling again. Currently, we are on a temporary hiatus while my husband teaches at a university and finishes a book he is writing and then we will be off again.As a former bank executive I can say without hesitation that money spent on an MBA is money wasted unless your only goal in life is to accumulate money. What a waste of your time on this magnificent planet. Pack your bags people!
  • Adam Seper said at 2013-08-07T13:23:20+0000: As the parent of a 7-month-old, my wife and I talk constantly about education and the "best" way to educate our son. I am not personally a fan of the current American school system. I hate the massive emphasis on standardized testing and grades. When I was a student, I did well because I have a great memory, and so much of education, particularly in grade school and high school, rewards memorization. It was easy for me to memorize facts and regurgitate them for a test, get a good grade, then completely forget everything the minute I walked out of class. That's not learning!I completely understand that was on me as a student to care about the learning part, but we didn't get rewarded for learning - we got rewarded for good grades. I didn't feel the need to actually "learn" the subject matter. All I cared about was obtaining that A.I love the idea of using travel as learning. I do certainly have concerns though, particularly the socialization aspect of constant travel. I know it's a different type of socialization, and that traveling kids still have groups of friends and still know how to socialize with their peers, but it is different. Not to mention not wanting to constantly be away from family and friends back home.I'm not sure what the answer is. Ideally I'd love to mix traditional classroom education with an education on the road. I would love to pull our kid(s) out of school every few years for an educational trip around the world and supplement "traditional" education with "on-the-road" education. Can't wait to read what others have to say on the topic.
  • Jennifer Miller said at 2013-08-07T20:46:21+0000: I've had the great benefit of being both a traveling child and a traveling adult. My parents pulled us out of school and we traveled... who needs third grade or eighth grade! ;) From an educational perspective, it need not be "one or the other" it's easy enough to provide a rigorous intellectual education for your children from anywhere in the world. With the explosion of education over the internet it's even possible to continue with college courses from abroad. We picked up a hitchhiker with an MA in micro-biology who was traveling and taking his next round of classes towards his PhD. Our daughter is chugging away at her undergrad work as we travel. She'll transfer those credits to a brick and mortar uni in the near future, when she gets ready to go.The social differences between traditional schooling and travel as a lifestyle are very different. I find it interesting that some people say that those they knew who traveled ended up rudderless as adults, while others say that the "socialization and education" thing is bogus. We all know people who are particularly good (or bad) examples of a particular scenario. In my own experience, as a child, my traveling years were the best years of both my education and my socialization. I hated having to go back to institutionalized schooling.I also think that it's worth pointing out that one's security, in a social context, both as a child and as an adult later, is not something that comes from location or "stuff" that we surround ourselves with, or from growing up in one place vs. many. Security comes from depth of relationship with our parents, our belief that they hold our world together and have life "covered" for us. There are families who live in one place who do this beautifully... and families who live in one place who do this abysmally... and raise rudderless children even though they've done all of the externals "right." If people who are traveling are doing so because they are "running" from some aspect of life or themselves, then that's going to show up in their parenting and their kids. Not everyone who travels is rootless, or avoiding community. There are people who travel extensively and actively cultivate both for their children. Really, at the end of the day, it's not an issue of "travel or not" it's an issue of inner healing, how we choose to parent and live life with our kids, and whether or not we are in tune with THEIR needs as well as our own. For us personally, we travel FOR our kids and WITH our kids, because we all enjoy it. We all know it's not "forever" even though it's been a bit over five years.I'm a teacher by training. I am in no way anti-public schools, but I would not put my children in an institutional educational facility because I have a basic philosophical difference with the institutional definition of "education" and the best way to reach that goal. Schools serve an excellent purpose, just not our purpose! :) I'm also 100% in favor of a university degree for every person who has the capacity to achieve one. That "piece of paper" does, in fact, open doors that nothing else will. There are ways to do it without that $25K a year price tag and debt. Whether our kids use that degree in a "traditional" manner or not is entirely up to them (I hope deeply that they have the creativity and good sense not to, and to forge their own path instead) but a thorough, rigorous education is not something I would trade for all of the tea in China. :)I'm interested to follow this thread!
  • Deborah Fortuna said at 2013-08-09T16:57:36+0000: Well, I'm retired and am still contemplating selling everything and travelling for a year or so. My father took our family on a vacation every year and I still remember the learning experiences and the freedom I felt while on vacation. I would opt for travel everytime. Because of our family vacations, I don't fear neew things or environments. I have travelled abroad everyyear for the past 30 years and now, in retirement, I still have the hunger for travel. It has taught me to accept and embrace and learn about people and other cultures, I'm more attuned to what's happening in the world around me and I find that I don't have the fears of most people in my peer group.
  • Brian Carroll said at 2013-08-08T18:50:51+0000: Great article (and comments) and something I've personally wrestled with for quite some time as I think education comes in many forms and in each of them, it is what you put into them which will define what you get out of them. After working for nearly 10 years, I took a year off to use my savings to travel the world and just recently returned, where I am reestablishing myself in a career and beginning an MBA program simultaneously. The traveling itself was a great experience both educationally and personally and opened up the world to me in ways you don't get unless you experience it firsthand. Even before I left, I thought about whether traveling provided more of an education than a traditional graduate degree (which I'd contemplated for numerous years). Now I am basically headed in the polar opposite direction for the next few years, where I'll accumulate a lot of debt (I've been fortunate not to carry debt before this point), and be giving up much of my "free time" in pursuit of traditional education, fully knowing that learning resources are abundant online and that I'll be much more a prisoner to the pending loans in the future. It's a risk without a clear reward on the other end, but is something for me that is driven by my interest in both learning and life experiences (more than acquiring material possessions). That said, I thought my traveling experience was great for gaining perspective and pushing comfort boundaries and hope to in the future introduce my children to the value of it (ideally through a period of long-term travel). Reward comes from risk and both travel and higher education inherently include levels of risk which must be thought through.
  • Tiemo von Zweck said at 2013-08-07T17:04:35+0000: We took our son and daughter at ages 9 and 11 for a year long trip around the world. We could not have done that had we not paid our dues in terms of our college educations and resulting businesses / careers. Expensive or not, I would never recommend that someone sustitute a college education for a one, two or even 5 year travel experience. Take breaks before, during or after college to travel. Don't get me wrong, I am not a staunch supporter of current U.S. higher education's standards, methods or profiteering mindset, but I do beleive the total college experience / education is invaluable and pays off for decades into our 40+ year post college professional life. You can do both!
  • Clare Appleyard said at 2013-08-08T09:23:00+0000: At school, I was an academic nut. It was all about top marks, getting to university and making the most of the bursary that had been generously afforded me. There was no gap year, no break from the studies - it was straight from high school to 6 years at university, including an M.Sc. No time to travel, no time to explore, no time for people who didn't have a degree.Fast forward to age 30, a mid-life crisis and a new start as an entrepreneur. Nothing I learnt at school prepared me for real-life challenges, business challenges, or growing as a person. I realised that out in the "real world", a Master's means nothing. What you learn from travelling, meeting new people, growing a business, discovering new cultures, being location independent is far more worthwhile in the long run than a piece of paper with your name on it. If you want to climb the corporate ladder, sure, go right ahead and pay for that paper.....but life exists outside the corporate world now.Go out, explore, build a business across the globe that you can manage during your travels.That's the way to live now. And yes, you can make a fortune in the process - if you so want.
  • Family VagaBonding said at 2013-08-08T16:25:01+0000: A traveling education can be the best gift we give our kids -- and the next generation of kids -- if it's done well and they are committed to understanding and absorbing the world they're seeing. We've been traveling and roadschooling for five years now, and can't imagine it any other way. Seeing the world and becoming part of the local culture teaches us how similar we really are as cultures and societies; it blurs the differences and highlights the humanity of the world. When we fasted for a day with a Muslim friend this summer who was observing Ramadan, we came to understand the faith in a much different and personal way. Travel allows that opportunity in a way a classroom cannot.I believe education is a hands-on experience, and travel -- particularly slow, low-to-the-ground travel -- makes that happen. As 21st century parents, our job is to inspire life-long learners who make education part of who they are. When we are inspired to learn because our natural curiosity in engaged, we are our most alive and engaged. Travel does that.I also believe in formal education when and where it's appropriate, and I believe that when the natural curiosity is sparked, we seek the educational venues that meet that need. For my kids, that will likely mean university or art school or other formal programs in the coming years. For me, it's more writing and literary training. Formal education in the US is broken -- whether public or private -- and it's my hope that those of us who are choosing an alternative path are part of the change that will happen in the world of education in the States.
  • Lee Miller said at 2013-08-08T05:09:36+0000: My understanding of, and knowledge about, the world and its peoples and cultures has benefitted immensely from travel to distant places, starting at age 18, and including a year of living in abroad as an adult. I strongly recommend it as a supplement to a formal education. I would not, however, choose to substitute travel for ALL formal education. Traditional schooling helps to socialize people and expose them to the local norms. If done well, it exposes people to organized bodies of knowledge that may or may not be thoroughly covered by the practical knowledge learned during travel and life abroad. My wife and I have made RTW living and learning a part of our lives throughout the past 60 years, interspersing our formal education and work in the US with travel abroad. It's been a marvellous mixture.
  • Hector Yague said at 2013-08-07T13:19:11+0000: 1) For and adult, I would totally go for a RTW over any post-graduate study. I did both, and I got FAR more from my RTW than from my studies, both at professional and personal levels.2) For a child (say *my* child), I would not go indie and take him out of school to backpack the world. Primary school is more about social lecturing than academic lecturing, and school teaches a kid how to make friends, how to behave within the collective, how social rules work, how to work as a team member, effort vs. reward principles, etc. Those are basic (yet necessary) lessons that backpacking is not going to teach you.
  • Doug Stine said at 2013-08-07T17:15:09+0000: I have an MBA and have traveled around the world. I include both in the top three things I've done, although I'd give up the MBA before giving up my trip around the world.
  • Pandora Frost Estrada said at 2013-08-07T15:31:42+0000: I am a mother of three, an educator, and have been dreaming of around the world travel with my family. I am waiting to go RTW till my youngest is able read independently and will have a greater chance of remembering our travels. Currently, we travel by summer due to traditional school calendars and work commitments. I guess my dream would not necessarily be extended travel, but off season travel for one - two months at a time in the fall or spring over several years. The only way I believe this would work is to home school year round and I am still an advocate for our public school system even with all of its flaws. Has anyone out there pulled there children mid year to travel and then enrolled again upon return?
  • Heidi Siefkas said at 2013-08-07T20:38:00+0000: There is no Ivy League education that can compare to travel. As an adult, I've done the traditional Master's, but I've learned much more, across industries, cultures, and languages through traveling. I feel that exposing children to travel early is necessary. I'm not sure if all parents are suited for teaching their children on the road; however, a good balance of in-school and on the road should lead to well-rounded world citizens. Hit the road!
  • Capturing la Vita said at 2013-08-08T02:09:18+0000: I wish I had the opportunity to travel abroad when I was in college. I probably wouldn't be paying off these student loans if I had! What do I do for a living now? TRAVEL! My degree did not get me here, I did. I am so grateful that I can offer my kids a life of travel and global education. Great article, thanks for writing it!
  • said at 2013-08-07T21:06:19+0000: I believe in good traditional education, but I think short term travel every year would enhance this.
  • Toni Parks said at 2013-08-08T22:29:26+0000: Both! I'm finished with my MBA and ready to begin my Indie trip!
  • CJ Heidrich said at 2013-08-08T01:00:44+0000: This comment is from a BootsnAll reader who does not have a FB account: Not a fair but an interesting question. I had the benefit of a good school, left at 17 for a two year trip to Australia (meant to be 6 months) and then went back to college. Hated the school, loved the education. Got to have a sound basis of what the 'other world is doing' but street education is extremely valuable.Knowing the different cultures, ability to move comfortably in different 'worlds' opens doors that you cannot imagine until you stepped through them. It also dispels the fear of the unknown and what is dramatically played in the media. "Fear is the mind killer, the little death, pass through it look back and see it for what it was" - loose quote from Frank Herbert's book 'Dune'.I think following a responsible drug free heart will lead you to where you're meant to be, an open mind, and heart and passion for life will lead you to do what you're meant to do. Anything worthwhile is hard and scary at first but learning greater competency, stumbling, falling but getting up each time breeds confidence and through that competence. So 'Go west young man' or woman, or east or north or south....but go.Remember: smile at each stranger, wish him or her well, thank for service or advice, don't fear (it's contagious) and finally, you're an ambassador and how you behave influences the reception of the next visitor.