Editor’s Note: At one point we published an article entitled Why Recent College Grads Should Take Time to Travel, and a simple comment from a social media site stuck out at me, “Great…if you can afford it.”
Though the idea for the article below came about before I read that comment, the ideas that Jennifer Miller puts forth below are great responses to the “Must be nice” people long-term travelers encounter. As we all know, travel is not free, but for those of us who truly believe in the transformative power of travel, we encourage you to spread that message far and wide, and giving the gift of travel to someone is a great first step in that process.
It’s a mile marker of my age, I suppose, like hearing the music of my youth played in elevators and the peppering of silver in my black hair: the arrival of invitations to the graduation celebrations of my friends’ children.
There have been three this spring, and my own daughter’s official emancipation makes four. It’s startling to look up and realize that I’ve been out of school longer than I was in it, and that I’ve lived long enough to become part of the middle generation, the one holding the world together for my children and my parents.I’m the one giving graduation gifts and careful words of advice written into paper cards that will be found in the bottom of boxes, twenty years on, and smiled over.
If I could give one word of advice to all of the bright-eyed and beautiful who are graduating this year, it would be this:
Continue your education. And travel.
Okay, that’s two, but old, motherly women are allowed to ramble on, so I shall invoke that privilege.
I’m a firm believer in the benefit of higher education, and I’m equally devoted to the educational value of travel. In this generation, it’s not an either-or proposition.
It’s completely possible to pursue an advanced degree with the world as your classroom. (Want to know more about that? Shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to chat about it!)
Since there is no shortage of voices beating the higher education drum, let me tell you why I think students should take off and travel:
1. The world is a fantastic teacher
There are lessons that an A+ student hasn’t learned yet. Things even the very best classroom teacher can’t have prepared her to learn. Ideas that must roll in on a slow tide, like flotsam, and be come upon by serendipity on a far off beach. Truths that only find a person when he’s solidly outside his comfort zone, which is never going to happen within 100 miles of home. Lectures on the deep meaning of life that can only be delivered in a foreign tongue in a moment of profound struggle.
2. Confidence is gained by doing, not simulation
Most of what we think of as education is a carefully designed simulation of real life. A graduate has learned he can succeed within that structure, that he can win the SIM game, but real life (as we all know) rarely resembles the simulation.
He’ll gain direction, perspective, and passion; three things many graduates leave the SIM game without, sadly.
There’s no better way for a young person to get a grip on how much their education matters, or how many options there truly are, or who she is as a real person, than getting out into the real world and doing the real thing. Stick that kid on an airplane and dump him into the deep end of the world and watch him develop hard earned confidence in his ability to do life. He’ll gain direction, perspective, and passion; three things many graduates leave the SIM game without, sadly.
3. It gets them off of the couch
I’m not a fan of letting young people lounge around too much or stagnate. For those that suffer from a sense of entitlement or a love of ease, there really is no better antidote than a small walk about. Sure, they could watch National Geographic and Discovery Channel all summer, or they could fight their way through a jungle and up a mountain of their own choosing.
Taking a trip over the summer, or for a whole gap year, is a far better use of time than working a gas station job and migrating between mom’s couch and dad’s backyard pool.
Adult life, and the real world, is rarely about hanging out and having fun, eating someone else’s food, sleeping late, and lounging in air-conditioned comfort. It’s about hard work, earned fun, tenacious effort, pulling our own weight, and chasing our passions. We aren’t helping our kids forward if we’re not pushing them towards those things. Taking a trip over the summer, or for a whole gap year, is a far better use of time than working a gas station job and migrating between mom’s couch and dad’s backyard pool.
I’m pleased to report that three of my four graduates this summer are off on adventures.
- Miss Shelby was ahead of the pack, taking off for five weeks to China the moment her school work was complete. It was her first international trip. I sent her a journal, a treasure from my travels and a copy of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long-Term World Travel, to keep her company.
- Miss Laura is off to France in another month or so, to do service projects instead of frittering away the last summer of her childhood.
- My own girl is chomping at the bit to hit her own airplane for six weeks of train hopping and couch surfing across Europe with her buddy Will. She’s far from a new traveler, and this isn’t anything like her first solo journey, but it’s a milestone, nonetheless, and one she’s spent all winter savoring as she’s saved, prepared and dreamt with her friend. Even she, who’s grown up on the road, will come back a different girl, and a better girl, for the independence her journey creates.
Most of us who’ve traveled ourselves are believers in the benefit of travel, and the educational enrichment it provides. We would encourage every young person to pack a backpack and hit the road, to take some time in the world, to get to know herself, to taste and see that the world is good.
So let’s put our money where our mouths are, shall we?
I’d like to issue a challenge, to all of my fellow travelers who are over the age of 25. To each of you who’s had his life changed by a journey. To each of you who found passion and purpose tucked between the pages of her journal in a far off land. To each parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, friend, or sibling who knows, first hand, how life-changing that first leap outside one’s own culture and country is: Now is your chance to give back, or pay it forward.
I’d like to issue a challenge, to all of my fellow travelers who are over the age of 25. Now is your chance to give back, or pay it forward.
This year, if you know a graduate, I challenge you to encourage that kid to travel.
Encourage as hard as you can.
- If you have fifty bucks, contribute it to the travel fund of a kid who’s working hard and saving to go, or put it in a card and earmark it for a few nights at a hostel somewhere.
- If you have a hundred bucks, commit to buying a short hop plane or train ticket.
- If you’ve got more, then I challenge you to buy a passport, a plane ticket, a backpack, a Eurorail pass, or travel insurance.
Travel costs money, it’s true, but the results are priceless, wouldn’t you agree?
If you take this challenge seriously, it will stretch you, relationally, and financially. Get a group of friends, or family members together and pool your money, like grandparents and godparents did to purchase Miss Hannah’s rail pass for this summer. Forgo the traditional gifts of electronics, clothes, or a used car for your kid and instead buy her a plane ticket and a backpack. Worried about her traveling alone? Buy one for her best friend too.
This is my challenge for graduation season: Old people, grown-ups, parents, friends, family members, travelers, unite!
Let’s work together and give an epic graduation gift of a lifetime, and within it the capstone of a special young person’s education.
Give the gift of travel.
Read more about why giving the gift of travel is a great option and how it can benefit our youth:
- Why Recent College Grads Should Take Time to Travel
- Sharing Travel with a New Generation
- Higher Education for Free?
- Collecting Experiences Instead of Things