Why travel is better than the best university in the world

For a guy that found school to be the biggest waste of time growing up, I’ve got a few strong ideas about education. I’ve said plenty of times that I believe social media and digital marketing should be mandatory learning in every business school. I also believe that travel should be too. Seeing the world and experiencing other cultures gave me a better degree than any university ever could have.

My aim is definitely not to knock academia with this blog post. But I just don’t think that any amount of schooling can be a substitute for the way a person can evolve living in a foreign culture. In fact, if it wasn’t for special personal and financial restraints, I don’t think graduating from university should be possible without a semester abroad experience.

I didn’t go to university and I always hated school. I just remember sitting there and always thinking, “Why are they trying to teach me something I’m never going to use?” I have ADHD, and it wasn’t very conducive to learning in a traditional classroom setting for me. I do believe that university is absolutely crucial for a few specific professions, for example medicine or law, but it’s my opinion that entrepreneurs learn better by doing rather than reading from a textbook.

I’m not the only one who is thinks that travel and education should not be mutually exclusive, either. I especially like this article from blogger Celine Joiris, who describes leaving the nest to work as a model in Tokyo at just fifteen years old. She calls it an integral part of the emotionally strong and mature person she is today. “Overall I was surprised by my own competency,” she writes. “Travel quickly showed me just what, and how much, I was capable of doing by myself.”

Many of us living with the wanderlust bug know exactly these situations: being in an unfamiliar place and having to solve a problem with nothing you’re your wits and trial and error. Whether it’s getting back to the hotel or trying to communicate despite language barriers, these situations come to define us. Travel teaches a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems. There is always more than one way to get to Point A from Point B and as long as you get there, it doesn’t really matter how you do. So it also teaches self-sufficiency and instills a confidence, independence and understanding that can instrumentally shape a young adult. To be blunt: travel teaches us how to grow up.

It’s no question that students should travel, but the biggest challenge is how expensive a plane ticket can be. But I’ve learned that if you really want something, there is always a way to do it. You can’t put a price on the education you will get. In fact, what many alumni these days will say is how much they regret not taking their “rite of passage” backpacking trip and exploring the world before settling down and entering the rat race.

I get how important academia is. But I also see inherent problems with that system too, for example too much talk and not enough action. There are many universities these days that offer what is called a “liberal arts education” where students choose from arts electives like philosophy and politics in order to garner a well-rounded education. Travel should be no different—it’s really the best way to achieve a balance of textbook learning and life experience.