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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.

6 Responses

  1. Definitely resonate with feeling that school, especially college, was a big leech of money when it could have been spent on experiences. Is there anything you recommend we should intend to get from a traveling experience? Just so we know how best we can utilize the experience we’ll be getting?

    1. @Jason To be honest, it’s going to be different for everyone, depends on the person and where they go, what they do. For example with me, when I first stepped foot in Thailand, I felt like it was home for me, and I never looked back.

    2. Have you considered speaking with Community Service Volunteers? CSV They have projects around the world that you may be interested in joining. It may tie you to one place for 3 or 6 months but you would be involved in some great overseas projects during that time with other like minded volunteers. It may be worth a call. I believe all expenses, travel, accommodation and pocket money are paid too.

  2. Hi, we touched on this a few days ago. Talking about speaking other languages. I worked for the prison after care service, which was tough, By 20 and an unhappy personal experience, I decided to take my bruises to the sunshine. I had not enjoyed school, I was from a single parent upbringing and had been bullied at school because I could not go on school trips or wear new clothes. I did not pay dinner money like the rest, and they knew it. Though I was school swimming champion, 4 yrs running and hockey Captain. I spoke some French, absorbed from my previous school, but that was not too much, since I my minds eye I could never imagine ever getting to London in my lifetime, let alone France!
    I flew to Genova, taught English at an Italo Americano school, teaching Pilots and found free accommodation in exchange for taking care of a new baby during the night. That was wonderful. I did that for 18 months. The family was very wealthy, had properties in the most beautiful parts of Italy and I travelled with them to Bari, Santa Margarita Ligure, Portofino, Genova, Milan and Pia Monte. My adventures were amazing, cultural and awakening. Everything from staying in a Castle, and going on a truffle hunt with wild boar and cooking chestnuts in the Forrest After the family wine had been bottled.
    Portofino was then one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I was treated as a member of the family rather than as one of the servants, thus dined with them and was able to learn the language quite quickly since they were bilingual and would correct my mistakes, as would their two older children who were very happy to take me to museums, caves, beaches, all the places tourists would never know about. I soon became Italian, thought Italian, Spoke Italian, and dreamed in Italian. I came home brown as a berry, long shining hair, no shoes, and my mother wept so much I stayed.
    Chapter 1 complete. Lol kind regards Bev.

  3. Hi Scott,

    I think this blog post could not be more accurate. To give you a little background story (if you want to hear it or not), I am 22 years old and have had the opportunity to travel to over 70 countries (the number is completely irrelevant, just putting things into perspective here). My mom worked for an airline my entire life, so unlike most students my biggest challenge was not the price of the plane ticket, but rather finding the time to travel to all of these places. Also unlike yourself, I do not have ADHD, I loved school and was always very disciplined. When I was 17 and was forced to make a decision that would ultimately shape my future (also known as university), I decided to attend an art college. My parents were completely supportive and got my BFA in Fashion Marketing and Entrepreneurship (also completely irrelevant) – one problem. An art school does not have all of these study abroad programs most universities offer. So I decided to create my own study abroad itineraries. My friends were jealous, and my professors thought I was crazy —

    “What do you mean you are not getting credit for that class”

    Long story short, I studied languages at small and underdeveloped schools in locations like Cannes where I had the opportunity to attend major industry events like the Google party at the Lions festival, or learning french in the alps of Chamonix where I later ended up moving back to intern at a startup tech company, which led me to help open up the first store of a renowned Australian athelticwear company in Stockholm – all at the age of 18-20.

    The point is not these minor accomplishments on my road to development, but all of these feats in my short life have been due to travel. What I think is missing from this blog post is the most important thing I have come to deal with is naturally interacting with people. Something they don’t teach you in any educational environment. There is nothing natural about interacting with like minded souls at an educational institution that prides itself on being ‘diverse’

    During this time I decided to hone in on my travels to create a website (www.whereisper.com – nothing like a little self promotion) to not brag on all of the places I have been lucky enough to experience, but rather inspire students like myself to get up off their ass and do it themselves. Like you said, for most students the biggest challenge is paying for their plane ticket, but if they want to do it there are so many opportunities for personal investment in the world. Another point: travel really does teach us how to grow up, but let’s get real; travel also maintains our youth and reason for living. I hope you can agree with what I am saying.

    Key Takeaway: Thank you for the refreshing article. I hope more people my age can relate to take the time from their short life to educate themselves.

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