I sometimes get email from people asking if they should drop out of college - or skip it entirely - in favor of traveling. While going abroad is one of the best ways to learn and become wise beyond your years...there are many benefits of going to school and getting a degree (especially if you're American). I believe everyone should travel internationally at least once in their lives, and more if they enjoy it and are able to. But please don't dismiss the idea of going to college to travel instead. Here's why.
Here's why you should travel, but still go to college
If college interests you even in just the slightest, you should at least consider going to school. Education after high school provides you with a foundation of knowledge to build from. Whether you go the traditional route of spending all four years at a campus or do it entirely online - in my opinion - you should travel, but still go to college. Having a degree is something no one can ever take away from you. Having a Plan B is important if you do decide to go into the workforce someday where the job you want requires a college degree.
Were there some classes I didn't like in school? Sure. Communication Theory, Organization of Religion, and whatever the name of that biology class were three in particular I weren't very fond of. But I loved learning about Marketing: Consumer Behavior - focusing on why people buy things and Communication of Pop Culture - how our culture and consumerism heavily influence how we act.
I took Nutrition as an elective to further my interest in healthy living. I took a 1-credit Zumba class to try out the newest fitness craze (I loved it, and later became a Zumba instructor myself).
I learned the basics of composition and to throw away the terrible, structured "formula" of essay writing from high school in English 101 and attempted to understand what was happening between the pages of Shakespeare in English in Drama.
Public Relations Strategies made me excited to implement new integrated marketing communications to my internship and use "new media" like social networking. I discovered my passion for writing in journalism classes and was excited to implement that for blogging and online magazines.
I remember one time having a conversation with my friends where I referenced what I learned from my political science, statistics, and advertising classes in just a few sentences. Politics, math, and marketing don't seem to have much in common, but allowing yourself to learn and soak up knowledge in class will even further equip you with an important soft skill you'll need outside of college: conversing with other people and being able to back up what you're saying with applicable evidence.
And then there were classes I took when I studied abroad in Italy: Philosophy of Ethics and Intro to Marketing. These two classes had "nothing" to do with being abroad, yet I needed to take them anyway and the professors applied our experience abroad to what we were learning in class. If I could've taken Conversational Italian, Art History, or a food and wine class, that would've been an even better way to apply my learning from class to the experience.
Upon returning from Italy, I took a history class titled Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome. I learned so much about the history of places I had seen in person only a few months prior. (And I also re-captioned all of my Facebook photos from Rome, now that I actually knew what those "pretty statues" I took pictures of were all about!)
College allows you to learn outside of class, too
You only get four years to be an undergrad. Four years may seem like an eternity, but trust me, it goes by fast. Spending time with your closest friends (and living near each other before you all move to different cities after graduation), rooting for your school at football games, and exploring your passions through clubs, sports, or internships can teach you even more outside the classroom. Being independent but still in that in-between phase of living at home in high school to facing the Real World after college is perhaps one of the most freeing of times - not being tied down to things like bills or an apartment lease.
I never would have met some of my absolute best friends if I hadn't gone to college. I've made a number of friends abroad in my travels post-college, friendships I deeply cherish, but my college friends are my family.
Going to my school's basketball games gave me goosebumps from excitement and anticipation at tip-off. Performing with Dance Team at those games gave me an adrenaline rush and burst of happiness that I would not have experienced elsewhere. Feeling that energy and pride as a student body made me appreciate the sense of community.
Those four years are a growing experience. Who you are on graduation day is different than who you were on move-in day of freshman year. Those four years gave you time to discover your identity and learn about things you truly care about.
Why travel provides valuable education
Living in Italy and traveling on weekends during my study abroad opened up my mindset to a whole new way of thinking. We are all humans. Humans want to be happy. Humans can be happy even if they live differently than you do. The way you live seems foreign to everyone else, and that is okay, because if you're kind to others and enjoy the way you live, you're doing it right. Oh, and you don't have to conform to your society's ideals of what is "normal."
Moving to Italy short-term after college was an opening experience as well. I traveled more extensively in Europe and experienced more cultures. I learned so much during those short few months. But everything I learned in college - inside and outside of class - prepared me to live abroad and excel at my job. If I didn't study public relations and marketing in college (or anything somewhat applicable in college), I would have in no way been qualified to be a tour guide and run the digital marketing for a travel company. Working abroad allowed me to stretch my time traveling into months instead of weeks; if I didn't have a college degree I never would've been able to travel that long and do that job.
At least consider going to college, because you have the potential to make it an amazing, growing experience. Study abroad if you can. Travel as much as possible during and after school. Most importantly, do what's right for you and weigh each side before making a big decision about whether or not to go to college.