It was the scent of the salty breeze, the warm, early September sun beating down on my skin, the sound of waves rustling on the side of the boat when it hit me. “Ciaooo," said the captain. We were about to set on a short cruise around the island of Capri. I looked around at the packed boat with study abroad students and then at my teammates - we were running a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. This was our job. And it was freaking awesome.
In that moment, it hit me that landing a travel job was one of the best decisions of my life.
It was really tough to get out of the mindset that I needed a typical 9-5 right after college. I thought the purpose of going to college was to get a degree, so you could get a 9-5 job.
In reality, college gives you so much more than a piece of paper that is your diploma: it teaches you how to think, how to come to conclusions from tying multiple subjects together, and in-depth learning from specialized classes in your major. Outside of academics, you grow into your independence, make new friends, and have many new experiences throughout your short four years.
My college years were some of the best years of my life to date, and when graduation came, I was not ready to leave...nor did I know what I wanted to do next, other than travel (or find a time machine to take me back to relive the best moments!).
That time period/transition after graduating college is a really weird phase. You don’t really know your place in the world and everything is upside down. The formula since we were toddlers was going to school every single day and studying to earn good grades, so that when you graduated college you could get a sensible job...but now you start to question it. What do you really want? is a question that often looms in your head.
It's that feeling of being so out of place after graduation, in some ways feeling like you don’t have a purpose or just don’t know what yours is. You look for fulfillment and that feeling of being carefree but are pulled with society's expectations of you.
The truth is, there really isn’t another time period like college that is both structured and relaxed, with a middle-ground version of independence. It's tough to describe, but you'll know it when it hits you - just like when it hit me.
I had graduated college just a few months prior to that boat cruise in Capri. It was the first time ever in my life where the turn of a new fall season did not mean going back to school. This was such a weird feeling.
When I thought back to my friends in the states, and then looked up at the spectacular Italian coastline from the boat, I knew I made the right decision in trusting my gut by taking advantage of traveling after college.
Travel is your new teacher.
It isn’t a distraction or a placeholder, and it doesn't have to be a "gap year." You don't travel to "get the travel bug out of your system," you travel for the enjoyment, fulfillment, and the meaning it brings you.
Travel teaches you the world - how people work - how to view your former life as an outsider - it opens your mind - it shows you that there are billions of people living on this planet and not everyone thinks or feels the same way.
Lifestyles around the world are different. It is okay to live a different lifestyle than how you thought you were supposed to live.
Focus on staying positive and being a good person at your core, and then look for ways to fulfill what you truly want to do.
Not everything about traveling is summer boat cruises in Capri or champagne parties in the French Riviera. You'll have tough moments too - moments where you run into a problem, or you fall ill, or get homesick.
You may lose your debit card in Turkey, come down with a really bad stomach ache in Switzerland, get sick in Beijing, be evacuated at the Pisa airport at the last minute en route to Spain, ruin your DSLR camera by spilling coffee all over it, or realize your coat wasn't actually waterproof in Salzburg and then be wearing clothes drenched in rain for six hours. No? Those experiences describe some of my not-so-great moments from traveling. But that is okay.
Why? Travel teaches you to go with the flow. It can push you to your breaking point, but you come out stronger because you've learned to survive it. You learn so many soft skills. Working on top of that adds even more skills that open your mind to understanding the world.
The truth about travel today
You don’t need to be born into money, win the lottery, or make 6-figure paycheck
Traveling isn't just reserved for fancy resorts or Caribbean cruises. You can still have a good time and be comfortable (or not comfortable if that's your thing) without spending a ton of money.
Technology makes travel more accessible than ever, as well as keeping in touch with others across the globe
...which means more options like AirBnB versus staying in fancy hotels since you'll be out exploring all day anyway. Or cool, indie, budget hotels. Or staying with a friend - that old friend you keep in touch with over Facebook, and now you can crash at their place. Using mobile apps like Uber instead of a taxi to save cash and avoid getting ripped off.
One of the best ways to pay for travel is by working abroad
I've paid for all of my international travels after college through working. This included working leadership conferences in Washington, DC and New York City in the US; Vienna, Prague, and Berlin in Europe; and Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou in China.
I also worked for a travel company to do marketing and lead weekend tours in Europe - I was based in Italy and traveled to 10 other countries for my job.
All of those jobs covered my housing, and depending on which one they also covered transportation, flights, food, etc. In China all I needed was to cover personal spending money, but since our per diem for food more than enough covered personal expenses (China is very inexpensive), I came back earning an extra few bucks!
Travel jobs are more than just a paycheck
Depending on how you work abroad, you may or may not get a paycheck. Some organizations may cover other amenities instead, such as housing, food, or transportation while you're working.
This is what really stretched my budget (or lack thereof) - instead of spending 100 euros or so per night for a hotel in Europe last summer for the conference, that was all covered since I was working over 15 days...which in turn saved me a TON of money.
When I was working as a tour guide in Europe, I stretched my time to six months and 11 countries because all our housing and transportation while working were covered. If I hadn't been working? I may have been able to go to Europe for a week, if even.
Consider the value in working abroad.
You're not working abroad solely for a paycheck. You're traveling so you can feel that freedom, learn from the world, and add more meaning to your life. This is all in addition to the expenses covered, the amazing experiences you'll have, and the lifelong friends you'll make.
There aren't many things in life that are more valuable than having seen the world and lifelong friendships.
[A few of many ways to work abroad: 11 Ways To Make Money While You Travel]
Deciding to work those travel jobs after college have been some of the best decisions I've ever made. I've had the time of my life. It helped me see that after college that you don't have to follow a straight path to success. That defining your own version of success is much better than someone else's version set out for you.