Why You Should Travel in College

Why Traveling in My 20s was the Best Decision I Ever Made

It’s been 2 years since I was running around Asia living out of a backpack. I backpacked through South Korea, the Philipines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan.

Not even a week after returning to the US, I graduated college.

Traveling at 21 was the best decision I ever made. Yes - it drained my savings, yes I made a lot of first-time traveler mistakes, but yes it changed the trajectory of my life beyond what I can even see now.

I am who I am today because I traveled.


I wrote this post shortly after being back in the US, and I still stand by it now - If you have the chance,

Here is why you should travel in college

Backpacking in Busan, South Korea

Backpacking in Busan, South Korea

Before I left to study abroad in Asia, I spent the two years prior wanting to see the world, but mostly just talking about it. Finally, I stopped talking and started looking into study abroad programs.

I ended up getting into a program in South Korea, just two months before I would leave, in January 2017. I was scared - I didn’t know what to expect and I had only been out of the country twice before on short family trips.

I almost didn’t go, but looking back now, it was the best decision I made.


I hear people say things about why they don’t travel like:

"I will travel once I have money"

"I will travel once I retire."

"I will travel...someday."

Someday you say...but when is that?

Now, don't get me wrong. Not everyone wants to travel. Not everyone can leave their responsibilities, pack a backpack, and fly to the other side of the world.  In fact, I don't recommend that you do that at all...but, I do suggest that you consider these points…

You have fewer responsibilities than you think

You may feel as though you have a crippling amount of responsibilities on your shoulders. Whether it's work, college, or just paying the bills - everyday tasks can paralyze us from thinking that we have the time or ability to do anything outside of our routine.

In reality though, most of the time when you are in your twenties your responsibilities aren’t as serious as they may seem. I understand that some people may have a kid to look after or a job to maintain, but you probably don't have a mortgage or a family that relies on you. You also likely don't have a company to run or a career you’ve been in for a decade. Yes, it’s possible you have one or two of these responsibilities, but having all of these at once...in college? Probably not. 

Most everyone in their early twenties is deciding what they even WANT to do for a career, while simultaneously building up a resume that will hopefully lead them to some type of job.

You have more resources than you think

If you are in college, the tuition you pay goes toward the resources available to you. Does every dollar spent equal a resource? Of course not, it’s America...BUT there are many underutilized resources at universities, and one of the largest resources available to students is related to studying abroad and exchange programs.

There are dozens of scholarships at most universities just waiting to be claimed by students. Now, I may be biased, as I went to Kent State University, which is known for having great study abroad programs, but many of my friends who attended other universities also benefited from studying abroad at a partner campus’ across the world. The best part of studying abroad for most students is that you don’t have to figure out all of the travel logistics, or at the least, you have help. Yes, I may have spent dozens of hours filling out paperwork and talking to my guidance counselor, but when I made it to South Korea only having to spend about $1,000 out of my own bank account - it was well worth it!

Of course, I am aware that not every college student has access to these resources or the time to find them, but I am suggesting that you look at what is available to you - after all, you are paying for that access!

Traveling looks Good on a resume

Of course this isn’t true for everyone in every career path, but with the dynamic and diverse world and country we live in today, having international experience gives you an edge when interviewing for jobs. When I was applying to jobs, I sat in 10+ interviews where I was asked to “share a fun fact about myself.” Talking about my time studying abroad in South Korea or backpacking alone through South-East Asia almost always engaged the person interviewing me, more so than my discussion of the student organizations I was in.

When I was traveling, I also took any opportunity I could find projects, take courses, or connect with people who offered experiences I could add to my resume. Such as teaching English, learning Korean, and keeping a blog along the way.

backpacking in southeast asia

Your mental blocks are often the biggest barrier 

I know what you're thinking... college and work are ENOUGH responsibilities to handle - and not everyone has the privilege to leave those responsibilities to go travel. Yes, this is true. In fact, before I left to study abroad, I assured that I had an online marketing job set up so that I could continue to work online when I was traveling.  

The hardest part of making a decision that seems bigger than your current situation, is gaining enough courage to do it.

It is easy to dismiss the freedom that you have in your twenties, and to trap yourself in a story that may not be true about what you are truly responsible for. If you look back at your life in 10 years, when you have a full career and possibly a family or business to look after, will you wish that you have taken advantage of the freedom and youth that you have now?  Think of someone older whom you admire in your life, whether that be a family member, an influencer, a mentor, or a professor - this person may have a flourishing career, or incredible family life, or an admirable marriage- but they didn't wake up and become a professor or a parent. No, they spent the last decade or decades of their lives working toward the person who you look up to now. It is easy to look at these people and admire their lifestyles, but it is also easy to assume that while you are in your twenties, you should be focusing on getting to the same place where they are - and this is a risky misconception. Instead of looking at where other people are, think about where you currently are. What is it that YOU want to do NOW? If nothing were stopping you…

It’s all a matter of priority

If you are in your twenties, you are still figuring your life out. You are exploring your career options, your relationship options, and most importantly, yourself. During this time, why limit yourself to the town, city, or even country you grew up in? The world is large and diverse. The world is full of opportunities. By assuming that you need to tie yourself down to a career, relationship, or lifestyle right now, you close doors of opportunities that you have not yet explored. 

Traveling is a life-changing experience that allows you to ask deeper questions and look further into life. Traveling enables the mind to see past limitations. 

But you must make the decision to have this experience, and place a priority on it, or it will never happen.

Yes, you can wait until you retire to go travel. But do you know exactly when that will be? Can you plan a trip today for 30 years in the future? Do you know what the economy will be like? Do you know what YOU will be like? No. None of us can see that far into the future. We can guess, we can imagine, but we cannot predict. What we can do though, is decide, now, what we want to do. We can decide to take action today, but only in the moment do we have this power. Only in the moment do we know the state of our own health, wealth, and wisdom. Only in the moment are we able to turn a vision or dream into action. 

So, what's stopping you?

backpacking in vietnam

A Final Note

Traveling does not have to be impulsive. 

By no means should you leave your responsibilities and go travel the world without any resources. (well, unless you're really an adrenaline junkie, then go for it.)

Traveling doesn't have to be unrealistic. It may take planning, researching, and preparing - but, it is totally possible. But with preparation, motivation, and a little risk, your traveling dreams don't have to be dreams.

The most important thing to remember is that despite the responsibilities you may have or you may think you have, there is no better time to travel than in your twenties; there is no better time than now.

So take the risk, make the leap, book the flights.


Julia KelleyComment