Making the Most of Detours: 7 Realizations from Post-Grad Travel
I’m a “Type A” person.
I’m the poster child for “Type A.”
All my life, I have done everything by the book. I followed the rules, never got in trouble, earned excellent grades, was involved in all the right organizations…you get the picture.
Something very important that has taken me almost two years out of college to start accepting is that sometimes, you can do everything perfectly right and still feel like you got the shaft with no good explanation. I can’t tell you how tough it was for me to see people who barely showed up to class in college get a career handed to them upon flipping their tassel. However, the hardest was seeing your friends get settled into their next step, because as much as you want to be envious, you can’t. Because deep down, you want your loved ones to succeed, even if it means being left behind.
Fortunately, I am here to tell you, this rejection and disappointment is actually a very clever disguise. These detours in the road maps you've created for your life can actually provide you with countless opportunities you would've never even imagined for yourself.
This is my story:
The biggest death sentence I could have received upon graduation was being forced to move back home, without a job and with an expensive degree. I did everything I could to make sure that wasn’t going to happen: I had my career counselor on speed dial, went to interviewing workshops, networking events and job fairs. I was starting my sixth internship, had a full course load and was on the road to graduating Magna Cum Laude. As I walked across the stage that spring, I felt I had wasted my time, money and energy. Why? Because according to the order of things, I was not fitting the mold. And I was always one to fit the mold.
I decided to make the best of my uncertain situation (a very unfamiliar territory, I might add). There was no more school, no job and no real responsibilities. The endless possibilities that came with unemployment started to look more appealing the more I convinced myself I wasn’t a total failure. That’s when I got a wild hair and decided I was going to do something drastic and very un-Type A of myself: I was going to move to another country. I had no rent, no kids, no boyfriend/husband, no job… so why not?
In August 2013, I was set to spend six months teaching English in a primary level school in southeastern China. I had no prior teaching credentials, had never set foot on Asian soil and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I truly was embracing this new-found uncertainty. I’m not going to lie… there were many sleepless nights, frustratingly long days, lots of tears and challenges in adapting to a way of life that is anything but Westernized. However, I wouldn’t trade any of it. In what sometimes seemed to be the longest adventure of my life, I grew as a person, made incredible new friends, experienced a new way of life and - most importantly - I didn’t let the ugly parts ruin the beautiful parts.
While living in China, I experienced the busy financial hub of Shanghai and spent Christmas hiking along the Great Wall in Beijing. But what was most appealing about the Chinese culture to me was the six-week, paid vacation I was awarded for the Chinese New Year in January. I’m going to be honest, that’s what really sealed the deal for me to go on this excursion in the first place. Any employers in the U.S. who will give me six weeks of paid vacation? …Anyone?
While the Chinese use these six weeks to spend time with family, I decided to take advantage of being on the opposite end of the globe and see what new lands needed to be conquered. I flew to Australia and spent time in Sydney before hopping over to New Zealand and making my way through the north and south islands. As week four approached, I started making my way back up from the Southern Hemisphere to Macau and Hong Kong where I celebrated the Chinese New Year.
I returned home at the end of March, thinking that it was time to start hitting the job boards once again. After having a summer internship, traveling the U.S. visiting old friends and landing a great freelance gig through the remainder of 2014, I started getting restless. It was time to go on another adventure.
I decided to spend a second New Year’s in a foreign country traveling through Germany, Austria, northern Italy and Switzerland with a friend I met on my study abroad semester during college.
Through my many travels over the past couple of years, I've had several realizations. I’d like to share these with you in order to encourage you to allow travel to become a part of your post-grad story.
1. Travel strengthens your resume keywords.
It may not seem like it in the traditional sense, but becoming a seasoned traveler gives you valuable traits to add to your resume. For instance, after traveling you can easily put on your resume that you are a problem solver, critical thinker, adaptable, accepting of new ideas, flexible, patient… the list goes on. The best part is your list will look different from other peoples' lists. Although you all may travel to the same place, you experience it through different lenses. Speaking of lenses, if you want to become a photographer, practice on your trips! If you are doing an extended stay somewhere, try to learn the language so you can add bilingual to your resume. If you want to be a writer, start a travel blog! Look into extending your education at a foreign university as many countries have better deals on paying for college than the United States does.
2. International friendships are worth the investment.
In addition to having friends scattered all over the United States, I now have friends in Brazil, New Zealand, China, England and Germany. They conveniently all have an open door policy welcoming me into their homes. Travel miraculously becomes a lot cheaper when you have couches to sleep on all over the globe. And you never know with international job markets: If you have a friend that lives in a country where a job opening comes along that fits perfectly with what you are looking for, they can pass along the word to you. You may even meet someone who works for that company you've always dreamed of working for who can help you get your foot in the door.
3. Travel allows you to get to know yourself.
I know it sounds incredibly intimidating and gives you a bit of a panic attack just thinking about it, but I encourage everyone to travel completely alone at least once. Yes, I will be the first to admit that it does get lonely sometimes, but when you travel alone, you are more open to meeting and getting to know complete strangers in your hostels, at a restaurant, on a tour, etc. Use this opportunity to briefly disconnect from your life back home to really spend time with yourself. Take yourself out to dinner. Find out your likes, dislikes, and allow yourself to ponder in the silence.
4. It gives you a break from the job search.
Even if it’s just a weekend getaway somewhere, taking a few days or a week off from the job search can give you the chance to rejuvenate. For instance, during the months I was stressing out about applying for jobs once my summer internship had ended, I decided to take a week off and visit an old friend living in Los Angeles. It was a relief to not think about cover letters and salary requirements for a short while. Little did I know, within the week of my return from my trip, I was offered a two-month freelance job.
5. Don’t stop after you study abroad.
I did a summer semester abroad in London before my senior year of college. Although it was an incredible journey, traveling post-graduation gives you an entirely different perspective. When you study abroad, you are still in the midst of your college career and are working your way to the graduation finish line. When you start traveling on your own after graduation, you have a better chance of meeting people from different walks of life, different age groups and with different stories. You have a lot more mental room to soak in what you are experiencing without the stress of school.
6. Travel is not for those who have it all.
A very common misconception I have discovered from traveling and talking with different people is that in order to travel you must have a lot of money. This is definitely not the case. You simply must make sacrifices in other aspects of our lives to make it happen (and once you find out what you can live without to make travel a priority, it doesn’t seem like a sacrifice at all). I've never once regretted a single penny I've spent on travel. I have, however, regretted spending money on clothes or shoes or "things" that don’t last.
7. Don’t save it for retirement.
I’ll leave you with one last very important realization I’ve made when it comes to travel. A lot of people feel they want to save it for when they are retired and have all the time in the world. However, you never know how long you really have. No matter where you travel, it takes endurance, a good immune system and lots of walking, standing and being able to adapt to changes at a moment’s notice. This is much easier said than done when you have families to worry about, health concerns, aching body parts and “grown up” responsibilities.
If you’re like me, you feel that you should have your life together by now. But honestly, what does that even mean? I would love for someone to explain what it means to “have your life together.” At our age, it’s so hard to focus on the present, yet we’re looking so hard into the future that we don’t realize that sometimes working 9 to 5, starting a family and feeding a 401K plan can wait just a little while longer.
In the past year, I've applied to 134 jobs and still don't have a full-time position. But that's okay, because I don't regret anything I've had the chance to do with all that free time, because I know it won't last forever. If you asked that nervous senior graduate two years ago if she wrote this, she would have said you were insane. I'm glad to be the first to prove myself wrong.