An update to this post is here.
With graduation season wrapping up, I’m remembering my post-college days in 2000, just after the “dot com” bubble burst and suddenly all those folks who flocked to Seattle and Silicon Valley were unemployed, fresh out of school and totally screwed.
Ten years later, are things much different?
This spring, I’ve gotten a number of emails essentially asking the same question: “I want to wait out the bad economy, do some traveling, but I’m a broke-ass college student… what should I do?”
If you want to spend your year after college traveling — but you have no money saved — here’s what I would do”
1. Defer your student loans, if you have them. After graduation you automatically get a six month reprieve, but in six months from now, you can defer again. The interest you accrue during this period is nominal, and while you do have to pay them eventually, it’s no reason to not travel.
2. Live as cheaply as possible. That means staying with your parents, sleeping on your friends couch or sharing a place with several people. The point is, don’t spend any money… you’re in saving mode.
3. Get a job. Any job will do. You’ll just be working for the summer, so if you can get yourself to a resort town, you can make good money working as a waiter/waitress or bartender (anything with tips).
4. Save about $1000. Most people can do this in one month, but obviously it depends on how much you drink away, where you live and whether you can land a well-paying gig. At the very most, this will take three months.
5. Get a cheap backpack (check craigslist). Pack about three outfits, a swimsuit and whatever else you can’t live without. You’ll probably ditch 50% of your pack in the first month, because everyone over-packs (and when you have to physically carry it around everyday, it doesn’t seem quite so worth it).
6. Find a flight to somewhere… anywhere. I highly suggest checking out Kayak Buzz for deals from your specific airport. If you can make it to a major city like LA or NYC, you can save a ton on airfare.
7. Relax. Once you’re on the ground, in whatever country you start in, it’s much easier to figure things out. So relax. Don’t email me a bunch of questions about where to buy toothpaste in Guatemala, because it will all become clear once you’re there.
8. Use Couch Surfing for places to stay. You’re young, broke and out to see the world. This is probably the only time in your life when sleeping on a futon is a practical way to travel. Plus you’ll have a guide and a new friend. If you’re uncomfortable with staying at stranger’s homes, use hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com to book a dorm room (did I mention you’ll still be sleeping next to strangers?).
9. Get a job. You can work under the table. If you have a degree you can teach English. If you don’t have a degree, you can teach English under the table. There are a number of resources online to help with getting a job. Otherwise, check with the hostels in town. Talk to other travelers, especially those who have been there for a few months. Check with the hotels. There are opportunities.
10. Work, make friends, have fun, explore the local area. When you get sick of it, move on to the next place. Rinse, wash and repeat. You’re traveling and all it took was a month or two to raise airfare and you’re off.
Don’t think this works? Read these posts:
Where should I go?
Okay, so a lot of people say it’s easiest to travel from East to West. A very common place to start is Bangkok, Thailand. In fact, a lot of people don’t make it out of there. So a potential itinerary would be:
- Other Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and so on.
- New Zealand
- Central/South America
Of course, you don’t have to follow the conventional backpacking wisdom. You can pick a single country to stay in, or an area of the world. You can travel from West-East. Do what you want!
- Asia is popular because it’s extremely cheap and you can get work teaching English.
- Australia will let you get a work visa.
- Europe is great for teaching English and there are lots of couch surfing opportunities.
- Central/South America is really cheap (although the jobs don’t pay very well).
Obviously this is the most ridiculously oversimplified summary of the world and where to travel, but I always wanted someone to break it down for me, and give me a broad overview, so here you go.
But I can’t get a job/save money/travel cheaply!
If you’re stuck in a small town with no jobs, move to a bigger city where you can get work. You’re young! Take a greyhound bus, find somewhere to stay and hit up every temp agency. If you can’t save money because you have all kinds of expenses, trim back your lifestyle. If you’re shaking your head no, “there’s no way I can give up my car” kind of thing, then that’s fine. Just realize you just picked having a certain lifestyle over travel. That’s valid, but let’s not pretend there aren’t kids out there willing to make sacrifices to make it work — travel isn’t just handed to most people (it wasn’t to me).
I will be robbed, kidnapped and killed — my mom saw it on TV!
They actually keep statistics on this and the fact is that you’re more likely to encounter violence at home than you are abroad. If you’re worried about the safety of any particular destination, check out the travel.state.gov website.
What if I run out of money?
I have heard stories of people blowing all their money in Ibiza, an island off of Spain, then getting deported back to the US. I guess if you ran out of money, you’d have to call someone back home, beg them for airfare to the states and eat a little crow. I would try to earn more than I spent everywhere I went, and if a place was too expensive, then I’d go somewhere else. If you’re running through your cash, with no job, then yes, that’s a problem. The thing is, it is much, much cheaper to live most places outside of the US. So if you haven’t traveled before, maybe you’re thinking about how much it costs to live here and worried about being able to pull in that kind of money abroad. If you were really, really broke — like robbed, no money, no family, no friends broke — what would you do in the US? You’d figure it out. You can do that abroad too.
What about when I get back, won’t I be way behind my peers?
In short, no. I would put your travel experience on your resume and since you don’t have a lot of work experience, I’d do a skills resume. This puts the focus on what you bring to the table without highlighting your lack of experience (as a traditional resume most likely would). In this way you can use those travel experiences to your benefit. The fact that you traveled around the world for a year, teaching English in South Korea or working at a vineyard in Australia, tells more about your personality and abilities than a year spent doing grunt work. In my experience, both as an employee and a hiring manager, a year of travel was never a problem, if anything it was a plus.
What if I don’t want to travel?
Then do something else! I write about travel, because… this is a travel blog. But if you want to spend your year after school chasing down some other dream, I say, absolutely go for it. Not everyone needs or wants to travel. Maybe for you, it’s not travel, but trying to become a writer or an actor in LA. Most of the same advice applies; do what it takes to make it happen and go for it.
Update: I wrote an update about this post here.