Is it possible to travel while going to school full time? Absolutely!
I’ve had the privilege of traveling my entire life. In fact, I moved across the country before I was a year old. And I grew up going on family vacations to Florida and the Caribbean. I even went to the Philippines and Korea with family friends when I was just 13.
But it wasn’t until I got to university that travel went from an annual vacation with my family to a very integral part of my life. Travel was my escape. It was my journey out of my dorm room and into the world. And I couldn’t get enough of it!
But how do you travel while going to school full time? I wasn’t about to drop out of school to travel the world (although I was tempted). I knew I needed to find a way to continue with my studies and get my degree while still satisfying my wanderlust.
So here’s how to travel while going to school full time:
Go to school somewhere new
We’ll start with an obvious one – if you want to travel while going to school, why not pick a school you have to travel to? Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. Some people have to go to local colleges or state schools for financial or other reasons. But if you’re able to leave your state/province (or even better, your country), you should absolutely take advantage of that.
I chose to go to school in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. While I didn’t leave the country, I went about as far as you can go within Canada. Toronto and Vancouver are over 3000 km away from each other. So it definitely felt like a new adventure when I decided to head to school out west.
The best way to travel while going to school is to study abroad. Studying abroad allows you to do a semester or two of your university studies at a partner school somewhere else in the world. With most programs, you actually pay the same tuition fee you would to your home school, so the new school won’t cost you any extra.
I say this is the best way to travel while going to school for a few reasons. Number one, this program is literally built for people who want to travel while studying. That’s the whole point! Number two, because it’s a school program, there are so many resources available to students. Your school will be able to help you find housing, book flights, get a visa, etc. And number three, studying abroad is a great opportunity because nothing else like it quite exists. Once you leave school, it’s very hard to head over to Europe or Asia or Australia for 6 months and study.
When I studied abroad in 2014, I ended up in Amsterdam. My first choice was actually London, but I’m so glad I got matched with Amsterdam instead. Amsterdam was an amazing city to live in and I had the best time exploring it. I made amazing friends and also had the chance to travel all over Europe.
When choosing a study abroad school, I suggest thinking of some criteria that are important to you but not necessarily having your heart set on one particular city. For me, I knew I wanted to be in a big city in Europe with great flight connections, so I could travel often. Amsterdam checked all of those boxes!
Right after my semester abroad in Amsterdam wrapped up, I accepted a summer job in Tokyo, Japan. I was in charge of chaperoning and leading a group of youth who were in Tokyo for the summer to learn Japanese. It was an awesome job! I got to explore Tokyo and also learn a bit of Japanese myself (all of which I have now forgotten).
Working abroad is a great way to travel while in school because there are lots of international job opportunities for students. My school had a number of job boards where international jobs were often posted. If you’re signed up for your school’s co-op program, this is also a great way to find jobs abroad. Like the study abroad program, many of these school programs will help you out with housing, visas, etc.
Working abroad while studying full time has one more perk – it could lead to a full time job after graduation! My friend Kaitlyn from Toronto worked abroad through her co-op program at a company in San Francisco. Upon graduation, they hired her and she is now down there living out her California dreams!
Another great way to travel while going to school is to volunteer. Universities are lousy with volunteer opportunities. There will be tons of clubs, programs and classes that would be more than happy to send you overseas to volunteer and travel while going to school.
I volunteered through an International Service Learning program at UBC. I attended classes for the month of May and then spent June, July and August working at a children’s home in Mbabane, Swaziland. This was definitely the most out of my comfort zone I have ever been. The work was very challenging and the realities of international development hit me in the face. By the end of the summer, I had made some amazing friends, learned a ton, hopefully made a bit of a difference, and gained credits for school.
Even if you don’t find a volunteer program through your school, there are many volunteer opportunities out there for young people. A word of caution: do ensure you’re volunteering with an ethical organization for the right reasons and that your volunteering is doing more good than harm. There are some cons to voluntourism so you should do your research. I’ve been on voluntourism trips in the past and really wrestle with the impact and ethics of those trips. A great resource to check out is this video.
Go to school online
One of the less talked about, but highly effective, ways to travel while going to school full time is to just take your studies on the road with you!
When I won a trip to Australia (I know, I’m still pinching myself), my schedule worked out so that I had to go on the trip during the school year. And there was no way I was flying all the way to Australia for just a long weekend. So I did some research and realized that I could go to Australia and travel while going to school online.
In order to do this, you need to be very self-motivated. No one is going to make sure you do your readings or stay up to date on assignments. You also need to be honest with yourself and recognize that you’re still in school. I chose to spend the first few weeks of my Australia trip housesitting in a small town on the Gold Coast. This gave me the opportunity to focus on my school work while still enjoying Aussie life. And it also meant I could work ahead and have more time to sightsee in Sydney.
Before you pursue this route, make sure you check in with your school. I know that UBC had a limit on the number of courses you could complete online.
Use your breaks
As a college/university student, you enjoy a lot of time off from school. There’s two weeks over Christmas and reading week in February. You might also get a fall reading break, plus long weekends over Easter and Thanksgiving. Summer break is four whole months long! And if your exams happen to fall early in the month, you might even have most of April and December off.
So take advantage of it! That’s a lot of time to go big on travel while going to school. With all of those breaks, you could potentially spend six months of the year traveling the world.
Tips on how to travel while going to school
- Take advantage of opportunities that are only available to college/university students. There are so many awesome programs and clubs at post-secondary schools that allow you to travel. You won’t have access to these after graduation so pursue them now.
- Yes, making time to travel while going to school isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but this is still a great time in your life to travel. It’s easier now to get up and go than when you get older and potentially have a full time job, a mortgage, a partner, pets, kids, etc.
- This is the best time to travel cheap! As a student you can live out of a backpack, stay in cheap hostels, take long and inexpensive buses, etc. You might not be so happy with the backpacker life when you’re 45.
- Want to enhance your travel? Take some relevant school courses! Study a language, the history of a country you love or international relations. You’ll have better context on your travels and it will help keep your wanderlust at bay if you can experience travel every time you step into the classroom.
- Look into independent study options. This wasn’t something I pursued at school but I remember reading up on it. Some upper year courses allow for students to create their own curriculum and study independently. So why not take yourself to France for the semester to study the French language?
- At the same time, don’t lose sight of your school work. If you travel while going to school, you need to remember that you are a student. Your school work is important and your academic goals shouldn’t be sacrificed in order to catch that plane to Bali.
Bottom line: if you prioritize travel, it will happen. I am constantly being told how lucky I am to be able to travel as much as I do. And absolutely, I am so lucky. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to travel. But I also work really hard to make it happen. Travel is a priority for me and it was even when I was a full time student. I wanted to travel while going to school, so I did just that.
Did you travel while going to school?
Or, if you’re still in school, do you have plans to travel?
Let me know!