If You Want Wisdom, Ditch College and Travel Instead

Outdoor students facing their fears and pushing their limits in the Himalayas.
Outdoor students facing their fears and pushing their limits in the Himalayas.

I maybe a hypocrite in saying what I’m about to say because I have four degrees under my belt and owe thousands of dollars in student loans. And maybe I’m just bitter as I write this because after over a decade of working at my decent paying career, I’m still significantly in debt. It almost feels as if the debt will erase me and not the other way around.

Going to college and more so obtaining your graduate degree are both appealing on paper. But, in reality, why is it that when you get into the career that you thought you chose, the longing for freedom suddenly taps you on the shoulder? With a heavy heart, you trudge on with your 9 to 5 job believing that by doing so, you will erase the feeling of being tricked to thinking you made the right decision.

In my case, despite the traditional stable career, I have managed to travel to far flung places and have at least over 50 passport stamps accumulated over the years. The travel experience only made me realize more and more that the source of meaning in life doesn’t depend on the status or money or power that we gain.

It’s the experience. The people. And the unique stories we end up telling as we sit in our favorite rocking chair during our golden years.

So, the conundrum goes like this:

A stable career gives you no time to pursue those endeavors that feed your soul. But traveling as a lifestyle would require money.

If I am able to choose as my younger self, I would have skipped college completely. I would have spent more time traveling in my younger years as a way to learn to thrive on my own. I would have read books of my own choosing and immersed myself in their content delightfully. I would have thoroughly taken advantage of the interactions with others as the platform for gathering data on life’s purpose. Any challenges along the way would have been the tests needed to evaluate my strengths and areas of improvement.

Being in college is a forced experience in many ways. The lack of freedom to think what we want and express how we think in our own unique ways cripples the process towards us being self-made individuals. The classes you take are taken because you need to in order to get that darn degree that society expects you to have so you can become this or that.

Being in college lacks freedom — the kind that you have when you travel as you learn. That, in and of itself, is reason to question society’s constant pressure for young people to attend such institution.

Think about it. How much freedom did you really have to think as an individual when you were in college? The experience is filled with social norms that every aspiring college graduate is certainly expected to follow. Not to mention you are constantly being observed, evaluated and graded. Where is the freedom in that which would allow you to think freely the way you choose? God forbid you sit in a chemistry or calculus class, your answers better be right. There’s no room for errors. If you don’t give the answers as noted on the professor’s answer key, then you fail. And then you have to repeat the class all over again while you see your colleagues advance to the next level. The whole experience just crushes your ego and leaves you constantly comparing yourself to others — a habit that you will carryover to your future career.

Meanwhile, in the world of traveling, there’s no such thing as failing. There’s only the different paths you can take. And, if ever you make a choice that happens to be in disagreement with your desires and goals, then the world allows you to backtrack and redo things but without being graded or chastised by the outside world.

You become your own teacher, mentor and coach all at the same time.

Definitely, there’s freedom in that process. In it lies the beauty of making mistakes and yet learning from them without the self-imposed feelings of shame, embarrassment, insecurity or guilt. There are no fellow students to compare yourself with. No one is judging you, but yourself.

Lessons on the road teach you to be your own critic which lends itself to the lesson of your daily life or YOUR ENTIRE LIFE for that matter: i.e., SELF-LOVE.

Being a student on the road quickly teaches us to be more in tune with ourselves and build a healthy sense of competition with ourselves, and not others.

In contrast, classrooms render us to focus more on the external comparisons- our fellow students, that A+ student next to us or that athlete who seems to be guaranteed a college degree because of his star status. Not to mention your parents who check up on you every now and then. If they’re paying for your tuition, then that’s added guilt on your part. And what about the elephant in the room which you’ll carry with you for decades? Student loans.

Before you can even secure your very first job as a doctor or a lawyer, you have already reached a six-figure debt, not salary. Can you honestly think of a worse way of starting your career fresh from graduating? I can’t. Even now, I’m still in debt because I happen to have chosen to become a lawyer. Go figure!

Yeah, I know. I shouldn’t complain. I have the status. I have the six digit figure of a salary. But then if I deduct the student loan debt and the daily expenses, something tells me a world nomad who’s been on the road all this time maybe financially wealthier than me, in addition to being abundantly filled with life experiences.

That thought alone makes me insanely jealous. Maybe I’m just realizing I was meant to be a traveler. Yet, majority of the time, I’m now only a dreamer behind my desk.

The fact in my case is I missed out on being a student on the road and the freedom of learning that comes with it. I’m smart alright. And I earned my degrees, no doubt. But I could be wiser and wealthier in many ways by now, if only I chose to hit the road then. Now, as a typical 9 to 5-er, I struggle to fit in traveling in my schedule knowing the lessons are not the same had I hit the road in my younger years.

So, learn from my biggest lesson: Don’t hesitate to travel for a while and enjoy the unique teachings of the world. Gain wisdom now, and you’ll then realize the degree can wait if you desire to pursue it later on. Don’t worry. You’ll be wise enough then to know it’s never too late to start over.

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Brown Gal Trekker is a nomad at heart who survives the mountains to inspire others to trek them.