The Timing of Travel

when is the perfect time to travel in your life

Is there a perfect time in your life to travel? Is it before going to school? After graduation? Before you get that “adult” job? Once you’ve got a nest egg? Figuring out when you should plan your travel period during your lifetime comes down to knowing what you want out of life, like my two readers:
Dear Sarah Von,
I have had the HUGE case of wanderlust, and am thinking of spending this coming summer traveling. I can either travel OR go to school. Do I travel before school or after? do I even need to go to school? I’m not sure what to do. My heart tells me to forget school and go see and experience the world, but my logical head (and adult figures all around me) would have me go to school, finish my degree, and THEN go gallivanting.
Dear Sarah Von,
I am really excited to be finished with undergrad & begin the next chapter of my life. I have the standard 6 month period to wait before starting to pay off my loans. I know the rational thing to do is find a job immediately post-graduation…but I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I worked for an NGO in Bolivia this past summer & loved every minute of it. Part of me wants an experience in that vein again– I want to take off post-graduation for a little while (& I have saved funding to do so for a few months).
Should I do it? When is the best time to travel?You guys? I hear you. I totally, totally do. There’s Rarely A ‘Perfect’ Time To Do Anything

Why There Isn’t a Perfect Time to Travel in Life

Just like having kids, changing careers or dying your hair purple, there is rarely a ‘perfect’ time to travel. There will always be other things that you could be doing, other things that people in your life think are a better idea – interning, buying a house, marrying your partner, taking a temp job. But we have to make our dreams priorities if we want to make them happen, right?

And though there isn’t really a ‘perfect’ time to sell everything and backpack through India, doing it while you’re mortgage and child-free is a pretty good time. That being said, I know people who have traveled for long periods of time while they paid on house payments or school loans. I know people who have left impressive jobs and who have traveled with children. If you want to do it badly enough, you can find a way!

How to Make Travel Work – At Any Time in Life

Prepare As Best You Can

Heading out for a big adventure takes a good bit of planning, not just for the traveling bit but also for the inevitable return to ‘reality.’ I felt a lot more comfortable doing my world ticket because I knew that I’d be starting graduate school the following November. Being a deeply nerdy Virgo I even need my free-falling adventures to be a bit structured.

Make sure you have enough money for your trip. However much you think you’ll need, you probably need at least 30% more. Consider volunteering in exchange for your room and board to save a bit of money. Stay in places for a while – you’ll save a lot of money on transportation and get to know the culture much, much better.

Have a return plan in place. Even if it’s just the knowledge that you can crash with your BFF and nanny for your aunt for the Summer, it’ll make you feel a lot better to know that you have some sort of plan.

If You Think You’re Not Ready For Something, You’re Probably Right

If you suspect that you’re not ready to commit to a major or to start climbing the corporate ladder, you’re probably right. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m much more likely to think that I’m ready for something, bite off more than I can chew, choke quietly and spit it back out into my napkin than vice versa.

If something gives you The Fear, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it, right? It can be hard to differentiate between a wee case of cold feet and genuine trepidation, so sit down and have a serious think about it. When you imagine working in an office, how do you feel? When you think about listening to lectures, does that bottom of your stomach drop out?

Understand The Reality of Long-Term Travel

Traveling for months at a time is awesome. Totally life-changing, enlightening and amazing. It will also create holes in your resume, use up a lot of money, change the way you view the world and challenge a lot of relationships. I spent most 2004 – 2008 living abroad and traveling, and I’m saving money at the moment for another world ticket. I would not trade my experiences for anything – really, anything. But you should also know that I’m 30, unmarried, childless, renting and making significantly less money than other people with my qualifications. All of which I’m totally fine with! But you should realize that all of that travel? It comes with a price. Had I stayed in America and kept my nose to the societal grindstone I’m sure I’d be in a very different place in terms of finances, relationships and career.

But then I’m not really one for grindstones.

It should also be pointed out (and I’m really not being glib here) that the nomadic life is genuinely addictive, just like any other pleasurable habit. Itchy feet are real! Don’t let this dissuade you from traveling, just be aware that you might be chasing the dragon.

What do you guys think? Should these girls bite the bullet and book their tickets?

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

42 Comments

Sarah

These are some wise words!

I’d say the first person should perhaps be finishing their degree before taking off. You never quite hit the road in the same way when part of you knows you're in the middle of something, it might make for a less infinite-possibilities-embracing kind of trip. I realise it probably depends a lot on the type of degree she's doing (who knows, it may very well be practical to take time off at this particular point in time) and on the type of travelling she's looking at (something with a more or less pre set duration/schedule would seem better suited than going full Kerouac style). I know I prefer to travel knowing that anything can happen and that I don't have to come back to complete something (cos that feels more like good ol plain holidays to me) but that's only my personal take on it!

As for the second person, she should definitely take off right this very second! She can switch to loan repayment mode and hopefully making an interesting career happen once she’s back and fully energised after taking advantage of this perfect travelling go crazy and embrace the world opportunity. Go go go girl !

Oh, and I love the passport cover on the photo, so lovely…

Thank you for the links at the bottom of the post as well, I’m new to your blog and it’s some pretty cool stuff.

I could not agree more about your reality check point – and like you I've no regret whatsoever !

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Rachel

I'd say after you've finished your degree is the perfect time for long term travel. I did my big travelling bonanza pre-degree and I kind of wish I'd got the degree under my belt before I went because it just set everything back so much more AND it was really hard to settle into studying again.

Also, like you, I think the consequences of long term travel need to be noted. I think if you have grand plans for a huge career, big wedding and an army of children travelling might not work out with that!!

Go with your gut feeling I say. I have never ever regretting my wanderlust (which is ongoing!) but the life I have created for myself as a result of that wanderlust might not sit well with everyone. Personally I love it!

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Aimee Marie

I love this, "Just like having kids, changing careers or dying your hair purple, there is rarely a 'perfect' time to travel. There will always be other things that you could be doing, other things that people in your life think are a better idea – interning, buying a house, marrying your partner, taking a temp job. But we have to make our dreams priorities if we want to make them happen, right?" …It's so true & simple, & ow i'm wondering why I haven't applied this logic to my entire life. Thank you Ms. Von! x

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Julia Pearce

I have the same travel bugs as these girls so I can relate to how they feel. May I suggest maybe taking a summer and traveling instead of schooling months? And then after graduation taking a long break to travel the world and celebrate? If you can't wait that long, set aside money for school and DON'T tap into so you'll have the money for it when you get back. You could always try to get scholarships and grants as well which will leave you with more traveling money? Just take Sarah's advice and think it about it for a little while. The answer will come to you.

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Kate @ Très Lola

There's Rarely A 'Perfect' Time To Do Anything, SO true! But preparation is also so very key. My sister is flying out to Thailand in 3 sleeps, she is having a stress ball of a week because she's still yet to obtain travel insurance, book any accommodation, figure out a rough plan, so it's travel prep cram central in her corner of the world. I think being unplanned to a certain extent is a bit of a joy, but you need need to get the basics sorted. Have your emergency plans there and figure out where you'll be lying your head on your first night in the country.

So where is next for you on the upcoming world trip?

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Erin

I'm so all about intuition. If you know and feel in your heart that something is right or wrong for you—and I'm talking brutal honesty—to me, the decision either way is made. Go with your gut!

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~Kristina

DO IT! If you have the abilities to go now, then go. Otherwise, life will get in the way. Other things will become more important or more urgent or just more but they are unlikely to be more desired or wanted than the urge to travel. Go now.
I yearned to return to Italy when I turned 18. Life happened. I let other things happen. It is 10 years later and I am still yearning to return.

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The Maiden Metallurgist

If you have the means, the time and the opportunity to do it- do it. You'll never regret things you try- if it sucks, come home and get a job. But you'll long regret the things you don't.

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Vanessa

I'm urging the first person to finish her degree first. The fact is nowadays that it's hard to get many jobs if you don't have a MASTERS, let alone with no Bachelors. It might sound great to quit college and go traveling, but like you said, Sarah, long periods of travel are hard on your resume as it is. If you don't finish school, you're left with no degree and a period of little to no work experience. I've also heard plenty of statistics on "going back to school eventually," and it seems that in a lot of cases, people plan to go back and never do. Just finish it up and get it over with, I'd say.

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Catherine

I agree with Vanessa about finishing your degree. If you're not sure what you want to do with it, then go to a liberal arts school and become well versed in critical thinking, which will serve you well in any career. Just do it now.

Otherwise, Sarah is right about "no perfect time." I would also add, don't let fear rule any decisions. I'm 35, divorced, childless, in a career that strains my very being…a career I started b/c I had student loans and didn't get that fellowship I went for. I know now that taking a step back and a deep breath probably would have been a wise step – and travel just might be that deep breath for you to help you chart your post-undergrad course.

Good luck! Be safe! Have fun!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Kate: My (current) plan is to stay in Minnesota through September – I love Summer here, I've got a good friend's wedding to go to and I can save a nice chunk of money. Then I'm thinking of teaching in India, maybe the Mt. Everest base-camp hike, a month or two visiting friends in Southeast asia, maybe volunteer in Cambodia, then New Zealand for a month and settle down for a few years in Oz.

At least that's my plan right now. It could change next week! 🙂

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LoganTodd

To the first girl I would say, go to school. Sorry. But one of the things I did in college was go a bunch of study abroad trips. This way you are earning school credit & travelling the world all at the same time. I even met my husband on one trip!

To the second girl: GO! GO! GO! I have children now and have no regrets because of all the travelling I did before I was married and had kids! The memories will be so worth it…you have your whole life to pay on student loans.

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mnvang

I'm not really sure what kind of advice to give the writers. But I completely understand the "itchy feet" impulse! I didn't know there was such a term, nor did I know there was such a thing as round the world travel!! I'm afraid, I've just been put right in the spot of the writers 😀

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Alison

For the second person, please keep in mind that if you are working abroad, e.g. teaching English or the like, it can be possible to defer your student loans based on low income hardship. This is what I did while I was teaching in Russia. So don't let student loans stop you from traveling.

Also, traveling and working abroad can, in many instances, enhance your resume. You learn a myriad valuable life/work skills by living in a foreign country.

My experience abroad translated into a job in international education in a top US university. I'm still working my way up, but my boss and some higher-up coworkers get paid to travel all over the world: Morocco, China, Egypt, South Africa.

Another option may be to attend a foreign university. Many European cities offer degree programs in English and they are much cheaper than the US or even free (to foreigners as well). I have been looking at master's degree programs in Scandinavia.

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colleen e

Saying I am in exactly the same boat is a complete understatement. I actually tried planning a trip this summer, only to realize I'm really just not ready (financially or emotionally) yet, despite my growing desire to see the world. After talking to A LOT of people, and doing a lot of the famed 'soul searching' to evaluate my goals, I've made a plan though. I'm halfway through my second year as a pre-law undergrad. However, due to the mass amounts of courses I've taken I'll be graduating one semester early. I've decided that I'm going to take the LSATs next year and apply to law schools the traditional way, but then defer my acceptance for a year. I'm going to attempt to intern/work on the side in the spring of what would have been my senior year (I will have graduated in the fall) to save money, then spend 6 months abroad. Then I'll come home and spend a few months living with my parents (a necessary evil) and working to build up my resume some and pay off expenses. Then off to law school, to continue on the linear lifeline until the bug bites me again to hit up the other side of the world.

Until then, I covered a big piece of posterboard with pictures and quotes and plans for what I want to go, kind of to inspire me. I framed it (to make it appear less 2nd grade like) and hung it right across from my bed, so it's the first and last thing I see every day. I put a quarter of every small paycheck I make into savings for the future travel fund, and I just continue to plan away.

I cant explain how afraid I am to get stuck in the rut of living life on a single line- undergrad, law school, work, family, work work work. Knowing I'll be jumping the boat soon, and I'll have the means to really do it, is the most comforting thing ever.

OHHAI LONGEST COMMENT EVER.
my bad.

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Mishabelle

Hm, these are definitely things to think about! I really hope I can work it out so I can go to university in a different country, so I can study and adventure at the same time. I have a feeling that if I waited until I was done my university degree to start traveling, I would end up postponing it until I had a steady job, then until I finished paying all my loans off, and then I would probably have a house and more responsibilities and it would be that much harder to get gone! Maybe transferring your studies to a different country would be a good way to do both!? 🙂

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Sarah

Colleen your comment was *so* inspiring ! Way to go girl, what a great great plan !
Sounds like you'll be in a position to say that you're solid at brainstorming, project design, timeline management and organisation on that shiny resume of yours !
All the best with your application, travel fund and cheers to dreaming big 🙂

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Anonymous

I also think the first person should really finish their degree first. I'm only 22 years old and have taken multiple semesters off of school to travel and do other things but it kind of brings me down when I look at facebook and such and see my classmates, and people younger than me talking about looking for grad schools when I still have pre-reqs to take.
Also, if you do go to school, don't stop half-way or else student loans may come back and bite you in the butt!
I'd try doing some traveling during the summer maybe, if you aren't taking summer classes. OR, do take summer classes and get school over with faster!

As silly as it sounds, I regret not finishing college straight out of high school, and I swoooore I'd never say that! But I do.

Best of luck to both of you!!!

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Geri

Why not do both? Go to school and spend the holidays volunteering, or exploring a corner of the world. 2 months backpacking is nice to start off with, less daunting than a couple of years. Plus, many universities have lots of volunteer programs – I spent time volunteering in Honduras and Guatamala during my summer breaks – and you might even make new best friends to travel with when your done with school.

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Sunny

Not related but I wasn't sure where to put it, the "horned melon thing" on your list, a Kiwano is DELICIOUS. I'd almost describe it as a real cucmber-melon taste! I highly recommend it, its one of my favorites and I'm excited to see someone wanting to try it!

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Barb

For person 2 — Go. You're ready.
For person 1 — Sounds like some "what next" thought needs to occur before taking off to see the world.
Summer travel is fine, but don't defer education without a plan. Yes, you will need more schooling whether it be college or a trade school to get the good job at some point. (Remember those computer programmers hired out of college who didn't get around to finishing their degree – guess who got laid off first? What your major was won't be important at that point. If you don't want to feel locked into a career path, it is possible to get a degree in general liberal arts).

The best of both worlds: study abroad programs. You see the world, continue your studies, and qualify for extra financial aid if needed. Talk to your school's study abroad office. If you know where you want to go, but your school doesn't have a partnership there, they can hook you up with a university that does (earned credits transfer in via university B). You can even do an exchange within the US — my university has a program that lets students spend a year studying in California with guarantee of credits transferring when student returns to Minnesota.

A biggie that I haven't seen mentioned yet–retaining student status to remain on parent's health insurance until age 25. If you take too much time off, you're on your own for insurance.

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wanderlust.

to the first: finish your degree. it can seem like a pointless exercise that simply measures your ability to successfully jump through hoops, but it's a necessary evil; as a commmenter above said, you basically need your master's to be taken seriously these days; at least with your bachelor's you'll be on your way. to the second: GO ABROAD!
i graduated in may 2009 after four years (an "on time" graduation which sometimes seemed doubtful, since i transferred schools, studied abroad, and didn't declare a major–the vague "english" degree–until senior year) with no idea what to do. i moved to lyon, france, at the end of august, and have been working as "jeune fille au pair" for the cutest and nicest family for the past four months. though i don't make a lot of money, this was a good compromise for me since my first inclination was just to up and go somewhere, indefinitely… and forever? here, i've been traveling on the weekends, contemplating life, and "taking a breath." maybe this could be a good option for you, too?! granted, "nanny" is not the most intellectually stimulating job, but the hilarity that ensues when taking care of children, and the irreplaceable value of regaining one's ability to see life through a child's eyes, plus the renewed faith in humanity i have experienced since living with this, the nicest and most welcoming of families, are some things that i feel cannot be negated.
and FINALLY (do i win "longest post ever" award yet?!), i had some american friends visit me in france this past week. their reactions and fears to living abroad only confirmed my decision to move here, alone, and make it work. i didn't realize the courage it takes to step outside of the american comfort zone, and not to pat myself on the back too much, it's something i am proud to say i have done!
ONE more thing, to letter-writer-number-one: have you looked into speeding up your graduation process? if you have the luxury of not having to work while you're at school (or even if you are!), you can petition to overload your classes + take requirements at community colleges (online even!) that transfer over! my final senior semester, i took 25 units (where "normal" = 12). yes and yes and done and done!

GOOD LUCK TO YOU BOTH!

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wanderlust.

oh, p.s. this post marks the first time i am (creepily) coming out of the "anon" zone… thus, it's probably best to say again what i have said before, creepily and anonymously: love your blog! you rock at life! teach me how?!

p.p.s. is the nonprofit you work for operating exclusively in minnesota?

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The Revolutionary

I absolutely agree. There's rarely a 'perfect' time to travel, just as there's rarely a 'perfect' time to eat. If you feel the urge – then satisfy the urge.

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Sarah Von Bargen

You guys! I love all these great responses – so insightful and kind!

wanderlust: yes, the non-profit I work for is just in Minnesota, but there are others like it (serving refugee communities) in every state. 🙂

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Tegan

I wish I could provide insight, but its such a struggle. Building a life, connections, and dependence in an area for 20+ years is hard to leave behind, even if temporary. I think its always worth it to leave and have the experience, but getting there is a journey itself.

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Angelica

Sarah,
your blog is a breath of fresh air-i love it! I would tell these girls to bite the bullet and travel. I, myself, have become stuck in a unsatisfying job for nearly two years post college and only recently have i made the decision to change my life for the better. I'm starting with a 3 week volunteer program in South Africa in March!

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jess

Fab post, I could not agree with you more. I'm thinking these girls should bite the bullet because of this one reason:

You never know what the future holds and you may never have this chance again! Take advantage of the opportunity while it is there!

(this comment comes from a single soon to be 26/o who, along with her cat, is moving back home to save money. but I do make it to at least one new country a year!)

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Ms.Green

For person 1: Why not try a study abroad experience while at university? There are many great programs that help you experience the world AND gain college credit. Semester at Sea is just one of many options that I would recommend. Plus, you can use your student loan monies to pay for the trip (if you are eligible).

For person 2: Have you ever considered the Peace Corps? It is a commitment for sure, but the rewards far outweigh the risks (in my opinion). Plus, during the time you are in the corps, you don't have to pay on your student loans because you are doing service work. It's a way for you to contribute to the world and travel at the same time!

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Ms.Green

P.S. This is my first time posting and I would like to say that I love your blog! It's nice to see someone that is close to my age who is interested in following their own path and enjoying life without following the masses toward a "normal" life (not that there is anything wrong with that)!

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Kristie Lynne

I say go for it. Both of them. How often does your life line up like this? Grad school will still be there. Other jobs will still be there, but if you jump into either of those things, there's a good chance the travelling will never happen. Just go for it.

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nifer

I've had a slight "itch" to "see the world" since I graduated from high school. I was one of those people who knew I wasn't ready for college, but was pushed toward the grindstone anyway. Then, studying got in the way, family got in the way, money got in the way. I graduated and I traveled a little, but never the big "world ticket." Now I own a house and am in a serious relationship with a career path. But, I've never seen the world, and I probably never will the way I want to.

So, I say bite the bullet, if as Sarah says you feel it's right for you. Don't believe what they tell you: you can go back to school and you can find a job. It may be harder, you may be on a slower curve, as Sarah caveated, but you can do it.

Follow your dreams! Live the life you've imagined!

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Aury

I totally agree with you Sarah. There really is never a perfect time but I feel like person 1 is less ready than person 2 because she is in the middle of school right now and would have her mind half on the trip and half in school. She should try study and summer abroads if she really wants to travel now.

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elaine

Person #1, have you started university? If not and you're straight out of high school, why not consider a gap year? This is what I did, as I just wasn't prepared to commit to the next three or four years of my life studying without satisfying my long-held wanderlust at least a little. Gap years are very common here in Australia but I get the impression that they are less so in the US? Maybe even a little frowned-upon? But honestly, once you have that desire to travel it's not going to just disappear! I couldn't imagine spending an entire degree without fulfilling my travel plans, I'd just be waiting for it to be over! I also feel like this way you can have a little more experience of the world and knowledge to contribute to your degree, which can really help. And if you give yourself a set time-frame, where you know you will start uni in the 2011 school year for example, you will still get that all-important education. There's no way I would have done it any other way, even though I'm a teensy bit older than most in my degree. (Just for background's sake, I had one year of travel before uni and have one semester left of my bachelor's degree, which I'll graduate from at 23 as opposed to the usual 21)

Good luck with whatever you decide!

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RazorCandy

Elaine

I was thinking that for Person One as well. I'm in Canada and I know Gap Years are a little less common here than in Oz and Europe, and I assume they're maybe even a bit less common in the States.

I took a gap year right out of high school – I worked for a few months and then backpacked around Europe for three months. My parents and everyone around my were horrified and fully convinced that I would never go to university if I took that time off, but I am 100 percent glad I did it. I was not ready, psychologically, to jump into university straight out of high school and the experiences I had travelling broadened my mind in huge ways that you could never experience in a lecture hall.
I'm finishing my undergrad at 22 instead of 21, but I'm completely OK with that. Life's too short!

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Hazel

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Mindy McAdams

I teach at a university, and I think it's hard for a lot of people to return and finish a bachelor's degree when all the other students are younger than they.

That said, as soon as the bachelor's degree is under your belt, then GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE and see the world! It's really the best time, because we only acquire more and more stakes to pin us down as the years go by.

One exception is for people who are doing really badly at university. Maybe you're just not ready yet — then for you, perhaps travel will season you and make you better equipped to finish your education later on.

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