Where to Go After College…Travel, Work or Volunteer?

London phone boothThere is no time like now if you’re an explorer at heart!

Where to go after college is one of the many difficult decisions you may face after graduation. Whether you attended online colleges and universities or on campus degrees, the one thing you may take for granted is that now, for the first time in your life, you are completely free!

Sure, you may have some major financial commitments and debt after college, but otherwise, you can do WHATEVER you want! You can travel, volunteer or work abroad after college – you can go WHEREVER you want! You can be WHATEVER you want!

For some reason, people have the tendency to settle for a career, get married, have kids, and then that’s it. The carefree days of doing-as-you-please are pretty much over. Anyone in their thirties, forties, or fifties will attest to that.

When I decided I was going to live abroad after college, every single adult that I spoke with told me the same thing – “Now is the time! I wish I had done it when I was your age!”

Luckily, there are a host of opportunities for college grads looking to explore the world. All you need is a will, and you can go. Don’t make any excuses. I went to London despite having accrued tens of thousands of dollars in college debt and having no real job or plan figured out. And London is one of the most expensive cities in the world!

If I, of all people, did that, then I firmly believe that anyone that wants to travel can do so. You have to have immeasurable determination and have to make some sacrifices, but if traveling is your top priority, there is nothing that can stop you. Let your spirit be your guide to life after college!

If you only want to travel, to explore, to see the world…

Begin by deciding where you want to go and how long you want to go

Be realistic. This is where the sacrifices come in! At first thought, you may want to go to Zimbabwe for a year. But transportation costs and the ability to stay for 365 days while unemployed and paying your bills at home may make this goal impossible… for now.

Put it on your to-do list for your next big adventure, and for now, focus on something a little more feasible. Perhaps a European bus tour is more within your budget? Or maybe a Caribbean holiday? Or perhaps your budget is nonexistent… perhaps a cross-country road trip with your back-seat as the hotel is your only option? Maybe you’ll decide to work abroad after college. Be flexible, be reasonable, and be adventurous. But don’t be ridiculous!

Your travel date of choice should also be carefully determined

Winter months tend to be cheaper for travel in the Northern Hemisphere. Take that into consideration if your budget is tiny and you’re planning on surviving on no income. If you literally don’t have a penny to spare on a trip, calculate a plan to earn the money and set the date accordingly.

You’ll need at least a couple hundred for the cheapest trip imaginable. If that means cutting out your weekly 12-pack-of-beer to put away ten bucks, then so be it. Factor in a nice booze budget for the trip to look forward to!

Book your transportation

The earlier you begin planning, the better your odds of finding cheap tickets. If your trip requires airfare, purchase it as early as possible. Search Google for the best sites to find deals, and price-gauge daily to find the best rates. If your trip requires buses, trains, or other modes of public transportation, be sure to research the areas you’ll be visiting. Most metropolitan public transportation opportunities have special rates and deals if you buy combo or multiple tickets.

Depending on where you want to go, most western countries allow visitors to stay for up to three months without a visa. This is a complicated and ever-changing subject, so be sure to look into specific details for the country(s) you wish to visit. If you’re short on money, you may have to go off-season for the cheapest flights.

Find a place to crash

If you don’t have the budget for hotels or resorts (like most of us) you may have to be more creative with your travel accommodations. Your first resort should be friends or family. Is there anyone at all you could call that would let you crash?

If you’re traveling overseas, you may be surprised how generous friend-of-a-friend strangers are with welcoming travelers. Ask around. If there’s no one to crash with, your next option could be to crash in hostels. Despite any recent horror films that may say otherwise, hostels are generally pretty safe and full of like-minded travelers. Avoid hostels in seedy areas or that appear to be an all-day hangout for unemployed locals… not to sound harsh, but keep your wits about you.

Only stay in hostels full of travelers like yourself, and make sure they provide a place to lockup your belongings. While hostels are a good option for city travel, they are nonexistent in rural areas. But if you’re out in the countryside, you have some even more exciting options for lodging – campgrounds! Whether you find yourself an RV park, a cheap cabin, or a patch of dirt to pitch your tent, these places are very reasonable and many provide ample amenities.

Pack lightly…

If this is a low-budget trip, chances are you may be moving around a bit and sacrificing some of the usual comforts. Why make it tougher than it has to be? Only bring what you need so you aren’t breaking your back lugging your crap around. In Europe especially, many cities are full of cobbled streets or stairs in subways or streets that make even wheeled luggage a nightmare to transport.

And don’t forget to guard your passport, wallet, camera, or any other essentials with your life! Keep these items close to your body and always use extra caution in crowded public areas where pick-pockets work their magic… never keep ANYTHING of value in your pockets.

Eat cheap

This one may be tough. Many people associate travel with fancy dinners at four-star restaurants. But with your budget, you probably can’t eat surf and turf every day. I’ve found that the best way to eat well and to eat cheap while traveling is to shop where the locals do… at the grocery store! Just stopping in the local supermarket in a place you’ve never been can be an experience in itself!

Obviously, don’t buy large quantities that will spoil or need to be transported or refrigerated. But fresh fruits, yogurts, and sandwiches are easy and cheap meals. Oh… and don’t forget the local farmer’s markets. You can find all kinds of cheap, healthy goodies here, and your body will thank you.

Street vendors are another cheap alternative, but I recommend moderation here. You wouldn’t want to spend most of your trip looking for toilets! If you can, make a point to go out to a sit-down meal at least once on your trip. Choose wisely and sample the authentic local cuisine. You shouldn’t go home without a real taste!

Have the time of your life

Be safe but be adventurous. Explore, talk to locals, take tons of pictures, and keep a journal if it moves you. Keep an open mind, as well as open eyes and ears and you will have an unforgettable time. Even if you find yourself in an unpleasant situation – say, unreliable transportation or doomed with bad weather – just remember that it’s all part of an experience that’ll change you forever.

Working and Volunteering Abroad

Again, there are more options today than ever before for graduates who want to begin their careers in a foreign country. If you really want to work abroad after college, there are scores of programs ready to help you obtain work visas, search job listings, or even match you with a job opening.

Volunteer programs abound, and they are never without the need for more helping hands. Regardless of the path you take, it’s a fantastic way to broaden your worldview before settling down and finding a place to call home. And you never know – sometimes finding a job after college happens abroad!

Everything depends on the country

Opportunities and programs vary greatly, as well as what you can expect from your experience while living there… this really goes without saying. So begin by doing some research and deciding where you want to go and what you want to do. The options are staggering, so if you begin blindly you may be overwhelmed with the choices.

I could write a book about this topic alone – but instead, here are some valuable online and print resources that will point you in the right direction. If your goal is to live, work, volunteer, find ideas on where to go after college or permanently relocate in a foreign country:

Working & Volunteering Abroad

Moving Abroad (Expatriation)

BUNAC (British Universities North America Club)
Work & Volunteer Programmes for recent college graduates and young people
Escape Artist
A monolith of resources on everything from job listings to real estate
4International Careers & Jobs
An enormous database of jobs; search by country
Transitions Abroad
Excellent articles on working, volunteering, and living overseas
Dave’s ESL Cafe
An excellent resource for those interested in teaching abroad
Just Landed
A database by country with all of the important details (healthcare, visas, currency, etc.)
Worldwide volunteering programmes
Peace Corps
Watch Peace Corps’ film short, Be a Volunteer, and learn about the unique experience and benefits of service. Be part of their mission to promote world peace and friendship.

Once the Travel Bug Bites…

Whether your trip is a week-long road trip or year-long work adventure, and whether you earn some foreign cash or come home with maxed-out credit cards… it will be worth it. Thinking about where to go after college and immersing yourself in another place and culture is a learning experience that affects your entire person, and it will last longer than any car or any piece of furniture you may purchase in your lifetime.

It’s something you’ll treasure if you’re planning on returning and  moving back home after college. It’s an investment in the life experience that your future self can only benefit from. Make the most of it and let it change you.

“Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.”
Oliver Goldsmith

Article by Raeanne Wright

Raeanne was the founder of College Aftermath and has been writing about surviving the post-college experience since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in Film and Animation. Now working successfully as a freelance web designer, she’s happy to report that the curveballs she was thrown during those first few years out of college made her stronger, smarter, and ultimately led to a much more fulfilling career path.

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