• meme drop out of school to travel

Does Choosing To Journey Mean Wasting Your College Degree?

I love getting emails from people who want to quit their jobs and travel the world. They always ask me how to do it. But, sadly, there is no trick; you actually just have to quit and go for it. In the back of most people’s minds is what about money? What if I need to come home and can’t find a job? Am I wasting the degree I earned? Do you feel like you’ll be wasting your college degree? These are very valid and you should be sure that you’re ready to “leave it all behind” before you choose to run off for a couple years or even more.

Personally, the only way I feel I am “wasting” my degree is by not advancing it. I sometimes have mixed feelings about the path I chose in college, but had I stayed with a major I enjoyed, I wouldn’t be traveling the world (because of fate and all that).

college degree, travel, wasting college degree

Nursing was definitely not for me but because I did have scholarship help it wasn’t as tragic to quit my short-lived career. It’s still a big deal, but unlike some of my friends I’m not 80,000 dollars in debt. American University can be beyond expensive.

I almost wrote to you all it was a difficult decision, because I get so many e-mails from people struggling with the decision, but I have to be honest… for me it wasn’t difficult to leave the states and my career. I understand when people tell me they worked hard for four years, have debt to pay back, and they just feel like they can’t walk away from their chosen path… even if they hate it. I find it heartbreaking.

college degree, travel, wasting college degreemy coworkers at Carolina Medical Center

In my (probably naïve) opinion, we should all wake up each day enjoying where we are and what we are doing. I have friends at home that LOVE their jobs and I’m so happy for them; I wish I had found that in college. I knew years ago that travel was going to always be a big part of my life.

I wanted to be a spy… seriously. I was an international studies major at first, studying Arabic, African studies, Spanish, anything I thought would help. I was hoping that someone from the CIA would walk in the classroom asking me to go collect Intel in Saudi Arabia or something. I switched to nursing because I do have some practical bones in my body. In a way that’s why I am where I am today: I disliked nursing so much it was easy to quit my job. Now I’m writing this blog, which I have been warned will take a year to make any money, attempting to get clients for massage, and I’m trying to live off my very small savings account… but I am enjoying every minute of it.

college degree, travel, wasting college degreeCharlotte, NC skyline. A city a loved.. but a job I didn’t

Do it.

If you really don’t enjoy your job, you want to change things up, or have always desired to travel: do it! If you’re old, travel before your joints start aching, your hearing goes, and you get all grumpy. If you’re young, travel before you get old. Maybe you’ll end up on a completely different career path after, maybe you’ll fall in love and never come home… or maybe you’ll come back and pick up right where you left off. No way is better than the other!

wasting degree to travel

Is it ok that I tried to make Dixie Chick lyrics serious?

Bottom line (aka summary because I am rambling a little bit)

If you have a degree in your back pocket that cost a fortune you won’t use again…and you are unhappy… you have to move on. Stop worrying about the money or what other people will think. Life is too short. I’m already a third of the way through mine, assuming I make it to at least 70.

I have met MANY travelers that use online payment each month to pay off their school loans. I know it’s easier said that done, and I haven’t had to do it, but most Americans I meet traveling are paying their loans online, as well as many popular travel bloggers.  You need to have money saved in order to start traveling, but it’s easy to save if you put your mind to it. Putting you mind to it is the key. If you find it hard to save up, maybe your first priority actually isn’t travel. You are going to have to calm your parents down when they freak out on you. If they paid for your schooling or helped you out, that can be a difficult conversation to have, trust me. My tuition and books were paid for with a scholarship at OSU, but my parents paid for all my bits and pieces like food and rent which really adds up over four years. Since I was working full time and had my parents help with expenses, I saved enough to go on three big backpacking trips abroad before grauation- I bet my parents are regretting that now! Sorry mom and dad.

It’s easy to walk into your boss’s office and say “I quit” but you have to understand what you’re doing. You are taking a risk that may end up with your broke-ass sleeping at your parent’s house in a year or two. Even I had a plan so that my degree wouldn’t “die”.

alice in wonderland

I wanted to travel right out of nursing school, but instead I did the responsible thing and worked a year to build a resume before I took off, which is what I recommend most people who e-mail me asking for advice on traveling after graduation. I got certifications on the side. After 3 months in India when I knew I wanted to live here, I went home and did a 3-month travel assignment in Seattle to save up and add more to my resume before shifting to India permanently.

college degree, travel, wasting college degree

I accept the fact I may not get to live this life forever. But man do I want to! Just in case, I keep my nursing license active so I have a back up plan. In the medical field, it’s hard to walk away for extended periods of time, as we lose critical skills, but with other jobs it can be easier. I don’t have the option to work as a nurse where I am now, but I would be killing it if I were into web developing, IT, hospitality, or had any kind of business degree in India.

You don’t even have to go far; maybe you want to move cities, states, or to a nearby country. Within your current job, maybe there are options to move abroad to a different branch. With travel nursing I could move every 6 weeks if I wanted to. Work visas are available in Australia and NZ for random work like secretaries and mechanics. You can even go there and get paid a ton of money to pick tomatoes!

Since I’ve quit my job as a nurse, I have become a Thai yoga masseuse and a blogger. I never in a million years saw either of those happening. I mean, I could see being a spy happening pretty vividly… but not this.

college degree, travel, wasting college degree

I have almost bought (as in rented because you can’t actually buy land here)  two restaurants and a guesthouse with my boyfriend- still waiting on the perfect property- and have been asked to help start a taxi company, manage a restaurant, collaborate with a yoga studio, and start a daycare. I do have volunteer opportunities at local hospitals and orphanages, which I have yet to take because to be honest I’m a bit too wrapped up in other things. Point being, opportunities arise when you let them. Opportunities are everywhere! and now for my favorite quote that I’ve put up in another post:

college degree, travel, wasting college degree

 

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2016-10-13T10:11:46+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

43 Comments

  1. Alex @ ifs ands & butts February 28, 2014 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I sometimes feel like I am wasting my degree. I didn’t year once as I had plans to go back to “normalcy” after a year, yet here I still am working at an Irish Pub. I know that I am happy though and that my degree is not a waste as it still is a big tool when (if) I do decide on “normalcy”. Sounds like you have TONS of exciting opportunities ahead!

    • Rachel Jones February 28, 2014 at 10:56 am - Reply

      I think it depends on what type of degree you get in school. It’s great that yours will hold out over time. It’s a shame nursing doesn’t work that way.

      As for the exciting opportunities, I should clarify better- most of them were missed opportunites! Well, not so much missed as we passed them up because they didn’t seem right.

      I just want people to see that more opportunities will come along!

  2. Danielle February 28, 2014 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Love this! I’m quitting my full time job of 3 years and moving to Spain in September. I agree with you on building up your resume before you leave. I feel like I won’t have to stress finding a job when (or if) I come back to the states.

    • Rachel Jones February 28, 2014 at 10:58 am - Reply

      Exactly. It’s great to take chances, but if you’ve taken four years to get a degree you should do a little something to not completely lose it.

  3. mon ika February 28, 2014 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Well said (again) :-) Regards

  4. Ben February 28, 2014 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Very inspiring, everyone should try at least once what is the worst that can happen!

  5. Courtney February 28, 2014 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Oh man, I’m seriously obsessed with this post! I’ve been reading your blog for about a month now, and it’s so inspiring to me. I’m also from a small town in Ohio, and I just graduated from college, so this is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

    I sometimes look back on my degree and think that I should have studied something more practical. But then I remember the great experiences I had and how much I learned from being a student and feel like the process of gaining that higher education was way more beneficial than the knowledge I actually learned. If that makes sense. So it’s not “wasting” the degree because even if I don’t use that specific knowledge ever again, I became a better person just through studying what I didn’t know. (Or at least that’s how I’m justifying it to myself haha)

    In that same way, I feel like traveling and seeing these places that I don’t know, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, is also what’s going to make me a better person. When you talk about not being able to sit still and just itching to get traveling again, I know exactly the feeling! That helps so much, just to know I’m not the only one, and to know that even though others might not understand, it’s something I just have to take the chance and do. So, this is a roundabout way of saying thanks for all that you post!

    • Rachel Jones February 28, 2014 at 10:55 am - Reply

      I’m so glad that this resonates with you! Another example of someone from a small town getting out to explore!

  6. Heather February 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    “Wasting” your degree is all relative. I worked in Marketing for 10 years (with a Marketing degree), and during that time I came across people with degrees in Philosophy, English, Political Science and Journalism who had never worked a day in their prescribed field. Sometimes you just fall into a new career path, or maybe you graduate and realize you don’t like your field or can’t find work in it. One guy I worked with had advanced degrees in Law, Engineering and Business. He just kept trying things out until he found the path he liked best. Another friend majored in French and then moved to Japan to teach English. Most people are so much more than their college degrees!

    • Rachel Jones March 1, 2014 at 11:58 am - Reply

      I agree. I think majors that aren’t as specific can be a good idea as well because at least the knowledge learned can cross over. Sadly, my nursing degree doesn’t help me much now- but maybe in the future I’ll see it’s benefit!

  7. SOLTATIO February 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I remember a conversation with a friend of mine before I packed up to teach in Asia. He told me I was crazy to leave my job as a corporate lawyer to work for pennies. I went anyway cause I was unhappy in my job and since then I traveled around Asia, met the love of my life, married and moved to Canada. Never saw that happening! And now I am in a job where I teach lawyers and it is awesome! I still use my legal degree as a foundation, but not in the type of job that made me miserable. Great article.

    • Rachel Jones March 1, 2014 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Wow! Congrats, I am so happy that your choice to go abroad changed your life so much for the better.

  8. Emily February 28, 2014 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    I think that if you have a degree under your belt but you just aren’t motivated with the work you are doing and you are seriously considering travel, that you should go with that travel dream. I have met no one who has done that (whether it be a few months, a year or longer) that has regretted it. Instead, it seems they get way more clarity on what they can do (either with their old degree or how to move forward in the working world).

  9. Katharina @ 100 Miles Highway March 1, 2014 at 4:02 am - Reply

    I love this post and couldn’t agree more. I studied business and have a master in finance. After 3 years in finance, I switched to a creative communications agency where my clients are bankers. What I do now is totally different from what I used to do – but I don’t see it at all as a wasted degree. I understand my clients as I used to be one of them ;)

    • Rachel Jones March 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      That’s great! I’m glad you found what works for you.

  10. Alison March 1, 2014 at 6:43 am - Reply

    Rachel, did you mean Carolinas Medical Center (instead of Charlotte Medical Center)? If so, it’s such a small world! I was a clinical dietitian at CMC for 3 years before Brian and I decided to quick our jobs and travel for a year. I completely agree with you that a career in the healthcare field requires you to stay up-to-date on the latest research in your field even if you are traveling. Enjoyed the post – keep up the great work!

    • Rachel Jones March 1, 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      LOL wow I worked there a year and can’t even remember the name correctly- I’m going to fix that, thanks! I did mean Carolinas and it is a small world! It’s hard to stay up to date when I don’t know if I’ll return to healthcare, but sometimes I think it’s good to have a nursing background just in case of emergencies abroad.

  11. Stef March 1, 2014 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I totally agree with you. I just published a similar post as I quit my job last week in order to finally follow my travel heart (see link below). I’ve worked there for two years in total and will now go abroad to do the things I’ve always wanted to give a try. And in my opinion making these experiences is much more valuable than money. Ok, it’s annoying you paid so much money for your studies and now you’re not using it. But what’s better: living in a cubicle, doing a job you don’t like just to pay off your debts and because you learned it and being all unhappy about it? or Leaving it behind saying I do a new start and try to figure out what really makes me happy? I guess the answer is easy. Life is a process and everyone wants to be happy. So find your own way whatever it is. I love the opportunities you got along the way Rachel. I wish you all the best for the future and in my opinion you totally did the right thing!

    • Rachel Jones March 1, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      I’ll check out your post now :) You’re right it’s not a hard question to answer, but it is hard to follow through for some people! Thanks for your well wishes!

  12. Shalu Sharma March 2, 2014 at 4:22 am - Reply

    No not at all, its not wasting your degree.Its following your dreams and what you want in life. If don’t travel and enjoy then it will be a waste of desires and life. So you are in the right direction.

    • Rachel Jones March 2, 2014 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Thanks for your opinion! Hopefully it helps other people to follow their dreams too.

  13. Rob March 1, 2014 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    I hear the same things from my family and friends. But for now I’ve decided to put off school (2 years left) and travel on my summer break. Who knows, it might end up being longer than a summer :)

    • Rachel Jones March 2, 2014 at 2:31 am - Reply

      That’s very brave, I don’t think I could’ve put off school- but I didn’t really get the “move abroad” bug until I’d been traveling a couple years on and off.

  14. J in Beijing March 2, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Really interesting post Rachel! After spending a couple of years travelling/working abroad, we moved to London where my husband got a Masters and I got a Post Graduate qualification. This then led to new opportunities for us to continue working abroad. So further study can also sometimes be the answer. We now get to live abroad again and earn much better money than we did before. My post grad qualification was kind of a natural progression but my husband has a completely different career than he thought when he originally studied for his undergrad degree in the US! I do think that, as a Brit, I am lucky because our student loan repayments are usually a lot smaller and are linked to our income. No job= no repayment (although you do get interest of course). I understand it’s a bit different in the USA and university education is also more expensive (although it’s gone up a lot in the UK now too).

    • Rachel Jones March 2, 2014 at 2:32 am - Reply

      It all worked out for you- my boyfriend is British and has mentioned that the schooling fees really have gone up- not to mention a lot of kids in the UK have to pay to go to private school when they are little and most people I know in the U.S. got a great public education the first 12 years.

  15. J in Beijing March 2, 2014 at 3:35 am - Reply

    Yeah, I really like the US public school system. I definitely want our future child to be educated there rather than the UK. I guess it depends which state/city you live in but, from what Justin has told me, you get a lot more chances for sports, languages etc in state schools in the US than the UK. I love his stories of school sports. We don’t place so much importance on it in England. My school certainly didn’t have a huge football stadium and all this kind of stuff. I also like how you guys have to study all subjects up to 18 (we can drop a bunch at 16) and how you have to get certain maths/language etc credits when you are at university. And I think it’s great how you guys do majors/minors and study a wider range of things. Haha this comment has now turned into an I love the American school system paragraph! woops :-)

    • Rachel Jones March 2, 2014 at 10:48 am - Reply

      lol, I’m going to have my boyfriend reads this because he always makes fun of the U.S. schooling system! He’s like I’d rather pay a fortune for school than let my kids study in the U.S. I think it must have something to do with my extreme failure to understand science and space lol

  16. Roam Wild March 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Rachel,

    This post was fabulous. I’m in the process of deciding whether or not to travel for the year (I know, I know, it’s less of a decision and more of a when will I buy the plane ticket). I appreciate you sharing your story. Something you mentioned really resonated with me – the fact that you likely can come right back to where you were (it may take some work, but home/jobs or jobs like yours, and your family and friends aren’t going anywhere). While I can totally understand how hating your job made your decision a little easier, how did you deal with leaving the people in your life? It sounds like you’re pretty close with your family and have a solid group of friends who seem to visit you quite often! I’m hesitant to leave my friends, family, and boyfriend.

    Anyways, I wrote a piece inspired by your hippie in heels travels called “Budget or Bougie?”. I’d love for you to check it out!

    • Rachel Jones March 3, 2014 at 5:48 am - Reply

      That is the worst part-leaving friends, family, and my family dog. I’m going home in May for the first time in a year and am so excited! I know it will be really hard to leave once I’m back. I read your post and I think it’s a great idea to fly back for events, etc. If I had the budget to do that I would too!

      • Roam Wild March 3, 2014 at 9:04 pm - Reply

        Thanks for reading! I’m definitely planning to do some travel hacking miles-style for those flights…

  17. Katie @ Nonbillable Hours March 5, 2014 at 9:28 am - Reply

    This is so accurate! So many people (us included, at least for a while) feel like they have invested so much in acquiring a degree (particularly a graduate degree) that they are tethered to it for the rest of their lives. It’s really freeing once you realize that, while the cost of your education may be a sunk cost, you don’t have to keep throwing good money/hours after bad. You get one life, and it seems so sad to spend your days doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

    • Rachel Jones March 5, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

      I can’t even imagine making the decision with a graduate degree. I feel confident that I would still choose the path I’m on but it would be much harder.

  18. Diana March 5, 2014 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Such a great post, so much inspiration and truth! I whole-heartedly agree with you on so many levels. Being able to be happy in your career/job/life path is something that so many people just don’t understand. We are taught to graduate high school, go to college, get a career, get married, have kids…it’s an endless list of what society ‘expects’ from us. Having the ability to get out of the mold and live a life that makes you happy is so hard, but so rewarding if you have the courage to do it. I love hearing from other people who love their path. Thanks so much for sharing, I hope it helps someone else make a choice to be true to their wishes!

  19. Sophia May 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    Hey Rachel! I LOVE YOUR BLOG. I am 18 years old And I really am fascinated with the Indian culture. I am in my first year in college. I am hoping to either major in English or Nursing or anthropology. These are the majors I am currently debating with. Do you think I will be able to find a job in India with either of these majors? Also I keep hearing about the dangerous for women in India?… How is that from your perspective? I LOVE YOUR BLOG AND I’M SO HAPPY I FOUND IT <3 <3

    • Rachel Jones May 3, 2014 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Hi Sophia! I’m so glad you found my blog too- thank you for reading it! I am a nurse and did not find work in India (paying work that is). Although, I admit I didn’t look that hard! As for English- you could come to India and write a book about it :) India is not dangerous for women in general. Search on my site “tips for solo female travel” and I have a post about it. Thanks for reading!

  20. Victoria May 16, 2014 at 2:56 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel, thanks for this. I have a degree and I don’t think it’s wasted. I’m not actually using it either because I studied Political Science LOL! My parents wanted me to study Law (sigh!), but I managed to convince them otherwise, as I went to an elite university and an independent private school, and I didn’t have any debts as I had a wealthy grandmother who I actually hadn’t seen LOL! I had a wonderful time. :) :)

    Having said that, the fact that I have a “good” degree opened up many doors as I live in Germany, and paper qualifications are very much valued. I’ve also lived in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and I met my husband on the stage in Berlin!

    I’m now a corporate trainer and I’m doing a teacher’s MBA which will be extremely useful, wherever I go!

    • Rachel Jones May 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm - Reply

      man I need a wealthy grandma haha! actually, I had no debt either from scholarships so we seem to have both gotten quite lucky. You’re right the MBA will be of use anywhere. My brother just finished his!

  21. nikita yadav April 1, 2016 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Hello,

    I think that if you have a degree under your belt but you just aren’t motivated with the work you are doing and you are seriously considering travel, that you should go with that travel dream.

    Nice post. keep it up.

  22. Wendy June 27, 2016 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel!

    I enjoyed this article greatly. I’m an RN in the States with a background in hospitality and IT. I also have a degree in accounting (from what seems like a former life). Anyway, I was wondering if you could elaborate on this statement:

    I would be killing it if I were into web developing, IT, hospitality, or had any kind of business degree in India.

    I will be traveling to southeast Asia in August and, eventually, I plan to head to India and Nepal. It would be great to have well-paid employment options in India. Even though English is spoken in many of India’s high-tech, middle class cities, would my lack of ability to speak Hindi (or another local language) be a hindrance? I would love to know your thoughts.

    Thanks for a wealth of information.

    Best,
    Wendy

    • Rachel Jones June 28, 2016 at 7:13 am - Reply

      Hi Wendy, I’ll tell you more about that statement. Most hospitality majors work managing the best hotels and restaurants- and as they love hiring foreigners (for a variety of reasons) you would make quite a lot a month. I know in Goa some places would pay over 1,600 USD which for India is SO MUCH. Web developing and IT are also in demand, and as a foreigner you would make a lot of money or could live cheaply and do those jobs online charging US prices. Not speaking Hindi most likely won’t be a problem for you.

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