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Should I Travel After Graduation?

Forget Grad School — Millennials Are Making Travel the "New Master's Degree"

If it seems like your Instagram feed is saturated with other people's vacation photos, you're not alone. Many of us are green with envy at every cocktail raised against a white-sanded backdrop and equally guilty of posting "candid" shots of ourselves admiring landmarks. With geo-tagged photos becoming the new postcard, our wanderlust is only fueled with every scroll. Not so surprisingly, Booking.com's global research highlights found that one in three 18- to 34-year-olds admit that "they travel more and try more first-time travel experiences so they can post new pictures on their social media."

Despite this disappointing statistic, consider that only half of all millennial travel is purely for leisure. A 2016 study found that about 50 percent of millennial travelers are globe-hopping after high school and college for other reasons: to pursue higher education, volunteer, and study language. While international travel certainly isn't accessible to all, many millennials make financial and personal sacrifices as a tradeoff for new experiences. Gone are the days when the postuniversity track was either heading straight into the workforce or continuing your education at grad school. Now, a number of millennials — who we're dubbing the "travel generation" — have found a way to build travel into their career paths.

Meet Kristina Choi, 27, and Desiree Anderson, 24: two millennials who've fully taken advantage of travel opportunities and benefited from their experiences in more ways than one.

Furthering Education on Another Continent

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Split, Croatia
Image Source: Kristina Choi

Choi, who's now a management consultant, killed two birds with one stone by earning her master's degree abroad. Though she didn't travel straight out of college, she did study abroad in Bristol, England, for a semester during her junior year in 2012. After graduating with an English degree and working in public relations for about three years, Choi decided to quit her job to go to grad school — overseas.

Though she applied to a few MBA programs in the US, Choi said, "My priority was to attend a school in London for three main reasons: master's programs are cheaper in the UK than in the US, they are shorter (mine was 12 months), and I would have the chance to live abroad again. I loved my experience of studying abroad during college and knew that I would gain so much more than a degree by moving abroad."

In September 2016, she relocated to London to study at University College London (UCL) for its Master of Science (MSc) in Management program and completed her degree in a year before moving back to the States — all of which she documented on her YouTube channel. Within that time, Choi was able to visit 10 countries outside of England: France, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, and Scotland.

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Notting Hill, London
Image Source: Kristina Choi
"All of the cool kids on Instagram today have shifted from posting pictures of their new handbag to posting pictures of their awesome ziplining experience."

Expedia's recent multigenerational travel study discovered an overall shift to prioritizing experiences over material possessions, which could align with the surge in millennial travelers. In that same study, the travel company learned that 65 percent of millennials are currently saving for travel and nearly half would sell their belongings to fund a trip.

"If you remember Sex and the City, which was very Gen X, you'll remember it was pretty focused on 'stuff' — your new pair of shoes, your fancy new dress," Sarah Gavin, vice president of Expedia Inc. global communications, told POPSUGAR via email. "Flash forward and all of the cool kids on Instagram today have shifted from posting pictures of their new handbag to posting pictures of their awesome ziplining experience."

Fortunately, Choi didn't have to give up her possessions. Instead, she calculated exactly how much to save from each paycheck to cover the costs of grad school, visa fees, living expenses, etc. prior to moving. "I was fortunate enough to live with my parents [back home in Los Angeles after college] and saved even more money that way," she said. "I ended up saving enough money to pay for my tuition and dorm, as well as most of my other living expenses before going abroad." Getting a part-time job in London for about six months also provided extra income and travel money.

When I asked Choi over email what traveling had offered that an immediate career path couldn't, she explained that returning to school and living in London provided a stronger global perspective and network, which helped her jump into her next job.

"While I was taking a break from work, I still used so many skills important in the workforce while I lived and traveled abroad," she said. "Traveling requires good time management, budgeting, and especially the ability to deal with different types of people — all while seeing and experiencing beautiful places in the world."

In addition to making friends and memories in the most picturesque places, Choi was also able to challenge her independence, overcome communication barriers, appreciate various cultures and backgrounds, and learn to better deal with unexpected changes.

"Every person has a story, and I think my unconventional path towards my current career helps me stand out and adds to my story," Choi said. "Yes, I probably could have become a consultant much more quickly if I had majored in business as an undergrad and pursued that career immediately, but the experiences I've had up to this point make my work that much more valuable."

"Every person has a story, and I think my unconventional path towards my current career helps me stand out and adds to my story."

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Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Image Source: Kristina Choi

Bucket List Over Law School

Anderson, who has spent two years working as a legal assistant at an intellectual property law firm, has similarly reaped the benefits of her worldly adventures. After graduating from UC Berkeley in May 2015, Anderson watched many of her peers take off on their international gap year. But paying off students loans and being freshly out of school limited her to local experiences instead.

Rather than traverse the globe, Anderson decided to travel around the US while applying to jobs at law firms. "Traveling that extensively just wasn't in the cards for me, which is why I place an importance on smaller local trips that will still give me that revitalized feeling," she said via email.

Working part-time jobs throughout college, never dipping into her savings (unless for emergencies), and being smart about expenses allowed Anderson to be self-sufficient postgraduation. She also hunted for cheap flights using tools like Skyscanner, Hopper, and other airline apps.

In those five months before landing her current position, she embarked on a multiday backpacking trip through the Narrows in Utah, earned her open-water and advanced scuba certification, and more.

Anderson's original plan was to gain a year of work experience at her firm while studying for the LSAT. Although she didn't intend to stay at the firm for as long as she has, after taking the LSAT, she came to the conclusion that law school would always be there. With the travel bug still kicking since her senior year at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), Anderson decided to put her higher education on hold and, instead, use her extra income to cross destinations off her bucket list.

"What I don't want to miss out on is my youth — the blessing of being young, able-bodied, and not having any true restrictions or responsibilities," she told POPSUGAR.

Anderson has since visited 12 countries (with her upcoming Thailand trip to be number 13), including 20 states and counting.

The largest student and youth travel company, STA Travel, has also noticed a trend in "more experiential, authentic adventures" among the more than two million travelers it assists each year, most of whom are between 18 and 35.

"It makes sense, as student and youth travelers nowadays are more likely to invest in experiences than things, and so the travel industry has responded," Tiffany Harrison, senior marketing manager at STA Travel, told POPSUGAR over email. "Many post-grads nowadays are already considering traveling before jumpstarting their careers."

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Donegal, Ireland
Image Source: Desiree Anderson

Even with a 9-to-5 job and 10 paid vacation days a year, Anderson still makes it a priority to travel — even if that means taking a red-eye on a Friday and flying back Sunday evening. On top of taking advantage of paid holidays, she makes the most of her weekends checking off new cities within the States.

Though Anderson's job allows her to support herself, the real reason she's able to travel so often is all thanks to her cutting out expenses wherever possible. She cooks meals at home, drinks her office's free coffee, and spends her hard-earned money on round-trip tickets in lieu of trendy accessories and beauty services.

"No one is going to care what your $40-gel manicure looks like when you post a photo of you standing in front of the Eiffel tower," Anderson said. "If you do spend your money on these things, just understand that you're putting off your travels in exchange."

The one exception, however, are accommodations that are culturally unique to that country she's traveling in. In Japan, for example, Anderson allowed herself to splurge a little on her stays at multiple capsule hotels and a traditional ryokan. Otherwise, she prefers hostels all the way.

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Marrakech, Morocco
Image Source: Desiree Anderson

Anderson's passport has become just as important as her résumé. In addition to feeling personally enriched, her global experiences have translated to the workplace, as well.

"In college, if I could get through a semester without the professor knowing my name and sitting in the back of the classroom, I counted that as a success," Anderson said. "Even though formal education has given me the knowledge and opportunities to attain better careers, no company would hire me if I had the same attitude and behavior in an interview that I had in the classroom. Traveling, and more specifically traveling alone, has allowed me to interact with people of different ages, languages, and nationalities, and find common ground."

Despite graduating from UC Berkeley (as did Choi), the world's No. 1 public university, Anderson argues that the real-world education she received during her travels has been far more valuable.

"Traveling before settling down into a serious career has given me the ability to learn about myself as well as the world around me," she said. "Traveling has allowed me to learn about worlds different than my own, whether I'm underwater diving the Silfra Fissure in Iceland, trekking through mountain ranges of Alaska and warding off grizzly bears, or shopping in the souks of Morocco. Through my travels I've learned about different cultures, animals, ecosystems, traditions, etc., which are all things no classroom or desk job could teach you. Traveling has given me the opportunity to learn about the deepest parts of my personality when faced with new challenges and taught me that I am a lot more capable than I believed I could be. I can honestly say that traveling has shaped who I am entirely."

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Fjaðrárgljúfur, Iceland
Image Source: Desiree Anderson
"Traveling has given me the opportunity to learn about the deepest parts of my personality when faced with new challenges and taught me that I am a lot more capable than I believed I could be."

However, it's also important to note that there are best practices when using your personal travels to your professional advantage. Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of female-powered career site Career Contessa and a former university recruiter at Hulu, says it all depends on how you market your experiences.

"If while traveling, they had remarkable volunteer opportunities or were able to hone a skill that's relevant to the job, that would be really great — but they would have to market it to the interviewer," McGoodwin said via email. "For example, if you were applying to an event planning job, or had to explain how you are detail-oriented, you could utilize your vacation-planning expertise to explain how you fit those qualifications."

Rather than listing "travel" on your résumé, McGoodwin recommends tying your travel experiences into your cover letter to make specific connections to the role or company you're applying for. Your story may also be a way to connect with your interviewer or to explain a gap between jobs. But on a personal level, McGoodwin believes that travel can be incredibly valuable.

"Taking trips also allows you the opportunity to reach out to people in your network that you wouldn't normally have the chance to meet up with for an informational interview," she said. "So adding travel to your mental resume — I'm a total advocate of."

The benefits of traveling, especially for millennials, are unparalleled. Global travel company Contiki released a recent study, The Power of Travel, which was advised by leading psychologist Adam Galinsky, PhD, Columbia Business School. It found travel to have an overwhelmingly positive impact on 3,000 18- to 35-year-old travelers and nontravelers around the world, from their careers to their self-confidence.

And it makes sense. When you travel, you're quite literally out of your comfort zone when navigating a foreign place, which forces you to gain a sense of awareness, think outside the box, solve problems, face challenges, and learn to be open-minded. Sure, a diploma can absolutely be critical to achieving professional success. But pushing both your personal and geographical boundaries for new experiences? Now that's the secret to schoolin' life, as Beyoncé would say.

"Academic experience is certainly valuable, but travel adds a whole other element," said Gavin from Expedia. "It has the power to break down barriers, expose different cultures and change the way we see the world, which ultimately enhances your educational experience!"

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