There is a vivid memory I have of walking into Target with my mother the week after my college graduation. We ran into a woman, a co-worker and friend of my mom's, and so we stopped and chatted for a bit as she tried to wrangle her baby and toddler, purse and cart.
An everyday scene, to be sure. But this one is etched into my brain because of our exchange next to the "everything's a dollar" bins. This harried, happy mother looked me dead in the eyes and said:
"Travel now. You must travel now. There will come a time when you can't as much. Travel now."
And of course, when you are a twenty-something receiving advice from a thirty-something, you laugh it off or simply ignore it because you are oh-so-different and special and unique! You'll be able to travel freely forever!
La dee da!
Luckily for me, I already had plans to travel. My exuberant 20's included year-long stints in Colorado and Ecuador, and shorter jaunts to Ghana, Peru, Germany, Indonesia, and Mexico. But I wonder... if I hadn't planned all of that, would I have let my 20's slip by?
And Now It's Time for a Different Kind of Education
College is incredible. It opens up that brain of ours and pours in all the knowledge we need to make it in life, such as:
how far to throw the ping pong ball to hit that third row of red plastic cups
how late we can stay up and still make it to an 8 AM class
which friend will stick around through the mixed bag of poor life choices
some excellent Poli Sci facts
All of those things are great, and valuable, and lovely. But there are some things that even the mightiest college professors cannot teach, like how it feels to make jokes with a taxi driver in a foreign language; or what ancient stones feel like when you touch them; or that when you are scared in a train station someone will inevitably send a smile your way.
Traveling teaches you all of the really, really good stuff. You may not be able to get this kind of education from books or online journal searches (make sure they're peer reviewed, people!) but the lessons that you gain from being outside your comfort zone are invaluable.
It's (Kind of) Your Choice When, But Your Life Will Change
When I graduated from undergrad, I swore up and down that the following would ALWAYS be my reality:
I'd never live in my hometown.
I'd never live in the suburbs.
I'd never get married.
I'd travel forever and always, amen.
Number one? Living there. Number two? Did it, then got out as soon as possible. Number three? So glad I changed my mind. Number four? Still true.
What does this mean for you? Maybe nothing. I'm surely not going to try to convince you that things you definitely don't want are things that will definitely happen. You have control over your own choices.
What I am asking you to consider is that you may change. You may meet someone, or come across a unique opportunity and think, "Man. Maybe I should think about doing X. It wouldn't be so bad, and it could help me do Y."
And no, you don't need copious amounts of time/money/freedom/lack of responsibilities to travel. But it may turn out that your life gets more complicated sometime soon, and that right now could be the most carefree (free to travel) time of your life.
Why You Should Travel Now
Life shows up in completely unexpected ways, and when it does, you have to hope that you've traveled.
Not because it's the coolest (it is) or because you learn a lot (you do). You have to hope that you've traveled because when times get tough (they will) you can draw on the kickass times that you had while traveling and know that you will be a-ok.
There are plenty of difficult spots that I've found myself in while traveling, and I won't say that I'd never experience them in the States, but they certainly haven't popped up yet.
Because I've traveled, I know what it is like to navigate metro systems on zero hours of sleep. I know what to do when I feel super sick and can't say what is wrong with me in the language of my current locale. Because I've traveled, I know that doing something that scares me (within reason) will almost always end up okay.
How do those things translate to the life I live now?
When I'm going through something tough in my current, 30-something life, I can look back on those times when things seemed really hard (read: hopeless + infinitely scary) and say, "Bring it!"
And I know I'll be okay.
Maybe even better than okay.
So graduate? I'm proud of you. You've worked hard. And now's the time to grab that passport and pack your bags, because you've got some exploring to do.
It's time to see the world now.