Why Traveling Teaches More Than School (No Matter How Old You Are)

I was lucky as a kid. My parents wanted to take me out of school for six months to go campervanning around Europe, and the school and teachers were supportive of it. I’ve heard plenty of stories to the contrary and I know these days lots of elementary and high schools have specific rules that “forbid” parents to take their children away on trips during the school year.

But I heartily and strongly disagree, and think that traveling teaches you more than school, whether you’re a child or teenager or college-aged adult, and here’s why!

Campervanning in Isle of Harris, Scotland
Campervanning in Isle of Harris, Scotland © john millar

Traveling the World as an Elementary School Child

Six months staying in Europe’s caravan parks, visiting museums and galleries, crossing borders and learning new vocabulary, flags and currencies, making friends with kids from other countries, regardless of language barriers: all these reasons and more are why I’m eternally grateful to my parents — and our supportive school — for taking my sister and I on an extended trip at a young age. Instead of just sitting in class back in Australia with a bunch of other nine and ten-year-olds, learning out of books, I was living the learning

When you’re the age of an elementary school kid, you’re ready to soak up each and every new experience. Eager to learn new things, my sister and I couldn’t wait to visit each new country and explore their new coins, or write down strange new words we learned at the local supermarket.

High School Travel: Getting Independent or Just Seeing New Perspectives

The year that I started high school my parents repeated the campervanning experience on a smaller scale, spending about two months driving from Western Australia to the east coast, right up to northern Queensland and back. That’s a lot of driving but also a lot of learning. I think being able to see how life was lived in other parts of my own country was a valuable experience, too.

Both this and the Europe trip made so much that I learned later in school make a whole lot more sense. The biggest thing was seeing the different perspectives from different people around the nation and around the world. This taught me more about critical thinking than any essay-writing class ever could.

The following year, aged fourteen, I spent a month in Germany on a high school exchange and this sure beat the heck out of just being back at school! Of course, I got to practice the German I’d been learning for a few years, and I did in fact spend a bit of time in German schools, but mostly I was out seeing Germany.

I was lucky enough to be in Berlin on October 3, 1990, which any good historian will recognise as the date of reunification. I was staying with a West German host father and an East German host mother and they took me to Brandenburg Gate at midnight to celebrate that amazing event. You won’t be surprised to learn that when we studied twentieth century European history the following year I was a straight A student.

Arms Outstretched in the Desert
Lost in the Desert © samplediz

College Trips or Gap Years

When I was at university, gap years were just beginning to take off; it wasn’t common and it never really occurred to me to do so. Same goes for study abroad options. But if I was a college students again today, I would jump at both these opportunities.

Some students are worried they won’t get the same curriculum content if they take a study abroad semester; I say, who cares? Many people (probably most) will tell you that they have rarely used the actual content they learned in college in their working life. I’m pretty sure nearly everyone who’s done some study abroad will say they don’t regret it and learned a great deal.

Gap years are becoming increasingly popular now and with good reason. There’s probably no better time to take a break in your schooling and when you’re a teenager you won’t need any luxury hotels. You’ll be having such a great time traveling on a low budget that whatever you can save up before you go will suffice. Traveling at that age is care-free in some ways but still setting you up with so many insights and new ideas that will benefit you in the future.

Postgraduate Study, or Go Travelling?

Even later in life, the school-versus-travel debate can crop up. Postgraduate study is becoming more common, and in some industries practically essential. But I do see people taking it too far and turning their entire lives into an unhealthy combination of work, study and … nothing else.

I’m grateful for my postgraduate degree, but I spread out that study over a period of ten years and managed to spend six years in the middle traveling around. I don’t regret it in the slightest; the experiences I gathered during those years of traveling and working abroad complement the work I do today just as much as my Masters degree (sometimes more). And a degree is waiting there for you to complete more or less any time — the opportunity to travel that fits in with budget, work and other timing issues is sometimes elusive, so grab it while you can.

So no matter whether you’re a child, teenager or adult, I truly believe that you can benefit hugely from traveling. I loved school at all levels but when I look back on both my school and travel experiences, I easily see that traveling brought me just as much know-how and as many skills as being in school ever did. Get the balance of the two right and you’ll be on the right track.

6 Responses

  1. Elaine Schoch

    Great insights! I love that your parents did that for you guys. While my girls are still little, they’re pretty well traveled and we plan to keep that up. You do learn so much seeing and experiencing different cultures and parts of the world. Much more than text book….

    Reply
  2. Prime

    I was in a crossroads abt 8 yrs ago. I was going for a career break (aka the adult gap year) and I’;m choosing between graduate school in Perth or travdeling around Asia for several months? I chose the latter and never regretted it. Besides I just decided to save on expenses by taking my masters in Manila instead as we have affordable quality education in our country after all.

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  3. Janet

    I don’t think schools would disagree that traveling is one of the best educational experiences out there. It’s just that they lose money when you’re not there. I know this isn’t your problem nor should it be but it does make a difference in an era of totally underfunded schools. We have to find better ways than attendance to fund schools. By the way I took my son to Paris last summer for all the reasons you express.

    Reply
  4. Sam

    I totally agree. We pulled our 11 and 12 year olds out of school for a couple of months and travelled for 5 months around the western US and Canada. Not only did they go back to school ahead in Math (we didn’t do any academics apart from math and music), but the amazing knowledge and life skills they learned on the road could never be taught in class. Learning about Canada’s First Nations people from their surf coach on Vancouver Island, watching the Milky Way at night whilst sitting around a fire on Gooseberry Mesa. Seeing black bears in Whistler and aspens turning yellow in Colorado. None of it can be replicated in a class room. Most of all, we learned that we can live with a lot less “stuff” with a much smaller footprint.

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  5. Magda

    We can’t agree with you more! Hopefully our kids will have the same conclusion, when they grow up, as well!

    Reply
  6. Katie

    Brilliant article Amanda, I wish I’d been whisked away on a campervan adventure when I was a kid. So when I became an adult, I built one myself, and whisked myself away :) Twas truly one of the highlights of my life. For me, travelling is constant education – LIVING the learning , as you so wonderfully say is so much more interesting and relevant than reading textbooks in school, with a bunch of kids the same age and same nationality as you. Keep up the great work! Katie. XXX

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