College on the Road: A Traveller's Guide to School

Love to travel? You can study abroad every day of your college career if you plan ahead. Here’s how to earn a degree while seeing the world.

These days, more and more families are turning to forms of alternative education, either to solve problems they’ve perceived with traditional education or to suit their particular needs.

For some, this means getting involved in an international school. For others, it means homeschooling or unschooling. For me, it meant taking my education into my own hands and embracing world travel simultaneously.

Taking My Learning on the Road

With online resources and classes growing more popular and easily accessible, there’s no reason your education can’t travel with you as a high school or university student. Many young adults today are choosing to take gap years — but why not enjoy the adventure you crave and further your educational goals at the same time?

It is entirely possible to travel and rack up credits towards graduation in the process. I should know. Combining online classes and travel, I was able to graduate high school by the age of 15, enroll in online courses through a university by 16, and transfer to a fantastic university to finish up a degree in geography as an honors upperclassman by 18.

I’m no stranger to alternative education. Through middle school and high school, my mom took on the task of homeschooling me and my three younger brothers. We hit the road when I was eleven, traveling through Europe, Northern Africa, Oceania, North America, and Southeast Asia at a snail’s pace over the next seven years.

One of the benefits of “education hacking,” as I like to call it, is that you can move entirely at your own speed and pursue your interests. I learned languages, explored cultures, and studied geography and history based on wherever I happened to be at the time.

Making the Decision

Some time after I turned 16, my parents sat down with me to talk about my education and where I wanted to go next. I’d already fulfilled all the high school requirements, I was two years too young to physically attend college, and honestly, I wasn’t quite ready to be living on my own yet. Still, I had to do something with those remaining few years, and it was up to me to decide what to do with my education.

That’s a hefty decision for a teenager to make. I spent nearly a month going over my options and doing some intense research. When we sat down again, I had a plan. I would create a career for myself, I told them. I would work as a freelance writer, learn to design and manage websites, and possibly get my TEFL certification. At the same time, I’d pursue my education by enrolling in online courses through a university in the States. Because my schoolwork and career choice would be self-driven and wouldn’t be dependent upon any one location, I would be able to continue to travel.

Pursuing a university-level education on the road isn’t as difficult as it sounds. There are challenges, but it’s definitely doable. While traveling through Southeast Asia and Oceania, I took university classes as a non-degree-seeking distance student, hoping to transfer my credits to a brick-and-mortar school.

For the most part, I could do the coursework on my own time, submitting assignments whenever I stopped in at an internet cafe. I’d travel during the day, doing my assigned readings on the bus and working economics problems in between adventures. At night, I’d sit down to write my essays and polish my Spanish. My credits started to rack up, and travel wasn’t affecting my grades.

The Challenges

Managing your own learning and doing so from a distance does present a few unique challenges. If you’re interested in exploring a similar option, you should take the following into account:

Receiving Books

While many universities now offer online courses, most have not gone so far as to digitize the books and other texts required for them. Unfortunately, you’ll end up shipping your books wherever you are.

For me, this meant multiple calls to the university bookstore, anxiously tracking the books as they crossed continents to reach me, and often not receiving them for up to three weeks past the start of term. I wish I could say that I discovered a foolproof and effortless way to get past this, but I never did. You can’t always find up-to-date materials online, and you’re unlikely to be guaranteed safe arrival of your books on time. It’s one of the realities of traveling while taking online classes.

The good news? Professors tend to be understanding when it comes to late shipping, and will post notes for you to work from until your books arrive.

Managing Your Time

When you become your own boss and education coordinator, you need to set some long-term goals for yourself and commit to them. No one will be there to make sure you get your work done, so you need to be able to be self-sufficient and responsible. I found it helped to have set study/work hours, and to keep a to-do list handy.

If you’re traveling and taking distance classes at the same time, it’s especially important to be able to take time to focus on your studies while still enjoying your adventure. If you’re not good at time management, I would not suggest this option taking online classes and traveling simultaneously.

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Taking Tests

When people ask me for advice on this subject, people often ask, “What about proctored exams?” This was something I worried about initially, too. But it’s actually fairly easy to find a place to take a proctored exam. There are schools all over the world, and most have a proctor that will work with you through the university. If you’re looking for a proctor, I would highly suggest searching international schools near you first, and make arrangements with a proctor around a month before your exams. This will give you “breathing room” and margin for error to avoid the stress of scrambling last minute to find a proctor.

Choosing a Provider

If you’re thinking of pursuing higher-level education and travel at the same time, I would recommend choosing a university carefully. Make sure you check out the number of online courses a given school offers, and how relevant courses will be to the degree you’d like to work toward. Again, time management and having a long-term plan will help you to navigate online classes for a successful (and budget-friendly) education.

There is no doubt that travel is a key element to a well-rounded education. The things you learn from being immersed in a foreign culture can never be fully reproduced in a traditional classroom, and your experiences on the road will be invaluable to you. Take some time to explore the world, learn, and expand your horizons while still working towards graduation! Who says travel and education have to be separate adventures?

You can explore your options on Noodle using its personalized college search tool. Interested in learning other ways to combine education and international travel? Ask pressing questions or read advice from Noodle Experts on our alternative education or study abroad page.

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