Degrees, Travel and Working Abroad

Degrees, Travel and Working Abroad

One of the great things about writing online is the ability to pick up someone else’s ball and run with it. When Wandering Earl recently asked do you need a university degree to travel long-term? I expressed some surprise that he thought you did.

Obviously he didn’t mean you can’t travel without gaining a top level education. As Earl himself put it, the thresh holds of both nations and hostels can be crossed without needing to attend higher education.

What he meant is that to travel longer a degree is an invaluable asset in convincing employers to take you on and hand over some cash at the end of the month in lieu of the work you have done for them.

To some extent I agree with Earl. Opportunities broaden in front of those in possession of a university degree and doors can slam shut to those that don’t. This is the way of things in conventional living but long term travel is not conventional – it is an oddity.

The majority of people leading the more conventional life travel for a fortnight or so each year. The rest of the time is spent within commuting distance of their home: getting a job, forming relationships, bucking for promotion, trying to get the kids in to the best school, buying a new car, paying bills, investing in the future and saving for retirement.

For all of this having a degree, or not, will play a large role in determining the figurative roads we are allowed to take in life.

Those choosing a life on the more literal road opt out from much of this, at least temporarily. With the exception of teaching English – and for working travellers looking for work outside of the developed world this is a big exception – a degree is largely an irrelevance until we decide to return to or belatedly start on the career path.

When does long term travel become working and living abroad as an expat?

Rereading Earl’s post I realised that some of my opposing view is largely to do with semantics. Where does long term travel stop and living and working abroad as an expat begin? Are they the same thing or are they different?

Perhaps because, despite its name, I consider our sister site, the Jobs Abroad Bulletin, to be a travel and not a career website I tend to think that taking a well-qualified position is a return to the career path. Though we make a few exceptions (nursing and travel and tourism jobs being the most notable), we frequently reject job vacancies that we feel are too highly skilled, too permanent or too much like the career we would be having at home, just under a different sky.

In taking a job requiring a degree, or other vocational qualification, do we move beyond the realm of the traveller and into that of the expat?

If you don’t have a degree, don’t worry, you can still work abroad

For those that want do want to turn their travels into a career, the tourism industry is a good example where from starting at the bottom, hard work, enthusiasm and flexibility can overcome a lack of formal qualifications.

Each year, thousands of Brits work for tour operators on the continent. With preferential treatment given to those that have proven themselves before, many people return season after season and frequently rise up the company ranks to administration positions with head office or remain in the field in managerial roles.

Language or catering skills are often key to getting ahead of the game here and the same applies to more casual work with smaller employers. Other skills and qualifications to aid a life of travel include childcare diplomas and ski or watersports instructor qualifications. Mike and Ashley Lenzen are an example of two long term travellers that have decided to become divemasters.

With the rise in tuition fees coming into effect this year many students embarking on a gap year are choosing to do so in a more focused way than in previous years. A third more gappers than last year are gaining experience through volunteer work, looking for paid jobs to improve their CV or investing in themselves and taking a course abroad.

Another consequence of the tuition fee hike is more students are heading off on their adventures before they saddle themselves with debt at university, rather than after.

In his response to my comments on his post, Earl said he is an advocate of higher education and, despite the encouragement I offer here to those without a degree, I would second that.

Sooner or later most of us will return to the real world of relationships, career progression, kids and cars and, though perhaps it is experience that counts in the end, at the beginning of our working lives it is a degree level education that can provide the best start.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Earl

    In reality, I’m actually a huge believer that a degree is not necessary at all in order to live a life of travel. The only point I was trying to make with the post is that, with that said, a degree can prove to be extremely useful.

    When I look at my own experiences I simply would never have received the job offer to be a tour guide with Indochine Tours, would never have been hired to work on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager, would never have been offered positions with NGOs in Southeast Asia, if I didn’t have a degree.

    So while a degree certainly plays a major role when it comes to returning to a ‘normal’ life after traveling, that same degree does lead to opportunities that simply would not be available to those without a degree.

    Again, you don’t need that degree to achieve your travel goals or to earn money while overseas, but the benefits of a degree are difficult to dispute in my opinion.

    Great to see you expanding on this topic and hopefully there will be even more discussion here as well!

  2. You did make the point early in your post and emphasised it elsewhere that you believe a degree isn’t necessary to travel long term.

    I don’t think our conclusions are too different from each other but I wanted to tilt this article a little more towards what can be done without a degree whereas your post is perhaps more directed at the advantages further education gives.

    The biggest disadvantage, I feel, of travelling and working abroad without a degree is not being able to compete for English teaching jobs. Had I thought of it at the time I would have directed readers towards your experiences teaching private classes in a park in Chiang Mai, where I assume formal qualifications weren’t necessary:

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