Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Here's Your Diploma, Now Get Out of Here

After walking across the stage and receiving an empty leather folder impressively embossed with a college seal, students then walk down the steps and take their seat. It's over. They graduated. Now what? This thought crossed my mind as I watched my boyfriend receive his MBA over the weekend. While he has been in the working world for four years now and is much more established in his life, most of the undergraduates may not be so blessed. They face a new path ahead, one that is much less defined than the one that was laid before them in college. They studied, made friends, took tests, passed their classes and, this weekend, they completed the journey by getting their diploma. So what comes next?

Graduation with my travel companions

In the most immediate future, there's probably a long afternoon of picture taking and celebration with family. But the long term, that's a little less clear, and possibly less festive. For those lucky few, a full-time job awaits them once the caps are off. But in this economy, the likelyhood of that is not what it once was. This leaves many graduates grappling for answers. They have dedicated the last four years–or more–to school, and now the end has come, and there does not seem to be a set direction. If a job is not on the horizon, spending hours searching for one may seem like the best solution. However, there is another option that is–in my opinion–a much more valuable use of time: Travel.

St. Peters in Rome
That's right. Pack up your things, hop on a plane and get away. Whether it's for a week or a month or longer, it doesn't matter. A trip somewhere is not only a great way to celebrate your recent achievement, but also gives you a broader global perspective, which could help you stand out of the crowd of applicants when you do embark on that job search. Travel opens graduates to a completely new world, introduces them to people from all backgrounds, and pushes them to be self-reliant and independent–two skills that definitely come in handy later in life. 

I took a long trip through Europe after my graduation, and I don't regret it. In fact, I wish I had extended it a few more weeks so I could spend more time in certain countries or visit ones that I missed altogether. I also might have changed up how organized I was about everything. I planned it all ahead of time, from hostel reservations to departure dates. I could have probably afforded to be a bit more lenient and carefree with my agenda, but then again, I've always been a planner. The whole experience was educational, from the physical places we visited to the personal growth it provided and what it taught me about myself–and my friends. I would recommend a post-graduation trip to anyone. If my life plan had permitted, I might have even taken what the Brits call a gap year: A year of travel and adventure after secondary school before heading to university. Of course, mine would have been a year off before graduate school. 

If graduates decide to take a trip, the next task is figuring out where to go. Europe is a popular destination, but that's probably what makes it less appealing nowadays. Everyone's going, or has gone there. Why not do something a little different, something more exotic. South America, the South Pacific and Australasia are growing in popularity, but are still remote enough that they still feel exclusive.

Queenstown, NZ
Auckland, the capital of New Zealand, has a lot to offer visitors, most notably its rugged coastline. This region is well-known for extreme sports, such as boating, sailing, canyoning, parasailing, hang-gliding and white-water rafting. Auckland is certainly a good starting point for a journey around both islands, where travelers will enjoy immaculate views, dynamic adventures and eclectic food and wine. 

Patagonia, a region in the southern end of South America, is a must see for adventurers and nature lovers. This nature preserve is shared by both Argentina and Chile, and includes the southern section of the Andes mountains. For years, it has been known as a remote backpacking destination, but more tourists have discovered the beauties of this area in recent years. Many will come to see the immense sheets of glaciers, or the breathtaking mountain views and lake districts. 

Thailand provides a true culture shock, in some regards. Major cities are certainly different from those in the U.S., but they are becoming more Americanized and commercial. The remote towns of the country are much more appealing, as they remain more pristine, and certainly offer a more relaxing vacation. 

In the mountains of Peru sit the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu, atop the Inca Trail. This destination not only provides visitors with stunning views and ancient remnants of a once-royal society, but also another challenge to hell of a climb. But it will all be worth it once the summit is attained, a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind. 

For something truly exotic, why not head to Bhutan, in the Himalaya Mountains. The landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan is a small state bordered by China to the north and by the Republic of India to the south, east and west. Bhutan offers guests a rich history and colorful culture, which has largely remained intact due to its isolation from other countries. Tradition is deeply rooted in its Buddhist heritage, and guests can experience this through tours of museums and architectural sites, as well as lessons on medicinal practices and agriculture. The problem with Bhutan is that is is not the most accessible place, due to its location and the cost of visiting. 

As I mentioned before, Europe is a common destination for recent graduates, and it certainly shouldn't be avoided based on that fact alone. There are some incredible sites and cultures that should be experienced at some point in one's life. Why not fresh out of school? Of course I recommend Italy, since there are so many distinct regions to explore, from the relaxing beach towns of Cinque Terre in the north to the rich mobster history of Sicily off the southern tip of the boot. Italy provides students with many options, all of which offer that "la dolce vita" vibe.

Greece is in the midst of an economic crisis, but that doesn't mean it isn't welcoming tourists from all over the world. In fact, the country needs your business, so why not go and check out a few of the Greek Isles, like Mykonos or Santorini. The islands can easily be reached by cruise ship, and prices are relatively cheap in the early season of May or late season in September. 

I would also recommend Dublin, Ireland, as a good starting point for any Irish adventure; or Paris, France, for a cultural experience unlike any other.

Puerto Vallarta
For those who would feel a little more comfortable staying in North America, Canada and Mexico provide some wonderful destinations that are just as educational, relaxing and thrilling as those that take longer than five hours to reach. I highly recommend Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto, for possible getaways to the north. And if you're really feeling adventurous, Nova Scotia is meant to be a tremendous city, and not many people think to go there. In Mexico, you really can't go wrong with any of the beach resort towns. And you can even party like you're still in college at many of the locations around the country, including Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.

Obviously, there are thousands of other options for a post-graduate trip, and I certainly couldn't cover all of it here. If anything, I've provided some inspiration. I suggest doing a bit more research and looking around for the best prices before jetting off to parts unknown. But take a note from my experience, give yourself a little freedom with your itinerary. If you have every day planned down to the last detail, then there is no room for a random boat ride over to Croatia or a last minute trip to Vietnam. Flexibility is key in making sure you get the chance to see everything you want, even if you didn't know you wanted to see it when you first booked the trip. That's the beauty of travel, it can take you to places you never expected. And perhaps that's just the direction new grads are looking for.

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