Go West, Young Millennials.

Guest Author Mason Matthews is a lover of movies, history, politics, comedy, pizza, and travel.

Following the cessation of the Civil War in 1865, journalist Horace Greeley popularized the phrase, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” This expression, which has come to define an era, was the rallying cry for young people living in overcrowded cities along the Atlantic to leave their lives of poverty or convention behind and pursue self-sufficiency somewhere along the newly opened frontier. I believe that with some slight modifications, this expression can provide valuable direction for Millennials. So here is my advice to all you debt-ridden and directionless 20-somethings like myself out there:

Go anywhere, young folks, go anywhere and grow up with the world!

The benefits of being well traveled are seemingly endless. Besides providing an extensive repertoire of cocktail party stories, science has actually proved that travel makes you a better person. Numerous studies suggest that those who travel are better communicators, more empathetic, significantly happier and more successful than those who never journey beyond the limits of their comfort zone. Physicians have confirmed that Millennials are dramatically more susceptible than their parents to experience chronic side effects of an autoimmune disorder dubbed the “travel bug.” Not only do Millennials travel more than Gen Xers, but we also experience travel differently.

As a college senior graduating in a few short months, I’ve heard the majority of my peers express a desire to travel after school, but surprisingly few have a clear vision about how to accomplish their globetrotting aspirations. “I would love to travel, but I have no way of affording it” and “I’ll travel once I settle down” are the most commonly conveyed doubts I’ve heard expressed by my fellow Millennials.

The traditional doctrine understood by our parent’s and grandparent’s generations was that prospective travelers should enter the workforce immediately after graduation to earn a comfortable income that will allow them to save money and travel later, either with their families or after retirement. Almost everybody would agree that sounds rational enough, but this roadmap to travel is significantly more complicated than it appears on paper. Once hired, entry-level employees will likely work for months if not several years, before possibly entertaining the idea of leaving on an extended holiday. Employees in the United States toil away for more hours and less vacation time than workers in any other industrialized nation. It’s also worth remembering that prospective travelers working nine-to-five jobs still have to pay their car and medical insurance, monthly rent, student loan payments and a host of other expenses in addition to the transportation, lodging and long list of costs that travel demands. 

All of this has led me to believe that the conventional model of working to travel isn’t as rational as people would like to believe, at least in the case of young people. I have formulated a straightforward solution that I hope will produce a paradigm shift amongst Millennials foundational understanding about work and travel:

Why should you work to travel when you can travel to work instead?

The reality is that there is never going to be a better time in your life to travel than in your 20’s. Most students fresh out of college are carrying some form of student loan debt with them, but the majority haven’t shackled themselves to enormous financial and/or social commitments such as mortgages or children that dictate their lives just yet. The ever-increasingly globalized world in which we live offers a multitude of opportunities for the success and adventure that Millennials crave, and the simple truth is that there is no better time than now for the brave young souls seeking financial and experiential prosperity to take a risk and migrate along the roads, sea’s and sky’s less traveled.

The idea of working to travel rather than vice versa first crossed my mind when reading about the oil boom underway in the Bakken territory of North Dakota. Relatively inexperienced and unskilled workers from all walks of life have flocked to the northern region by the thousands, and many of them have made their small fortunes. Workers employed directly in the petroleum industry average $80,000 in yearly wages, and laborers operating overtime are able to pull in six-figures a year Even fast food workers in North Dakota average more than double the national minimum wage as companies frantically attempt to accommodate overnight boomtowns. The hours are grueling, the work is mind numbing and the occupation is amongst the country’s most dangerous. That being said, young workers willing to migrate into the universally accepted capital of nowhere and able to conquer these obstacles should expect to make an enormous sum of money remarkably quickly. In addition to monetary gain, you would develop a disciplined work ethic that surely will outshine any other prospective candidates in future job interviews.

North Dakota isn’t the only destination where motivated adventurers can make a quick fortune through blue-collar enterprise. Between May and September each year, thousands migrate to the magnificent Pacific Northwest to make their quick wealth in Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. Salmon is king in Alaska, and during the summer months, fishing boats hire a significant number of motivated workers who can earn as much as $5,000 per month aboard fishing vessels. Replacing oil explosions with sea monsters, working aboard these ships by all accounts is as physically and mentally demanding as life in the Bakken, but fishermen in America’s last frontier enjoy a life at sea that inevitably produces stories and lessons which will last a lifetime.

For those who wish to experience life at sea without the 18-hour workdays and permanent stench of fish, working aboard a cruise ship is another viable option. The cruise industry has experienced rapid growth for years and is predicted to undergo continued expansion in emerging markets. Luxury vessels require large crews staffed with skills in fields ranging from entertainment, accommodations, fine dining and more to provide outstanding service to international clientele. One of the natural perks of working in the tourism trade is traveling to the pristine regions of the world that others are paying to visit. From Mediterranean and Caribbean islands to the great oceans of the world, the obvious benefit of working at sea is the freedom to experience it provides.

If ocean voyages aren’t your thing, there are plenty of tourist jobs available not far from the water’s edge. Australia and New Zealand are two nations known for their unspoiled natural beauty and laid-back culture, obtaining a workers visa in either country is a relatively painless process. The Aussie and Kiwi economies are currently booming and employers are actively hiring enthusiastic youth between the ages of 18-30 for “workers holidays” in the hospitality and tourism industries. Outgoing individuals may easily find employment for lively work opportunities as tour guides, scuba or surf instructors, bartenders, winery staff and a many other easygoing occupations. If the opportunity to work a relatively stress free position in a magnificent location surrounded by beautiful people hasn’t persuaded you to check airfare rates already, then maybe this will; Australia and New Zealand boast amongst the highest minimum wages in the world at roughly $15 U.S. dollars per hour.

If blue-collar labor or the tourism industry doesn’t sound particularly appealing, the educational sector is another field with growing potential for international employment options. Possessing a college degree unlocks a world of opportunities for prospective travelers to experience the world and not break the bank. Most language programs only require a bachelor’s degree and willingness to launch into an exciting new culture. English is the language of global business and the demand for English speakers is higher than ever in the developing world. If you’re interested in teaching language skills abroad, then your port of call will most likely be one of the rapidly growing nations in Eastern or Southeastern Asia. Japan has traditionally led the region in English teaching programs, but countries such as South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan are currently in high demand and provide lucrative incentives for English speakers. The salaries offered in these programs are quite high compared to the cost of living, especially in developing economies like Vietnam or Thailand, so the potential to save money and travel to neighboring countries after your program is excellent. Outside of Asia, young Americans with Spanish language skills may open up an entirely different area of the world to work as English language tutors or teachers.

For those interested in returning to school as students rather than teachers, one of academia’s best-kept open secrets is that graduate programs taught in English are virtually free in numerous countries outside of the United States. Europe leads the world in this development, with universities in highly livable countries such as Germany, Finland and Sweden offering master’s programs that are either tuition free or which require nominal semester fees of less than $1,000. Scholarship programs such as Fulbright or DAAD and other international financial aid options are available for prospective graduate students willing to work towards financing their education in advance and survive on pasta for a few years. With American university prices continuing to soar while the Euro has fallen to the lowest exchange rate against the dollar in years, a perfect storm scenario has emerged where the collective cost of international airfare, university fees, rent and other living expenses abroad is somehow cheaper than the graduate program fees alone in the United States. And as if you needed any more incentive, many European universities don’t require GRE scores for admissions.

Mission trips, WWOOF and volunteer abroad organizations are an excellent way for people from all walks of life to make a positive international impact and learn about themselves, but these types of programs either require you to pay fees in advance or only provide room and board, not to mention that the cost of airfare is placed on the individual volunteers. The Peace Corps has long been the standard government sponsored agency for poverty alleviation expeditions around the world, however, the agency offers limited spaces and remains highly competitive. Because of this, I would recommend Millennials consider traveling within our country’s own borders to rectify the rampant income inequality in America. Programs such as Teach For America, City Year and AmeriCorps provide full time work opportunities throughout the country. Post-industrial rust belt cities in the north, rural farming communities in the south, and neglected Indian reservations in the Midwest are all in need of young people to bring about change. Teach for America pays corps members starting salaries between $25,000 to $50,000 depending on where they’re assigned and teachers can even complete their master’s degree during the two-year commitment. City Year or AmeriCorps are two other great programs aiming to redress educational inequality. Members in these programs receive stipends to cover the cost of living and are eligible for partial student loan forgiveness for completing their twelve-month duty.

Young people from almost any economic or educational background have the opportunity to experience the world if they commit themselves to the cause. The tangible benefits of traveling to work are nearly infinite. Image the potential opportunities available to someone who has worked their way around the world and developed the hard work ethic of an oil driller or fisherman, the customer service expertise of a cruise ship or resort employee, the compassion of a teacher and the language skills of a tutor. Besides developing yourself into a global citizen and well-rounded human being, your resume and LinkedIn profile will read like a bestselling novel or Hollywood movie script to future employers. So go anywhere, young folks, go anywhere and grow up with the world! You will undoubtedly evolve into a more independent and accomplished person as a result, and besides growing rich in experience, you may even make a buck or two along the way.

Photo credit: MarkVanDykePhotography / Shutterstock.com


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