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Why I Turned My Back On Grad Schemes And Went Travelling For a Year After University

I finished university two years ago, and I’ve been travelling the world for just over one of those years. By the time I return home later this year, I will have set foot on every continent except Antarctica (although I’ll be sure to add that to my list). 

I left university with very little money saved and I’m proud to say I’ve paid for all my travelling myself. You don’t need a really well paid job to be able to afford it, you just need to really want to see the world, and be willing to make some small sacrifices to be able to do it.

photo provided

photo provided

I definitely found the period after graduating university stressful. I’d been working towards this one goal for three years and once I’d handed in my dissertation and finally graduated, I was left at a bit of a loss. Like many, I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to do and I dreaded people constantly asking. I moved back home and returned to my holiday job in retail while I tried to figure it out. I then did what I thought I should be doing and followed in the footsteps of my friends and applied for an array of graduate jobs. I was applying for things I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do, simply because it felt like I had to.

After one particular unsuccessful interview I felt the usual disappointment and feeling of both inadequacy and inexperience, but alongside it an unexpected feeling of relief. I didn’t actually want to be accepted; I wasn’t ready to commit to a 9-5 office job, there was something else that I really wanted, and I knew what it was all along.

I didn’t want to look back at my 22-year-old self in 10 years time and regret that I didn’t have the guts to do the fun thing. 

I had always wanted to travel the world and decided that this was the right time to do it. I didn’t have a career to ruin or children to tie me down. I didn’t want to look back at my 22-year-old self in ten years time and regret that I didn’t have the guts to do the fun thing. So I stopped half-heartedly applying for grad jobs and I worked flat-out in retail for nine months. I lived at home with my mum, I stopped buying myself new clothes and that daily cup of coffee. I sold the mountain of clothes I no longer wore and cut back on going to the pub. It wasn’t the most glamorous or exciting nine months, but none of those things were particularly big sacrifices. You accept that you really don’t need that new iPhone, especially when you realise that money can buy you a ticket to the other side of the world.

I persuaded my boyfriend to come with me and we haven’t looked back since we left the UK a year ago. 🛫

We travelled through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru for four months, then flew to New Zealand, stopping on the way in Fiji (it’s a hard life!). We lived, worked and travelled for eight months in New Zealand, and now we are half way through a trip down the East Coast of Australia. At the end of the month we fly to Thailand for four months of travel through South East Asia. It may be the only time in my life I get the chance to do such a big trip, so I just had to take the leap. Once I’d started researching, there were so many places I wanted to go and I was so eager to get going.

photo provided

photo provided

We flew to Rio de Janeiro first and I was excited but also a bit scared. We arrived very early in the morning, so we actually stayed in the airport until it got light, because we didn’t want to be roaming the streets in the dark with all our belongings. Looking back I think I was probably being a bit of a wuss and I soon became less nervous about things. I’m still trying to be street-wise, but I’ve stopped constantly worrying about being robbed and realised that most people are lovely. We travelled through South America by bus and met lots of local people who were always wanted to know if we were having a good time in their country, making sure we never got lost. We drove through small towns and villages that we just wouldn’t have seen if we rushed about flying everywhere.

But it wasn’t always easy. 🗺

There was one time in particular that we were stranded in a bus station in the middle of the night in the Argentinian city of Córdoba. Our bus hadn’t turned up and we had nowhere to go. We didn’t want to venture into the city in search of somewhere to stay at 1am – we didn’t even know if anywhere would be open. The thought of sleeping on the benches in the bus terminal seemed even less appealing. We waited and waited and it got colder and colder. We tried to find out what was going on in broken Spanish and none of the staff would help. Eventually we found some fellow passengers and stuck with them. Our bus finally arrived five hours late and the relief was unbelievable. After that incident I learned that it just doesn’t help to get stressed when things go wrong. All you can do is stay calm.

The downsides to travelling so far have been pretty limited… it’s been the most fun I’ve ever had.

Later, we went on a road trip for a few days through the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Part way through the trip the van we rented wouldn’t start due to a flat battery. We waited at the side of a dirt road, hoping that someone would come and help us. Eventually a Chilean man stopped to jump start our car and we were on the road again. So, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, there have been some difficult times along the way. I really think it’s good to be challenged though, otherwise I might as well have stayed at home. There have been times when I’ve been dreadfully homesick; missing birthdays, Christmas and New Year with all my family was strange. However, the people that help you out along the way and the friends that you meet make it all worth it.

The downsides to travelling so far have been pretty limited, and it’s been the most fun I’ve ever had. But it does come at a cost, and working while I was away is how I’ve funded such a big trip. During the eight months in New Zealand I found a job working on an apple orchard, picking apples and maintaining the trees. It was tiring work, but I enjoyed working outdoors in the (mostly) glorious New Zealand sunshine, and alongside some kiwi locals. It then meant that I topped up my funds and could start planning the second half of my trip. I’m writing this from my hostel in Sydney, half way through my trip down the east coast of Australia – so picking those apples has certainly paid off.

photo provided

photo provided

I use social media to stay in touch with people back home, which is great but also worrying. 📬

I see my clever and talented friends starting lives for themselves in brilliant jobs and wonder whether I’ve made the right decision. Then I remind myself that I am only 23 and that London, and all its shiny graduate jobs and opportunities, will still be there when I get back. I don’t want to be too old and sensible before I’ve had the chance to dance the tango in Buenos Aires, drink cocktails on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, go hiking through New Zealand’s breathtaking national parks or explore ancient temples in Cambodia. To me, those things just can’t wait. Travelling has become my day-to-day routine; I spend every day exploring new cities and seeing new things, and it’s wonderful. I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to give that up and settle back in to normal life again.

I remind myself that I am only 23 and that London, and all its shiny graduate jobs, will still be there when I get back.

I’m still not sure about what I’ll do with my life when I get home, but that’s no longer a terrifying thing to think about. Since I’ve been away I’ve become much more self-assured and the world seems much more accessible. One thing is for sure, though: the more of the world you see, the longer your list becomes of places you’d like to go and things you’d like to do. With that in mind, I’m now thinking about completing a TEFL course and teaching in Central or South America. I studied Politics at university with a particular interest in development and the education of women and girls, so it could possibly help me with a future career too. I’m hoping to learn more Spanish and travel again in a more grown-up and immersive way.

I’m really looking forward to coming home and seeing all my friends and family, but I’ve also got my next trip in mind. It’s safe to say I’ve caught the travel bug.

If you want to keep up with Lilith’s travel stories you can follow her blog here.