Graduation season is upon us! And if you’ve got senioritis maybe you should plan a trip (but also keep studying!). The time after you finish school and before you join the real working world is an amazing time and the perfect opportunity to go somewhere you’ve never been to.
The trip I took after graduating from college was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. My best friend and I backpacked around Europe for a little over a month, and while it may seem a little cliche, it was such a good time and the perfect introduction to traveling abroad.
When planning your graduation trip there are a few key things to keep in mind.
- Budget: If you’ve just graduated from high school or college there is a good chance you don’t have a ton of money to blow, but there are plenty of destinations and things you can do on the cheap. Just remember to set a budget and keep it in mind when choosing your destination, accommodations, and activities.
- Transportation: Easy to navigate public transportation is key because it is way cheaper and in many ways easier than having to rent a car. It’s easier in the fact that you don’t have to navigate a city you don’t know or try to learn the traffic laws of another country. It’s so much nicer to hop on a bus or train, read a book for a while and then magically be in your destination.
- Infrastructure: Counties and cities with established tourist infrastructure are important especially for first-time travelers. Remote parts of the world where figuring out accommodations and transportation are difficult probably are not the best destinations for your first big trip.
- Fun: Go where you’ll have the most fun. Destinations that cater to the activities you want to do are going to be the best choice. Don’t feel like you have to go on some kind of cultural excursion if all you want to do is relax on a beach.
Here are the Top Graduation Trip Destinations
Backpack through Europe
Europe is probably one of the most popular destinations for travel just in general. And while it might be a bit of a cliche to go to Europe after finishing school, I think it’s one of the best places to explore especially if you haven’t traveled much before for three reasons.
- The public transportation is awesome. It is so easy to get around not only in cities, but travel between cities and countries is super easy and cheap. The vast network of railways stretch all over Europe, and with a Eurail Pass, you can just hop on a train whenever you want (well sort of, check out my Eurail Pass post for more info on that).
- There is a ton to see and do. From the Eiffel Tower to the Berlin Wall there is so much history to learn about, good food to eat, and interesting people to meet. Europe has some of the most iconic places to see and experience, so why wouldn’t you want to go check them out. I feel very lucky that I got to go to Notre Dame and see that majesty in person, you never know how the world will change and nothing lasts forever.
- Most people speak some English. I should maybe rephrase, English is fairly common in most (non-English speaking) Western European countries. So that does alleviate some stress and anxiety knowing that you’ll be able to communicate even if you have to use some hand motions and mimes. But making an effort to learn at least a few words (please, thank you, hello) in the native language of where you are traveling is always a good idea.
My friend and I planned our route to hit some of the most famous spots and popular cities. We started our journey with a week in Paris, then went to Rome for a few days. Our next stop was Germany where we got to spend some time in both Munich and Berlin. Next, we went to Amsterdam, and we ended the trip in London. It was basically a big circle around the main part of western Europe, and we did it all via train.
I just want to note that this was January of 2010, these were the days before social media and smartphones were not commonplaces yet (the iPhone had only come out 2 years before!). We planned our trip with a paper map of Europe, some books, and (gasp) a travel agent!
While Bali is the most popular island to visit in the Indonesian Archipelago there are literally thousands of other islands in the country. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches and jungles to explore. Indonesia is great for a lot of reasons, but here are the main three that make it great to visit as a graduation trip.
- It’s cheap, Southeast Asia, in general, is relatively inexpensive once you get there. The biggest expense you will probably have is the flight getting over there, but if you keep your eye out you can find deals on airfare. But once you are in Indonesia it’s really easy to keep to a frugal budget for food, accommodations, and activities.
- It could be as mellow and relaxing or as adventurous as you want it to be. If you are looking to relax in a shack by the beach or feel fancy in a private cabana in the jungle then look no further than Bali, it has the tourist infrastructure to make things easy for travelers. You can surf and do yoga in the most beautiful setting. But if you are looking for something a little different venture out to some of the other islands. The islands of Komodo National Park are spectacular, from the Komodo Dragons to the beautiful landscapes to the epic scuba diving it’s sure to be an exciting time!
- It’s fairly easy to get around, I say “fairly” because it will depend on what island you are on, transportation infrastructure is better on some islands than others. On larger and more touristy islands like Bali and Java, there are busses to get around or you can rent a scooter which is what we did when we were in Bali. One day in Bali we also hired a driver through our hotel to take us around to some of the more popular spots around the island. On smaller islands like Flores and Gili Trawangan we walked or rode bikes around. Getting from one island to another isn’t too bad either, you basically have two options depending on the distance between the islands you are going to and from, either take a ferry or fly. The ferry option is great if you have a bunch of time and want to slowly island-hop around. But if you have a bit of a time constraint flying is always an easy option.
My younger brother took a month-long surf trip to Indonesia after graduating from college and had an epic time. He started in Bali and worked his way east to Lombok, Sumbawa, and Flores, all the while surfing some of the most famous surf spots in the world like Uluwatu and Lakey Peak.
My surf skills are not quite as expert as my brothers so when I went to Indonesia Rob and I stuck to some of the easier waves on Bali. However, we did do some scuba diving in Komodo National park. The coral and sea life there is just stunning, but the currents are no joke. It’s not a place for beginners, but if you’ve got a good amount of dives under your belt I’d highly recommend it!
Backpack Southeast Asia
This may be another graduation trip cliche, but who the ef cares, it’s a cliche because a lot of people do it, and you know why? Because it’s awesome! Southeast Asia is beautiful and each country has its own unique culture, scenery, and experience. Here are the top three reasons why you should make Southeast Asia your graduation trip destination.
- It is cheap, food, accommodations, activities are all inexpensive making it a perfect destination for the budget traveler. Like Indonesia, the flight over there will probably be the most expensive cost, but once you are there it’ll be pretty easy to keep things on the cheap.
- It’s a well-traveled road, they call it the Southeast Asia Backpackers Trail and it goes through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Traveling a popular well-traveled route is good for new travelers, you’ll meet tons of people on the same basic route so you’ll get good recommendations from people who have already been where you’re going next.
- There is a ton to see and do. Each country has its own experiences and unique culture. From the crazy and exciting streets of Bangkok to the dramatic cliffs and lush jungle of Laos, to the beautiful temples in Siem Reap you won’t be running out of things to do and see.
While I did not go to Southeast Asia after graduation I did go during a big career transition in my life which afforded me the time to really hang out and explore. I spent most of my time in Thailand, but also traveled to Myanmar which is not on the typical backpacker trail. If you are feeling confident in your traveling abilities and are up for an adventure I’d highly recommend adding Myanmar to your itinerary too. It is a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It is far less traveled than other Southeast Asian countries making it less touristy but it can also be a bit harder to get around as their tourism infrastructure is not as advanced as other countries.
Snowsport trip through Chile & Argentina
For those of you who love snow sports a trip to the Southern Hemisphere could be the trip of a lifetime! With South America heading into winter right around graduation time it’s the perfect timing for a ski and snowboard trip. So if you love the snow here are three reasons why you need to go.
- The snow and mountains are epic! The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world and include the second tallest peak. The mountain range runs along the Chilean and Argentinian border making for great snow sports in both countries. There are also tons of resorts, ranging from expert level terrain to beginner, so wherever you are at in your abilities there is terrain for you!
- Transportation is easy and comfortable. Luxury buses will get you where ever you need to go at a reasonable price with routes that go between big cities and ski resorts. Many hotels and resorts can also arrange transport or you as well but probably at a higher cost than the bus.
- It’s something different and unique from your typical graduation trip. While most people are heading to warm and sunny destinations packing your winter clothes and snow gear is pretty much the exact opposite. And hey, that’s totally cool. Traveling to pursue a passion or sport that you love is totally rad in my book. So if you are looking for something a little different or if just love the snow this is the trip for you.
One of my good friends took this trip when she graduated from college, she is a badass snowboarder and had a blast there. She went for 2 months which was a good amount of time to work her way around the mountains.
She started the trip in Santiago and went north to Tres Valles, an area made of 3 resorts all next to each other. Tres Valles includes El Colorado, La Parva, and Valle Nevado. There is a central town making it easy to stay in town and get to all three resorts. Then before heading south she also hit up Ski Arpa and Portillo Ski Center. From there she made her way south sort of zig-zagging back and forth between Chile and Argentina snowboarding at Las Leñas, Nevados De Chillan, and Catedral Alta Patagonia. And also making a stop at Villarrica Volcano, you can backcountry ski and snowboard as well as mountaineer up this active volcano!
If the idea of planning a trip is just totally overwhelming with everything that comes along with finish school, like exams, projects, and internships, or if you have never planned a trip before and have no idea where to start, a Contiki Tour is a great option. They offer tons of destinations, tour types, and price options. So if you want travel but don’t know where to start here’s why a Contiki Tour would be great for you.
- Contiki offers over 350 trips across 6 continents, so where ever you want to go, they’ve probably got a trip for that! From Europe to Africa they really go all over. Each destination tour is specifically tailored to give you the best experience of that country and cities.
- It’s easy planning. Now I don’t want to sound lazy but having someone else handle all the planning and logistics sounds kinda awesome. Contiki takes are of all the hard parts of planning a trip like transportation and activity planning, so you get to sit back, relax, and just have fun.
- You’ll be traveling with a group so it’s like built in friends. Getting to travel with the same group for a period of time is a ton of fun and some of those friendships can last a lifetime.
Ok, so I confess that I’ve never actually been on a Contiki Tour, but I know a bunch of people who have and loved it. I’ve heard nothing but good things about these tours.
I did do a similar tour thing when I was in college and I loved it. I traveled around Ecuador with a group of other college kids for a summer and had a blast doing things like bungee jumping, kayaking, mountaineering, and rock climbing. It was a great introduction to traveling abroad because I had the safety net of the group and planned out activities.
The Backpackers Essentials
Planning Your Post-Pandemic Trip
Packing for Europe in Summer
How to Explore Indonesia in 2 Weeks
Thailand Destination Guide
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