Should I Quit Law School so I can Travel the World?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel

05.06.08 | 11:00 AM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

I recently spent a few months traveling in Thailand and Cambodia after finishing my undergrad degree. Now I am in law school, and all I can think about is how jaded I am with studying. I think constantly about selling my belongings and traveling the world, doing things my own way. What would you do in my position?

—Brian, Texas

Dear Brian,

What you’re feeling is a very common phenomenon, sometimes called “reentry,” that occurs after returning home from a long-term journey. During this time, fresh off your travel-high, you will have trouble settling in and reintegrating into a normal, home-based routine. Nothing will feel as fresh or exotic as it did during your travels, your old friends won’t relate to your amazing overseas experiences, and you’ll feel a strange sensation of homesickness for the road.

Rest assured that this happens to everyone who’s recently spent lots of time traveling. So should you drop all, sell your belongings and start traveling again?

I’d say maybe, if you feel that’s your calling—but definitely not yet. First, you need to give law school a chance.

As part of this process, you should try to figure out if studying law in particular is causing your angst, or if trying to settle down in general is causing it. If law is truly not your calling, then you might consider studying something else.

But if you determine that your current unease is just a matter of trying to restart a settled life, I’d advise you to go ahead and stick it out and train as a lawyer. After all, law expertise is a great skill to have, not only for scoring the kind of work that can fund future travels—but also for enabling travel itself. In addition to working at any number of global law offices overseas, a number of international volunteer and aid organizations (such as Global Citizens for Change) are looking for help from people with law expertise. For more information on international employment and volunteer opportunities for lawyers, check out Idealist.org, or peruse the links on the Public Service Abroad page at Marquette University Law School.

Again, if law simply isn’t your calling, then by all means feel free to resume your travels or study something else. But if you really do have a passion for law, there’s no reason why you can’t combine this career with any manner of international experiences.

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Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


10 Comments for Should I Quit Law School so I can Travel the World?

John M. Edwards 05.06.08 | 7:26 PM ET

Hi Rolf:

I think it’s better to quit law school, if you risk failing to pass the bar exam, and travel around the world.

I’ve had some good jobs, with Simon and Schuster and Emerging Markets (covering World Development Bank meetings), and I’ve managed to travel five continents plus (many island included).

It was worth it.

John M. Edwards

Jay 05.07.08 | 12:16 AM ET

I spent several months in SE Asia after my undergrad degree as well and had similar feelings going into grad school (PhD program). Three years later, the feelings haven’t gone away, but the idea of giving up on the academic career that I’ve been working so hard towards is a scary thought. However, I’ve made a promise to myself to pursue long term (much longer term than several months) travel again once I have my PhD.

While grad students don’t make much money, I suppose someone going for a law degree is in a somewhat different boat though, since at least we PhD students don’t have to pay for our degree and often get a stipend.

In the long run, its probably worth it to pursue the highest degree you can without too much misery, money and lost time. But if the costs are starting to outweigh the benefits, it may be worth changing directions.

-Jay

Grizzly Bear Mom 05.08.08 | 10:41 AM ET

Rolf, I am a Sr Human Resources Leader who invested wisely, paid of their home early, and make a six figure income.  I advise youth to be carefree, daring, and travel when they are young and wihtout responsibilities because someday they will be tied down.  Although I spent 2.5 years overseas in my youth, I regret that I didn’t do more of it when I was young.  I’m making up for lost time and visiting Paris in September.  I think you answer was fabulous.

J 05.08.08 | 5:22 PM ET

I think this is sound advice. You can always combine your legal education with foreign travel by taking a summer abroad during law school. For example, Santa Clara University offers 13 programs in 17 countries. http://www.scu.edu/law/international/summer-abroad.cfm

Yvette Perez 05.08.08 | 7:43 PM ET

Hi Brian,

I bet this is your calling, I am in the same position, you really have nothing to lose, if you stay in law school and don’t go, will you regret it?? I think you will, I see it as…you only have one life, I say go for it, you will actually get the privelage to experience life and cultures that exist throughout this world. You can always return home and finish school when and if you want to come back. Say you stay in law school, you will be older and maybe even have kids before you finish, I say go for it, whatever makes you truly happy is worth it no matter what.

Davis 05.11.08 | 7:49 PM ET

Brian,
A law degree takes three years.  That is not a very long time.  Pass the bar in some state.  That will give you the credentials for most of the things you’ll probably wind up wanting to do. I’m 69 years old, got a law degree, practiced a few years, worked for a foundation, then took off traveling in my middle age.  Travel is wasted on the young.  They spend their time with other young people in the “youth bubble”.  A waste of time.  I backpacked through Greece, boated up the Amazon, consorted with smugglers and guerrillas, went looking for a lost tomb, all of which impressed the Love of my Life, and now I am writing a biography of a Civil War soldier.  Whatever harebrained scheme I was off on, I could tell people I was a lawyer and my True Love would not be embarassed.  It also confers a status out of all proportion to your actual income, which can be a handy thing in foreign parts, where fresh-faced youth is not as esteemed as you might think it would be.

Carlo 05.12.08 | 3:11 AM ET

I’m sorry Davis, but I think that advice is horrible! Travel can be wasted by anyone of any age. Sure there are young people who “travel” in their bubble…but there are lots of genuine young travelers who are out there for the right reasons and learning about themselves and our world (I’m 32 by the way). Travel is also wasted on middle-aged and old people who travel in tour groups being ushered in and out of tourist traps at break-neck speed. By married couples and families who are just ticking things off their checklists. You can’t put off what you want to do, if you really want to do it. The thing is, who knows if you’ll be around still, or in what state? I would be wary of taking advice from someone who is worried about their “status”.

Davis 05.12.08 | 9:56 AM ET

Carlo, you can learn about yourself and the world anywhere and anytime.  The point isn’t whether there is some good to be gotten by travel at some particular age, but rather whether Brian’s time at this point in his life be better spent getting some credentials, some human capital, that he can draw on as needed later in life.  Unless he is in an unusual situation, I suspect finishing his formal education will be best done now so that he doen’t find himself later either regretting it or having to go back to school later and give up even more valuable travel time.
And any traveler who doesn’t think status is important has not been paying attention.  You do not wrap yourself in it but keep it in your pocket, to be deployed as needed.  I would offer as a model Patrick Leigh Fermor, who might sleep in a hay stack one night but use it another night to get invited to an interesting castle. All travelers make use of their status, be it as young students or citizens of some particular country or of their comparative wealth or the high mission upon which they come.  It is convenient to have several of these in your pack, to be brought out as the situation requires. I merely suggest to Brian that “lawyer” might be a useful one, and that this might be a convenient time to pick it up.

Carlo 05.12.08 | 7:26 PM ET

Fair enough, I think you expressed yourself much better than in your original comment, which to me just sounded like a bitter, old-school view. You do make some good points, but I still stand by what I said. There is no right or wrong answer; it all boils down to what Brian figures out - if his feelings are really just re-entry as Rolf suggests, then he will realize that soon enough (it doesn’t take long to reintegrate back into a “normal” life). But if that itch is still there and it won’t go away, I don’t think it is constructive to ignore it and carry on like it’s not. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Brian, you sound like a smart, resourceful person…you’ll be alright.

Ireq 05.16.08 | 5:16 PM ET

I believe that fulfiling our dreams makes our lives ful of sense. But first we need some financial vocational reinforcement though.

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