As the global marketplace continues to grow, there is an increased pressure for college graduates to go above and beyond to be as competitive to employers as they possibly can. Instead of just attending classes and gradually transitioning into adulthood, college students are now expected to take on internships and join the rat race as soon as possible so they can get a job, earn money, and do what's expected of them.
Taylor McIntyre, a New York-based photographer, decided following the trend wasn't for her, deciding instead to find herself by getting lost in Europe after graduating from Ithaca College.
McIntyre had explored a lot of the United States while she was growing up, but didn't have experience with international travel. Like so many others in college, she dreamed of taking time off to see the world before getting locked down by the confines of a career. Unlike the majority of those dreamers, though, she actually did something about it.
"I was visiting family over Christmas break my senior year of college and said in passing 'I'd love to take a year and travel,'" McIntyre told A Plus. "I was surprised when my Mom responded with, 'Then do it.' Part of my hesitation about going was my parents, but my mom was so supportive."
After graduating in May 2011, she worked two full-time jobs to get enough money saved for the European trip of a lifetime. She set off a few months later in October.
By using a website that helped her find lodging through sleeping on the couches of gracious hosts, she began in Norway, planning on visiting the United Kingdom and other expected locations in Western Europe.
"Throughout the trip it was always little things that I found interesting. I had a list of the tiny cultural differences that I found fascinating," she explained. "I went into the trip with a very open mind and eager to learn about all the different cultures so most of the time it wasn't difficult to adapt."
By allowing herself to become immersed in the trip, she abandoned her initial plan, visiting places based on recommendations by locals.
Of course, not all of those cultural differences were without their challenges. Not only did she have to become acquainted with the different customs in different areas, the locals had some pre-conceived ideas about her as an American, too. She claims she often felt obligated to go out of her way to disprove some of the stereotypes, though after a while she began to ignore much of it.
"Most of the stereotypes came as backhanded compliments. 'You're so ___ for an American.' That blank was filled with, quiet, smart, thin, polite, funny, etc.," she recalled. "One Canadian girl told me I was 'really chill for an American.' I'm still not sure what that meant. "
While traveling alone on an unfamiliar continent is difficult enough, doing so as a woman tends to raise a few eyebrows. Morocco, in particular, is notoriously difficult for female travelers. This leg of the journey was made in the company of a male friend, though she still was subjected to inappropriate behavior. Despite the lewd responses of some, she claims they were not representative of all Moroccans.
"I do want to say I did meet really awesome people there as well," she stated. "One man gave me and my friend a ride for free to the bus station because we were lost, another shopkeeper made dinner for us one night and gave us gifts from his shop all for free. "
Her journey came to an end after visiting 30 European countries during a span of 11 months, carrying all of her belongings using a large backpack. Throughout the course of her trip, she had experienced everything from traditional Italian pasta to fine French cuisine, to blood pancakes in Norway.
When she returned to the States, she found that coming home wasn't as easy as she anticipated. While abroad and immersed by people speaking unfamiliar languages, it blended together as white noise and focus on what she was experiencing. Back on the streets of New York, being able to understand what everyone in the crowd was saying bombarded her with a cacophony of chatter, which she describes as "sensory overload."
On the whole, she claims she has never once regretted her decision to take a trip.
While her peers stayed at home and started their careers from the bottom, McIntyre provided herself a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build an impressive travel photography portfolio that was very attractive to employers. Her trip also gave her an important skill that she may not have learned otherwise: the ability to let go of control.
"Plans can change or everything can go wrong in an instant and I would have to figure out my next move. Most of the time when things go wrong, those end up being your best stories," she said. "I was such a control freak before, thinking I could micro-manage my whole trip. But the more I just let things happen the more fun I had and the more open I was to new experiences."
She continues to take international vacations at least once a year and hopes to replicate her experience again for a shorter duration, should she find the time. She also has encouraging words for anyone else who is dreaming of what lies beyond their nearest airport ticket counter:
"Do it, just go. You can probably come up with a million and one reasons not to but in the end it will be so worth it," she concluded. "Also, I'd say no matter where you go don't spend more than a day doing touristy things. Try to really get to know the place you're in. Explore tiny neighborhoods and try to get to know locals. People usually love to show off their city they'll tell you about the best places to eat or the coolest underground art gallery. There is so much more to traveling that just getting a picture of the oldest statue in town. "