Study Abroad vs Independent Travel: Which is Right For You

If you’re a college student, then you’ve certainly thought about the prospect of studying abroad. Not only is studying abroad a life changing experience, but it’s one that will shape your world view for years to come. But with rising tuition rates, and uncertainty surrounding international travel, it’s no wonder that college students have begun looking towards alternative ways to see the world. The best alternative, by far, is to travel abroad independently. There are plenty of pros and cons to studying abroad and traveling independently, and in this article I’ll inform you which option is best for you.

Should I Study Abroad or Travel On My Own?

Studying abroad will allow you to feel like you are living in a foreign country, while independent travel will feel more like a long vacation. However, independent travel is a much cheaper experience that will allow you to broaden your cultural horizons without the same commitment that study abroad requires. The typical study abroad program costs $15,000, while a short independent trip rarely exceeds $5,000.

Of course, the price of your independent trip will depend on the length of your stay. Longer trips can easily cost more than five thousand dollars. But if you’re a free spirit and don’t want to be held back by your coursework, then consider taking a solo trip abroad on your own time.

While it’s definitely the more expensive option, if you are more interested in finally getting an opportunity to live in another country, then studying abroad is well worth the price.

The Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad allows you to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time, something that most people will never do. Since the experience is only possible during your college years, many students jump on the opportunity to get to another culture through their school’s study abroad program.

Pro: When you study abroad, you are truly living in another country. It’s a far cry from what you experience when you’re on an independent trip. College could very well be the only time you will get this opportunity.

Con: You will still be in school, which will take time away from some of your travel plans. The fact is, when you study abroad you are still a student. This means you will still have homework, quizzes and tests that will require your attention. It’s not a vacation. But, there’s still plenty of time to travel on the weekends. Just make sure you structure your schedule in a way that will allow you free time to do some exploring.

Pro: There’s much more structure during study abroad trips than there is with independent trips. You will live in a dorm, apartment, or host house, and you will have a class schedule. You will really feel like a local when you’re walking to class or coming home to your foreign host family.

Con: Studying abroad is expensive. Like I said before, the tuition prices for study abroad programs can cost a pretty penny. If this is a problem for you, look into the possibility of receiving a grant or scholarship that could help alleviate some of the financial burden that comes from studying abroad. Also, some countries have much more affordable tuition rates compared to the United States. Countries like Norway and Germany are some of the most affordable places to attend school, so they are worth putting on your radar.

The Pros and Cons of Independent Travel

Independent travel is a direct slap in the face of everything study abroad stands for. It’s a completely opposite, but sometimes more freeing experience. Traveling on your own, whether you go with a group of friends or by yourself, will put you in charge of your own experience. There will be no preset structure, you will have to create your own itinerary and make your own schedule. If you want to have a more independent and less costly experience, then consider foregoing study abroad and going on an independent trip.

Pro: Traveling on your own puts you in charge of your own experience. You will have complete control over where you want to go, and what you want to do when you get there.

Con: You might not feel like a local. You won’t be living in your own apartment, you’ll be staying in hostels or AirBnBs. Also, you might be moving from place to place, visiting different cities or countries. But if this is the experience you’re looking for, don’t worry. Going on an independent trip can be even more vivid and fulfilling than a study abroad trip, as it will allow you to see more and do more.

Pro: You will have more time to travel. Since your whole week won’t be filled with coursework, you will actually get the chance to travel to different areas. You won’t be studying for tests or doing homework during your coveted international trip.

Con: Independent trips are usually short lived. Traveling alone requires much more energy than studying abroad, since you’re constantly moving from place to place. Because of this, it’s likely that your independent trip will be much shorter than a study abroad trip.

Pro: This is the perfect time for solo travel. During my college years, I decided to go on a solo trip instead of studying abroad. I have no regrets about going this route, and I would reccommend it to anyone who wants a more independent experience.


Whether you choose to study abroad or just travel freely, understand that each opportunity is a vastly different experience. If you are an independent person who likes to plan their own schedule and place responsibility into their own hands, then you’re better off going on a trip of your own. If you want to feel like a local and have more of a structure, then it’s worth it to study abroad.

Either way, spending time abroad is something to be really excited about. These are experiences that will last forever, whether you’re studying abroad or going on an independent trip.

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