When your passion is traveling, the world is your classroom — and your majors include destinations from China to the United Kingdom. Where attending an on-campus program may make learning about these countries only available through textbooks, the convenience of an online education makes earning a degree from 30,000 feet up an attainable experience.
“I just take my laptop with me and go,” says Afton Thompson, an undergraduate psychology major. “The last two semesters I’ve been ordering digital books so I don’t even have to carry physical books with me.”
Afton had been working in the finance industry for nearly 10 years when she realized she was unhappy in her job, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do next. She applied for new positions, but only received offers for finance-related roles. She decided to finish her degree, but didn’t have the time or money to quit and go on campus. Her search then moved to online programs. After finding ASU, she applied and, once accepted, started immediately.
“I went through the program quickly,” she says. “It’s been a year and a half, and I will graduate this December.”
While working full-time and taking classes soaks up a lot of hours in her week, Afton says the key to managing it all is discipline.
“I love that ASU has so many resources,” she says. “I’ve talked with my Success Coach and have had a bit of tutoring here and there. I also think it’s awesome that the instructors are really hands on. They introduce themselves, have welcome videos and I can email them anytime. But in the grand scheme of things, you are on your own and have to be accountable for yourself.”
Which is why it’s especially impressive that alongside work and school, Afton has been simultaneously building a travel blog she co-started with a friend: Airport Diaries 15. Over the past six months, the duo has been active in turning the blog into something more.
“We talk about how to navigate the cheapest way to travel, since a lot of people don’t travel because they think it’s too expensive,” Afton explains. “I’ve been to Europe for less than $1,500, and Thailand, Japan and China for less than $1,500, all while staying at five-star resorts. You just have to know how to work the system.”
Recently, Afton and her friend began curating trips for others, including sending a couple on a 10-year anniversary trip to Paris. While they currently coordinate trips for couples or small groups, they hope to eventually start a travel club where they can plan trips for larger groups.
“I want to tie it in to what I do after graduation,” Afton says. “I don’t want anything that confines me to an office. Traveling is so much fun, and you learn so much and meet so many people that I’m definitely trying to turn that into a career.”
So what are some of her best travel tips?
“I travel every year for my birthday in March,” she begins. “I either make it a point to travel on the exact day or a day or two in advance. My advice is to buy a coach ticket, get to the airport early, let them know it’s your birthday and ask for a free upgrade. They are easiest to get if you’re by yourself or with one other person.”
She also recommends checking out workaway.info, a website that promotes cultural exchange, volunteer and work opportunities.
“You can go on and find any country you want to visit and work in exchange for room and board,” Afton says. “You pay for your own flight to get there, but once there you do a job for them. It can be anything. You’re required to do a minimum of two weeks but can stay up to four months.”
Afton discovered the site while visiting Costa Rica. During her stay at a surf camp, she and her friend realized they were the only people who had paid for their lodging. The camp had a yoga instructor, photographer and web developer from Work Away, as well as two women from Canada who had chosen to be on kitchen and bathroom duty.
“It’s not an all day job,” says Afton. “It’s maybe two or three hours. You clean all the bathrooms and then have the rest of the day to go explore.”
She was so inspired that she went on to use the website during her trip to Europe last fall. She traveled through Iceland and went to London, Paris and Rome. While in Rome and London, she did Work Away at hostels. On kitchen duty, she woke up in the morning and washed dishes and wiped down counters, before setting off for the day to gallivant around the cities.
To combine her passion for travel with a career, Afton is now exploring art curation.
“When I first started at ASU, I was going to double major, but it was going to take too long to finish,” she says. “Now I’m going to do a master’s in art curating and tie it into my career. Hopefully I can travel and purchase artwork and artifacts to bring home for people.”
Learn more about ASU Online’s undergraduate psychology degree program.