05/17/2012 12:34 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

Your Parent's Basement: The New Post-College Vacation

Post-college panic attacks are nothing new. Sure the economy is worse than it was in the late '90s or at the turn of the century (this century). Dreams of tossing off your cap and gown and waltzing into a steady, paid gig pretty much belong in the past, at least for now, but life and the future and all that jazz was still scary when the economy wasn't so brutal. The difference seems to be that now lost, disillusioned, paranoid twenty-somethings move back with their parents and hole up in their hometown watching shows about lost, disillusioned paranoid twenty-somethings just like them. In the recent past, you would throw on a backpack, get on a plane, stay at roach infested hostels and travel the world to ease your existential mania.

Is it the end of backpacking and Eurorail passes as we know it? Traveling the world isn't cheap, and only the fortunate few are able to jet over to Florence or Buenos Aires to experience life outside their little bubble. If you can't find a job, if your nightmares consist of a student loan demon chasing you through a dark forest with a hatchet and some Sallie Mae bills, and if you actually are forced to call Mom and Dad's spare room your "apartment," buying a Lonely Planet Europe book probably isn't in your budget or on your mind. Even taking cross-country trips is a luxury -- hello $4.39 per gallon. The dollar used to go pretty far in places like Prague or Lima. Now? Not so much. But even with all of these hindrances, there is always a way to tear yourself away from watching episodes of Girls and get your ass out of your comfort zone.

Not to sound all "I used to walk two miles in the snow to school" and all, but... we used to travel. And we were broke, and disillusioned, and scared. My own existential meltdown resulted in me having an actual panic attack at the Big Fancy Agency I worked at post-college. They paid peanuts, I ran around delivering screenplays to red-faced tyrannical agents that threatened to blow up our part of the building if we didn't have the script to them on time, and I resorted to hemming my pants with the stapler at work -- a pretty OK substitute for a tailor. Not exactly a dream job -- but it was a job. Still, the fear of an unknown future was the same as now. I could have moved home I guess, but instead I left the stapler and the Big Fancy Agency behind and made a plan. That plan was: go travel.

I took three waitressing jobs, slept on my friends' floor for two months (I don't think they even had a couch), bought a ticket, strapped on a backpack, and got the hell out of Dodge so I could try and get some perspective and make some sense of life, love and mortality -- all the big stuff. Most of my friends traveled too, whether it was Central America or Asia, whether they were rich or living off Ramen. And it helped. Getting that kind of perspective, relying only on yourself to find shelter and food, trying to communicate in other languages, staying calm when you get stranded at a creepy train station and can't read any of the signs -- all these things make your twenty-something woes seem pretty small. There's a big world out there, and it's not just about you or your problems or what you think. Maybe the days of budget backpacking are over, which is too bad. But there are still tables to wait and floors to sleep on. And it's worth it.