A Primer for Student Travel

Traveling internationally is one of the most rewarding, frustrating, exhilarating, humbling, and educational endeavors one can pursue. I haven’t met many people, once they’ve put an overseas trip or two behind them, who expressed no interest whatsoever in doing it again. I’ve been fortunate to share these kinds of experiences with a few of my colleagues in the Department of Communication at West Texas A&M University. Specifically, Kim Bruce and I have taken two Travel Writing groups on trips to Japan and South Korea in recent years.

IMG_1301WTAsia2013 Travel Writing students at Mount Fuji, Japan, in 2013

IMG_9831WTAsia2015 Travel Writing students at a baseball game in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015

One of the students who went on our Study Abroad trip this summer recently asked my advice about doing some more traveling once she graduates. That got me to thinking about what kind of general advice I would offer any college or university student who is interested in getting to another country (or multiple countries) for a little while.

Traveling During the School Year

Study Abroad is a terrific option, and now is a great time to do it. The Institute of International Education recently launched an initiative called Generation Study Abroad, which aims to double the number of American college students studying in foreign locales by the end of this decade.

Generally, you have two options when choosing a Study Abroad program. If you want to spend a semester or two studying at a university in another country, that’s a great way to dig into the local culture while still getting your necessary course credits for graduation. It allows you to stay on track academically while still satisfying your need to do something completely different.

If the prospect of spending months away from your family and friends makes it difficult for you to sleep at night, a short term Study Abroad course might be your ticket. This is when you and your classmates — and your professor(s) — travel for a much shorter period, typically one to two weeks. There’s a good chance your university offers a few of these opportunities every semester or two, so check in with your Study Abroad office to find out what courses and locations might be on the schedule.

Travel Writing Through AsiaRecruiting poster for our WTAsia2013 Travel Writing course

Traveling During School Breaks

It certainly can be done, but you have to think a bit more carefully about where you want to go in the amount of time that you have. Depending on one’s school, the winter holiday break in the United States could be as short as two weeks or as long as five. That can be a lengthy enough period to travel to any continent, get over your jet lag, and spend some quality time getting to know your temporary home.

Spring break is a bit tricky because it’s just one week. My suggestion: travel somewhere that doesn’t take you across too many time zones. This year, I hopped a plane to Ecuador during spring break. It was my first visit to South America, but because I stayed in the same time zone, I didn’t have to deal with jet lag once I got there or even when I got back to Texas. And don’t forget about the Caribbean. If you’re into cruising, there are plenty of those available for less than a week.

IMG_9035Shopping at a traditional Andean market in Otavalo, Ecuador

Traveling After Graduation

The “spend a year traveling” idea is as popular as ever, and I encourage it! But I do have some thoughts on that matter.

A year of traveling sounds exciting, but it will be exhausting. During the past three summers, I’ve traveled internationally on stretches ranging from four to seven weeks at a time. It’s fun, but it’s tiring. If you want to spend a year traveling, do it in smaller chunks. Think of it as “a year of travels” without actually being gone the entire time. Maybe you spend a month exploring a couple of countries in Asia, then you come home to recuperate and earn a little money. Then you traverse parts of Europe for six weeks, come home and spend part of summer with family and friends, and then light out for Africa. You get the idea.

IMG_2452Hostels, like this one in Jeju, South Korea, are good choices for travelers with tight budgets

You’ll also have richer experiences (and won’t spend as much money) by staying longer in places. Fight the urge to spend 36 hours here, two days there, and 24 hours over there. That’s part of the thrill of travel, for sure, but keeping that pace gets wearisome when it’s stretched across weeks instead of days. In today’s sharing economy, you can often rent an apartment for as much as (or less than) a hotel room, and it comes with loads of advantages. Dig into a new city for a week, and settle into the pace of local life. Shop at the neighborhood grocery stores and cook your own food. Chill out at the nearby coffee shop. There’s no need to rush. It cuts down on travel costs, too. If you’re taking a train or plane every few days, that becomes expensive really quickly.

IMG_2438Renting an apartment (this one’s in Amsterdam, The Netherlands) allows you to become part of the neighborhood

If you have the financial means to do this on a whim, kudos to you. Most of us have to save some cash. Here’s my bias: I don’t recommend the “cheap as I can get, I’ll sleep on park benches and bum rides from strangers” kind of travel. If that’s your thing, hey — have at it. I just don’t think it’s the best thing to do, especially for folks who haven’t traveled much. So if you want to fly to Europe, live comfortably for a couple of weeks, pay admission fees to interesting attractions, travel from one location to the next, and eat every day, you’ll need a few thousand dollars. It would also be a good idea to have a credit card in case of emergencies (or when you find really, really cool souvenirs).

Finally, if you’re new to the explorer lifestyle but want to start fulfilling some of your travel dreams, you don’t have to find the most exotic place on the map and go there. Start with a country, culture, or language that is familiar to you. It’s still an international experience, but you’ll likely be able to quickly figure things out — such as train schedules or which bus to take from the airport — that would seem nearly impossible in a completely brand new situation. Once you get the feel for how these things work, it’ll be a bit easier the next time you’re somewhere where you can’t read the signs or speak the local language. You’ll already know the drill.

One of the most exciting parts of travel is simply considering your possible destinations. So get started! And then get going.

IMG_2255WTAsia2013 visiting Tokyo DisneySea theme park in Tokyo, Japan

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