It is the dream of every student. It is the dream to travel to a far off place and experience the world that isn’t simply available in the words of a textbook. The opportunity to experience a culture far removed from our own. Up until now student travel remained the elusive dream for so many who wanted to learn about the world from experience and adventure, and today it is more possible than ever.
Today there are more students traveling abroad than ever before. In a 2008 study, USA Today reported that by the 2006-2007 academic year, more than 241,791 American students were studying abroad, a 150% increase from only a decade earlier. Through organizations, careful planning, and school funded programs; the world was never become as accessible to students as it has become in recent years.
Of course there are the usual constraints: money, the wanting for career orientation and graduating sooner, the general anxiety or fear of the first voyage into the unknown. There is a tremendous leap of faith required when deciding or boarding the plane, but in the end, the experience and the self-discovery are more than worth their weight in gold.
There are many ways to get started. I will be highlighting international volunteering, university programs, and freelance traveling.
Traveling abroad brings images of the glamorous sections of the world: A year in Paris, Rome, Tokyo, maybe a romp through Spain or the classic road trip across the USA. How about a six-month stay in Tanzania or Kenya? How about an orphanage in Mumbai, Kathmandu, or saving turtles in Costa Rica?
Volunteering gives one the opportunity to explore the less seen edges of the world while committing to a variety of services that include animal conservation, women’s empowerment, and AIDS education. Through programs such as International Volunteer Headquarters, the exotic and the unknown is within our grasp. The concept of traveling to developing nations conjures images of dusty streets, dangerous areas, and inhospitable living. However legions of volunteer veterans can attest that this could not be farther from the truth.
Volunteering means working in an international community, many of the participants are the same age and achieving the same goal: time away from home to give back to the fledging world. My own personal experience took me to Nepal in 2010 for a six-month stay. Working in an orphanage with other volunteers coming from countries ranging from New Zealand to Canada and everywhere in between, I enjoyed the safe comforts of a local family who provided a more authentic experience than I could have gotten from any tour group.
Working through an independent organization versus volunteering in the Peace Corps has its advantages for any student. Although stipends are not available like they are in the more prestigious organization, it is possible to choose the site, the work detail, and the length of time ranging from a minimum of a week to a maximum of six months. The programs are reasonably priced and the exchange rates in many of these countries are very favorable to westerners.
In the off time, volunteers can take advantage of exploring the country on their own. My own journey took me climbing, whitewater rafting, and hiking deep through the high Nepali Himalayas. In the end, I reached out to a global community of friends with whom I still stay in contact and had an authentic cultural experience during that time.
University and School Programs
More than ever, universities throughout the United States are offering a variety of opportunities to travel and explore. From study abroad programs to weekends away, taking advantage of what the surroundings have to offer is a fantastic way to travel and in many cases earn college credit while away.
Traveling through a university program allows a student to link their foreign studies with their major, providing first hand exposure and real world experience. A sojourn through Italy or France to study art and history, or a voyage through Shanghai or Hong Kong, two of the worlds major business centers, can offer an undeniable advantage that expands horizons both in language and in culture.
Many universities also offer weekend excursions usually through a recreation center. These could include but are not limited to rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skiing, hiking and camping trips. These provide students with opportunities to develop outdoor skills as well as the chance to explore the breadth of adventures that are available within ones own backyard.
When traveling through a school, the logistics, plans and accommodations are already organized, yet for those who truly want to rough it, I will introduce you to freelance traveling.
Freelance traveling is an unbound, unlimited sojourn usually planned out as it goes along. It usually involves sleeping wherever there is space, cooking independently or relying on the kindness of strangers for meals, and an opportunity for an economical way to travel. Many dream of the romantic road trip throughout Europe and to see the cosmopolitan cities. But a new form of travel has emerged: Europe outside the Euro zone.
With the Euro at a record high versus the dollar, economical travel throughout Europe is a daunting thought on the wallet. However traveling through countries that have yet to adopt the Euro can make this considerably more affordable with the added experience of seeing the less seen side while retaining the European charm.
Countries such as Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Poland are attractive to budget travelers and provide a twist to the classic European journey.
Freelance traveling involves careful planning and rationing of supplies and funds. It requires creativity in transportation that includes but is not limited to backpacking and hitchhiking.
Europe has developed a range of budget airlines, many geared at the economically savvy traveler. Airlines such as RyanAir provide low-cost air travel throughout Europe.
When traveling through Europe, it is wise to buy a multi-day train pass. The train plays the role of a mobile hotel giving the opportunity not only to relax and unwind but get scenic views as it meanders from country to country. Once in the desired city, there is no need for scrounging for places to sleep.
Freelance travel through Europe can break the constraints of itineraries and timetables while allowing exploration the back doors. By having intelligent plans, a sound mind, and a bit of street smarts, it provides a unique economical way to explore the old continent.
There is more opportunity than ever for the economic student traveler. The world has opened up to those looking for an authentic experience. From a Volunteer excursion through Asia or South America, to a weekend whitewater trip, or the thrill of backpacking through some of the relatively unexplored cities of Europe, there is very little excuse not to travel. The world is there for the taking, and it is well within reach.