Traveling has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in college. It’s completely opened my mind and altered the way I’m able to view the world. It was, though, an endeavor that I struggled to begin. I had to break down many internal walls in order to see that I was in fact able to travel. Now that I have had the experiences that I have, I try to encourage everyone I possibly can to get out and have new experiences, even if it’s just driving two hours down the highway. So, for any college students who have “unrealistic” dreams of travel, I’d like you to know that your dreams are completely realistic. Here is my advice for traveling as a student:
There is no “Right” Way to Travel
One of the most common reasons people say they don’t travel is that they want to do it the “right” way. But let me tell you, this is pure BS. There is no “right” way to travel! Budget travel is not wrong. Luxury travel is not wrong. Traveling to relax is not wrong. Traveling to adventure is not wrong. Being a tourist is not wrong. Rejecting typical tourist activities is not wrong. Just get out of your house, get out of your comfort zone, and do something new. You don’t have to spend large sums of money to have a valuable experience. ANY travel is better than none. So YES, you can travel. You just have to alter your mindset and accept that there are many forms of travel.
Travel Close to Home
Traveling doesn’t have to be to some far off places. You don’t have to get on a plane to be traveling. The spirit of travel is adventure and experience! Take adventures close to home. Have experiences you haven’t yet had. Take a road trip with your pals or even alone. Spend time exploring your community, especially if you have moved away for school.
Make the Most of Your Breaks
I try to utilize my short breaks such as three day weekends and fall and spring break to embark on smaller adventures. For example, I’m currently planning a road trip to Crater Lake and Portland for my spring break. It’s only around a six hour drive from home, but it’s still an adventure. I try to use my longer breaks for the bigger trips out of the country. The California State University system provides us with a month long winter break. It also just so happens that January is one of the cheapest times to travel. I try to spend a week or two during these breaks taking big trips, such as my upcoming trip to Scotland. Summer is another great time to travel, though it does tend to be a little more expensive and provides much busier streets. Though, if I have the money to do so, I’m more than happy to take a long, multi-country excursion during this extensive time off. It’s unlikely that I’ll have such large amounts of time off once I enter the full-time workforce, so I’m taking advantage of it now!
Work for your University, and Work Hard
When I first got to college, I found a very simple part-time university job for minimum wage. Working for the university has had many benefits, the best of which has been advancement opportunities. Most University student positions are designed for professional development and career advancement. My particular university offers a significant amount of wage advancement as well. Along with many of my co-workers, I’ve received quite a few raises within my time in my position. While I did work quite hard to earn my wage, I am fortunate to be in a position where it is possible to benefit from such work. The hard work that I put in, as well as advancement opportunities, allow me to gradually save enough money for travel (once I’ve paid my bills, of course).
If you find yourself in a position where such opportunities aren’t readily available, my recommendation would be to relentlessly seek campus positions. Office and leadership positions tend to offer lots of advancement opportunities. Working for your university is also a great general success tip for school. University based employers tend to be more flexible and have more to offer than much of what you will find off campus.
Save then Spend
I save as much money as I possibly can. I’ve done so by greatly reducing my grocery spending to less than $100 a month and adopting a semi-minimalist lifestyle. If you’re interested, take a look at my article on reducing grocery costs here. I’m typically able to deposit $400-$1,000 into my savings account each month. I do so almost immediately after receiving my paycheck. I’m the kind of person that will spend what I see. So to prevent this, I deposit all but enough money to pay my bills, buy groceries, and have a $100 cushion as soon as possible. This way, the money is out of the reach of my debit card. Watching the savings build up is one of the most satisfying feelings – quite an accomplishing one. While watching my savings grow is satisfying, that is not why I have them. I have the savings to spend. When I have enough for at least two trips, I book one. Spend your savings and spend them on experiences – but always leave enough to build upon.
College is the best period in your life to discover your independence. Traveling alone can seem daunting at first, but it’s a perfect way to test yourself. Of course, do some research before embarking on a solo adventure. I recommend easing into it. You can travel to a country where you can understand the language initially, until you become more comfortable being in a foreign environment. Eventually, you’ll be able to build yourself up to being comfortable not understanding everything around you.
Research! Research! Research!
You should never travel somewhere new without conducting a few hours of research first. Not only will this help you feel comfortable in the new environment, it will increase your cultural knowledge of the location and (hopefully) prevent you from partaking in culturally rude behavior. You should keep an open mind when traveling. You should do as much as you can to abandon your own and immerse yourself in the new.
Talk to Your Professors
Ask your professors about their travel experiences. Most of the professors I’ve had as an English, History, and German Studies student have been pretty well traveled. I spend what time I can taking up their office hours with travel talk. I enjoy hearing their stories, advice, and destination suggestions. When I do book a trip, I try to visit a professor who has been where I’m going. When I went to talk with one of my English professors about my upcoming trip to London and Edinburgh, he gave me a long list of suggested books to read while traveling and a few travel books about England and Scotland.
Talking to your professors about your life experiences, such as travel, is also good academic advice. Building relationships with your professors is one of the most important things you should do in college. It will make your life so much easier during your studies and make you more memorable when you ask for letters of recommendation.
Personally, studying abroad was not an option for me. However, I do believe it is a valuable experience. Many of my friends have studied abroad and their stories make me slightly envious. I always have grad school though! Here’s an excerpt from my good friend Kristina, who is currently studying abroad in Wales:
“Studying abroad has been a great way for me to travel, something I never thought would actually happen. The process of going abroad is stressful and intimidating, but there are people to help along the way and the feeling you have when arriving to your new home is indescribable. Being in a new country has allowed me to meet so many people that I wouldn’t normally meet back in the States and I also get a feel for how education works in other parts of the world. I have been in Swansea, Wales for 2 ½ months and I have already traveled extensively around the Southern Welsh coast, been to the Welsh capital, taken a couple trips to England and have a 10 day trip to Europe planned for the winter break. Exploring Swansea in itself is an adventure every time I step out the front door! I felt that I needed to spend a year abroad, but there are many programs out there that are one semester or even five weeks of summer. I highly recommend anyone who can and wants to go abroad to just go for it!”
Don’t let mindsets prevent you from fully experiencing life. All the excuses not to travel are just excuses. Once you let them go, traveling becomes much more realistic than American society makes it seem. Being a student shouldn’t prevent you from living. Yes school is stressful, but there are plenty of breaks that truly make it the perfect time to travel. The chance that your career will allow you the same breaks is slim. So seize opportunities and let go of fear. Once you’re able to do this, your world will change.