I grew up in lower-middle class family. My single-parent mom did the best she could, getting by with a little help from my grandparents, and the random child-support payment from my also-struggling errant dad. Travel was a luxury reserved for our once-a-year road trips, our aging station wagon following my grandpa’s glinting silver Airstream trailer as we followed I-94 from Michigan to Florida or Tennessee for a week of not-exactly-roughing it.
I never knew the costs of those trips, but when I entered a private high school and saw my affluent friends spend spring break in Cancun or Jamaica, I knew that if my mother – who worked 60-hour weeks as a nurse manager to support us – had to save all year for a budget road trip, travel on a grander scale was simply out of my reach. I continued under this assumption in college; I made a few hundred dollars a month at my part-time job so there was no way I could afford an international trip. Oh, if I only I’d known then what I know now.
Now I know that international travel can be much cheaper than I ever expected, that the world is safe and welcoming and that international travel is one of the best and most rewarding experiences at any age. Perhaps if I’d only known that I’d take my first international trip (at age 23) to Ireland for just $600 I might have begun traveling sooner, expanding my world view at an earlier age, and developing a better sense of myself before my late-20’s. Traveling in college (and even high school) can accomplish all this and more and make you a better student with first-hand experience of the world around you.
If, like me, you think you can’t afford to travel on your limited student budget, think again. Here are a few ways to make travel a part of your education.
Study abroad is the most obvious way to combine travel with your curriculum. May students opt to study abroad in European countries like Italy and Spain, but there are options all over the world, including in South America and Asia (like studying abroad in China). If the school you’re enrolled in doesn’t offer a program, you can often create your own independent exchange program, studying at a foreign university and then transferring the credits back to your home school. If you can’t swing this for an entire semester, you can often take summer classes.
Semester at Sea
If you’re up for studying abroad but don’t want to limit yourself to one place, check out Semester at Sea. On Semester at Sea ships, students travel around the world for 100 days, visiting 8 to 11 countries, taking classes on board the ship and exploring on their own and through guided excursions while in port. Credit earned is fully transferable by the University of Virginia.
Unless you take a career break at some point in your life, you’ll never have as much free time to travel again until you retire. Don’t waste the opportunity to travel long-term while you’re young and have fewer commitments and pressures. Taking a gap year – between high school and college, between undergrad and grad school, or between college and entering the workforce – gives you time to see the world before “settling down” and to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life. And being well-traveling can give you a leg up on the competition when it comes to college admissions and job applications as your travels will teach you vital skills in communication, time-management and teamwork. Plus, since most students don’t have a permanent home (aside from their parents’ house), there’s less physical “stuff” prohibiting them from taking an extended trip.
Study a language
Knowing a second language is becoming more important in today’s global marketplace, and there’s no better way to learn than through full immersion. There are countless language schools around the world, and many offer a very affordable way to learn a language. Your experience studying in another country may or may not get you credit at your home university, but it will put you ahead of the pack when it comes to applying for jobs after school.
This one requires a bit of creativity, but may be the best option for you, depending on your field of study. At some schools, college credit is awarded for internships, which can be set up through the school or independently. If you can find a job, experience, or voluntourism opportunity that you could argue would provide a valuable experience related to your studies, your school may approve it for internship credits.
So you don’t have the money for a gap year, and you just can’t make a study abroad or internship program work. There’s another option. If you like kids and have experience in the child care field, you can become an au pair. This is certainly a job, with set hours and responsibilities, but you’ll have some time off to explore the city you’re in and areas nearby. Some families might only hire an au pair for the summer months, so you can spend your summer vacation abroad and earn a bit of money while you do.
Read more about student travel and creative ways you can see the world:
- 12 of the Best Jobs that Pay You to Travel
- Student travel deals
- 9 Picturesque Locations for a Working Holiday in Australia
- 28 Ways to Save Money for Traveling