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Making Travel a Priority in College

The question I am asked most often in reference to my blog and lifestyle in general is, “How are you able to travel so much? I wish I could do that.” It’s mostly people from high school or college who maybe had one study abroad experience and that was the extent of their travels. I always give the same answer: I made it a priority. You may have bought a new car, rented a nice apartment or sensibly saved up for retirement. I chose to spend my winter and summer breaks abroad. I’m sure it will come back to bite me in the ass, but as for now, I’m content with my choices. So if you’re in college, or even if you’re not, here are my tips on how you can make travel happen.

I had been on a few international trips when I left for college. In December of my freshman year, my friend Christine and I signed up for a tour with EF College Break to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. After that trip, I made one nearly every year. The next trip was to London and Ireland independently before Croatia after graduation. I considered study abroad, but the idea of having to go to class while the whole world is outside my classroom door didn’t sound realistic.

Why Now?

People often get sucked into the mentality of “I can always travel later.” Yes, you might, but you might not. More often than not, you will find some job that pays most of the bills and an apartment you’ve settled into and then it becomes much less feasible.

No Ties

Being in college means you probably don’t have a family to support. You don’t have big, scary things like a mortgage holding you down. As people always tell me, “Now is the time to do it.”

Education

Traveling only adds to your well-rounded education you’re getting. You can see the paintings you’re studying in art history in person, experience the financial crisis in Europe firsthand instead of hearing about it in economics or intern at an international firm you might one day like to work for.

Cheap

As a student, you get all sorts of deals on everything from flights to food to hostels. And oh yeah, most students don’t mind staying in hostels because they’re not much better than college dorm rooms.

Breaks

The best time to travel is on winter break because destinations are far less crowded, not to mention that it’s the Northern hemisphere low season, making everything cheaper. Summer isn’t a bad time either because once you start a job you only get two weeks vacation (assuming you’re working in the US).

Photo Credit: Jana Loewen

How Can I Do This?

Volunteering

Most colleges and universities organize Alternative Spring Break trips in which students give up any party plans in favor of building houses and helping out in communities.

Teaching English

Companies like i to i offer online TEFL certification, so you can be getting your certificate while you’re in school. Once you have it, you can get jobs after graduation in nearly any country in the world. You are also more likely to get placed in countries with better benefits, like paid vacation time.

Study Abroad

Easily the most common option, students study abroad in semester long and summer programs. Some universities even let you study with other partner universities abroad. Find out what trips your school offers, what classes it accepts for credit and check out GoOverseas for reviews of your chosen program.

WWOOFing

You can spend anywhere from two weeks to a few months working for your food and accommodation on farms all over the world with Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Job requirements vary from farm to farm. Yearly membership is $40 and grants you access to searching for farms and contacting owners.

Working Holidays

Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland all have working holiday schemes with the US where travelers can spend a year working and traveling in the country. Popular jobs include farm work, bartending and au pairing. Visas last for a year and let you work for six months at a time. Some offer two years, but you could stay for as long as your schedule allows.

Where Do I Begin?

Compiling information can definitely be overwhelming, but here’s where I recommend you start.

Study Abroad Office

Even if you aren’t studying abroad, the office has great resources, like the ISIC card, which offers travelers currently enrolled in accredited colleges and universities discounts on everything from museums to food to tours.

Blogs and Websites

Travel blogs are the new guidebooks and there are so many good ones out there. You can find them on my links page.

Travel Agencies

Sites like STA Travel and Student Universe offer great discounts on flights, tours and accommodation for students and travelers under the age of 26. If nothing else, you can see what tours they recommend and follow the route your own way.

How Should I Travel?

You might not be comfortable traveling on your own right away and choose to go with a tour group. Or you might think you can do it cheaper if you plan it yourself.

Tours

For my first overseas trip without my family, my friend and I went with EF College Break because we didn’t feel like planning the trip ourselves. Other student and under 30 travel companies include Contiki, probably the most popular, BusAbout, who I traveled to Croatia with, and Trek America. Pros for tour travel include having most costs paid for before you leave, an expert who knows each city’s background and not having to organize flights and accommodation. You also have a set group of people to hang out with. Cons include visiting tourist traps like diamond factories and nightclubs that give the tour operators kickbacks.

Independent

Since my first initial trip, I’ve done most of my travels independently. I’ve found that I have more flexibility by booking my own flights and hostels and I can avoid overrated attractions. I can also cut costs if I am running low, which you can’t do with tours. But on the flip side, some people may not like the hostel atmosphere and find it difficult to meet people. I recommend CouchSurfing for both cutting costs and meeting locals. Sites like TravBuddy and Meetup are also useful. It’s also a good idea to send an email to friends and family before you go to ask if they have any contacts in the cities you will be visiting. They may not be able to see you, but they could give you a free place to stay or a free meal.

I hope this post has at the very least made you realize how easy student travel can be. If you have any additional questions feel free to contact me.

Now get out there!

26 Responses to Making Travel a Priority in College

  1. Samantha April 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Wonderful post! I agree with you about traveling now, instead of waiting. I have always said you know i don’t want to be 70 am retired before I see the world I want to do it now. Also i did alternative spring break and winter break in NOLA and it was amazing!!’ I also am in the works of doing an around the world trip and Asia trip with my two best friends in 2 years after my masters and my friends bachelors. I would rather spend my money on a plane ticket than a new tv! Though I am saving for a new lens for my camera :) thanks for the links! Check out the photos on my blog :)

    • Caroline April 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Thanks Sam! Lovely pictures you’ve got there! I still have your emails you sent from your trip to Egypt! I’m the same way, wanting to save to travel instead of saving for a house or tv or car.

  2. Rebecca April 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    So agree with making it priority. While my friends in college spent all the money they earned buying DVD’s (this was the early 00’s) and on flashy new cars, I worked and saved all year and would travel every summer to somewhere new.

    And FINALLY! someone in the same position with me with study abroad. I would have NEVER gone to class if I had done it.

  3. Christine April 17, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Totally agree! I took advantage of my long winter breaks to go to Paris on cheap off-season rates with my mom ($500 RT!), visited friends who were studying abroad in Ireland over Thanksgiving break and spent a summer studying in Paris. I worked plenty–and was lucky enough that my parents supported my travel to an extent–so that I could take advantage of all of those breaks and cheap rates. So glad I did!

  4. Ali April 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    I so wish I had traveled more in college and immediately after graduation. I did a 6 week study abroad program to Spain, but I wish I did a full semester. I always heard about people backpacking around Europe for a few months after graduating, but for some reason I didn’t consider it to be something I could do. Better late than never, but if I could go back in time…..

    • Caroline April 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

      At least you’re making up for lost time Ali! Some people never do.

  5. Amanda May 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Fantastic post, Caroline! I’m just like you – I decided in college to make travel a priority, and went on at least one major trip each year. Most of them were with my college marching band (Italy, Montreal, China), which I only joined because of the international performance tours at ridiculously low prices (seriously, a week in Italy, including flights, for $950; and a week in China, again including flights, for $1,100? YES PLEASE!).

    Unlike you though, I DID study abroad – for a semester during my senior year, and it was an amazing experience. I wish I had done it twice or even three times!

    Traveling as a student is often cheap, as you’ve mentioned, and the school breaks make it easier. I’m back in grad school now, and am SO excited to have a month at Christmas and 3 months over the summer in which to travel!

    • Caroline May 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Amanda! I should have stayed in college another year or so so that I could study abroad but since I was going to out of state school, the costs were just too high. But college marching band travel? I think you’ve found yourself a very unique niche!

  6. Margo May 28, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Excellent post, Caroline! Really like that you give such specific and complete ideas – will be very useful to many aspiring travelers.
    Margo recently posted..Seventh Heaven: Photo Essay of Rome’s Aventine HillMy Profile

  7. Mary @ Green Global Travel May 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Caroline, you are spot on. People travel because it is a priority for them. Too bad the USA doesn’t value a Gap Year like other countries. I think it would make Americans much better world citizens. BTW, Great tips and resources!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: Paula Deen on Southern CuisineMy Profile

  8. Krista May 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    I love this and couldn’t agree with you more. If you make travel a priority it WILL happen. :-) Such great ideas and resources you’ve provided too. You rock! :-)
    Krista recently posted..Autumn Sunrise and Slow Cooker Chicken with Olives and Red WineMy Profile

    • Caroline June 1, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks Krista! You’re too sweet!

  9. Kate Turner June 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Some great ideas here! I share your attitude and think you’re doing the right thing – there’s no point postponing travel plans and letting life get in the way. I work full time but travel most months because I’ve made it my priority too. Happy travels!
    Kate Turner recently posted..Magical Mushrooms: Climbing Seville’s SetasMy Profile

  10. Sky July 8, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Fantastic post! I just finished high school and I’m taking a gap year before college but I still get the same questions as you. It has gotten to the point where people flat-out complain that I travel “too much” (because a total of 36 days abroad of 2 years is too much), which is discouraging. But, as you said, travel is a priority for me. I put it before everything (except for college) which means that I don’t go out with my friends every night, I don’t eat out a lot, and I work 70 hours a week to put all of my money into savings so that I can afford to go on these trips. Travel is what makes me happy and a life of nothing but staying here in the States sounds absolutely horrible. When I get to college, I plan on doing the same thing. I’m moving to California from Pennsylvania for college, which will be an adventure itself, and one of my biggest requirements for the college I choose is that it must have great study abroad opportunities. (The fact that my major generally requires study abroad doesn’t hurt at all!) I may regret it later, when I wish that I had saved all of my money for my retirement, but right now, I’m happy!

    (Thanks for all the great links, btw!)
    Sky recently posted..Where Have I Been?!My Profile

  11. Nomadic Samuel August 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    This is a great comprehensive list! I’ve personally funded most of my backpacking adventures by teaching English in South Korea.
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..How To Create A Successful Travel Blog In Your First Year Of BloggingMy Profile

    • Caroline August 30, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      Thanks Samuel! It’s something I’ve thought about but haven’t done yet. There’s still time!

  12. Grant Lucas November 6, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    I started traveling way after college and by the time I am earning and at the same time saving money from work. I make it as a priority now, to make up for the lost time I have when break comes in College. Instead of travel or partying like most of my friends does I work and save. Since I started working I always end up with a plan to take weeks of leave in a year then spend that on traveling. Its not actually a waste of money if you enjoy every moment of it. For me its even educational ’cause you learn a lot of things when you travel even historical background.

  13. Aliah December 15, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    totally found this in a google search and while I was reading it noticed you had a College of Charleston shirt on. I’m a junior there and i’m studying abroad in Spain which makes me want to travel more because i’m about to go back. Love to see signs of my school when i’m not looking for them. Awesome article!

  14. Michael | Cheap Flights January 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

    Fantastic and interesting post. Educational even. I will be finishing highschool this year and I will stand and have the courage to talk to my parents to allow me to take a gap to college for a few months for me to be traveling. I’ve always love to travel. I hope they can understand for they also love traveling. We always have. Its not like I’ll be asking them money – I have them. I work and save since I started working. And it is set for this!

  15. Mackenzie July 28, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    How did you pay for the EF college trips while going to college? I know personally, it’s just so expensive while trying to pay for college on my own. Any insight would be appreciated!

    • Caroline July 28, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      Hi Mackenzie. I didn’t have to pay for my college, so that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about. But this particular tour company allows you to pay in installments, which was helpful for me.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Are You Cut Out for Long Term Travel? - Her Packing List - April 22, 2013

    […] Most people who hear about someone going on a year-long round-the-world trip or any sort of extended travel think, “I wish I could do that.” And most of the time, they reasonably could if they wanted to. It’s all about making travel a priority in your life. […]

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