How young is too young when it comes to world travel?
Is it really a good idea for teens and twenty-somethings to pack-up and leave home to study abroad or take a gap year? Our answer?
Yes. Whether it’s to be a semester abroad with your university, an international internship, voluntourism program in developing countries, or independent travel, timing is key, and we think our personal travel consultant Aurelie Noyer says it best:
“There are few times in your life when you’ll have so few commitments—no kids, no mortgage, no job. Make the most of it.”
At AirTreks, we believe that travel is a vital part of education for everyone, no matter their age. We know there’s simply no substitute for getting to know the world and its people and places first-hand. That’s why we think students who want to travel should take any travel opportunities they’re presented with into serious consideration – and parents should support them.
Traveling as a student presents its own challenges, but people on our team have been there, and they’d like to help. Here are some of their best tips for students planning to spend some time abroad.
1. Don’t Let Finances Hold You Back
Traveling (like so many good things) comes at a price. But studying abroad or taking a gap year may not be as expensive as you think. You may even be able to use your financial aid towards your trip if you make arrangements with your school to study as you go, or do independent research.
“Study abroad wasn’t even on my radar as a college student, I had the perception that you just had to be rich or from a wealthy family, I didn’t realize that something like this was possible into my late twenties, and I saw people just like me, doing it. Most people in a first world country can make it happen if it’s their priority. Look into it – it is possible.” – Adam Seper, Personal Travel Consultant
“I didn’t realize I could even study abroad until I met a girl, and she talked about it, and I was like wow, I could do that too. I had this idea you had to have money, but I found out the cost was the same as my state tuition at my university in California. It wasn’t going to cost me more. Don’t let finances hold you back.” – Justin Baker, Personal Travel Consultant
2. Take Control of Your Education
Leave your excuses at home. You have more control of your education and life experiences than you imagine. The power to decide how and where you learn is in your hands. The difference between people who dream about traveling and people who actually go is action.
“Don’t limit yourself to one destination unless you want to. There are lots of options out there. Concordia University Irvine even has a RTW semester.” – Daniel Gamber, Senior Travel Consultant
“Some schools have study overseas requirements. If yours doesn’t, then consider making one up for yourself. Take control of your education. Think about President Obama’s daughter who took a year off before going to Harvard and Harvard’s recommendation that all students take some time off after high school. Do you think they are on to something?” – Riel Manriquez, Facilitator
“I really, really believe that travelling is the best way to learn whatever you want to learn. Go out there, talk to people, taste new foods, listen to new music, experience the places you’re visiting like locals! Some things just can’t be learned from books! Plus, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and that’s pretty important knowledge to have.” – Barbara Segria, Travel Support Specialist
3. Talk to someone who’s done it
If you’re not sure what to expect, or just want some inside insight, get in touch with someone who’s spent an extended time abroad. Most study abroad departments at universities are happy to put students in contact with past participants and another option is getting in touch with friends of friends or family members who’ve been to your destination, or took a similar trip.
While everyone’s experience is bound to be a little different, it can be really reassuring to talk to someone who’s actually been through it before.
“Sometimes students and their parents really benefit from talking to an expert that’s been to the destination and knows what to expect. It can really help calm first-timer’s nerves about a big trip.” – Chris Wadsworth, Senior Travel Consultant
“Students who are just maybe thinking about it–make friends with exchange students at your school – I ended up studying abroad because I made such good friends with an exchange student in my hometown.” – Justin Baker, Personal Travel Consultant
4. Plan to Stay Longer
Before you go, a summer or semester traveling and studying may seem like an eternity. But chances are, after you’re settled into a routine and out exploring, time will fly by way faster than you’d like, and you’ll find yourself rethinking your return ticket.
“For gap year and exchange students – if you have an option, don’t go for six months, go for a full year. After six months you’re not going to want to go home. I think a full-year spent studying, traveling, and learning new languages is going to open more doors for you than if you were to just stay six months. A lot of the people in my program who only signed up for six months were bummed when they had to go home because it does go by so fast. They were like, I want to stay longer.” – Justin Baker, Personal Travel Consultant
5. Make Friends with Locals
Especially when you’re traveling with a group, or to a popular tourist destination, it’s easiest to be friendly with other American students. But easiest isn’t always best. Mixing with the locals has serious advantages when it comes to learning more about the place, its culture, and picking up language skills.
“Put yourself out there! It’s easy to seek out other American students who are traveling, but really make an attempt to meet local students. They’ll be able to show you around and teach you about the culture. My flatmates in England became my best friends!” – Kate Voehl, Corporate Account Flight Specialist
“Making friends with locals in Barcelona is what finally pushed me across the finish line from advanced Spanish to fluency.” – Jean Ciolli, Content Manager
6. Take a Backup Device
“It sounds ridiculous to some – traveling with extra devices, but it pays to be prepared. Even if your back up is just a cheap flip phone or tablet it may come in handy when you drop your smartphone into a canal in Venice, or a vat of Pho in Vietnam. Sure, you could scramble to buy something new at destination, but do you really want to spend your trip money on a new phone?
However many devices you decide to bring, be sure they’re all wifi-enabled and if possible, unlocked, so you can switch out sim cards as necessary – international roaming isn’t cheap.
“Almost everyone I know (myself included) has either lost or broken their cell phone at some point during their study abroad time. I would recommend bringing a back-up cheap phone or Ipod touch that connects to wi-fi! Because phone plans work differently abroad, you can use wi-fi to communicate with friends and family using iMessage, or other apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, and Facebook.” – Kate Voehl, Corporate Account Flight Specialist
“If you’re going to be in one country for a few weeks or more, it’s worth investing in a pay-as-you-go sim to keep your phone bill under control.” – Jean Ciolli, Content Manager
7. Talk to Your Bank
Stepping off the plane for the first time in a new country is scary enough without the ATM eating your debit card. Make sure to talk to your bank before your departure and let them know where and when you’ll be traveling. This is also a good time to get details on international commissions and what to do if you lose your card on the road.
“Here are three pieces of advice from my experience: 1) Visit a bank in advance and get currency (in cash) for the country you are going to. 2) Talk to your bank and make sure you let them know which countries you will be in. 3) If your bank charges fees to use the card abroad, consider setting up a new bank account just for travel.” – Kate Voehl, Corporate Account Flight Specialist
8. Get ID
Everyone knows you need your passport for international travel. It’s a given. But what about your student ID? It turns out you may want that too. Why? The discounts. It’s important to note that in some countries your home university’s ID won’t be considered “official” and you’re better off with an ISIC student ID.
“Get an International Student Identification Card! I used it to prove that I was a full time student, and it was useful to get discounted rates on things like museum passes, hostel stays, train tickets (it saved me 80 Euro on my ticket once), and so much more. When in doubt – always ask if there is a student discount! Learn more about the ISIC card here” – Rachel Kocak, Travel Ambassador
“One of the things I loved about studying abroad and traveling in Europe when I was an undergrad was that there were student discounts for so many things. There was a catch though–most places wouldn’t just accept my word on it- I needed to show them an official student ID to get a break on price.” – Jean Ciolli, Content Manager