Travel

There are endless ways to explore the world: solo, with family, as a volunteer, or with a program. No doubt each method offers its own unique perks and setbacks. Having the opportunity to travel more independently with family and friends and with larger organizations like People to People Student Ambassadors and Global Visions International (GVI), I’ve experienced a bit of what these various types of travel have to offer. If you’re considering signing-up with a traveling program, hopefully this little list of pros and cons of traveling in large groups will help you make your decision!

Pros

  1. Meeting people from all over the world is ten times easier in an organized setting. When you think about it, everyone is likely there for the same purpose – to gain invaluable experience in a foreign location and build relationships – so you already have something in common! Many times programs have semi-organized free time or group activities that promote casual socializing. Afterwards you will hopefully have great friends to visit (and who will let you crash on their couches) in other countries!
  1. Access to special deals, promotions, and events are common perks as organizations usually have deals with popular tourist sites and great relationships with the local community. I’m talking private tours, discounted tickets, and behind-the-scenes information that you would never have known about had you traveled independently. When I went on a three week South Pacific tour with People to People the summer of 2011, all of us students had a chance to meet the mayor of Rotorua, New Zealand, and enjoyed a night dancing our hearts out on a boat overlooking the Sydney Opera House. Could we have done this on our own? Maybe, but definitely not for free like we did!
  1. You’re going to learn so much. Most large travel organizations have a platform, activity, or issue they are addressing through their program – it could be education, sports, poverty, hunger, health, politics, or cross-cultural understanding, just to name a few. The program I volunteered with through GVI was focused on education. Had I never participated, I would know nothing about injustices that exist in the South African primary school system. The entire experience opens eyes to issues you know little about or, like me, never knew existed.

Cons

  1. Early mornings are part of the packaged deal when traveling with a large group. Depending on the type of program you travel with, schedules vary slightly, but more than likely participants are required to follow a schedule that starts early in the morning. It’s not always terrible, but when jet lag combined with simple travel exhaustion are combined, waking up could be a struggle.
  1. Yes, there will be some people you don’t care for in your program. But the good news is, there are many other people to focus on and you will not be with them forever. You never know, after your travels you may even miss that one annoying personality.

There are so many positives than negatives that come from traveling with a larger group or organization. I dare you to give it a shot!

Image: Flickr

Travel

Airports: we love them for their usefulness, but hate them for the stress they cause. Growing up as an airport frequenter, I want to share a few useful tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that make navigating even the maddest airports a breeze. Follow theses tips and, who knows, you may begin looking forward to – and even enjoying! – the airport rather than dreading it:

  1. Check-in before the flight.

Most airlines now allow you to check-in online, 24 hours before your flight. This means you can completely avoid ridiculously long lines at the check-in counters. Not only does this option allow you to (sometimes) pick your own seats (window, please!), but it also gives you wiggle room to show up a few minutes behind schedule and still make the flight in perfect time.

  1. Keep accessories minimal and shoes open.

Taking off loads of rings, bracelets, a watch, a belt, and your favorite sports hat can seriously slow going through airport security. No one wants to be that person who is continuous beeping and holding up the already annoying process. To avoid this, be sure to keep accessories, especially metal one, to a minimum. Also, try and wear open-toes shoes like sandals or flip-flops. Most times, TSA will not request these types of shoes be taken off through security. This saves both time and your feet from walking on the cold dirty airport floor.

  1. Ask if there are any first class seats available.

This might sound silly, but you truly never know until you ask! When there are those luxurious, first class seats available, airlines do not always announce it. Make sure to speak kindly and smile wide to the worker at your gate because sometimes airlines will update you for a reasonable price or even for free. Along with this, occasionally airlines overbook and need volunteers to switch flights in exchange for a stipend, free flight, or other perk. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities if your travel plans are flexible.

  1. Don’t skimp on snacks and water.

I always have three things with me while traveling – granola or Chex mix, a fruit, and water. Because you cannot bring any outside food through security, pick up a few healthy, filling snacks from your gate that will last you for at least 12 hours. Usually I will leave these items in my carry-on and make them last until I reach my final destination. It is important to travel with some sustenance in case you do not have time later to pick snacks up or you’re like me and need to eat every few hours to function properly!

  1. Make the most out of a long layover.

Like I said in another article, “why not turn an inconvenient few hours into an opportunity to explore?” Layovers can be pleasant if you plan them wisely. Quickly explore the city if you have a long layover, get a massage, browse the bookstore, or eat a good meal in the gate during a short one. Regardless of how long your hiatus is, if you start to look at your layover as an opportunity you’re bound to enjoy it.

  1. Strategize your carry-on essentials.

It is important to pack your carry-on lightly and cleverly while traveling. Make sure everything you need is there, and necessities are all you have. Along with typical necessities like boarding passes and passports, I always pack a thick pair of socks and over-the-ear headphones. Both of these items keep me feeling calm and comfortable in the airport and on the plane. Pick a few items that keep you level headed, whatever they may be, and remember to pack them on your carry-on. You’d be surprised how much a few familiar objects can lower stress and anxiety levels.

I hope these airport hacks serve you as well as they’ve served me throughout the years. Happy traveling!

Image: Flickr

SkillsTravel

Last week I talked about choosing a study abroad location. Choosing where in the world to go is exciting, but nothing can kill a study abroad dream quite like a look at the program price tag. Money doesn’t have to be your deciding factor, though. There are some things you can do to get funding and minimize – even eliminate – what you’ll have to spend on your program.

1. Scholarships

Study abroad scholarships are offered in a variety of capacities, including merit-based, student-specific (i.e. minority scholarships), destination-specific, program-specific (your home or destination school or program may offer scholarship options), and subject-specific (very common for language study, but also available for almost any area of study).

Studyabroad.com offers an extensive database of study abroad scholarships, and the Institute of International Education offers good search options for destination and subject-specific scholarships.

It’s important to pay attention to deadlines; many study abroad scholarships require early action. There are, of course, some that you can apply for on a rolling basis, with little time before you leave.

2. Study Abroad Loans

You can find a database of study abroad student loans here. The great thing about study abroad loans is that transportation and cultural excursions are eligible expenses.

3. Crowdfunding Websites

GoFundMe – This website is amazing. It allows you to quickly and easily set up a fundraising page with a goal, photo and description, and makes it easy for people to donate to the page. Another great crowdfunding website is GoGetFunding.com. Once you’ve created your page, share it via social media and email to all your family and friends, asking them to support you in your dream to study abroad.

In your email, it will help to lay out what exactly your expenses are, what their donations will be funding, and your study abroad goals/things you want to experience. Providing a suggested amount (keep it low so people aren’t deterred), and list what exactly that amount will cover (i.e. a week of groceries, an unlimited train pass, etc.) And of course, be sure to thank everyone and offer the option to pass on donating. You can even request that they share it with other friends.

You can select either a personal funding campaign or an all-or-nothing campaign. The all-or-nothing contains a goal and time limit, while the personal funding does not. With all-or-nothing, you only get donations if you reach your goal, whereas you get all donations from a personal funding campaign.

4. Find an exchange program

I did this, meaning my school exchanged me for a student from the school at which I studied. The reason this option rocked so much was that I had no added costs to my university tuition (besides my flight); my costs actually were lower because I didn’t have to pay my university’s housing or meal plan, plus all of my regular university scholarships still applied in addition to an extra study abroad one. Check with your university to see whether it has exchange programs, and how fees are allocated.

5. Holiday Gift Requests

Send out a mass email, e-card or letter to all family members and friends who typically give you birthday or Christmas gifts. Let them know that in lieu of gifts, you’re asking for funds to go abroad.

Like GoFundMe, list your expenses and goals, and why it’s so important to you to go abroad. You could even list interesting facts about your university and location; that gets people excited.

6. Local fundraising

This works well in smaller towns or suburbs. Ask local restaurants or businesses, particularly those that you spend time at often, to place a donation jar at the counter. While this won’t earn you outrageous amounts of cash, it is an effortless way to earn some extra spending money.

Be sure to leave an info sheet by the jar or can explaining what the fundraising is for and why it’s important to you.

7. Garage sale

Any type of sale is great, but I hosted a garage sale before my trip and made $600 from it. That paid for two months’ rent (my student housing was cheap) and it also helped me de-clutter, so it was a win-win. Hosting various sales, like art sales, bake sales, book sales etc. may, again, not earn you mass sums of money but can get you some good spending money.

If you really have a lot of stuff and your sales do well, you can even earn enough to cover your round-trip flight to and from your host country and more.

8. Odd jobs

Walk dogs, mow lawns, photograph events, babysit… anything you’re good at that can bring in some extra cash. All it takes is a little simple networking and some flyers.

So, between scholarships, loans and personal fundraising, you may be able to raise enough to study completely cost-free.

What tips do you have for funding a study abroad experience? Any creative ways to make money?

Image: Kristina Zuidema, Flickr

Skills

Steve Prefontaine, a legendary long-distance runner who has held seven American track records, said the inspirational words above. This quote reveals that we each carry a gift inside us, but to develop and utilize whatever that gift might be we must fight hard and not be afraid to give all of our effort to it.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to partake in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington D.C. It was my very first race of any sort and it was truly one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had. I am by no means a trained or skilled runner, but something inside me said “Go for it!” when Nike opened up the race registration nearly seven months ago. Not only did I learn about physical limits and how to push them, but I found new ways to challenge myself mentally and emotionally as well. Leading up to summer I will be cataloging what I learned to hopefully encourage you all and be encouraged in return by your own personal stories!