Pack light to make your travels easier.
Whether through study abroad programs, internships or just summer break trips, your time in college may give you the best opportunity in your life to travel. The following guide will help you on your way to becoming the cosmopolitan world-traveler you were meant to be.
Step 1: Pick the right program.
You can travel by yourself, but consider that travel-study options can reduce costs with financial aid and enrich the experience by teaching you more about the area you are visiting than you might learn on your own. As a student at University of California, I found that it costs about the same to study at any of the university’s campuses over the summer. So even though I’m normally a UC Santa Cruz student, I was able to visit Los Angeles for the summer by taking a film history class at UCLA. When I studied abroad in Paris, taking a French-language course and a Histories of Paris course made the trip way more enjoyable. Decide what you want out of the trip and what you can afford before you make definite plans.
Step 2: Figure out the “when and where.”
Where will you go? How many “legs” will your trip have? When will you need to go from each place to the next? If you are visiting a foreign country, you will need a passport, and maybe even a visa and health clearance papers. Check the website for the consulate of the country (or countries) you will be visiting. You also need to know these things so that you know how much money to set aside for transportation and places to stay (Step 5).
Step 3: Research first for less culture shock later
Every place, including different locations within the United States, has a different culture. Read, and ask around if you can, about the history and communities of the places to which you intend to travel. This is also a good way to find sites of interest you will want to see while you are there. When I visited Paris last fall, for example, visiting Montmartre was a much richer experience after learning the history of the area as it related to Saint Denis and a key battle that took place there for the rule of France.
Step 4: Get your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed
If you are traveling within the USA, the only paperwork you will likely need to keep track of is reservation confirmations for housing, flights or rental cars — and perhaps financial-aid documents.
For my study abroad program in France, it took me about five months to get every last bit of paperwork processed. I had to get new passport photos, apply for a visa, get health clearance, get signatures from my college and major advisers and move around several other pieces of paper from one person to another until I had a stack of signed forms an inch thick. Make a checklist and copy the dates onto a wall calendar. Then, get an expanding file to keep everything in. You will be glad you did.
Step 5: Plan on a student budget
Figure out, as close as you can, how much everything will cost — even food. Compare it to your savings and probable financial aid to plan accordingly. Then, talk you the financial-aid department on your campus to find out what you need to do to get the maximum funding for your travel experience. Financial aid is particularly important to remember in summer because it can work differently. Take studying at another campus, for example: When I took a summer class at UCLA last summer, I learned that the maximum grant aid for summer depended upon how much I had used over the rest of the year, when I needed to submit forms for housing and enrollment and that I had to submit a special intercampus financial-aid form by a certain date.
Step 6: Buy tickets, make reservations
You need to know whether you are traveling by jet, whether you will need something more exotic like a Eurail Pass, and if you will need shuttles to each airport before you buy. It may be possible to bundle these services and get a discount. Travel agencies like STA Travel can provide nice discounts, but be aware that some airlines’ miles programs won’t give you travel points for flights purchased through an agency.
Step 7: Packing and repacking and repacking
Once you’ve packed everything you want for your journey, take a good hard look and decide what you absolutely cannot do without. Now, remove everything else. The lighter you pack, the easier you’ll travel.
Step 8: Leave room for spontaneity
Now that you have planned every minute detail of your trip, remember to give yourself a bit of wiggle room for wandering around and finding delightful surprises. Leave entire days open for spontaneous day trips and other fun ideas you will come up with along the way.
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