Commuting in the freezing cold, most of us are dreaming of a warm escape or traveling to a completely new place. It’s the time of year where we crave inspiration and challenge, anything to distract us or change the pace from the winter chill. But obligations like work and school don’t always make it possible to hop on a plane and get away to vacation or work somewhere new.
For many of my students and colleagues, travel and work abroad remains elusive. The two biggest questions I get are “How do I go abroad?” and “How do I work in the field?” While many people are curious about travel, they still feel that these goals are out of reach. But, this year, I assure you, you can make it happen—this summer, if you start planning now.
The best summers are full of unexpected growth and learning; and they’re a great way to explore new professional interests or build a foundation in a new region. Follow this simple action plan for the next few months, and you’ll make your dreams of international travel a reality.
Identify Your Destination
This is the fun part: Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do? Do you just want to travel for leisure and learning? Or are you looking for a professional experience, volunteer work, or educational opportunities? If there is a place you have always wanted to travel, then it’s time to commit to your goals.
If you are unsure of a destination, try narrowing it down to your top four places, and as you research and budget you can eliminate options. Even if you have to throw darts at a map, the key is to determine a place and start learning about it.
Reach Out to Organizations and Potential Partners
Now, the real legwork starts: It’s time to research organizations or programs you can partner with. If your company offers travel fellowships or the option to work in an international office for a few months each year, or if you’re hoping to study abroad with a school or alumni program, start inquiring about such programs now, and start drafting your applications or proposals. For summer fellowships and travel opportunities available to anyone, check out sites like Taking it Global, Matador Network, and CIEE, or look into the Critical Language Scholarship Program for language training. Go in knowing that some opportunities can be very relaxed and exploratory, while others are really competitive.
If you plan to organize your trip independently, start reaching out to potential partners and organizations. Specifically, if you are looking to volunteer, it’s good to identify 5-7 organizations of interest to you, study their websites, and reach out via email to the volunteer coordinator or director (as sometimes organizations can’t always keep their websites current). In your email, make sure you inquire about what the organization is looking for and needs first, rather than what you can offer. A lot of times, potential volunteers will have great skills, but they won’t necessarily match the organization’s needs, so if you want to work for a specific organization, it’s important to be flexible. Also, see if you can talk to other volunteers who have worked there before, so you have an idea of some of the benefits and challenges of working with a particular organization.
Outline Your Budget
Depending on how long you are in the field, and whether you’re getting paid or paying for the opportunity, you need to set a realistic budget, including housing, food, travel and health insurance, airfare and transport, excursions, and miscellaneous expenses. (It’s also good to build in a savings cushion for emergencies and extras.) Getting an idea of what local costs are through research and word of mouth can help you understand your minimum and maximum cost of living and establish a range of options for your budget.
As you’re researching opportunities, note what expenses might be paid for, whether a stipend is offered, and what you’ll be expected to contribute. (Believe me—you don't want any surprises on the ground!) This is also the time to start finding housing and determining what might be provided by your work, school, or program, and what you will need to take care of independently.
Determine and Secure Funding
This part is usually the most daunting for summer travelers, but there are many options to help you fund your trip. The most important thing is that you start thinking about this now, and set goals each month to forecast whether you will be able to fundraise or save enough in time for your trip or if you will need to reach out to other sources.
You can apply for international funding through your school or work, or look for travel fellowships and scholarships on sites like Idealist or Pro Fellow (many have March deadlines). You can also use crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe or the new travel crowdfunding site Trevolta. Another option, if you’re a bit courageous, is to get funding as you go by securing a short-term job abroad or a quick English teaching or tutoring gig. For inspiration, check out the intrepid ladies at The Road to 25, who are using Trevolta and other platforms to fund their travels through 19 countries.
April and May
Set the Wheels in Motion
By early April, you should have an idea of what you are going to do and whether you have secured funding, so it’s time to either commit to your travel goal or regroup (even if that just means leaving a bit later in the summer). This is also the time where you want to purchase airfare and commit to a position or organization so the team can plan ahead and know to expect you.
Prepare Your Outreach and Evaluation
Before you leave, make sure you set up a plan for communication and outreach, so your funders, friends, or colleagues can follow your journey and you can keep track of your work on the ground. Having things like social media accounts and a travel blog in place will help you get in the habit of tracking your work and experiences.
It’s also important to set a method of evaluation for yourself, whether that’s in deliverables on the ground (such as helping students master a lesson) or in your experiences (such as learning the language, understanding an aspect of culture, or taking an excursion). Determining this ahead of time will help you chart your growth and impact during the trip and monitor your work on the ground.
My summers abroad working in Berlin and in Korea or traveling through Southeast Asia gave me experiences and understanding that are still applicable to my work today. So, whether you are looking for something thrilling like working at an elephant sanctuary or studying income generation in Nepal, or you want your travel experience to help grow your career, it’s worth it to take a chance. If you’ve ever dreamed of working abroad or wanted to try something totally new, make this summer the one that you get out there.
Photo of woman traveling courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsTravel , Volunteering , Travel Mirror by Natalie Jesionka , Syndication , Career Advice , Travel Tips , Working Abroad , Business Travel
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author