Have some vacation time to burn, or a four-month break in between semesters? If you’re pondering what to do with your summer, we’ve got the answer: Get out of town. Better yet, out of the country.
Spending a few weeks (or months) in another country might seem frivolous, but we beg to differ. Whether you’re studying, working, volunteering, or just even just backpacking, being abroad can challenge what you know, teach you about new cultures, and add valuable experience to your resume, too.
So if you’ve ever dreamed of sipping wine and cheese after a long day at the Louvre or collecting information on tropical plant species in Malaysia, this is the summer to make it happen! Put together your itinerary now, and you’ll be ready to take off come June.
Dream Up Your Destination
Pick three countries you’ve been dying to visit. Maybe you’ve heard about intriguing educational or work opportunities there, or perhaps you’re just fascinated by the history and culture. These countries can be anywhere—don’t hold back! Then, add another three countries that it would make sense to visit based on your language skills, your cultural background, or connections you have.
Next, do some exploring. Learn all you can about the local cultures online. Also think about your traveling personality. Do you prefer traveling in an urban or rural setting? What cross-cultural experiences would you be willing to try (and which would push your limits)? Be honest about the experiences you want, and how your travel wish list matches your expectations.
Check the Feasibility Factor
Cross off your list any locations that are a poor fit for the experience you want, or are too dangerous to visit. For instance, while Somalia, Congo, and Afghanistan are fascinating places, they’re really not safe places for most solo travelers.
Then, rank your list. Look at factors like whether you’re comfortable with the common languages (or would be interested in learning them) and what you could gain while you’re there. Do you want to learn something specific? Participate in a volunteer project? Meet new people and grow your network? Do something physically challenging, like climb a mountain?
Once you have your list in order, start figuring out how you can make it happen—and where.
Find Funding, Everywhere!
Money’s tight on a student or young professional budget, but don’t let a lack of funding keep you home. If you want to work, study, or volunteer, opportunities exist to pay your way, and even your expenses!
Universities are a great place to find fellowships, scholarships, and grants, but many other programs and travel websites offer small travel programs, too. World Nomads is currently giving away a travel writing scholarship to Southeast Asia, and even my travel blog, Shatter the Looking Glass, gives out its own small scholarship.
Crowdsourcing sites like Chip In, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo can also help if you want to take on a service project. Whatever you do, don’t give up when it comes to seeking funding. The money is out there—you just have to be creative.
Also identify any organizations and people that can help. Does your company have an international office you could visit? Does your school have study abroad programs or international internships? Do you have a long-lost uncle or former classmate who could put you up for a couple of weeks? Take advantage of connections you have to turn your trip into a reality.
Plan the Details
Once you’ve settled on your destination, you’ll need to figure out the logistics. Use Hipmunk or Kayak to search for the best deal on your flight (be flexible on your travel dates for the best price). Also consider where you’ll be staying. If you’ll be rooted in one place, can your employer or organization put you up or connect you with someone who could? Otherwise, check out hostels or search for local hosts on Airbnb or Couchsurfing (you can also use the site to ask around for travel tips).
Determine Your Goals
Now for the fun stuff: What do you want to do or accomplish while you’re there? Do you want to see all of Angkor Wat before you leave Cambodia? Climb Kilimanjaro? Network with at least a dozen international professionals? Setting simple daily goals will give your travel life some structure in places where it seems like everything is constantly in flux.
The key to making the most of a short time in a new place is to be clear about your expectations and goals from the beginning, while remaining open to what comes up unexpectedly. You may find the opportunities that arise at moment’s notice to be the ones that mean the most once you return!
With the proper planning, you’ll have a rocking summer at the destination of your dreams. So start now! As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.”
Still need a little push to make your travel dreams a reality? I offer personalized travel coaching through my magazine Shatter the Looking Glass, and can help you budget your trip, connect with organizations, discover the best local hot spots, and go beyond the guidebook while having a travel experience that is tailored to your interests and needs.
Photo courtesy of Oleg Sidorenko.
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