Travel Hacks


Going somewhere special this summer? Most students want to travel, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. And you’re pretty clear that the benefits of travel go way deeper than a tan.* “I feel like I am a much better person when I travel more,” says Molly D., a third-year undergraduate at Humboldt State University, California. “Travel encourages me to appreciate the unknown while recognizing the familiar,” says Joe Foley, a rising first-year student at American University in Washington DC, who in 2014 became the youngest ever National Geographic Traveler of the Year.

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What’s blocking your exit route?

Not surprisingly, by far the biggest barrier to travel is cost. “You need to have money saved up to cover airfares, accommodations, food, and other expenses. As a student, it’s very difficult to do this,” says Alejandro C., a third-year undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine. In our survey, 93 percent of students who responded said lack of funds was a barrier; only 4 percent said they were uncomfortable with the prospect of unfamiliar places.

*And by the way, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Use SPF 30+, people.

Your top 5 travel experiences so far

  • Beach vacations
  • Outdoor adventures, e.g. kayaking and hiking
  • International tours
  • Backpacking trips (US)
  • Volunteer projects (US)

Your top 5 destinations

  • Europe
  • Mexico
  • Florida
  • California
  • Canada

Source: Student Health 101 survey, February 2015

Your barriers to travel

“Time lost that you could spend working to help pay down outrageous college debts.”
—Colin D., second-year undergraduate, Millersville University, Pennsylvania

“Being away from home and home-cooked dinners.”
—Jessica L., third-year undergraduate, Keene State College, New Hampshire

“The paperwork for international travel. The visas help keep track of visitors but at the same time it’s like having to complete a totally different job just to earn the right to relax from your normal one.”
—Tyler S., third-year undergraduate, University of the District of Columbia

“Looking at your depleted bank account.”
—Jonathan L., fifth-year undergraduate, California State University, San Marcos

“I’ve known neighbors who traveled extensively, but I never really thought about going outside the state of Mississippi.”
—Virgie R., second-year undergraduate, Jackson State University, Mississippi

What you love about travel

“The cost of taking an airplane is a huge hassle. However, what’s living if you don’t spend your money to experience new things and go to new places?”
—Steven M., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts Amherst

“How resourceful can you be when you’re out of money and 4,000 miles away from home? Do you panic? Do you run to the consulate? Do you go native? You learn that you can wash your undies in a hotel bathroom in Rome without embarrassment. You realize that street food really is the most delicious cuisine you’ll ever stuff in your face. Travel will grind you down to your truest self. Whether that is good or bad really is up to the person. In addition, foreign candy is legit way better. So the downside is you’ll never be happy with a Snickers again.”
—Lori T., third-year graduate student, San Diego State University, California

“It broadens your perspective of the human race. It makes youmore empathetic toward everyone and gives you a better sense of cultural understanding.”
—Derek J., fourth-year undergraduate, San Diego State University, California

“I love airports, planes, train stations, subways and underground metro systems, meeting new people, and dancing the night away.”
—Sarah A., third-year undergraduate, Saint Mary’s University, Minnesota

“It freshens up your attitude toward things.”
—Daniel Y., third-year undergraduate, Binghamton University, New York

“Travel experiences are built by the little things. The smiles, the first bite of a foreign country’s food, the hostel chitchat. Although the globalized world of Facebook, the Golden Arches, and American TV shows exists in every major city, the local cultures remain vibrant. The world today is as fascinating as it’s always been, and in most places it’s safer than ever to be a tourist. Travel gives us the thrill of adventure and somewhere new while reminding us of our shared humanity across cultures and encouraging us to push our horizons.”
—Joe Foley, rising first-year undergraduate, American University, Washington DC; National Geographic Traveler of the Year 2014

“It has been a lot more fun after taking Intercultural Communication.”
—Fifth-year undergraduate, name and college withheld

“You learn more through experience than books or articles.”
—Sarah M., third-year undergraduate, Millersville University, Pennsylvania

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Stuff you might not think of

Before you go

  • Check which currencies are performing badly against the dollar—your money buys more there.
  • Apply early for a passport. Here’s how
  • If you need vaccinations, go to your student health center.
  • Check the insurance that comes with your credit card. Check your health plan for international coverage too.
  • Let your bank and credit card company know your travel plans so your account isn’t flagged for fraud and possibly blocked.

When you go

  • Search online for free stuff to do in any tourist-friendly city (e.g., “Montreal free”).
  • Electronic guidebooks and maps (not books) reduce the schlep factor. Use Google maps offline by typing “OK maps” in the search bar; the current area will be saved.
  • Check the comments on Foursquare for passwords of freewi-fi in local shops and cafes.
  • Keep your electronics charged. If you’re going international, bring a converter outlet plug.

How to land cheap flights

  • Flexible fliers get the best last-minute fares; be open to a variety of destinations.
  • Use a travel search engine: recommends Skyscanner, Hipmunk, Google Flights, and several others. Here’s how
  • Try searching for airfare deals around 1 a.m. The unsold deals from the day before will be reposted.
  • Before buying any ticket to anywhere, check for student discounts.
  • Keep your online searches incognito to find the lowest price.Here’s how
  • Don’t make the mistakes everyone else makes. Here’s how
  • Be smart about budget airlines. Here’s how
  • Get cheaper domestic flights in other countries. Here’s how
  • Find the best way to get where you’re going. Rome2Rio
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Spend less to go farther

Cheap digs

Hotels, hovels, homes, & habitats

Why travel?

Here’s how to talk yourself (and others) into it

Be a better person

Most students who participated in an international exchange program felt it helped them become more trusting, open-minded, flexible, confident, and tolerant, says a 2006 study by the International Student Travel Confederation.

Go global

Students expect travel to make them more “global”—i.e., expand their knowledge, perspective, and social and cultural connections, according to a small study at California Polytechnic State University (2010).

Run free

Students associate travel with freedom; e.g., a break in academic and work expectations, a boost to emotional health and relaxation, and an opportunity to experience nature (CPSU study).

Step it up

Students who have taken a gap year perform better academically and report greater job satisfaction than do those who haven’t, research suggests. Gap year experiences can reignite a passion for learning and influence personal goals and values, including career paths, say Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson in The Gap-Year Advantage (Macmillan, 2005).

Stay healthy

Physically-active leisure helps us maintain physical and mental health, especially during times of stress, according to a study of 20,000 people in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (2001).

Get creative

Knowing people from other cultures makes us more creative in tasks that draw on multicultural influences and more receptive to new ideas from outside our own experience, suggests a study from Harvard Business School (2011).

Love your life

Even the anticipation of vacation travel makes us feel good about our lives and health, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.

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