Just Pack What You Need: A Guide to Student Travel

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SuitcaseIt's summer time again and that means cars, planes, and trains. Young people are packing up and getting the heck out of Dodge. While some of us will only take trips to the nearest beach or lake, or maybe a neighboring city, some youth find their ways to distance continents and far away countries.

"Travel provides you with the opportunity to observe and perhaps integrate new strategies (such as coping, survival, social, or political) into one's life," says Chris Prewett, a student at UC San Diego. He's right. Going to a new place is one sure way to bring the unpredictable into your life. And, while it can be scary and intimidating and overwhelming, chances are you'll get through it and learn something.

Some people travel to places that they have no connection to, culturally or otherwise, as a way to become more confident and independent. Koko Nishi (another UC San Diego student) says she traveled to Europe because she "wanted to get out of [her] comfort zone." It was an area she had no personal connection to, but she chose to go there because it was "outside of her bubble."

Jamie Arakawa, on the other hand, who is a recent UC Berkeley graduate, says spending a year studying abroad in Japan, helped her look closely at her own culture. Arakawa wanted to see Japan for her self. "Just watching television and learning about other cultures [from a far] is only scratching the surface," she said. "Its but being immersed ... challenges you to examine your own lifestyle, way of thinking and behavior."

When others ask Jamie about how the experience has influenced her, she laughs. "In what way did it NOT change me, affect me and inspire me? I am a completely different person," she says.

So why don't more people travel to other countries? Maybe the better question is: Why don't more American's leave the country? John Gregory, the author an online travel book called Art Of Travel.com and other books about European and world travel and backpacking, believes that it's because American's aren't very adventurous.

"We Americans really don't do much traveling compared to [Europeans]," he says. "We take brief vacations, sign up for tours and cruises." But, he seems to imply, we could be taking a lot more risks.

When the average American does travel, he or she often does so in a way where they seek to recreate their experiences in America, but with a different backdrop, perhaps a few unique things to shop for. Thus the surplus of American products and chains like McDonalds and in other countries. Many American travelers seem to eat the same food, watch the same televisions and sleep in hotels just like the ones in the States.

But students and other young adults have the opportunity to counter this trend. Now is the time to travel, said Prewett, who has been to Europe, Egypt and Jerusalem. "Students should travel more because they are in a unique position of not having to change too much in their lives by deciding to [travel]. Someone with a job, a home and maybe even a family would find it more difficult to add such a change in their life."

The catch 22 is, of course, that many youth can not afford to travel, or they assume they cannot. But there are ways to do it, and ways to do it cheaply. And fortunately, many of those also create the least amount of negative impact on the culture you're visiting.

During his years at UCLA, Michael Wilson worked part-time as a student travel agent. This helped him afford to travel to Europe and Australia by the time he graduated from school. While he was there, he noticed how few people actually had the opportunity to travel. In other words, those youth who have parents willing to foot the bill were far more likely to show up at the agency he worked with. (For example, he estimates that roughly 70% of student clients at the Los Angeles STA Travel Agency were white and upper-middle class.)

"[Those with the resources] tended to plan more extensive trips, and their parents were willing to put down a lot of money for them to do a whole slew of things," Wilson explained. "Everyone who came was always looking for the best deals, of course, but I noticed that the African Americans, Latinos and to some extent Asian Americans who wanted to go to Europe, for example, tended to settle on the cheaper ticket that would take them to London."

Vice President of Adventure Travel Network Chris Arrott echoes what Wilson had to say. In his 17 years of experience in the student travel industry, he guesses he has served a population of students who are 80% white and from the upper-middle and middle classes.

This trend may not be surprising. Nor is our noticing it meant to be a deterrent to youth with less money who want to travel. Like many things that are easier to do if you have money, traveling on a budget is possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to see the world outside America, especially as they develop a social conscience.

In that it expands your global perspective, traveling can lead some folks to become more politically aware. UC San Diego student Kevin Nolan believes that travelling gives you a more global perspective that is essential for understanding international politics "Your thought process is less one-sided [after you've travelled] ... You get a better understanding of the history and where people are coming from," he says. To Nolan, this has been very useful when trying to understand an issue or conflict between two countries because he now has an easier time seeing the situation from both sides.

On the other hand, students who travel have a greater sense of the negative effects of globalization and cultural dilution, which can be ironic in that by traveling in the first place, they can be seen as adding to problems.

Unfortunately, much of the world is now economically dependent on tourism, so if you are a traveler who thinks critically about his/her place effect on the world, you find your self in a complex bind. You don't want to leave behind a negative impact, or be part of the problem, (i.e. tourists often use far more resources than the locals do) but you do want to expand your perspective. Meeting people and making friends in other cultures can also reverse of a lot of the negative effect that American policy and international politics that cause people outside of America to assume that we are all consumer-oriented, wasteful slobs. Travelling is a way to meet people and form connections that last, especially if you have the opportunity to be somewhere for a while. Which brings us back to the fact that travel helps us learn about our selves.

Exposure to different people, ideas and cultures is the key to learning more about yourself. As Wilson put it: "You figure out who you are when you're in an environment where your parents and friends aren't influencing you."

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