Isn’t travel too expensive?

The open roads of Peru

“You can travel to any country where your heart leads” is a line from one of my favorite songs, Everything Possible, by the fabulous Fred Small. I hope that my students leave my class knowing that the world is their oyster.

But, wait a minute– is that really true? Let’s face the facts.  Travel is expensive and many people live their lives without ever leaving the country, much less the state. Fear can hold us back, but even more real and all powerful is the way money controls our lives. Is everything really possible?

In Western Samoa as a high school student

While I wish that everything WERE possible, I know that my list of countries is far longer than most people’s lists.  I’d love to say that I earned all of these opportunities with my smart choices, creative job searching, and hard work, but I can’t take full credit. In fact, I was born into a family that valued travel and had the financial resources to allow me international experiences at an early age.  When I was fifteen, I spent my first summer abroad, studying French.  At seventeen, I participated in a service-learning program in Western Samoa. These experiences were hugely influential to who I am today, and certainly helped me get into the university of my choice, Northwestern. Negotiating awkward situations trying to navigate dinner conversation in French and sleeping on a straw mat on the floor offered me more than a sense of independence. Traveling abroad in high school taught me that connecting with people despite cultural, racial, and linguistic differences is hard… but worth it. My life is so much richer for all of the experiences I’ve gained learning about other peoples and places. I feel extremely lucky.

Making balloons in Mali

They say that “with privilege comes responsibility.”  My hope is that I can use my experiences and opportunities to help others realize their dreams.  Since I know a lot about international travel, I want to make this offer to any readers out there. Can I support you in finding ways to get overseas? Please get in touch if you are seeking advice in how to get yourself or your children abroad.  I would love to help.

In the meantime, here are some tips for anyone interested in international travel.  Visiting other countries can be part of anyone’s life, but it won’t necessarily be easy.  The first step is really wanting to do it. Get a passport and learn about all the places that are out there. Educate yourself by talking to other people who have gone where you want to go. Then, don’t let money get in your way and start getting creative:

This is the actual ad that I answered in 2000, and this job brought me to Nepal, Thailand, South Africa, Pakistan, and India.

1) Find ways to get paid to travel — My first job after college was as a private tutor for an American family traveling around the world.  I got it by answering an ad in the Boston Globe, and a few weeks later, I was getting paid to hop on a plane to Nepal.

2) Find ways to travel for free — Whether you are a student or working professional, there are all sorts of organizations that sponsor volunteering and studying abroad.  For example, as a teacher, there are lots of grants and volunteer opportunities that will pay for your flight and expenses, like the Teachers for Global Classrooms program.  If you speak English, there are people all over the world who would love to learn from you, and they’ll often help get you there in exchange for your language tutoring.

My homestay family in Guatemala

3) Travel on the Cheap — A hotel room in Western Europe can often cost hundreds of dollars.   However, when I traveled in India, I was able to find a decent room for less than two dollars a night.  Likewise, in Guatemala, I attended a language school that provided one-on-one private Spanish lessons for five hours a day, as well as room and board (all meals and a homestay) for $150 per week. If you look around, there are ways to travel very inexpensively. If couchsurfing and WOOFing aren’t part of your vocabularly, look up these organizations and others that help people travel on a budget. Alternatively, ask around and see if any friends of friends might be able to host you.  Staying with a local is always the best way to really get to know a place, AND you’ll save on lodging costs.

4) Save up— It’s easy to think that we need that new video game or iPad or car, but do we really?  I’ve decided to make choices in my life to save my money for travel.  I don’t own a house or any fancy furniture, but I do have a lot of great stories to tell about experiences that I’ll remember forever.

A moment to remember, the Okavango Delta in Botswana

Love from Vancouver Island, Canada

Of course, it isn’t necessary to travel internationally to have these kinds of cultural experiences, but I wish with all of my heart that each of my students will one day get to experience another country. Most likely, it won’t come cheaply. It’ll take a long time to save up and a whole lot of work.  Probably, at some point while traveling, there will be a moment that is super unfamiliar or lonely or scary.  There will be other moments that elicit a smile from ear to ear.  And it’ll be worth every cent.

So when students say they want to travel like me, I tell them that anything is possible if they make it a priority in their lives. They probably already have resources all around them.  It’s just a question of finding them. And there’s one resource who just wrote this blog entry.

Here I am on a microlight over Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

“Fly the great big sky. See the great big sea. Kick through continents. Busting boundaries… Roam if you want to, Roam around the world… ” — The B 52s

Categories: Global Citizenship

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