Where will you travel for summer break?

Study abroad

Study abroad (© Al Goldis/AP Images)

Summer break: A glorious two and a half months of freedom from the daily grind of your classes — or a chance to get ahead on the next semester. Whether you’re searching for a global education or just some good ol’ fashioned life experiences, there are many opportunities to consider for this summer break. Your taste for adventure may lead you to consider spending a semester at sea, or finding places to visit in Europe as a backpacker. You could put a few extra credits under your belt on a school sponsored study tour or see America on a low-budget college road trip.

Courses for credit

Most colleges offer a study abroad or study tour option for the summer semester — and if yours doesn’t, other universities may open their programs to non-affiliated students. It’s not too late, either since programs have rolling admissions, which means that if there is an opening, a late applicant would certainly still have time to get accepted. Students apply well in advance, but applications for the programs are accepted at any time.

The benefits

  • College credit.
  • No planning. Study tours are organized for you: travel and – typically – one meal per day are included in the expense
  • Special access. College groups may have insider access to world heritage sites, like Stonehenge, that an independent traveler can’t get.
  • Education. If you want an academic experience, having a veteran professor as your guide is a plus.

The downside

  • Study tours are not cheap. Preplanned travel, lodging, and course credits can rack up a large tab.
  • Less freedom. All travel choices belong to someone else – and you may have to follow school rules while you’re abroad.
  • Limited options, unless you sign up early. Some trips accept students at the last minute, but others fill up early. Contact the prof organizing the tour to see if there’s still space.

Is the expense worth it? Student Tim Kowalski wrote in “What Students Say” on the website for OCaptain Tours, “These courses have given me the courage to explore foreign lands, the determination to gain understanding through rigorous academic research and artistic projects, but most importantly they have broadened my respect and fascination for all cultures and histories.”

Adventure on the high seas

Two well-known programs, Semester at Sea and Sea|mester, offer summer terms sailing around the world — or at least parts of it — for transferable credits. The trips range in length from 20 days to a full semester, or from three credits to 12.

The benefits

  • You’re on a boat! You get firsthand experience in seamanship and nautical science.
  • Service. Semester at Sea teams with Habitat for Humanity and other charities to help people around the world.
  • Vocational training. Sea|mester helps prepare students for a career on the open water.

The downside

  • You’re on a boat. Make sure you don’t get seasick, and that you’re prepared for limited showering facilities!
  • You might have to plan ahead. Both programs offer open enrollment, but most students apply well in advance of the course they want to take.
  • Mulah. A full semester length course costs about the same as half a year’s tuition for an out-of-state student at a public college.

Semester at Sea does offer financial aid packages, but adding a sea voyage could end up adding a semester’s worth of expenses to your college career.

Travel on the cheap

If you’d prefer life experience to a structured course — and you can’t afford to add that extra tuition to your already looming college loans — independently travel the world on a budget.

If you’re always dreamed of backpacking across Europe:

  • Make a budget. Check out Kaaryn Hendrickson’s breakdown of sample costs at BackpackEurope.com.
  • Keep your eye online for flight deals on sites like Travelocity and Kayak. Ask your parents if you can cash in frequent flyer miles to reduce your cost.
  • Buy the gear you need in advance. Ask for items as birthday gifts. Borrow travel guides from the library to narrow down your itinerary. Companies like DK Travel, offer customized travel guides specifically for your trip, which ring in at a lower cost than a full country travel book.
  • Make sure you have a passport, a quality backpack, travel accessories like a first-aid kit and a rain poncho, and an international student ID.
  • Save money for hostels, food, and travel while you’re abroad, as well as extra cash for any added excursions you plan.

Don’t forget the option of exploring close to home with a good old-fashioned road trip! If you’re short on both budget and time, pick a national park or another destination closer to home; if you’re long on time but short on cash, team up with a couple of friends who will share driving responsibilities and costs.

  • Use a fuel cost calculator to help you get an idea of what you’re spending.
  • Get car maintenance in advance — or rent a car so the maintenance is someone else’s problem. You might also have the option of renting a more fuel efficient vehicle than granddad’s old Cadillac.
  • Keep tabs on the news. Spikes in gas price could cut your trip short, and rampant tornadoes could change your optimal route.
  • Camp. Hanging out in the great outdoors can dramatically cut your costs, and Recreation.gov offers a comprehensive database for locations.

When planning your own trip, just remember: “Things generally never go according to plan,” blogger and traveler Amy Montalvo wrote in “Guest Posting: Eyes Wide Open! 5 Things I Learned While Traveling the World” on the Good Enough Mother blog. “It’s easier to know this up front and just expect delays, changes, general chaos, etc. Being laid back when you head into international travel will be one of your best assets!”

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