Friday, July 3, 2009

Travel Agents

Many sites encourage the use of travel agencies in terms of travel, but are they really as helpful as they seem? There are some pros and cons to using travel agencies, but overall it depends on your comfort level and the price. Occasionally, if you are planning on going on a cruise or have a large number of travelers going with you, then you may want to consider a travel agent since they might have discounts. However, while I was booking my trip to Toronto in order to attend a friend's Christmas party, the travel agent told me personally that usually their prices are not lower than the prices found online.

Why should you use a travel agent? When I was planning my very first trip overseas, and on an airplane, my study abroad advisor recommended the Student Travel Association travel agency in order for me to book my flight. The price was slightly higher, but not by much and they said that the first time I change my ticket the extra fee would only be $25. I ended up enjoying my experience with the agency, but when I had to change departure date due to a sudden family reunion in the States, I found out that it would cost me $125 instead. That was just to change it and not counting the difference between ticket price (which luckily there wasn't any difference). Overall, this was a very decent experience.

However, some tickets issued by travel agents can be rather tricky since many of them have special stipulations. For example, the Toronto ticket I purchased through a travel agent was based on a special holiday fare. When I needed to change it, the travel agency was closed for the entire week, so I called the aiport directly after five failed attempts at changing it myself. Because of the special stipulations on it, it wasn't going to cost me an extra $300 that was quoted on the was going to cost me an extra $700 plus additional fees! In the end, I managed to get the ticket changed without any extra fees, but I was ashamed of the way I acted in order to get the change.

I recommend a travel agent for solo or small group travelers only if the traveler(s) are new or worried about planning a trip online. Also, if the prices are lower and there are no extra stipulations on the ticket, then it may be worth booking the trip through a travel agent. There are some decent travel agencies out there, especially for youth travelers. So, keep your eyes open for some great deals!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

College Student Travel Tips: Travel After Graduation

One of the best times to travel is during your time at college. After all, how often can you take off for a couple of months during the summer while you're at work? However, there are quite a few students who have not taken the opportunity to travel and they are about to graduate. Is it too late for them to travel? Of course not! There are plenty of scholarships and fellowships available to help them explore the new world they are entering before they end up chained to their desk jobs.

What if I told you that there was a fellowship where you can travel anywhere outside of the United States for an entire year studying whatever you want to study? What if I told you that you would receive $25,000 in funds? There is a program that will allow you to study almost any topic that you wish and it's called the Watson Fellowship. The study topics can range from how cricket is seen throughout the world to the study of musical instruments in numerous nations. This program is available to graduating seniors, so if you want to postpone your entry into the working world and start exploring for a year then you may be interested in this offer.

Perhaps you prefer something a little more structured. In that case, you might be interested in joining one of the thirty-two students each year who are chose for the famous Rhodes Scholar program. These students are given the chance to study at the famous Oxford University in England for a couple of years. Now, if you are interested in England, but not particularly interested in Oxford, you can sign up for the Marshall Scholarship and study in one of the universities throughout the United Kingdom. Especially my old study-abroad alma mater in Sunderland...go Mackems!

Are you more interested in teaching or researching rather than studying in a classroom? Another way that you can travel after your program is to become an overseas teacher. Many students join programs such as Fulbright and the JET program in order to make a difference while traveling abroad. Programs such as JET allow individuals to travel abroad and teach students in non-English countries the English language. The Fulbright programs offers a broader variety of activities and topics including research, teaching, and studying.

There are tons of opportunities for you or anyone who will be graduating soon to travel or study abroad after graduating from your bachelor's program. Many of these scholarships and fellowships are sponsored by individuals schools, so ask your college's study abroad coordinator or academic office for more information on these and other programs. You may also try searching through Fast Web online for other scholarships that are more open to the graduating public.

List of Fellowships, Scholarships, and Programs:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Planes, Trains, or Automobiles

After deciding on a travel spot, many travelers start to think about their finances and realize that transportation is one of the most expensive portions of the trip. What form of transportation should you use to get to your destination? Is there any one form of transportation that is absolutely perfect? How can I get the most enjoyment out of my travel experience?

The answers to these questions have more to do with personal preference rather than objective statistics. Granted, I would not recommend driving your car across the Atlantic to vacation in Europe, but in most situations it is based on the area, distance, and personal preference. Do you prefer spending as much time as possible at your destination or do you want to save money by taking your time? Do you want to enjoy the scenery while you travel or do you plan on napping throughout the trip?

If you want to spend as much time at your destination as possible, and you do not mind spending hundreds of dollars, then the best choice to take is an airplane. This choice is especially beneficial for those individuals who plan on traveling long distances or over large bodies of water. While you may not be able to see as much of the scenery through the clouds, watching the sunset from your window while in the air is quite beautiful.

What if you want to save money but you do not want to spend hours driving in a car? Then you can decide on whether you want to take a bus or a train to your destination. If you are more worried about comfort, then you might want to consider taking the train. However, if you are more worried about saving a few more dollars then you should consider taking a bus.

How about those individuals who want to have complete control of their travel? Do you want to be able to pull over and stop at interesting locations? Then car travel may be more beneficial for you. Traveling by car is mostly limited to land travel, but for those who only want to travel around the continent without going overseas it could be a cost-saving way to travel. Make sure you take plenty of breaks to avoid driving fatigue.

Whether you travel by plane, train, bus, or automobile; make sure you take some time to relax and enjoy the ride. Take some time to think about the pros and cons of each situation before making a final decision. Also, look into other travel options such as taking a bicycle or motorcycle, a boat or cruise, horseback, zipline, etc. After all, sometimes the journey can be as fun and exciting as the destination.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Financial Freedom: Movie Tickets vs. European Hostel

One of the most common excuses I hear for not traveling is the statement, "I do not have enough money." Are these statements genuine? Yes, but the reasons why they are genuine can sometimes be altered. For example, go to your room and look through your closet. Take in the entire inventory: shoes, dresses, suits, outfits, gaming consoles, amplified speakers, etc. Go ahead, walk into your room and look through all of your things.

Now, what kind of car are you driving? Do you have any extra speakers or seat covers? Do you buy brand name items when you go to the store? Do you go out to eat more than once a week? Did you make your coffee this morning or did you buy it from a local coffee and tea shop? There is nothing wrong with buying things that we want or need. However, there are ways of "trimming the fat" when it comes to our daily expenses and using the money we safe for an exciting trip. So, set your iPhone aside for a few minutes and I will help you figure out a few tricks to help you save money for your dream adventure.

First, decide on where you want to go and how much it may cost. Are you willing to stay in a hostel or do you need to sleep in a hotel? Are you able to travel via train, bus or car? Or do you need to travel by plane? Talk to travel agents, study abroad advisors, and talk to other individuals you trust about the cost of their trips.

Second, create a budget with the money you currently make and subtract all of the necessary bills from your paycheck. With the money that is left over, take a look at how you use it in terms of spending. How often do you use it for fast food, shopping, or entertainment? Do you place any of it into savings or other investment funds?

Third, analyze your spending and see if there is anything you can reduce in terms of extra spending. Instead of purchasing expensive dresses or suits right away, wait until they go on sale before purchasing the items. Instead of buying name brand items, try to save money by purchasing store brand items. Many store brand items are made in the same factory or in a similar way and you pay extra for the brand name. Instead of shopping in expensive stores, see if you can find similar items in dollar stores, discount stores, consignment shops, or even eBay.

Fourth, think about giving up unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, and other narcotics. For example, you could save hundreds of dollars a year by quitting smoking. You can also save the money you spend on alcohol to get another rush such as climbing or taking an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. The cost of narcotics is tremendous when you consider the product, the taxation, and the fees for health problems that occur in relation to using these products.

Finally, ask yourself if you really need the item you are purchasing. For example, if you go to the movie theater once a week and spend $8 on a movie ticket, you can take the money from three of those tickets and use it for a night stay in a hostel. Ask yourself if you would rather purchase a pair of shoes for $40 right now, or if you can wait until they go on sale and save the extra money to help pay for a trip to Italy. Take the extra money you save and place it in a savings account or special piggy bank that you will only access for your trip.

Personally, I do not own credit cards nor have I ever used a credit card for my travels. I save my money and find ways of curbing my spending in order to travel. You will need to enact a tremendous amount of will power in order to continue saving, but remember that every single cent counts toward your travel dreams. Place a picture of your travel spot in the mirror, on the fridge, or even in your checkbook to remind you of your goals. It does not have to cost tons of money to travel. However, it does help to have money to spend for the trip in order to make it more enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

College Student Travel Tips: Course Credit

Are you sick and tired of being cooped up in class all day? Do you need a change in scenery from the brick walls, dusty chalkboards, and a professor who makes Ben Stein seem caffeinated? What if I told you there was a way that you may be able to travel and explore while getting class credit? There are a few ways of achieving your goals: study abroad, internship, exchange program etc.

In my never-ending goal of bringing Americans out of their patriotic shell, I have come across some students who do not want to live abroad from months on end. They want to escape the boredom of college and their small towns, but they do not want to live in a foreign country for long amounts of time. They want to start off small and work their way up to longer and more exciting travels. For those of you who want to travel for a shorter amount of time while receiving course credit, there is a solution: travel for college credit.

There are a few ways in which you can travel for a short amount of time while earning college credit. One way of doing this is to take a course during the summer--or winter semesters if offered--that promotes opportunities for students to travel. For example, the Kentucky Institute for International Studies (KIIS) promotes summer study abroad programs that students can join for course credit. Universities in general usually offer study abroad opportunities over the summer for course credit, so ask your international center for more information on travel abroad opportunities. If you know the professor who is teaching the program, then you may want to ask him/her for more details.

These trips can last anywhere from a week to an entire month. Most courses usually have at least one week of classroom time in order to prepare students for the exciting adventure of traveling to another country. While there may be some classroom instruction, traveling for course credit involves an element of adventure that connects with the lessons. I have seen courses that revolved around environmental peace courses in Costa Rica, learning to tango in Argentina, and learning the language and history of numerous places such as Mexico and Turkey. Many of these courses also offer chances of receiving grants or scholarship funding to help you fund for these trips, so talk to the professor, study abroad advisor, and/or financial aid office for additional funding opportunities.

What if your school does not offer any travel opportunities that interest you? Create your own! During a winter semester, one of my friends joined forces with a travel buddy and they traveled throughout the larger cities of the United States where they took part in volunteering opportunities. They went to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding of the city after Hurricane Katrina, traveled to Washington D.C. to assist in a homeless shelter, and they spent a total of two weeks just traveling and helping others. All of this counted for college credit since the school offered an independent studies program that allowed students to create their own courses, justified the importance behind the course, and they had to explain how this would contribute to their major or general requirement courses. Now, you probably cannot do this for every single class, but if your school allows for students to create their own courses then you may be able to create one or two of your own courses.

Are you interested in escaping your boring classroom? Then leave the room and start talking to professors and study abroad advisors about potential opportunities to escape the dullness of structured learning. Education should not have any borders in terms of expanding your horizons, so feel free to create your own lessons. After all, how much can you learn about the real world if you are sheltered from it by brick walls and piles of homework?


Monday, June 22, 2009

Yes, You Can Travel!

Welcome! Bienvenidos! Bienvenue!

How many of you have seen pictures of beautiful beaches or snow-covered mountain tops and wished that you could transport yourself into the picture? Do you look at your friend and wonder how he/she could visit such interesting countries during this rough economic time? Is it really fair for rich people to enjoy seeing Tuscany at sunset or Paris at night? What is stopping you from going out there and joining the thousands of travelers who enjoy these sights each year?

Many individuals claim that they cannot travel because of financial problems. If that is true, then why do people from other countries whose currencies are equal or lower than American currency travel more than Americans? It is not because they are rich. It is because they know how to travel without spending tons of money on a four-star hotel or expensive restaurants.

As Americans, we are taught very little about traveling in terms of saving money and experiencing a culture. We are bombarded with images of fancy dinners, luxurious spas, and ocean-view rooms. How can any of us afford such a lifestyle when we are going to college, paying off student loans, or getting ready to retire? That type of traveling would be unlikely, but there is another side to traveling that very few Americans experience. This type of traveling is often referred to as "backpacking", but the truth is that there is a less expensive way to experience the wonders of our world.

Here at The Backpacker's Bungalow, you can sit down and know that your dreams of travel are not just wishful thinking. There are ways that you can use to save money, find deals, and travel smarter. The bungalow also houses tips for new travelers since less than a third of all Americans own a passport. So, stay tuned and watch for more information to help you with your travel goals.