Travel for new grads can be entirely affordable, if done right
So, soon-to-be-grad — here’s the situation. You’re about to be thrown into the real world. A plethora of possibilities are opening up, but a grim reality comes with them. The economy sucks, your student loans are coming due in six short months, and you’re an artist who’s graduating from a school that doesn’t exactly emphasize careers and salaries. You’d like to travel, but where’s that money going to come from?
Although often associated with steep expenses, traveling abroad can actually be very accessible as more and more backpackers share the secrets to cheap travel. If done right, traveling abroad can be completely affordable, even for the recent graduate.
Traveling abroad transformed itself as a post-graduate opportunity in the 1960s, when educated vagabonds began referring to the “Gap Year.” The gap year is all about experiencing the world before the lure of a salary and full benefits traps your creative mind in a cubicle. For artists looking to stay away from the traditional 9-5, a gap year can mean exposing yourself to valuable new experiences. After four years of making art within the confines of one city, travel can open a whole new world of inspiration.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the United States was last recorded at 9% in January of this year. Whether you hope to make a living out of your art or are simply looking to wait tables while you work away at your masterpieces on the side, the job market is looking bleak for everyone.
Traveling abroad can be a resume-building experience that doesn’t involve applications and rejection letters. Amy Wiss, an HR representative in New York, always notices international travel on the dozens of resumes that pass her desk each day. “It shows the candidate’s commitment to broadening their horizons and moving outside their comfort zone,” says Wiss.
Mia DiMeo, a second year New Arts Journalism graduate student at SAIC, spent three weeks traveling throughout Germany, Austria, Italy and France before starting her masters. She highly recommends couch surfing as a way to save money on lodging. 2.5 million people are registered on couchsurfers.com, offering up their homes to backpackers in exchange for access to other members who will offer up their homes as crashing spots as well. Hosts and surfers post references online so that future surfers know what they’re getting themselves into before showing up on a doorstep.
While couch surfing may save cash on lodging, there’s also the question of day-to-day expenses. These expenses may be easy to navigate in cultures that resemble our own, but there’s a lot more to consider than just an exchange rate. Having spent much time in Southeast Asia where haggling is protocol, Richard Shreiber, a second year MFAW graduate student, recommends watching the locals make purchases before dolling out your money. When purchasing street food, he would take note of what others were paying to avoid getting ripped off. Understanding a country’s purchasing culture before you arrive is a budgeting must.
Using Your Resources
There are many resources available that provide valuable information about budget traveling. “Delaying the Real World” by Colleen Kinder discusses multiple ways to travel abroad with minimal cash, or how to increase your cash flow once abroad by getting a job.
Working at a bar, teaching English as a second language (ESL), and becoming an au pair are all money-making options that Kinder delves into. She urges travelers to take advantage of the Internet in planning their travels. “There is nothing standing in your way other than that idea in your head that foreign things are inherently more complicated and intimidating,” she writes.
The amount of information online can be overwhelming, but it also allows the potential world traveler to compare and contrast different options. Many travel agents and volunteer organizations will handle the nitty gritty details of lodging, airport pickup, and pre-departure planning for a fee. Skipping the middle man will require more time, but you can save yourself serious cash doing it on your own. Organization is key, and the money you can save by doing your research is worth it.
Despite the many ways to travel cheap, extra spending money is always helpful. SAIC’s Odyssey Travel Grant can provide just that. This random lottery, held in late March each year, awards $1,500 to 20 students to travel overseas. The money is provided by Marion Parry, a generous donor who simply believes in the importance of world travel. Students must use the money to travel within the next year, but no academic project is required for participation.
Students looking to travel after graduation have every opportunity to do so. Those willing to conduct their research, save up their money, and take off into the unknown, will reap the benefits of an impressive addition to their resume and an experience that no job can offer.
The reality is that it is entirely possible to travel abroad extensively on a minimal budget. Armed with the right resources, your very own gap year is entirely within reach. It’s now or never, and if you’re worried about what kind of job you’ll get when you return, just think of your newly elevated resume and remember: the Craigslist job listings will still be there when you get back.
Volunteer … Traveling abroad through a volunteer organization allows travelers to do some good in the world while broadening their horizons. These organizations charge a program fee that often covers housing, food, orientation, and host country contacts to assist you while abroad.
Sea turtle conservation in Mexico, elephant rehabilitation in Thailand, construction work in Nicaragua.
Volunteer on a private game reserve in South Africa, social projects in the Galapagos Islands, youth outreach in Peru.
Humpback whale conservation in Brazil, work with the elderly inSweden, community volunteer in Vietnam. Work … Finding a job in another country can be daunting, but an international work placement organization can assist with job placement, as well as VISA requirements and job training. Working while abroad (even if it’s a short term, under-the-table stint) can extend your travel time by keeping the money flowing.
Farm organic foods through Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in Australia, work as an Au Pair in Turkey, teach English in Ghana.
Bartend in Ireland, teach skiing in New Zealand, promote clubs in Ibiza, join a yacht crew in Australia.
Other helpful websites …
Find free places to crash and offer up your pad to fellow wayfarers.
Banish your preconceived nightmares from the movie and stay at one of these super cheap versions of hotels. You’ll sleep on dirty bunks above strangers, but that’s part of the fun.