Travel usually finds its way onto everyone’s bucket list. American author James Thurber incites the idea of wanderlust in his book The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by exclaiming, “to see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
And yet, even as our world gets smaller and travel seems more possible, a lack of available time and money can make wandering feel out of reach. Perhaps these rewarding and inexpensive travel stories from local young adults will give us the nudge we need.
AmeriCorps: Southern United States
Cost – $0
Stay – 10 months
KT Ainsworth wasn’t ready to jump right into college. She had, as she put it, an “inner need to give back” and wanted to do so in the space between high school and college. The AmeriCorps program was the answer for her.
She first traveled to Vicksburg, Mississippi for a month of training with the rest of the new volunteers. From there, she went on to work at a Memphis, Tennessee archaeological museum. Other job titles included Easter Seals camp counselor in Roanoke, Virginia, and team leader for a Cumberland Gap project creating a new hiking trail.
“The biggest challenge for me was being promoted to a position that involved so much responsibility at such a young age. I’m so grateful for the opportunity because I was able to grow and learn about myself.” – KT Ainsworth
Cost – $850*Stay – Two months
After hearing a friend tell stories about his experiences with a work/stay program, recent high school graduate Griffin Jacobsen began researching the possibilities. Work/stay programs involve hosts posting help-needed listings and workers checking for matches for their skills and interests in places they’d like to visit. The work is in exchange for room and board.
Jacobsen settled on an opportunity to work on a Southern Icelandic coastal ranch.
The language barrier and the non-stop responsibility of helping run a farm were challenges. The work was grueling at times, yet food was plentiful and the lodging comfortable. As a bonus, Jacobsen was on site long enough to meet and work alongside a number of other temporary ranchers from all over the world.
“Everything, no matter how small, was a new experience and that made it cool.” – Griffin Jacobsen.
“Semester Abroad”: Spain
Cost – $8,000*
Stay – Five months
Life-long overachiever Jessica Johnson needed some new perspective during her Sophomore year at the University of Montana. So, she signed up for a semester abroad and made plans to live and study in Bilbao, Spain.
While this is the most pricey travel option on our list, it is important to note that it is also the most all-inclusive. There are many learning-centered experiences, transportation needs and host family expenses included. These days, college is expensive, however, there are scholarship options available. Johnson is using this time to immerse herself in learning Spanish, try classes she might not consider at home, as well as learn to trust her own strength and resilience. The experience of letting go the pursuit of the highest level classes and credits each semester is a positive one.
“So far, my best memory made here is just a day I spent exploring where I live with a friend in the program.” – Jessica Johnson
Travel Without a Program:
If you prefer to eschew formal program services, follow the path of Jake Bailey, who enjoyed a recent month-long “couch surfing” adventure in Asia, with a 5-day stopover in Boston, Massachusetts. During a break in college studies, Bailey had the opportunity to visit his boyfriend’s home country of Thailand. He saw the trip as the wonderful gift that it was and jumped right in.
Staying with friends and family for the vast majority of the time allowed him to splurge on some five-star international hotels in Bangkok, and even at a “Floating Hotel” in the tropical waters of a national park in the south of Thailand.
“It is an incredible experience to get to share and learn about the lives of people you love, and it offers a one-of-a-kind experience with an inexpensive price tag.” – Jake Bailey
* Costs are listed as the total cost for travel, lodging and food. Entertainment and other incidental costs are not included.