College is an exercise in preparing young people for “the real world.” Every September, eager students flock to Walmarts and Targets to buy school supplies, textbooks, and the perfect decorations for their dorm room. In class, students debate with each other and with professors over contemporary issues and international politics, hoping to become the faces of change in their academic communities. But to really face these issues–that are introduced in theory within the safety of a classroom–as reality, young people have to experience the big bad world for themselves.
The “real world” ought to be interpreted as more than a place of professionalism and business transactions. In order to understand how to function as a post-grad, college students have to experience how people live around the world, what they value, what their day-to-day lives look like. Something they wouldn’t experience in their dorm buildings or on a spring break trip to Daytona Beach. There is no better way to engage with these experiences than by traveling.
Many students have lived quite comfortably either at home or at school, and the best way to learn about yourself and the world is outside of the classroom. While travel can be nerve-wracking, it challenges how you interact with new people, how you budget, and even tests your communication skills when cooperating with travel partners.
While you’re still young, I recommend using summer and winter vacations, or even a spring break to visit some fun, funky and affordable destinations. It’s an awesome opportunity as a young person to take an Amtrak, quick flight, or road trip to these locations. It’s also an ideal time to go: you aren’t tied down with a demanding career, you are open to socializing with peers, and you find the idea of living out of a backpack for a few days totally manageable.
So if you’re looking to get a taste of the real world, or are simply looking for a weekend getaway that doesn’t involve a high budget and require crossing an ocean, consider these destinations the next time you’re hit with wanderlust.
According to the North America Backpacker Index of 2015, Montreal ranks as the cheapest city to travel to for American backpackers. Offering affordable hostels, free activities to participate in throughout the city, and a French flair, Montreal is as close to a European backpacking trip you can get without crossing the Atlantic.
Nicknamed “Music City” the capital of Tennessee is a millennial’s paradise. It’s quaint street offers cute vintage clothing stores and high-end cafes. Plus, Nashville has a bustling couchsurfer scene if you’re looking for a SUPER cheap place to stay and an easy way to meet like-minded individuals.
The Big Apple. It’s hard to fathom a vacation to the biggest city in the United States on a college budget, but if you do New York the right way, it’s completely affordable. Pro tip: whilst it may seem like it’s the place to see in the city, stay away from hostels and hotels in world-famous Times Square. Not only is the area an extremely overpriced tourist trap, but it’s also regarded as the antithesis of New York for real New Yorkers. If you visit the free galleries in Chelsea to get your art fix, fill up on cheap, delicious eats in Chinatown, and utilize their public transportation system, you can make New York affordable.
This list would be incomplete without New Orleans. Travelers will be saving pennies the moment they arrive, with plenty to offer in terms of entertainment, food, and hospitality. The Daily Backpacker Index calculates a day in New Orleans to cost just under $60, making the Big Easy an affordable getaway for college students. While you’re there, spend some time on Bourbon Street and check out European-inspired Jackson Square. And don’t leave without eating a Po-Boy!