Vacations with Lessons

They say some of life’s lessons are best learned outside of the classroom. And when winter and summer breaks roll around, quite often we want nothing more than to lay back, relax, and do anything but cram more knowledge into our heads. Even post-grads take off to Cancun or Key West after tossing their caps to unwind and, metaphorically, toss their textbooks to the wind before entering the workforce.

But for those who get a kick out of keeping their mind stimulated, how can they both treat themselves to an unbelievable getaway whilst still exercising their brain? To help, I’ve put together a list of destinations that will provide the fun and carefree feeling of a vacation, but will still keep you on your toes, mentally.


Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 3.53.03 PM.pngTourists pour into Peru to hike to the top of the famous Machu Picchu, booking up tours of the ancient Incan civilization for months in advance. We all were taught about the Incan empire, but we all haven’t seen the ruins of it, making this destination one that seems straight out of a history textbook.


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A lot of the historical events taught in school happened decades, if not centuries ago. They seem of another world and time. A major historical event that occurred much closer to my generation is the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Visiting the capital of Germany will open your eyes to an electric European city’s history, where portions of the wall still stand, such as the infamous East Side Gallery, which has been covered by works of art from artists across the global to signify it as an international memorial for freedom.


We learn of the horrors of the Nazi regime in schools, the inhumane happenings of concentration camps, and the absolute injustice that occurred during World War II. But paragraphs of words, photos in textbooks, and video footage don’t nearly express the cruel reality that many faced. However, visiting Auschwitz is an experience unlike any other, and truly helps us understand the horror of the victims who were kept there.Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 3.53.44 PM.png

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Study Abroad: Weird and Wild Locations

As each year passes, tuition rises, and a new group of freshman enter universities and colleges across the globe, the idea of studying abroad remains the same. It’s foreign, it’s exciting, it’s the chance of a lifetime.

At this point, it’s hard to click through a friends photos on Facebook without diving deep into their semester in Rome, their summer internship in London, or their year abroad in Australia. But occasionally, we come across people who aren’t taking the traditional study abroad trips to big European cities and the sprawling beaches Down Under and instead are opting to track and protect the black rhinos of Africa or make pilgrimage across Tibet.

Here is a list of some of the most interesting, unique, and wild study abroad programs out there, for the students who would rather spend their semesters hiking mountains than eating mountains of gelato.

School for Field Studies

Missing Mother Nature while cooped up inside a classroom? Then this program is right for you. For the hands-on, dirt-loving students, you can explore the eastern Himalayans in Bhutan by participating in environmental preservation, rural development, and sustainability projects. And if you really fall in love with Bhutanese culture, Naropa University offers a semester-long program that immerses students in Bhutanese culture, environmental sustainability, education, Buddhism, and traditional art, to name a few. Bhutan cliffside

Siberian Summer Adventure

Bundle up for this trip across the globe! If you’re passionate about Russian culture and the outdoors, this is definitely the program for you. Working to create trails and various infrastructure to support the Siberian tundra’s ecotourism, students are exposed to a culture (and temperatures!) that can only be found in Russia.

American Universities International Programs: Antartica

Day dreaming about the coldest, most isolated place on the planet? Then sign up for this 6-credit program, sending participants to the bottom of the globe for two weeks of field study in the land famous for its adorable penguins and jarring icebergs. Studying the history and global impact that Antartica has, is, and will be facing, the biggest takeaway is bragging rights that you actually lived on the only uninhibited continent on Earth. Antarctica

BroadReach Fiji Shark Program

This isn’t for the faint of heart or those who get queasy out on the open water. Actually only for high school students, The program lasts a little less than a month, taking students in the Pacific ocean off the Island of Fiji, diving with and studying the behaviors and physiology of a number of shark species. Strap on that oxygen tank and get diving, if you dare!

Traveling On A Budget–College Edition

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.Katharine Diane McCallum

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.

MontrealMontreal skyline
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.

New York
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,New York City skyline 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.

New Orleans
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!

Solo Travel for Women–The Time is Now!

Planning a trip, no matter if it’s a two hour drive away or 16-hour flight across the world, can be stressful. And even more so when you’re going with a group of people, large or small, friends or family. You need to consider every place you will visit and whether or not it can accommodate your party. You need to take into account everyone’s budget and settle on dates that are feasible for all. You also need to consider everyone in your party’s needs–while some may prefer to spend the day lounging by the pool, others may want to get out and sample the local culture.

An easy way to make sure every person you’re traveling with is happy? Travel alone.

Solo travel is on the rise, especially for women. Statistics suggest that about 72 percent of American women will travel alone this year. Why is it so popular? It’s a feeling of luxury and independence for those who wanderlust. They sincerely cherish launching themselves out into the world, with no social strings attached. Truly following the beat of their own drum.Woman standing alone

While setting out on a journey by yourself might seem a bit intimidating and isolating, it isn’t, even for the female traveler. I mean, it’s 2015, women are CEOs, running for president, and gaining ground in the military, so the fear and loneliness surrounding solo travel for women needs to be reconsidered.

Let’s debunk some of these myths that might otherwise discourage women from taking a leap and booking the trip of their dreams.

“Won’t you be so lonely all by yourself?”

When you’re traveling with a group or partner, your most likely getting away to spend some quality time together. Your attention will be focused on them. And while you may bond with a couple lounging by the pool one day or make nice with a family on the plane, chances are you won’t notice a lot of the people you could meet if you were traveling solo.

Additionally, spontaneity is a vital element to solo travel. You have the freedom and flexilbity to do whatever, whenever, where ever, often opening you to the opportunity to meet similar, spontaneous souls. You also have the freedom to interact with these people for as long as you want without fear of making it back to the hotel in time for dinner with your traveling companions. “Traveling solo empowers you and gives you a feeling of accomplishment that you just don’t get traveling with others,” said Lisa Eldridge of Girl about the Globe blog. “You’ll return home a more defined person with a sense of who you really are.”

“Aren’t you afraid of something happening? Traveling alone sounds so unsafe!”

So long as you’re using common sense, traveling alone isn’t any less safer than traveling with a group. In fact, it doesn’t require you practice any safety protocol you wouldn’t normally at home: make sure you have your wallet, keys, IDs on you in a safe, accessible place; don’t put valuables on display; steer clear of high-crime areas; be aware of your surroundings. Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook and the Solo Traveler Blog recommends following the four fundamentals: “stay in a public place with people you’ve just met, be proactive and choose who to approach should you want assistance, don’t be rushed into a decision and be rude if necessary.” Make sure someone, such as a family member or significant other, has a copy of your itinerary, so someone knows where you are at all times

“Traveling alone sounds so boring! How do you do it?!”

In my opinion, it’s pretty hard to be bored when you’re uprooting yourself and going on a journey, even if you’re not sharing the experience with someone else. In fact, solo travelers are more likely to step out of their comfort zone and try something new when they don’t aren’t shackled to another’s needs, wants or demands. From base-jumping in New Zealand to taking a cooking class in Tuscany, “[trying activities you’d never consider] can make you feel alive and vibrant and let’s face it, they make your stories a lot more interesting…Solo travel is the perfect antidote to boredom,” said Janice Holly Booth, author of Only Pack What You Can Carry.