Experience the World with Experiential Travel
So you’ve been thinking about what you’d like to do with your summer or with your gap year before college, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t imagine yourself lifeguarding at the local pool, or going camping at the lake again. What you really want – more than anything – is to throw yourself outside of your comfort zone, go somewhere new, and learn as much about another culture as you can. Guess what? There’s a word for that kind of adventure – it’s called experiential travel, and we are #AllAboutIt.
We know better than anyone that the best way to travel is to explore another country by connecting to its people, its culture, and its history through authentic experiences. This is the kind of travel that will open your eyes to new ways of living, and make you a global citizen of the world. Here are some pro tips on how to make the most out of your experiential travel program abroad!
Look Beyond the Map
Traveling to a new country can seem intimidating, especially for teens who haven’t been much farther than the state line before. When deciding where you’d like to have your experiential travel experience, it might feel safer or easier to pick a country that is close to home in terms of cultural similarities, but if you really want to live a life less ordinary, sometimes you have to step off the map you’re familiar with.
Instead, try traveling to a country that is wildly different from your own! If you are from an English-speaking Western country, for example, you might want to travel beyond the UK. Having to adjust to a daily lifestyle that is completely foreign to you – from public transportation to when you eat dinner to how the locals dress – is the best way to immerse yourself in another culture and experience a fun little thing called culture shock.
You’ll be disoriented, and uncomfortable, and most days you’ll feel out of place – but that’s a good thing. This is how you’ll learn not only about the new country you’re exploring, but also about what’s waiting for you back home. There’s no better way to put your own life in perspective than to live the life of someone else!
You’re young, curious, and have the opportunity to travel— this is your chance to make your time abroad about something bigger than just snapping the perfect Insta on top of Machu Picchu. Not only do you get to travel to a country you’ve always dreamed of, but you also can pursue a subject or a future profession you’re passionate about.
Do you like working with kids? Consider making an impact working with local children in a Costa Rican orphanage. Looking to work in health care? Go abroad with Carpe Diem Education and get hands-on experience in East Africa. Whatever you love, make it a part of your experiential travel program abroad and you’ll have a much richer experience (plus, some excellent college application and resume bullet points!).
Learn a New Language
One of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in another culture is by learning the language of the country you are in. Obviously, learning the local dialect is crucial to making small talk with your favorite fruit stand vendor and haggling for the perfect price. You’ll also be able to learn a lot more from your studies, and even just your walks on the street by speaking the lingo -- it’s called language immersion for a reason guys.
Added bonus: trying to communicate with locals in their native language demonstrates that you are making an effort to connect with them and learn more about their culture on an in-depth level.
Live the Local Life
One of the most important parts of getting to know another country is getting to know its people. The heart of experiential travel is living in a homestay, so go for it! Living in a homestay lets you be a part of a local family – eating, sleeping, and speaking with locals who can show you the daily way of life. Pretty soon, your “host mom” will start to feel like a second mom!
You can also be a part of the local lifestyle by joining language exchange clubs, playing soccer with other, local high schoolers, or just being open to talking with strangers on the street (don’t let “stranger danger” hold you back!). Making an effort to befriend the people from the country around you will lead to more interesting conversations and more meaningful connections with your adopted country’s culture.
As a teen in search of a truly authentic experience abroad, you want to be more than just a tourist – you want to be a traveler. You don’t want to just see another country, you want to understand it. So when you choose your experiential travel program, you want to be sure to do a little homework beforehand. Ok yes, we know, homework for traveling?! At first, that doesn’t sound like very much fun, but learning about your chosen country beforehand will actually help you have a deep, meaningful adventure.
So before you pack your bags and hop on that plane, research the country (or countries) you will be traveling to. Read up on their traditions, their customs, the history of the cobblestone streets you’ll be walking down. When in South Korea for the summer, for example, you’ll appreciate a program focused on Peace Studies all the more if you understand the history of conflict that continues to affect the country’s politics.
Having a so-called “authentic” experience abroad relies on seeing the reality of a place – even the things that might make us uncomfortable. These are the things that will expand your worldview and make you a better and more open-minded traveler.
Experiential Travel Companies to Start Your Adventure With
Check out experiential travel programs with these organizations in order to look beyond the map, be passionate, learn a new language, live like the locals, and dig deep.
- Travel for Teens
- The Experiment in International Living
- Sol Abroad
- SPI Study Abroad
- Youth for Understanding
Take your love of learning outside of the classroom and apply it in the real world with experiential travel all over the world. From photography in France to community service and outdoor adventures in Argentina, there are programs to fit every fancy and follow every whim.
Seek True Experiences
“Experience” is the operative word when talking about experiential travel programs. Look for the program that will give you the most well-rounded travel experience. With so many factors to consider, choosing the perfect high school program abroad can be overwhelming. Luckily, we’re here to make it easy: you can compare programs and read reviews side-by-side, with MyGoAbroad.
Whichever program you end up choosing, the important thing is to explore the country wholeheartedly. Embrace the cultures, languages, and experiences of others, and you will have a truly meaningful travel experience.