Traveling can be so much more than getting away from it all. Imagine going on a spiritual retreat, backpacking through extraordinary wilderness areas, taking an educational trip to learn about social injustice, or volunteering in another country. If you want a traveling experience that will really expand your mind, you must begin to reshape your fundamental ideas about travel itself.
One of most exciting and least expensive ways to travel is to study abroad. When you study abroad, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn about another part of the globe while earning course credit. Here are some of the leading programs:
Council on International Education Exchange: A non-profit group that provides college and high school level educational programs for both students and teachers. Offers work exchange and voluntary service programs, as well as discount travel services for students, teachers and young people.
American Field Service: A non-profit exchange organization that sends people to more than 55 countries. It focuses more on high school students, teachers and administrators than do other international exchange programs.
National Student Exchange: A great program for college students who want to participate in an exchange but aren’t interested in leaving the states. U.S. universities from all parts of the country participate in a national exchange, where students can attend another university for a semester or year while paying their home university’s tuition.
TAKE A REALITY TOUR
A “reality tour” is an opportunity to travel across the planet and learn first-hand about war, poverty, globalization, sustainable agriculture and other forces that are shaping our future. Reality tours are a great way to move beyond the mainstream media’s portrayal of global issues and experience them for yourself. Some of the leading programs are:
Global Exchange: Now you have an opportunity to visit and learn about another country’s history and current situation from the people themselves. Global Exchanges Reality Tours take groups abroad to visit people and places you would never encounter during your normal travels.
Witness for Peace: For almost 20 years, Witness for Peace has been sending groups of average U.S. citizens to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to see firsthand the impacts of uncontrolled globalization on Third World people.
TAKE AN ECO-TOUR
Eco-tourism works on the assumption that traveling should contribute to the long-term preservation of entire ecosystems. Governments and business people are realizing that tourists love visiting wilderness areas, so by supporting eco-tourism, you are stating that wilderness areas here and around the world deserve protection and are valuable beyond their uses as raw materials.
Sierra Club: Sierra Club volunteers lead outings that contribute to the overall conservation and environmental goals of the club. Most of their trips are wilderness trips. They expect participants to help with chores and other necessary work.
World Wildlife Fund: WWF’s tours like to feature the wondrous wildlife that surrounds us all. Visits to WWF-funded conservation projects are also a part of many of their trips. On most trips, a WWF staff member accompanies you throughout, while local guides, guest speakers, and other experts complement the staff.
Sustainable Travel International: Provides consumers a useful online resource for finding eco-tours across the globe. They have their own Eco-Certification Program as well as a reliable carbon offset program.
The Eco-Tourism Society: This non-profit organization works to promote eco-tourism through education and networking. They publish fact sheets, books, and newsletters, educating the public about the benefits of eco-travel.
Adapted from The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make a Big Difference by Ellis Jones, Ross Haenfler, and Brett Johnson (New Society Publishers, 2007)