Like many travelers, I wasn’t planning on going abroad. As a college student, balancing my time between two majors and all of the student organizations I was involved in didn’t leave me with much flexibility to take a semester off. So when I heard about a program in the summer that fit with my schedule and timeframe, it made me reevaluate my options. I ended up deciding to go for it, and it’s something I never regretted.
At the time, I had never traveled outside of the country without my family and knew nothing about what went into being abroad for more than a two week period. I had friends who had been exchange students in high school and knew people who had taken gap years, but I only heard them talk about the highlights of their experience. I didn’t know about the prep, paperwork, and the adjustments I would have to make in order to have a safe and smooth transition. Thankfully, I had people to walk me through it.
It’s hard to know the do’s and don’ts of moving to another country unless you’ve already done it.
Having spent some time working here at Greenheart Travel, I know most people going abroad are in the same position. It’s hard to know the do’s and don’ts of moving to another country unless you’ve already done it. The paperwork alone can be very confusing, with visa requirements and strict deadlines. Finding adequate housing and landing a legitimate job can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re going to a place where you don’t know the language.
But it’s more than just planning and logistics. At my orientation, I was able to make friends right away with people who were traveling too, as well as locals associated with the program. I’m honestly not sure how I would have gone about meeting people in a new country alone had I not had some sort of social structure at the time.
While I was abroad and comfortable in my new country, a few friends and I decided to take a trip to Dublin one weekend. We booked our flights and hostel online spontaneously and hopped on the plane that same week. After a major hiccup on our part, we found ourselves without a place to stay and spent half our time there trying to find last-minute accommodation. I learned to conduct very thorough research, and that the vetting process is not something the gloss over.
I was still living on my own, but there was a sense of security and purpose to my time there.
Knowing what I know now about travel, I could totally plan my own solo excursion. But I only think that’s because I had an example set for me. The managers on my program knew things I didn’t. They coordinated travel and accommodation, set up activities throughout my stay, and were there as a safety net if I needed help. I was still living on my own, but there was a sense of security and purpose to my time there. My experience would not have been the same without them.
Program services also save you time. This includes things like applying for jobs, trying to vet the schools, researching visa processes, researching cities/neighborhoods to live in, finding an apartment, researching and booking airport transfers and initial hostel accommodations, researching what to pack and what not to pack, researching vaccination information, etc. This a service that is not needed for some travelers, and that’s totally okay! However, for people who haven’t traveled or lived abroad before, or just want guidance, that’s what travel programs are for.
Plus, there is the money-saving aspect. The fee covers many of the costs that you’d have to pay if you were to travel on your own. It also covers extras like orientation week activities like language lessons, cooking classes, other cultural activities.
Bottom line, if you want to create your own schedule or take an extended vacation by yourself, then travel programs are probably not your route. But if you’re looking for guidance during an intentional experience, then absolutely go for it.