I’ve had some time to look back on my student travels recently– mostly because I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate and reflect on what started my love of seeing the world. In looking back, a lot of it was the ability to be a part of new, unique, and interesting cultures that I had only been introduced to in textbooks. In my student years alone, I was lucky enough to live in Germany for a month, and see plenty of the United States on my travels to and from college. It was during this period in my life that I realized how much I loved traveling – perhaps not necessarily to and from the places I was going, but everywhere in between.
Coming from modest backgrounds, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to put my travel skills to practice - which was apparent by all of the rookie mistakes that I made along the way. Trusting a 19-year-old me to catch a flight home, let alone the right flight, was asking a lot! And when I did miss the plane, I had no idea what the proper methods of finding my way on the next flight were – outside of standing in line, waiting, and trying not to look like a kitten lost in a big city.
In ten years, I’ve come quite a ways from my student travel days – a far cry from where I was coming from. In that time, technology has also come a long way. What used to be a 20-minute wait in line is now a trip to the kiosk for assistance. What used to be a half-hour phone call to a travel agent is now a half-hour internet search across many online travel agencies.
Even at 29, I've seen so much of the travel atmosphere change around me. Because with the conveniences of modern technology, student travelers have it a whole lot easier than I did when I was learning how to navigate the system from scratch. But there are still a lot of ways that student travelers can make their travels easier with a little preparation and forethought ahead of time.
If I could go back in time and tell my student traveler self that someday, I’d eventually become a semi-successful travel writer…I don’t know that my younger self would actually believe that. But what my younger self would genuinely appreciate is hearing how to make the cross-country flying a whole lot easier every time he went back and forth, or that one time he went to Nashville on a whim. So if I could go back and give me some advice, this is what I would tell him:
1: Arrive light, return heavy
Look, I know you want to be prepared for anything that could happen while you travel. But considering that you’re still a student traveler, and on your budget, there’s not a whole lot that’s going to be happening. So go ahead and pack what you need to look like a respectable young man, but don’t bring your entire wardrobe. Besides, you’ll need that extra room on the way back to keep all your keepsakes and memories.
2: Be kind everywhere you go
It isn’t a whole lot of fun to stand in lines and wait, is it? Especially when you’re wrestling with seemingly huge bags, just to end up talking to a very tired customer service agent who is rather disinterested in what you’re going through. I know that it isn’t the most optimal of moments, and it definitely isn't easy to keep your cool. But please be nice and let the customer service agent do their jobs. It will be easier for all involved if you can politely explain the situation you are in, and ask for the best possible solution – even if it means waiting around longer, or getting home later than you anticipated.
3: Pay it forward
Remember that time you ran across an entire terminal to hold an airplane for another student traveler that you never saw again? That was a very nice thing you did for that person. I’m not suggesting you do something that dramatic all over again, but don’t be afraid to do nice things for people along the way. Smile more. Let people ahead of you in line. And have nice conversations with those who are so interested. You never know where a simple conversation might lead you.
What lessons did you wish you would have learned as a student traveler? What would you go back and do differently? I’d love to hear more – leave me a comment below and start the conversation!