Break into something new
With spring break approaching, this is traditionally the time to start planning and budgeting for a trip. But those who have not made plans for spring break may have actually done themselves a favor.
There are budget-friendly destinations out there that offer more than a sandy expanse of eye-candy. This could be the year to stimulate both the mind and the body by taking a trip off the beaten path into the nearby unknown, and there are some unconventional ways to do it.
The answer to the most intrepid spring breaker’s desire for adventure may lie within one Web site. Couchsurfing.com offers travel opportunities without the need of a hotel.
Think of Couchsurfing.com as Facebook on steroids. It endeavors to connect people across the globe through a mutual desire to travel. Students can sign up for the Web site and be exposed to more than 50,000 other users.
Safety is a big concern with traveling in this manner, and the founders of the Web site have taken this thought to heart and developed a complex verification and vouching system.In order to establish relationships through the Web site, people must prove they are sincere in their efforts to connect and travel with others.
The first step in this process is getting vouched for. One way to do this is to become a Couchsurfing member and make friends with other Couchsurfers who can then vouch for your honest attempt to be a Couchsurfer. If you’re not a member, you can talk and meet with a member who, after they get to know you, can vouch for you. Once you are vouched for, you can vouch for others.
The second aspect of the Couchsurfing.com security system is verification. While it is required for people to be vouched for in order to participate on the site, verification is optional. After entering one’s name and address, Couchsurfing.com verifies the information through a credit card that is provided by the person. The charge for verification is $25.
According to Couchsurfing.com, “The money generated from verification goes into the verification process and other CouchSurfing.com expenses and also helps us give verification discounts to those who really can’t afford $25.”
The Web site wants to do more than help people travel. Its mission statement aims to also “create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding.”
The story of the birth of Couchsurfing.com is told on the Web site. Founder Casey Fenton obtained an extremely cheap ticket to Iceland but had no place to stay. Not having any money for a hotel, he decided to spam 1,500 students in Reykjavik asking to crash on their couches. He eventually found a group of friends who wanted to show him “their” Reykjavik. After an amazing weekend, he vowed to never use a hotel again.
For those who prefer a more conventional mode of travel, STA Travel, a student-focused discount travel organization, offers a number of discounted tickets to locations most spring breakers may not think of.
One trip offered by STA Travel is to Panama City – no, not the sun-soaked tourist destination on the Florida panhandle, but Panama City, Panama, in Central America.
The country connects two continents and is bordered by two oceans. Panama City offers a rich cultural surrounding, both historical and tropical.
Casco Viejo, a historical neighborhood in Panama City, was rated as a site of world interest in 1998 by the United Nations. Casco Viejo boasts a variety of historical monuments.
Airfare and hotel in this southern locale will cost a tourist about $600, according to the STA Travel Web site, STAtravel.com. In this situation it pays to procrastinate because STA Travel specializes in what it calls “last-minute packages.” If one wants to obtain these rates, he or she would wait until two to three weeks before the chosen departure date to search.
If you do decide on this vacation, a passport is required; however, currency doesn’t need to be exchanged.
For those who have had enough of the Florida heat and think a tropical destination just doesn’t seem unusual enough, STA Travel offers an economical solution to those students looking to venture into the frozen north: a trip to Canada.
STA Travel describes Montreal as “a shortcut to Europe.” Montreal is similar enough to the United States to overwhelm first-time travelers but at the same time culturally separate enough to remain new and exciting.
If you wait to book a few weeks before you plan on departing, you can expect a cost of about $400 for flight and hotel accommodations for three days and four nights.
For those who have a place to stay, STA Travel also offers good deals on round-trip flights. Its Web site advertises a round-trip flight to London for about $200. In order to obtain the rate, one must buy an International Student Identification Card (ISIC). These cards are available at Myisic.com for $22. The total cost: $250.
Although some of the packages mentioned earlier are a bit pricey, they are not outside of the realm of possibility.
The fact of the matter is if you embrace a calculated amount of impulsivity and decide not to look back, a truly memorable spring break could be just a mouse click away.