Finding and Choosing an Alternative Travel Vacation
By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter
From cooking classes to photography workshops, volunteer projects to archaeological digs, the world is full of educational, inspiring and exciting alternative travel programs to make your journeys more fulfilling.
There are so many options that it can be overwhelming. But with the aid of the following guidelines, finding and choosing a program that appeals to your interests, needs and budget is easy and fun.
Where do you want to go?
Are you interested in visiting the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe or someplace nearer to home? Are you more interested in urban centers or rural areas? Selecting a region or country helps to narrow the choices.
What do you want to do?
Do you have a passion or hobby you would like to pursue? Are you interested in giving back to a country or community? Do you want to spend time with local artisans or families? Are you interested in cultural immersion? Do you have a special skill you would like to share? If you aren’t sure, some programs offer combinations of activities–learning, volunteering and cultural immersion.
When would you like to go?
While many programs operate year-round, some are only offered at specific times of the year or on specific dates. Being flexible helps, but if you have a set time for your vacation, check the dates of any programs carefully.
How much time do you have?
A few hours, a weekend, a week or two, several months or longer? Do you want to spend your whole vacation in an alternative program or just a portion of it? While some programs are long term, many offer short-term opportunities ranging from a few hours to a few weeks.
What is your budget for this adventure?
While a day-long cooking class in Bangkok might be relatively inexpensive, a three-week Thailand tour with classes could set you back. Some volunteer programs require only that you cover your own expenses while participating, others charge a fee. Review your budget carefully and choose a program that fits your wallet.
Who is going with you?
Are you planning this adventure solo, or are you traveling with a partner, friend or even the whole family? If you are traveling with others, you will want to take their needs and interests into consideration. If you are traveling with children, be especially careful to search for programs that accommodate families or offer some other form of childcare while you participate.
How much independence or structure do you want?
Many alternative travel programs offer classes and activities with small groups. Others offer one-on-one instruction or volunteer placements. Ask yourself if you want to be with a group or go solo. Also, some alternative travel programs are like tours, with planned day-trips, classes and other activities. These programs sometimes offer little free time for travelers to explore the area independently, while others only occupy a few hours of the day and you are on your own for the rest. Determine your comfort level with group or solo travel, and how much independence and guidance you want, and choose a program accordingly.
What kind of accommodations do you want?
Are you comfortable with the often rugged living conditions of the developing world, or do you prefer something a bit more familiar or luxurious? If you are looking for villas and fine restaurants, then bypass the volunteer projects in rural Africa, and vice versa. Be honest!
Do you have any physical or other challenges that could limit you?
A volunteer program building houses in a high Himalayan country might not be ideal for someone with back or respiratory problems, but cooking in Italy could be perfect. Consider your physical abilities carefully when choosing a program and check all the literature carefully for strenuousness.
Once you have defined what you are looking for in an alternative travel program, you are ready to search for something that meets your needs and criteria.
Research your options
Your first stop should be to search GoNOMAD’s listings of teaching jobs and language learning programs around the world. Other Internet resources include search engines and websites. Try Transitions Abroad Publishing’s Web site at transitionsabroad.com for additional resources. Another site filled with teaching jobs is Teacherhit.com.
If your Internet searches come up short, try contacting a local college or university. Many of these have resources for learning abroad. Ask in the Foreign Language Department or Study Abroad offices. Instructors who specialize in a foreign language or culture may also know of special programs that you won’t find elsewhere
And get the word out about the type of program or experience you are looking for. Alternative travel is becoming increasingly more popular, and you may hear about a great program from friends, family or other acquaintances.
Compare your information
Request information from several companies or programs. Read all program literature carefully. Make sure you understand the time frame, costs, accommodations and other details. If you are unclear, contact the program director or offices and get answers. Also, ask for references of past participants. Corresponding with "alums" is a great way to determine what to expect from a program.
Once you have chosen your program, get your visas, make all your travel arrangements, pack your bags and prepare to have one of the most energizing, exciting and fun travel experiences of your life!
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