I’m a firm believer in immersive travel. Sometimes, your destination is not the main point, but rather a special setting for a life experience. While the desire to see somewhere new is sufficient reason to travel, some of my most memorable experiences abroad have been when I have journeyed with a purpose.
In 2006, I partook in a summer study program in Prague, spending my days learning about religion, art, and European history and my nights either in dance or dialogue with fellow students. As an undergrad, it was an opportunity to study subjects unavailable through my regular engineering curriculum. Having a purpose bought me time, and having time bought me the ability to notice little things. Metro pass in hand, I would take the tram to a random stop and wander my way back home. The need for me to run everyday errands took me beyond tourist areas in search of fabric, vegetables, and even a place to thread my eyebrows. I stumbled upon the Wallenstein Gardens not through the main entrance, but through a small wooden door in a tall stone wall that sparked my curiosity every time I rode past it on the tram.
Most importantly, I was learning the whole time, earning university credits, and building friendships that continue to inspire me today. Best of all? Thanks to a generous scholarship, my cost for two full-credit courses, accommodation, and breakfast for five weeks was less than $1500 USD.
In 2013, I followed my nose to the French Riviera after reading Patrick Suskind’s perfume, and followed a tip from my friend Andrew to use Help Exchange to find a working holiday placement. As fate would have it, I was able to spend a week working at the beautiful 18th century Bastide St. Mathieu on the outskirts of Grasse, earning my room and board in an otherwise very expensive region by helping the housekeeper with breakfast, taking on projects around the manor house, and acting as the host’s liaison with the guests.
My mornings of (easy) physical labour were a welcome change from my desk job, and I had most of my afternoons free to explore the area or write by the pool. Once again, my most memorable experiences were brought through my interaction with the hosts, the staff, and the other guests.
There are many ways to travel with more meaning (and often less money). I will be interviewing other intrepid explorers over the next few posts, each of whom went abroad learn/share/create/do something. I hope you will be inspired to take a Trek of your own, in search of a special experience or an opportunity to contribute.