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I'm an Advanced Placement World History teacher at Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida. When I'm not teaching, I enjoy being an automobile enthusiast, reading great literature, listening to all kinds of music and dancing.

When I look at my high school and college years, I see my biggest mistake… Why did I wait so long to do my “meaningful travel?”

Engage in “Meaningful Travel”

“Meaningful travel” is travel in your country or abroad that enriches your mind and heart. So many people take a vacation to Walt Disney World, or Las Vegas or even Ocho Rios in Jamaica. But do these fun time vacations ever enrich your mind? Did they ever imprint a foreign culture into your life?  Do you learn things that change your life? How many vacations opened your heart to poverty or injustice? Did you learn a foreign language there?  If you answer these questions with “Yes!”, then you’ve engaged in “meaningful travel.”

So, Can This Kind of Travel Not Imitate A Pitbull Song?

Read this disclaimer! “Meaningful travel” isn’t imitating Pitbull’s title of “Mr. Worldwide” on your vacation. “Meaningful travel” would never mean creating another male or female version of “Mr. Worldwide.” I am not responsible for occasions when vacationing individuals act irresponsibly. I only promote moral and responsible travel. Get the point?

Now, prepare to engage in travel which tugs at your heart and soul.

What Are Some Examples of “Meaningful Travel”?

How does one find “meaningful travel”? Take a look at these examples.

Study Abroad Programs

“Study abroad” programs combine travel and academics. This occurs in another country where professors lead your study abroad. Many highly-accredited universities in other countries will transfer college credit to your university.  Students can study everything from foreign languages to tropical conservation in these programs. Whether it is Melbourne, Australia or Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a great opportunity is waiting for you!
 
Rest assured that all credible programs hire well-trained professors and travel guides. They specialize in teaching you legal matters and customs so follow their instructions. The professors specialize in what you’re studying in that country. Furthermore, they teach invaluable living skills from experience. They take the guesswork out of traveling.
The best part of studying abroad comes from living in a foreign country. You interact, learn and laugh with people in their homeland. These trips change more lives than yours. Plus, these programs tour amazing historical and ecological sites. If your program offers it, live with a study abroad program family that hosts students like you. These host families can create friendships that will touch your heart!

Take a look at these exceptional programs: Rollins College’s Semester Study Abroad Programs and the University of Florida’s Merida Study Abroad Program. My first study abroad experience was in Merida, Mexico.

Do your research and find a trip that excites you. That way, you’ll love studying abroad and earn valuable college credits!

Service Learning Trips

If you yearn to make a difference in our world, a service learning trip may be your cup of tea. Service learning trips turn vacations into life-changing experiences. Participants travel with a guide who knows the location, as well as how you can help others best. You can even do this without leaving your country. For one, you can try building a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in Tennessee.
 
Are you itching to travel abroad? Great! Get your passport ready and teach English to Indonesian children, for example. You can also bring life-saving water filters to towns in Mozambique, and don’t worry if you don’t speak their language. Compassion doesn’t need words…
When traveling abroad, be sure you get the right travel documents. Check the United States Department of State website for foreign country passport and travel details.

Where Do I Look for Good Service Learning Trips?

You can find churches, synagogues, and other places of worship with exceptional service-learning trips. Many universities have programs, like an alternative Spring Break, where you can travel and help the less fortunate. Some high school groups offer them as well. The Catholic Diocese of Orlando’s Mission Trip to San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic will give you an unforgettable experience serving others, just as it did for me. Perhaps you are a teen helping disabled people with home repairs in Gap Mills, West Virginia with Evergreen Ministries (EGM).

The best part of service learning opportunities is that there’s something for everyone. You might travel with a surgical team as a doctor, or you may repair homes as a teen who’s never held a hammer before. Each trip comes with guides who’ll teach you everything you need to know.  The only thing they need is willing volunteers.

Now, Let’s Talk About Money

Countless students write off study abroad and service learning trips because of affordability. Heaven knows that I put these opportunities off for too many years. I thought that these trips were only for the wealthy. Wow, was I wrong about this!

Many sources exist for funding a study abroad or service learning trip. Universities provide student loans, scholarships and other means for studying abroad. They understand that you are making an important investment. Sit down with your financial aid counselor or program director about the options. Even a low-interest student loan can open up an incredible study abroad experience. Remember, though, if you do consider a student loan, consult with your financial aid office before taking any loans, and only do so after you’ve checked for travel funding that doesn’t create debt.

Teenagers can take great trips abroad too. Study abroad programs permit payments months or years before the trip. You can make that trip your winter holiday or birthday present for a year. Need to earn your own money? Try babysitting, lawn-mowing or getting a part-time. When there’s a will, there is a way…

Most service-learning trips are very affordable. Why? Because institutions or people will help fund part or all of your trip’s cost. In return for this assistance, you often help with fundraising for the area you visited. Think about it for a minute like a parent. If your son or daughter wanted to help less fortunate people, you’d find a way to make it happen, right? Likewise, many people feel that way about young people wanting to serve abroad. As a result, they contribute money to help young adult and teenage volunteers. In addition, places of worship often pay some or most costs for willing volunteers. So, don’t hesitate and please ask your pastor, religious leader or civic organization for financial assistance.

Start Your “Meaningful Travel” Experience Today

Studying abroad and service learning trips will enrich your soul in so many ways. Don’t wait as I did to enter graduate school before going on a life-changing trip. Our world calls you to engage in “meaningful travel” now, while you are young and free. Fill your life with meaningful travels, just like me!

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