International travel guide broadens student horizons

Rosalie posing and smiling, arms outstretched, in Canada (photo)
Rosalie Zuckermann / The Mossy Log

Traveling out of the country can be incredibly intimidating, especially if it is your first time. This spring break, I left the states for the first time, which I was excited to do especially since I will be studying abroad in the fall. Although Canada is quite different from how I imagine my time in England will be, I can at least say that my passport was not found to be counterfeited! Similar to going to a bar for the first time at 21, the concern that your ID will be mistaken for a fake is a real, albeit mildly absurd, fear. 

Even with travel experience, the logistics, not to mention the finances, of getting out of the country can be tricky. I am here to share what I gleaned in the learning process that may inspire or aid other students.

Go where you know people

Lodging is likely to be the most expensive part of any trip, as multiple nights add up to surpass even many plane tickets. While hotels or Airbnbs may not be options, crashing with folks you know who live in your destination spot is ideal. I have a pretty small family, so I do not have relatives to stay with, but I travel with my roommate who has family all over the country (and Canada!). If you have any connections like this who are willing and able to accommodate guests, not only will you save money but you can get a much more enriching social experience. 

Over spring break, my roommate and I stayed with her aunt, uncle and two cousins. I barely know the few cousins I have, so spending the weekend getting to know my roommate’s two delightful cousins was a joy. I got to be an honorary family member for the time I was there, and it was really sweet to be a part of. 

Another bonus is that by staying with residents of an area, they might be willing to show you the best spots around. My roommate’s family showed us fantastic hiking trails, shops and restaurants — and made sure I got the full Canadian experience for my first time. I mean, I even started watching a reality TV show about logging called “Big Timber”! 

If you end up crashing with other people, make sure to be a good houseguest. Bringing a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or a card goes a long way in expressing your appreciation. Offering to help with chores is another good bet to make sure that they do not mind the extra people in their home. 

Public transportation rocks

If you do not have a car (as so many of my Features articles start; can you tell I do not have a car? Please drive me to Fred Meyer) there are tons of options to get between major cities. Buses and trains such as Greyhound and Amtrak are typically quite affordable. I took a FlixBus from Portland to Vancouver, BC, and the cost of the ticket was not even close to what gas would have cost for the drive. 

My journey was eight hours (nine on the way back when we hit traffic), and you may need some activities to keep you sane. Drafting a stand-up routine with your travel buddy, reading a juicy novel, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, writing some nostalgic poetry about liminal spaces and, fine, actually doing homework, are all great choices.

Driving over the border in a bus is probably less convenient than in your own vehicle, since everyone has to vacate the bus with their luggage and if one person is stopped to get questioned, nobody can leave. The process of crossing the Washington-BC border was quite smooth despite the 30 people involved and took only around a half hour. 

Once you get to your destination, researching local public transit is hugely beneficial. Vancouver is an exceptionally walkable city, not to mention the plethora of navigable bus routes. The TriMet might stay in Portland, but you can still have get around with other buses!

Prepare in advance

Make sure you do some prep work before leaving the states, since phone plans and payments are different. This may be an elementary fact for seasoned travelers, but it was news to me that there would be a 2% charge on all of my credit card purchases in Canada. If you use a credit or debit card, call your bank before leaving to let them know that you will be out of the country so they do not freeze your card on a fraud alert. Also, get familiar with exchange rates. Canadian dollars are worth about 74% of a U.S. dollar, so what may seem pricey in Canada will show up cheaper on your bank statement.

As for your phone, if you have an unlimited data plan, you will likely not incur additional expenses. If not, all calls and messages you make not using WiFi will be charged. You could also pay a flat daily fee with your mobile carrier for a per-day international plan, which will allow your phone to operate as usual. 

While leaving your home base is daunting, with a little planning and an eye toward cost-reduction it can be far less intense than it seems. Canada might not be your next venture, but wherever you go I hope it is memorable and stress-free!

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