One of the great things about studying in America are the vast number of places you can visit here. From a home base at your school you can venture out to explore the craggy coast of New England, or take in the bustle of some of the world’s great urban centers; you can dip down to the warmer mid-Atlantic, the sultry and history-drenched Deep South, or the mysterious and swamps of Florida. And all of this is just on one coast! Stretch out to the Pacific, and you can take your pick of many mountain ranges, impossibly huge rivers, endless plains, deserts, the rock formations of the mysterious West, and the sun-soaked southern Pacific Coast or rain-saturated Pacific Northwest.
For the traveler, this vastness brings both freedom and responsibilities. What you see is limited only by your time and budget, but there are many things you need to be aware of. Here are some tips about traveling in America.
Will I be able to travel with my school?
Many schools offer trips during holidays especially to more popular tourist destinations (New York, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, or even more nature-oriented locations). Also, many campus clubs/student organizations and athletic teams travel locally, nationally and even internationally during competitions. One of the great advantages of this is that you are in a group of friends and led by someone who knows the area and knows how to maximize your time. A disadvantage of this is often the lack of freedom to explore. But there is no denying the comfort of structure. Ask your school or prospective school about opportunities they offer for travel throughout the school year.
What papers do I need to cross state borders?
You will need nothing except your valid passport and visa, and possibly other official paperwork related to your stay here in the US. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU CHECK WITH YOUR SCHOOL’S ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR OR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS COORDINATOR BEFORE YOU TRAVEL FROM ONE STATE TO ANOTHER. There are no border patrols between the states, and except for fun signs on the side of the road, you probably won’t even notice when you’ve crossed a state line. Part of the beauty of exploring the vast landscape America has to offer is that it is quite easy to travel among states. But again, students who are here on a student visa much check with their school before they travel out of state.
Where can I stay?
That’s really up to your preferences and your wallet. There are of course hotels and motels,from inexpensive to luxurious, from gaudy to run-down, and from huge chains to small family-run places. The hostel culture in America isn’t as popular as it is in Europe or other places more associated with backpackers, but there is a still a small, if largely unknown, hostel culture. In general, we at ISPA would suggest you choose reputable hotels, of which there are many in all locations and at all price points
If you are looking for a more natural trip, and want to see the wilder sides of America, you’re in luck. There are over 7000 states parks and nearly 50 national parks, and the majority of them offer hotel and camping options. This tally doesn’t count local forest preserve campsites, but the state of federal parks is bigger, less trammeled, and offers more amenities. If you want to sleep under the stars or in 5 star, air-conditioned comfort, there is no shortage of places for you.
What about hitchhiking?
Nearly every American teenager has thrilled to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a tale of hitchhiking, vagabonding, and spiritual journeys across America’s open roads. Those days are largely past. Huge highways and a lack of trust have diminished the hitchhiking culture, though it still exists in small pockets. Frankly, it isn’t safe. And while safety is the most important concern, hitchhiking also isn’t very effective. Your chances of getting a ride are slim. You have a better chance if you are alone, but then, it also become much less safe. This is certainly not recommended.
OK, then, how should I travel?
Well, the quickest way is, of course, airplane, but that kind of misses the point. It is time-effective, but one of the great thrills of travel for those new to the US is to be able to see the land, to watch it slowly change, to be amazed by the endless plains of Nebraska before detecting the faint hint of elevation in eastern Colorado, and the coming foothills presaging the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. To see the small towns, big cities, hidden streams, and farmers in the fields, even if it is just to glance upon them in an passing, really gives you a good idea of the variety of landscapes and ecosystems within the country. Though it is longer, a train ride is ideal for this. There are drawbacks to this, of course: it can get cramped and repetitive and it really does take a long time. But you’ll see so much more. There’s also the quintessential American road trip, but for that, you’ll need to apply for an International Driving Permit before you travel to the U.S., and rent a car once you’re here. You will also have to figure out for yourselves where you’re going, though most cars now have GPS systems in them.
So if you are going to be traveling, you’ll need to make some decisions. You know you are going somewhere. The question is which is of more important to you: the journey or the destination? There is no wrong answer, but it’ll determine how you plan and how to get the most out of your trip. And remember, regardless of what you want to do, talk to friends, talk to classmates, talk to your parents and talk to the officials at your school. They can all help you plan so you can see the thrilling diversity of this huge, complicated and beautiful nation. Happy trails!
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.