Travel expands education, opportunities, friendships

Simone Gaines
Special to In Motion

When I was in elementary school I made a friend, a best friend at the time and she changed my outlook on life to this day.

We were in 6th grade and both new to the school, so we essentially became each other’s security blanket. I came north 100 miles or so to this new town, but she came 6,000 miles from Egypt with her family and was starting school for the first time in America.

I had never met anyone from another country before. I was fascinated by her long, loosely curled hair and her almond-shaped eyes. Though her skin was a little darker than mine, it had a radiance that glowed so pure. I was also so interested in her culture asked a million and one questions about what it was like growing up in another country.

Although her background seemed interesting and unusual, her trying to understand the American way of life wasn’t “normal” to her either. A curious child, a trait that still stands into adulthood, I became obsessed with Egypt, even planning my future honeymoon around it.

As I grew into adulthood, I became more and more intrigued with the possibilities and opportunities that lie past the small-town limits I was living within.

After high school, I joined the U.S. Navy and not solely to serve my country. I wanted to see the world. I was ready get to Egypt the beloved place I had dreamt about for years. I needed to expand my mind and open my eyes to what the world had to offer. Among my fellow sailors I was able to see and experience some of the most beautiful countries and destinations I barely knew existed.

In the last five years, I have traveled to over 11 countries. It blows my mind when I think about how many people haven’t stepped out of their own state, let alone their hometown. According to the U.S. Department of State, only 16 million Americans hold a passport, compared to a population of some 300 million. Only 6 percent of our countrymen and women are able to travel outside the U.S. While they may travel within the states  — and while that  is also a great way to expose yourself to different environments and different lifestyles — it’s not the same level of expanding your horizons and getting out of your comfort zone.

There are many ways to travel including cruises, airlines, buses and trains that provide an excellent source of transportation. But I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve just gotten in my car and driven as far as I could looking for a new adventure.

Business travel has nearly tripled and become one of the top reasons for traveling domestically and internationally since 2008. The U.S. Travel Association states that $296 billion were spent in 2015 on business travel, meetings and lodging alone. There has also been a 2.7 percent increase in remote career options in just the past year.

For students, a great way to embark on a safe and educational new travel experience is to study abroad. DSC, like many colleges and universities, offers programs and courses overseas at equal or elevated hourly course credit.

In addition, there are also independent study abroad programs such as Studyabroad.com, featuring

hundreds of different programs and schools to help you find the best fit and experience.

Not least, there are many different ways to travel on a budget. Apps and websites such as Groupon, Living Social, Hopper, Expedia.com, and Priceline.com offer discounts and other tips on keeping costs down.

The biggest takeaway for those who want to travel is to save because you’re not going anywhere without money. Putting away $50 to $100 a month or more adds up quickly and results in your next trip before you know it. It is also important to read online reviews and do a little research on the place you’re traveling to.

Globalroadwarrior.com claims the trust of over 1,300 organizations for accurate and up to date information of global traveling. DSC’s Library databases carry Globalroadwarrior, which provides information about history, languages, customs, education and even superstitions.

While in the Navy, before we could embark on land in any country, we had to have a port brief which help us adjust to the new environment for our safety and for the courtesy of the country. Don’t forget that you’re traveling on their soil, so show some respect.

The experiences and memories I have gained over the years of traveling are ones I will carry with me for a lifetime. When I was a little girl I never knew the possibilities of this planet and am still learning every day. What is more important than being open-minded and seeing things from a different perspective?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the “American Dream” that we may not even realize what other countries offer. Many people I have met through travel have so many amazing stories and they truly do take pride in their homeland.

Being able to walk the same ground of heroes and scholars from ancient times or seeing the artistry painted among their streets or even along dirt roads is my most valuable possessions.  The mind is the greatest storage bank there is.

Whether you’re traveling for business, leisure or school, connect with people, embrace the culture and try something new. You may hate it, you may get home sick, you may never want to go back, but you never know until you try. I’ve left so many places glowing with the exposure of a new culture, a new taste on my tongue and, my eyes set on the next adventure.

If life is for the living, how can you truly live if you haven’t opened your eyes to all that surrounds you. Not everyone has to become a world traveler to live, but gaining the experience of traveling at least once can open doors and opportunities that you didn’t  know were possible.

Travel on my friends.