Black Skin, Blue Passport: Recession Travel

Broke? Wanna travel? Time to break out the Student Travel Playbook.

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You might be wondering what business I have recommending any kind of travel when a recession is looming. With fuel costs rising daily, even a weekend road trip is starting to look like a relic of summers past. Not to mention the fact that many airlines are beginning to tack checked baggage fees onto already daunting ticket prices. And let's not get started on how few euros a dollar can buy these days. Who among us, then, can afford to even think about international travel?

Indeed, all signs seem to point to staying put and getting to know the old hometown a little better this summer. Some pollsters predict that we will see a rise in the so-called home vacation, which promises loads of fun to anyone willing to adopt a tourist's mindset.

Discovering the beauty of your local turf is never a bad idea, especially since it could mean splurging at restaurants, spas and nightclubs in ways that would be harder to justify on an actual vacation.

For those who want a change of scenery without too much sticker shock, promotions abound for short jaunts to a host of U.S. cities and resort communities. Some hotels are even offering gas rebates if you stay two or more nights.

This is all promising news, to be sure. It puts a bit of shine on inexorably gloomy financial forecasts, helps funnel money into struggling businesses and reminds us all that a vacation is just as much about attitude as assets.

But I'm not ready to take international travel completely off the table. In fact, I'm starting to believe that the curse of our current economic climate is also a kind of gift—if only we shift our thinking somewhat.

I've written before about how much I sometimes miss the life of a nomadic and low-maintenance student traveler. Yet every time I reach for my bag of cheap-travel tricks, a bout of soul-searching invariably takes over: Will those fresh-faced college kids snicker behind my 30-year-old back as I gracelessly climb into my hostel bunk? And who wants to risk a case of scabies just to save a few bucks anyway? Also, be honest—isn't it better to be alone than in loud and drunk company?

But now, in the face of an economy that will make penny-pinchers of us all, perhaps it's time, without fear or shame, to reopen the Student Travel Playbook. I think it holds some ideas that could take us a bit farther than we might have thought possible.

Study Abroad—Not Just for the Young and Unencumbered

Few of us have the time or resources to pretend we're parent-subsidized post-adolescents who can jet off to remote corners of the world for months at a time. But numerous companies offer affordable short-term immersion programs, putting study abroad within reasonable reach. Since Spanish is increasingly becoming an employment requirement in our country, many of us would do well to take the opportunity to learn the language. In the process, we'll not only stand to improve our resumes and build cross-cultural skills, but also open our ears to the rich sounds of the world around us.