Five Places in the U.S. You Need to See Before You Graduate

Everyone has a mental list of the places they want to see, even if that list only has one or two places. Personally, I could tell you a hundred places I want to see. But have you thought about what you want to see before you graduate college? No need to sit and think about it – here’s a list of the top five places you need to see right here in the U.S.

1. Washington D.C.

The Capitol, Washington D.C.

The Capitol, Washington D.C./DerFussi on via Creative Commons license

This one is self-explanatory. We can learn all about the history of our country from professors and textbooks, and still not truly understand the significance until we see it with our own eyes. Have you ever stood in front of our Constitution and had John Hancock’s authentic signature staring you back in the face? If not, it’s time you make your way to this historic capital. Read National Geographic’s list of Must-Dos for an overview, and Budget Travel’s 20 Best-Kept Secrets of Washington for some great ideas that won’t empty your wallet.

2. New York City

Times Square, NYC

Times Square, NYC/kaysha on via Creative Commons license

College is the perfect time to visit this great city, even if you’ve seen it before. I guarantee you will see something new every time you make the trip. You don’t need to have a big-city personality to appreciate the commerce and culture surrounding Manhattan. From Central Park to Chinatown to Soho and back, there’s something for everybody. My personal favorite is the American Museum of Natural History (unfortunately, the displays don’t come alive at night). Visit to find some more must-sees!

3. Chicago

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline/Nimesh M on via Creative Commons license

This one is a personal favorite of mine. I just can’t get over the amazing views and beautiful architecture. Be sure to stop by Willis Tower and Michigan Avenue when you’re in town to get a feel for the city. I also highly suggest seeing Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry when you have the chance – I guarantee you’ve never seen museums like these! If you feel like splurging, make a reservation at the incredible Signature Room for dinner 95 floors above the city.

4. Portland

Keep Portland Weird

Portland, OR/Canadian Veggie on via Creative Commons license

When you step foot in Portland, it immediately feels like a quirky college town. You can feel it in the eclectic shops that line the streets. I first noticed it when a guy jumped out of a parked van in a monkey suit and started dancing to funky music on the sidewalk. Trust me, you need to schedule a trip to Portland before you graduate. Top two locations to see – Voodoo Doughnuts and Powell’s Books. Also, try to get in a free Secrets of Portlandia walking tour for even more of that authentic feel.

5. San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco/ on via Creative Commons license

Last, but by no means least – San Francisco! After you visit the Golden Gate bridge, make sure you soak in the atmosphere of the city, with its cable cars and winding streets. Union Square is a must-see destination if you want to shop, or just grab some great food. I also recommend seeing Alcatraz while you’re there; it’s definitely an interesting piece of U.S. history. Check out ‘How to Save Money in San Francisco‘ for more tips.

Click the map above to find all the locations mentioned in this post!

How To Accomplish The Classic College Road Trip

The Road to California

Road Trip to California, 2009

Who doesn’t want the chance to just pack up the car and take off for a while with great friends? That’s right – it’s time to road trip.

These days, a college road trip is practically a rite of passage. So if you haven’t done it before, it’s time to start planning. A road trip is the perfect opportunity to escape the mundane day-to-day and have an unpredictable adventure. College is the best chance to take off, because there are still summer breaks left before hitting the “real world.” Getting to see new places is just an added bonus!

First things first. Before you start to plan out the trip, make sure you bring the right people with you. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with whomever you choose, so take the time to pick someone that won’t drive you crazy six hours into the trip.

If you have no idea who would make a good travel buddy, consider what you want to do on the trip. Do you want to party, or are you more in the mood for some general sight-seeing? If you want have a crazy experience, but you bring your best friend who hates to go out, you’re in for a disaster of a trip. Here’s some more tips to make sure you pick the right travel buddy!

Once you decide who you want to go with, it’s time to pick where you’re going. There are plenty of road trip routes out there, so you’re bound to find something that you haven’t seen before.

One of the most well-known routes is California’s Pacific Coast Highway, which sports some spectacular cliff-hugging views basked in sunshine. It’s definitely a must-see in the summertime. If you’re looking for something on the East Coast, you might try driving Maryland’s Historic National Road or take a Gulf Coast trip from Florida to Mississippi. Want something in the middle? Visit Route 83, which takes you from Mexico to Canada, exploring some spectacular landscape along the way. Personally, I’m partial to the I-10 route across the southern United States, from Los Angeles to Florida.

Packing the Car

Packing the Car/Kaci Carpenter

When it comes time to pack, there are a few things every road-tripper needs to bring.

Probably the most important thing you need is a map. Even if you have an awesome smartphone with every app known to man, you should still consider packing a map. What if that fantastic little gadget dies (gasp!) and you find yourself unable to charge it? Trust me, you want a map just in case.

Next, you need some great music. Let’s face it – you’re going to run out of things to talk about at some point. So make sure you have a stellar playlist handy for the trip.

Also, make sure you pack plenty of food. Try to bring something healthy along, even if you do load up on M&Ms and Snickers. Take it from me, you don’t feel great after three straight days of sugar and fast food.

Tara, a senior at Arizona State University, says that going on a road trip is the chance to find some great new food.

“Look for all the local places,” Tara said. “Don’t go to McDonald’s when there’s a local restaurant across the street. Branch out.”

A few more essentials for the trip (courtesy of HowStuffWorks): hand sanitizer, tissues, a roll of toilet paper (yes, you might need it), comfy clothes, pillows and blankets, and a camera. Definitely a camera!

Once you get on the road, be sure to keep an open mind. You don’t need to have every second planned out.

Kaci, a junior, has gone on more than a few road trips in recent years. Of all the things she’s learned driving across the country, she says being flexible is key.

“Don’t be afraid of making stops when no one is up for driving anymore,” Kaci said. “Check out a view, stop at a nearby park, sit down for a meal. One trip, we made a pact to stop and try out anywhere that boasted having ‘the best’ or ‘world famous’ pie.”

Road trips are all about getting out and exploring. So what are you waiting for? Go plan your dream trip! And then post all those fantastic pictures on here.

If you’ve gone on a great road trip, or one that went horribly wrong, share your experiences below! All suggestions and stories are welcome.

Safety Tips for Travelers

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station, New York City

It’s true that anyone can travel. But before you head off to explore the world, lets make sure you stay safe doing it.

Your common sense is your biggest ally when traveling. For starters, that means don’t travel alone at night, avoid making a scene in public, and keep your belongings close to you. You never know who might be out there, and it’s better to be cautious. Before you travel, make sure you read up on how to stay safe. If you’re aware of the potential problems, you’re less likely to be victim to them. has a great list of 25 Common Sense Travel Tips that’s worth reading.

There are a few key preventative measures that every future traveler should be aware of.

Be careful of pickpockets. Get your wallet down to the essentials and dress down when you’re in areas with lots of tourists. Avoid wearing jewelry or expensive items in plain sight, because that will draw more potentially dangerous attention to yourself. If you have a bag, make sure it zips closed and hold it close to you at all times. For more tips on avoiding pickpockets, read Lessons from the Louvre on USA Today’s website.

If you are confronted, don’t fight back. It’s safer to just give up your valuables; you can always replace what gets taken. Your life is more important than saving your phone, trust me. Read Five Things To Do If You Are Robbed by the Riverfront Times for more information on the subject.

Try not to use short cuts when you’re traveling. If it’s the first time you’ve visited the city, state, or country, it’s probably a bad idea. It is easy to get lost when you’re in unfamiliar territory, so take extra care when you’re out exploring.

Make an effort to seem purposeful when you move about. If you look lost, pretend you know where you’re going anyways. In case you actually do get lost, make sure you know how to use a pay phone and always have the proper change on hand. It’s also a good idea to have a list of emergency phone numbers you may need, such as the police, your hotel, and (if you’re abroad) the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

It’s also important to be cautious in your hotel or hostel, wherever it is that you’re staying. When you’re in your room, keep the door locked at all times. Don’t leave any money or valuables sitting around in your room when you’re out. If your hotel has a safe, use it. Know the nearest exits in case of an emergency. Generally speaking, be aware of your surroundings.

For a wealth of helpful information on traveling, such as what to take on a trip (and what to leave behind) or what to learn before you leave, check out the U.S. Department of State’s article “A Safe Trip Abroad.” The website also has plenty of tips on how to keep yourself safe.

You don’t need to be paranoid when you’re traveling, but it’s important to take simple steps to ensure you have a safer trip. Traveling is a rewarding and exciting experience, and being aware can help make sure you have the best experience possible.

New York City Trip with Barrett, the Honors College

This weekend I got the chance to explore New York City with my college. It was the first time I’ve ever visited New York, and it was amazing. If you’ve never gone, I recommend you jump on the chance to do so.

Traveling around a new city is always an exhilarating experience, made even more exciting by fitting every tourist spot into four days flat. Our group managed to visit Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Memorial, the Today Show, Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho, Greenwich Village, Central Park, and more, all in one trip.

Sashaun Wood, Program Coordinator for Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, led the student trip. In the video below, she explains why she loves showing students the world and what students can learn from traveling during college.

There’s More Than One Way to Travel

San Francisco Band Trip

San Francisco/Bailey Scalise

Although the traditional study abroad route is a great way to travel during college, it isn’t the only option. There are plenty of other ways to travel that can save you money and add something unique to the experience.

If you’re strictly looking to save money, try traveling for something you’re already involved in. Are you on a sports team? Do you take part in band or choir? Anything that has competition is bound to offer travel at a limited cost, and you get to travel with people you already know.

Bailey Scalise, 19, chose that option when she left for San Francisco with her marching band last year. She got to perform in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game and see the sights in San Francisco at the same time.

“It was totally free and it gave me the rare chance to perform and see a new city with my friends,” Bailey said.

If your goal is to see as many places as possible, it’s worth trying a circumnavigation trip, like a semester at sea. Whereas a study abroad trip might take you to only one or two places, a semester at sea lets you visit multiple countries on the same trip. The downside is less time spent in each place, but it’s definitely worth it.

To see a great example of the opportunities in circumnavigation, check out Julia Anglin’s blog.

If you want some professional experience along with your travel experience, look into out-of-state internships and programs. These are growing in popularity among college students, and there’s so many to choose from that you’re bound to find something right for you.

One program to try out (although I’m slightly biased) is the Disney College Program. It gives you the chance to work for an international company and get professional contacts, while still seeing something new.

Disney College Program participants

Disney World/Noelle Franks

Noelle Franks, 22, chose to apply to the Disney College Program for both the professional experience and the fun. In addition to working and living in a new place, the program offers courses and seminars geared toward a wide range of careers.

“How often do you get the chance to travel across the country and make money doing it?” said Noelle. “Instead of going on a study abroad trip to one place, I get to go to a place where people come from all over the world!”

If you’re goal is to make a difference while seeing the world, there’s also the option of going on a missionary trip. You can help build homes, deliver food, or clean up the local community. There are plenty of missions out there looking for help at any given time.

Thomas Ventura, 23, jumped on the chance to be a missionary for a summer in college. It gave him the chance to visit Mexico and get out of his comfort zone, and still leave a positive impact on the region he visited.

“A vacation to the same place wouldn’t have provided me with the same experience, because that’s just a different version of our comfortable life,” said Thomas. “This trip gave me the chance to help those less fortunate in a way I couldn’t have otherwise.”

There are many ways to travel that offer more than just the location. So when you’re planning your next trip, make sure you don’t limit your options to something traditional. If you look, you can find a trip that’s more than just a vacation.

Staying in a Hostel

Hostels are a great way to save money and still see the world, an absolutely ideal option for any college student.

Instead of staying in an expensive hotel, you opt to stay in local accommodations and share your room with others. Think bunk beds and dorm rooms instead of a personal room.

Although you’re choosing to share your room, you aren’t giving up other quality standards. If you choose a well known hostelling company, you can expect the room you stay in to be clean and secure.

There are many companies out there that provide hostel locations nationally and internationally. I’ve only ever stayed with Hostelling International USA, but there are plenty of others.

Every hostel is a unique building with its own character, so I recommend you try as many as possible. Next time you plan a trip, consider trying one out!

To hear about my experience with hostels, check out the video below.

How to Afford Travel as a College Student

Seatlle Cityscape

Seattle cityscape from trip with Barrett, the Honors College, Fall 2012

It’s expensive to travel, plain and simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

The trick is to branch out. When you start looking to fund your trip, don’t limit yourself. There are a variety of resources out there, big and small, that can offer more than you realize.

A great place to start looking is your college’s study abroad office. Do a quick search for the website and find out what options are available for financing your trip. Sign up for any suggested workshops and look over all the potential resources. If you’re going to be traveling with your college, this is definitely a must.

Look for scholarships. These are a great source of funding, so apply for anything and everything you qualify for. There are plenty of databases out there worth exploring. You can look at your school’s study abroad website for a list, but don’t be afraid to look on Google or other search engines. has a huge list of scholarships categorized by type and region that’s definitely worth looking it. The goal here is to leave no stone unturned. You never know what scholarships you might find!

Consider lesser-known sources. Look into heritage groups, civic groups, travel agencies, charitable organizations and more that might be willing to help fund your trip. Don’t limit yourself to people that you know; reach out to any business or person who might be willing to help. Cover all your bases and see who responds. If you want more creative ideas for funding, has a great list of 40 fundraising ideas for study abroad that everyone should take a look at.

Make sure your communication with any and all groups is professional. Asking desperately isn’t necessarily going to convince people that you’re worth financing. You want to be objective and make them a case they can’t refuse.Be sure to follow up with anybody you contact.

For more source ideas and a sample letter that can be sent to potential donators, check out Arizona State University’s Community-Based Funding Resource document.

Don’t forget to save your own money for the trip as well.  If you don’t already have a job, consider getting one. Set up monthly savings goals for yourself and find someone who can help make sure you stick to it. Making it a point to save your own money will show potential donators that you are committed to your goal.

If you find that people are unwilling to give the money as a gift, consider making it a loan. Set up a schedule in writing that outlines how and when you will repay the person or organization that is contributing the funds.

Above all, start looking early. The longer you wait to look, the more likely it is that important deadlines have passed. Finding the money you need to travel during college is going to take some determination, but it’s worth it in the end.

Have you found a creative way to finance your travel during college? Do you know of another great resource? Please feel free to leave a comment with information for everyone!

Dobbins Lookout in South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Every city has its own unique, little-known destinations. You may think you’ve seen everything where you live, but it’s worth it to look a little deeper.

For Phoenix, that hidden place is Dobbins Lookout on South Mountain. Sitting 2,330 feet up, it is the highest point in South Mountain Park accessible by either a trail or a road. The park has been around since 1924, but the lookout building itself wasn’t built until 1938, when the Civilian Conservation Corps created the structure from local granite. Since then, Dobbins Lookout has been a great place to relax and take in an incredible view.

I had the chance to visit this unique location last week. The video below gives you a little taste of Dobbins Lookout, but it’s definitely worth checking out yourself!

Want to see more photos of Dobbins Lookout? Check out the gallery on TripAdvisor!

Why Travel as a College Student?

There were more than one billion international tourists last year, and more than five billion domestic tourists, according to the latest tourism highlights from UNWTO. That’s a lot of people, and the industry is still growing at an incredible rate.

Why not join them?

Most college students these days want to do some form of traveling before they graduate. At the very least, travel gives you new experiences in new places with new people. You get the chance to gain a different perspective and interact with diverse cultures.

Travel experience during college can be especially helpful in the future, when you will almost certainly have to work with people from different countries to an extent. Depending on your career path, interacting with other cultures could be a daily reality.

Plus, travel is fun. I mean, who doesn’t want the chance to go somewhere new?

Machu Picchu

Jordan Roman/Machu Picchu

Jordan Roman, a junior at the University of Arizona, had that very idea when she left for Otuzco, Peru last summer with VivePeru.

“Experiencing a new culture is awesome, especially if you travel to a third world country like I did,” Jordan said. “It really makes you appreciate everything that we have.”

Chris Silvia, a junior at Western New England University in Massachusetts, didn’t plan on traveling when he entered college. But his experience this summer in London was something he will never forget.

“The best part of the trip was meeting a whole new group of people and discovering a new country with them,” Chris said.

Colleges are increasingly offering more and more travel opportunities to their students, so now is the time to take advantage of everything they offer.

Dr. Bill Silcock, Director of Cronkite Global Programs at Arizona State University, said that travel is an important part of the college experience. He spent six months in Paris himself during college as part of a study abroad program.

“You really have to see the world to know the world,” Silcock said.

Still looking for inspiration? Check out Derek Earl Baron‘s travel blog – the guy has visited 87 countries and counting.

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