Tag Archives: travel tips

8 Tips for Traveling/Flying Solo as A Student

We are all at the age where traveling alone is the desirable and adventurous option, with students venturing on their first solo travels around the world. It all seems overwhelming at first, with no parent or chaperone to hold your hand and guide you through each step of the journey. In order to have the safest and most efficient journey, there are some rookie mistakes that all students traveling alone can avoid. It’s also important to remember that there is a first for everything, and with experience comes confidence for future endeavors! 

  1. Check for student discounts before booking anything, and carry around a school ID just in case! 

You’re paying a lot to be a student, so take advantage of it! There are many venues, transportation services, and even restaurants that give discounts to current university students. Especially when booking a place to stay, do some research on the benefits of choosing a student hostel over a regular hotel. By carrying your UT ID around during travel, you can always ask if student discounts are available before any purchase. 

  1. Have a separate bag/pouch for all important documents (passport, vaccination card, ID, PCR test results, boarding passes, etc.).

Although it might seem tempting to throw all your documents into your backpack or carry-on, take the extra time when packing to set aside all the papers you need in one place so that it is easy to access. During baggage check-in, multiple security checks, and boarding the plane, they will ask for the same documents over and over again. So keep everything in one place to avoid misplacing everything and for quick access. 

  1. Pack a simple carry-on (a compact but spacious bag like a backpack works the best, with separated compartments with zippers).

There is a reason why adults always advise packing lightly. Other than the large baggage that you can check in before your flight, airlines usually allow one to two carry-ons. It can be anything from a small suitcase to a guitar case. I recommend bringing a backpack since it has multiple spacious compartments separated by a zipper. It is easy to stay organized when you know that each pocket holds a different item. 

  1. Wear easy-to-remove shoes and comfortable clothes in general.

When going through security, you have to remove your shoes, hat, belt, watch, and other small items that you might not be conscious of. It is smart to wear easily removable shoes, like sandals or slip-off sneakers, to save time. I know some students might want to dress up for their first trip alone, but trust me when I say value comfort over looks. You’ll have to move around a lot at the airport, so comfortable clothes and shoes are a must. 

  1. Be flexible and open-minded to changing some details, regardless of the original plan. 

Nothing can be planned to perfection. Be prepared for some last-minute changes, and don’t feel discouraged when some things don’t go exactly as you wanted! Always think about different possibilities and have a basic outline of a backup plan. It’s less stressful when you’re open to new ideas and embrace the spontaneity of going with the flow. 

  1. Have anything that makes you feel safe and comfortable (pepper spray, alarm, comfort items, etc.).

Although traveling alone is perfectly safe, it’s always nice to go the extra mile to feel secure. Whether that means stocking up on security items (those approved by airport guidelines) or bringing along a comfort plushie, it’s smart to have a grounding item that makes you calm during your trip. Of course, anything that makes you happy is qualified to tag along. 

  1. When traveling internationally, bring cash to exchange to different currencies instead of using a credit card. 

Many people don’t usually think about this during their first solo trip. However, when traveling internationally, banks charge a certain percentage of whatever you spend with each card swipe. To avoid this, many people opt to use cash and use an ATM or currency exchange booth to withdraw cash from cards. To prevent the heavy taxing and convenience fees, I recommend having cash already to exchange after your flight. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up!

If something goes wrong, if you have questions, if someone does anything to make you doubt anything, make sure to speak up. No one will be there to speak for you, so take the initiative and get things done the right way. The people working at the airport are there to help you have a comfortable traveling experience, so don’t be scared to strike up a conversation!

Keeping these eight tips in mind, I hope that your first solo trip is a bit less hectic than it would have been. Traveling and flying alone is an exciting new adventure that will be forever remembered. So have fun, be safe and go explore the outside world!

Featured Image by Reo Lee

Things to do, see, & eat in colorado springs

Colorado is gaining popularity as both an ideal place to live as well as an Instagram worthy travel destination. Not only is Colorado absolutely gorgeous (I mean come on- it inspired the song “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates) but it also has something for outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, and foodies alike. This summer I was lucky enough to go on a road trip through Colorado and stopped in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder. Since Colorado Springs was my personal favorite and first stop, this guide will focus on what this scenic, vibrant city has to offer. Keep reading for some major travel inspiration and tips.

Things to Do & See

Hike at Garden of the Gods

Photo by Courtney Smith

Garden of the Gods is home to stunning sandstone formations and boasts an array of activities from hiking to Jeep tours. While there is no wrong way to explore this famous national landmark, hiking it is a truly special experience. Upon entering the park are some of the tallest formations that create impressive views both up close and far away as you venture onto different trails. The Perkins Center Garden Trail begins at the main parking lot and is an easy 1 ½ mile round trip journey that is paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. If you don’t have time for much exploring at least do that trail to get up close and personal with some beautiful formations. Other great trails to take include the Palmer Trail (3 miles and away from traffic) as well as the Buckskin Charlie Trail (dramatic distance views). The park is free admission and parking so on top of being a classic Colorado Springs activity it’s easy on the wallet.

Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Manitou Springs is located across the highway from Colorado Springs and is an adorable, culturally rich mountain town. It’s also home to Native American architecture known as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. You are allowed to go inside the dwellings as well as touch them which makes it a really unique and interactive place to visit. Unless you’re a total history junkie the Cliff Dwellings are a pretty quick place to visit and go through which makes this an easy thing to fit into your trip. The cost is only $10 for adults and is free to those in wheelchairs.

Shop in Downtown/Historic Manitou Springs

Photo by Courtney Smith

Downtown Manitou Springs is home to many interesting shops that both locals and tourists can enjoy. Parking is not too hard to find and everything is quite close together which makes this an easy thing to do to fill up a morning or afternoon. The storefronts range from new to old and have a ton of character so it’s never difficult to find a picture-worthy spot or a fascinating store. Mixed in amongst the unique shops are souvenir shops that also allow you to pick up any souvenirs you want or promised to others. The Penny Arcade is a fun stop where you can play old fashioned arcade games for low prices and for all ages.

Drive to the Pikes Peak Summit

Photo by Courtney Smith

Pikes Peak has an elevation of a little over 14,000 feet and has been a Colorado travel staple for years. The drive to the summit includes breathtaking views, places to stop and shop/eat, photo opportunities, and hiking trails. It is extremely chilly at the top (it was 32 degrees when I went in June) so be sure to bring a jacket and dress in layers. Right now there is some construction so there is a park and shuttle system that is explained as you make your way to the top. This is an absolute must while in Colorado Springs and costs $15 per adult.

Challenge Yourself and Hike the Manitou Incline

Photo by Courtney Smith

The Manitou Incline is rated as “difficult” and isn’t for the faint of heart. With 2,744 steps and a 2,000 foot incline in slightly less than a mile, it takes some serious grit. Reaching the summit depends on fitness level and crowdedness on the incline but usually takes around an hour. It can get very steep so if you’re short (like me) or want some extra stability, I recommend hiking poles and good shoes. There are places along the incline to pull off to rest, refuel, and take pictures. The views are incredible and you definitely feel accomplished after reaching the top. After you climb the steps you follow the famous Barr Trail down to the parking lot for about 4 ½ miles. Plan on taking plenty of water, snacks, and a charged phone. There is a shuttle system to take you from Hiawatha Gardens building parking lot to the base of the incline for free. I did this and it was easier than finding a meter. Admission to the incline is also free. Good luck!

Places to Eat

Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Not only is this the perfect stop on the way to the park itself but it has an incredibly nice aesthetic inside. If you’ve ever been to Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas, this cafe has a similar feel. It’s light, airy, and perfect for brunch. The menu has a lot of tasty options and includes things like a daily quiche (my selection), hash, pancakes, french toast- basically all of your brunch essentials. Pricing is definitely moderate (about $13 per plate) but the quality and quantity of the food is well worth it. 

Urban Steam

Photo by Courtney Smith

Okay…maybe I’m brunch obsessed, but maybe Colorado Springs has an awesome brunch scene. Urban steam describes itself as selling “espresso, waffles, whiskey, [and] good times.” While it isn’t in the heart of downtown and you will need to drive or Uber it still packs a major brunch punch. The waffles were some of the best I have ever had and the coffee was smooth and delicious. With menu item names like “monkey-wrench” and “greasy granny” you know it’s going to be good. My waffles came with Nutella, bananas, whipped cream, walnuts, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. Needless to say it was an easy 10/10. Urban Steam also offers plenty of other items and cocktails to make it worth your while.

Sahara Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Located in Manitou Springs, Sahara Cafe serves up tasty Middle Eastern cuisine. They feature all of the classic items you’d expect such as falafel, gyro, delicious salads, hummus plates, and chicken/beef shawarma. Pricing is really affordable here- make any sandwich a combo for $10.99 including a drink and a side. Portions are great for fueling your day or for sharing. It’s conveniently located near all of the shopping and sightseeing to do downtown as well.

Josh & John’s Ice Cream

Photo by Courtney Smith

What’s better than ice cream that’s slow churned with high quality ingredients? Nothing. Literally nothing. Josh & John’s Ice Cream is full of satisfying, dense flavor- but be prepared to wait if you go at a peak time. Locals love this place and once you have their Colorado Cookies and Cream or other signature flavor, you’ll be hooked too. 

Colorado Springs is a perfect destination for those looking to beat the Texas heat, get out in nature, do a little shopping, or explore a tasty local food scene. While Colorado is the perfect road trip destination, flight costs aren’t bad either, making it a solid choice for spring or summer travel on a college budget.

Need a Break from Spring Breakers? CHeck out these vacation destinations

The best locations in or around Texas for those who don’t want to relive a Harmony Korine film

Source: IMDb

For some, spring break is a time for booze, dancing and making new mistakes to ignore the ones made during the school year. For others, including me, it’s an opportunity to get away from those people. 

Unfortunately, the most popular places to visit for spring break are usually litter-filled beaches and party cities. Have no fear; there are some peaceful places out there. Here are some options for a tasteful spring break:

Fredericksburg, TX

Distance from Austin: 81.5 miles (approx. 1.5 hr drive)

Source: Wikipedia

Located in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is home to tons of activities to do with family and friends. This little German town features winery tours and tastings, an array of shops, history museums, and several art galleries to admire. It’s usually full of middle-aged people and families so it’s a quiet escape during one of the noisiest breaks of the school year.

Big Bend National Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 440 miles (approx. 7 hr drive)

Source: NationalPark.com

Big Bend is one of the most beloved national parks in Texas. Although it is a bit of a grueling drive, the sights and hikes are well worth the miles. There are all kinds of scenic drives, hiking trails and a Fossil Discovering Exhibit. It’s a perfect opportunity to see the natural wonders of Texas while avoiding the unnatural horrors of drunk college students.

Cascade Caverns, TX

Distance from Austin: 95 miles (approx. 2 hr drive)

The oldest living cave attraction in Texas is perfect for those who want to camp but don’t want to drive too far to get away. Located near San Antonio, this campsite features lots of spots for tents and RVs alike. During your stay, you can get a tour of the ancient caverns, participate in a flashlight evening tour, visit the “rock shop,” or dig up some fun at the Gem and Rock Quarry.

Dinosaur Valley State Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 162 miles (approx. 2 hr 45 min drive)

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife

For every child who loved “Land Before Time” or “Dinosaur,” this is a dream come true. At this cherished yet lesser-known state park, you can walk in dinosaur tracks left millions of years ago, hike on the numerous trails, swim or fish in the lake, and, of course, buy lots of souvenirs at the gift shop. Be forewarned; it might be full of children but at least they’re not obnoxiously partying.

Mustang Island State Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 240 miles (approx. 3 hr 40 min drive)

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Spanning over five miles of beachfront, Mustang Island is a state park akin to a quieter South Padre Island. Swim and surf on the Gulf of Mexico, build a sandcastle, camp along the shore, go fishing, watch the birds, or dare to tread the Mustang Island paddling trail. Regardless of what you do, it’ll be a wonderful day down by the sea.

Port O’Connor, TX

Distance from Austin: 175 miles (approx. 3 hr 15 min drive)

Source: texasescapes.com

Even though it’s not “technically” a city (it’s an “unincorporated community”),  Port O’Connor is one of the more peaceful coasts in Texas. Be sure to visit the Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area for some tranquil beach camping, go fishing on any coastline you choose, kayak on the ocean, or visit one of the many quaint shops dotted around the area, including The Treasure Chest. If you’ve never been to a cozy beachfront, now’s your chance.

For those that can afford to spend a little more for the break, here are some places a little farther from home:

Amelia Island, FL

Distance from Austin: 1,066 miles (approx. 16 hr drive/2.5 hr flight)

Source: visittheusa.com

“One enchanted island”; or, at least, that’s what their website claims. Amelia Island has proudly won numerous accolades and awards, proving that they are a favored spot for travel critics and tourists alike. Located on the northeast coast of Florida, Amelia Island is home to pristine beaches, delicious cuisine, boatloads of history, incredible nature sights and even features a ghost tour! They’ll be the classiest damn ghosts you’ve ever seen.

Hilton Head Island, SC

Distance from Austin: 1,162 miles (approx. 18 hr drive/2.5 hr flight)

Source: Wikipedia

This island seems exceedingly fancy but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it? Like previous beaches, explore this island by swimming in the open ocean, biking along the shores, visiting the boutiques, or, if you’re brave enough, complete the Aerial Adventure ziplining course. While on the beach, keep an eye out for the endangered loggerhead sea turtles!

Healdsburg, CA

Distance from Austin: 1,822 miles (approx. 27 hr drive/3.5 hr flight)

Source: sonomacounty.com

Finding an idyllic small-town feel in California may feel like a daunting task but Healdsburg has got you covered. Only about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Healdsburg offers an abundance of wineries, an array of wonderful food and lots of natural wonders that lay far from the smog of Los Angeles.

Nashville, TN

Distance from Austin: 856 miles (approx. 12 hr 45 min drive/1 hr 40 min flight)

Source: departures.com

Nashville: a city that has been called home by stars such as Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Evan Rachel Wood. There are countless things to do in the Music City, including a number of live shows and events, restaurants filled with mouth-watering food, museums, art galleries, and so much more. Hopefully, you’ll run into a celebrity or two while you’re there…

10 Things to do in new mexico

Okay, so maybe every state’s nickname is a little biased, but New Mexico dubbing itself the “Land of Enchantment” happens to be extremely fitting. Between the diverse landscape, great food, rich history, and stunning sunsets, it is hard not to fall in love with our neighboring state. The state line is just over 6.5 hours away and two major cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, are both within a 12 hour drive. If you have room in the budget to fly it’ll definitely cut down travel time, but no matter what your mode of transportation is there is plenty to do once you get there. Here are my top 10 picks for things to do in New Mexico.

Take a Ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway

Photo by Courtney Smith

Located in Albuquerque, the Sandia Peak Tramway is the longest tramway in the Americas and offers amazing views. A round-trip ticket costs $25 for adults, but there is also a student ticket option for $20 for those aged 13-20. The tram runs every 15-30 minutes but once you’re at the top you can spend as much time as you’d like taking in the view, dining, or hiking on one of the many trails. Plus it’s cooler at the top of the mountain which is a bonus when trying to beat the heat. This was probably my favorite thing I did in Albuquerque and I can’t recommend it enough. More information and tickets at https://sandiapeak.com/.

Take the Train to Santa Fe

Photo courtesy of Rio Metro

The Rail Runner Express is another way to take in some of the scenery New Mexico has to offer. A day pass from Albuquerque to Santa Fe costs only $9 and this online schedule easily gives you departure times and information. Taking the train is a good alternative to driving or using a rideshare because it’s cheaper and allows you to see more of the state. While you’re there, check out The Shed for delicious New Mexican food! 

Visit White Sands National Park

Photo by Courtney Smith

Anyone who has been on Pinterest has likely seen photos of this exquisite landscape. The white gypsum sand dunes seem never ending and offer a great backdrop for photos, sledding (yeah, sledding!), and hiking. Although White Sands is about 10 hours from Austin, it is a quicker day trip from destinations in New Mexico such as Ruidoso, Albuquerque, or Carlsbad. If you’re traveling solo the admission is $15 but loading up your car with family or friends will cost only $25. 

Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

Photo by Courtney Smith

For the adrenaline junkies out there, going up in a hot air balloon will get your heart pumping while allowing you to take part in a true New Mexican experience. This was at the top of my list the first time I went to New Mexico and I was blown away by the experience! Most balloon experiences happen really early in the morning or at sunset, so either way you’re guaranteed a gorgeous view of the sunrise/sunset. If you’re really into hot air balloons or prefer to see them from the ground, check out the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! It is an annual event that takes place in October and allows guests to witness hundreds of balloons taking flight. Tickets to attend are also easy on the wallet, where a flight itself will usually set you back around $250-300. 

Meow Wolf

Photo by Courtney Smith

Meow Wolf is another Instagram popular spot in New Mexico. Located in Santa Fe, this unique and interactive art experience is wildly fantastical – and even that is an understatement. The easiest way to describe it is the mixture of a fun house, art exhibit and LSD experience. Student tickets cost $25. More information can be found here.

Go Shopping

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Shopping in any new place is a great way to see more of the culture and trends in the area. New Mexico is no different! Old Town in Albuquerque is a cute area to bop around in if you’re looking for souvenirs and in Santa Fe all you have to do is head to the plaza to find gift shops and Native American goods for sale. No matter where you are in the state there are fun curio shops and local stores that are easy ways to knock out souvenir shopping while beating the heat.

Tour the Historic Churches of Santa Fe 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Downtown Santa Fe is full of churches that are not only architecturally stunning, but also affordable to see. The San Miguel Chapel calls itself the “Oldest Church in the United States,” with origins reportedly dating back to 1610. Another chapel, the Loretto Chapel, features a famous spiral staircase that has mysterious history due to its perfect smooth design. There are a plethora of other churches to visit as well and most still hold services for those who are interested. 

Get Far Out in Roswell

Photo by Courtney Smith

Whether you’re a believer or not, visiting the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell is a must do while in New Mexico. The museum has an admission fee of $5 and for that price you have the opportunity to take pictures with alien sculptures, look over historical documents, and check out the gift shop. The museum itself is pretty small so while it is an entertaining stop, I recommend visiting as a stop in your trip to another destination. 

Explore Carlsbad Caverns

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you don’t know the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite now- you will once you visit the caverns. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the home of over 100 caves and on your way into the park you’ll be greeted by the natural beauty and diversity of the desert. These caverns are absolutely huge and, because of this, cave enthusiasts will likely be able to spend an entire day here. Ranger guided tours are offered but must be reserved in advance and most of them are an additional fee on top of the $15 entrance fee. With the entrance fee alone you can go on a self guided tour of the Big Room. An elevator will take you directly from the ticket counter to this portion of the caverns but you can also opt into taking the Natural Entrance Trail for an added workout. I explored Carlsbad Caverns while road tripping back to Texas so for time’s sake I only explored the Big Room, but I feel like that is plenty if you’re wanting to experience Carlsbad without too long of a time commitment. More information can be found by clicking here.

Eat at El Pinto 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Established in 1962, El Pinto is both an Albuquerque must and a New Mexico favorite. It is the largest New Mexican food restaurant in the state and seats over 1,200 guests in one of their nine different dining areas. On a good weather day, enjoying El Pinto salsa on one of the patios is a must! Their menu is expansive and features everything from margaritas to stuffed sopapillas. If you look carefully on the walls you’ll see El Pinto is a popular spot for celebrities who are visiting the area, too. This family owned spot is a must if you’re looking for tasty local cuisine and a good atmosphere. 

For these 10 things to do and more, New Mexico should definitely be on your travel bucket list. Amazing food, beautiful sunsets, and fun activities for art enthusiasts and outdoor lovers alike make this a great and (fairly) close travel destination for Texans. Let us know if you try anything on our list or what your favorite things to do in New Mexico are in the comments below. 

Top 10 places to study abroad

Most people dream of going abroad during their college career; whether they want to study, intern, or research abroad. Well, here are the top 10 places that UT students went to for Study Abroad in the 2017-2018 school year according to the University of Texas Impact Report.

Tokyo, Japan

10. Japan

Amount of Students Attended: 104

Why Go? With Japan’s rich culture and fun atmosphere, you can learn a lot studying abroad in Japan! If you are studying Japanese then this is the place for you since their language is integral into their curriculum, though they do offer classes in English for UT students as well. Japan’s study abroad program is relatively cheap and you’re allowed to get a part-time job.

Prague, Czech Republic

9. CZECH REPUBLIC

Amount of Students Attended:131

Why Go? This place is right in the middle of Europe and has many beautiful and historical sites for any type of major. It is a very unappreciated place that many students don’t think of when they are searching for study abroad, but it is definitely one to keep in mind!

Cape Town, South Africa by Romain Pontida

8. SOUTH AFRICA

Amount of Students Attended:145

Why Go? South Africa is very far from the United States which could be seen as a good or a bad thing. Politics is a big part of South African culture and has beautiful views of the sea. Cape Town is a big spot for students who want to get a feel for their diverse society. Even if it is far away, sometimes the distance is worth it.

Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

7. GERMANY

Amount of Students Attended:154

Why Go? History lovers will definitely love the thought of studying abroad in Germany! Germany has more than just history though. They have a diverse amount of classes and are big, not only in history, but business and international relations. Germany is the best place to learn German (duh) and have a great food and music scene. What more can you ask for?

Xitang, Zhejiang, China

6. CHINA

Amount of Students Attended: 225

Why Go? China is the starting point of so many different opportunities. You can learn anything from international relations to business to technology to industry in China. Not only that, but China has one of the richest histories. Mandarin is one of the hardest languages to learn so what better place to do that then in China?

Campania, Italy

5. ITALY

Amount of Students Attended: 228

Why Go? Italy is one of the most gorgeous countries in the world with rich history, culture, and food that could leave you satisfied for days. Architecture and Artistic vision is mainstream in places like Italy. Basically anything in the Liberal Arts college can be found among the old historic buildings in Italy.

Santa Maria Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

4. MEXICO

Amount of Students Attended: 245

Why Go? Not only is Mexico the closest country you can get to being in Austin, but so many famous people have come from Mexico. The rich culture and history is the stuff we have been learning all through grade school so what better place to see it in real life than to travel there in college. Being in the United States, learning Spanish is very beneficial as a second language. Immersing yourself in the Mexican culture can give you an experience different, but very beneficial to our own understanding of what makes America America.

Aix-en-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, France

3. FRANCE

Amount of Students Attended: 249

Why Go? France has influenced America in many ways, whether you have been to Louisiana or the arts that we see in America today. A lot of these things came from France in the form of food, history, arts, and architecture. Paris is a huge spot for business having some of the best business schools in the world!

London, England by Pedro Szekely

2. ENGLAND

Amount of Students Attended: 252

Why Go? You should think about going to England, not just because I am going there this Summer, but because it has such a rich and varied culture much like our own. You don’t have to learn another language, but you can still experience things just a bit different than what you’re used to. London is a great spot for various activity and is the second most visited place, not just at UT, but by study abroad students everywhere.

Cerro del Hierro, Andalusia, Spain

1. SPAIN

Amount of Students Attended: 427

Why Go? Spain is a place that has varied landscapes, culture, and language that makes you feel like you are experiencing something new every day. Being the most sought after country to travel to in UT, there are multiple programs for just about anything you can think of! This is a great way to learn Spanish and have a fun time at all the dance clubs or unique restaurants around Barcelona.