Why You Should Take a Travel Course in Your Undergrad

Back in my first year of university, I had the amazing opportunity to travel abroad to Puerto Rico for a specialized history course. My peers and I got to take a course during the Intersession term about the history, culture, politics and geography of this unincorporated United States (US) territory.

Last year, I had the privilege to travel once again in another travel course on Medieval and Roman history in Europe. We traveled around rural and urban England to see a collection of museums and landmarks. Both courses have been significant events in my life that have not only enhanced my experiences as a student, but made me a better person as well. Overall, traveling exposes you to an array of new things that allows you to learn transferable skills

If you are looking for a way to challenge yourself, travel is definitely the way to do so. Not only do you learn independence by learning to navigate a new city either independently or in a small group, but you are completely removed from the familiar and exposed to the new. A combination of challenge and excitement, travelling abroad is a form of holistic learning that can benefit anyone. 


Here is a list of things I learned/experienced while traveling abroad:

The Benefit of Interdisciplinary Learning

There is nothing more thrilling and engaging than taking what you’ve learned in the classroom right into the real world. In my Puerto Rico course, we spent a unit learning about colonialism and plantation development. One plantation we studied, Hacienda La Esperanza, was an old sugar plantation and modern nature reserve. Having the opportunity to see and walk amongst the buildings we had discussed in class was surreal and one of my favourite experiences of our entire trip. Although I struggle to put my exact thoughts into words here, trust me when I tell you that there is nothing like it. This happened once again for me when we traveled to the Corbridge Roman Town. This heritage site consists of a museum and a preserved Roman garrison that was a part of Hadrian’s Wall. It was crazy to see some of this ancient architecture in such good condition. The majority of us were speechless.

Financial Literacy Skills with Foreign Currency

My travel courses taught me how to handle foreign currency: the American dollar and the British pound. I had to learn the exchange rates to track my spending. But don’t worry, if you experience any challenge, the locals are always willing to help! It’s a great way to strike up a conversation with a vendor or waiter, and a good opportunity to laugh at yourself!

Gain Navigational Skills

Whenever I travel, I’m always in possession of a map. Yes, Google Maps does exist, but I enjoy the tactile nature of paper. Traveling allows me to learn new street signs and take public transportation. Growing up in Toronto has already given me the skills to navigate independently in a city, but doing so internationally is a whole other endeavour. London’s Tube makes the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) look like a maze for a hamster. In England, we partook in a walking tour where we were able to hop on and off the Tube when we got tired.

Travel in a small group as much as you can, but make plans to go from one place to another along a major transit route. And don’t be afraid to ask for directions! The only true way to learn a city is by getting a little lost. Who knows? You might find something interesting!

Immersion into Local Food and Culture

As stereotypical as this might sound, I definitely recommend “doing as the locals do!” If you really want to know about the country you’re in, it is best to learn from the locals. They are the ideal guide to having the most authentic travel experience. Our tour guide in Puerto Rico, a charismatic gentleman whom we affectionately called “Papo,” took us on our own personal tour of the El Yunque National Rainforest. He ended up taking us to a hidden grotto with a rope swing. It was completely isolated from the “public” waterways and showed us how much Papo wished to showcase his country. This happened again when we were touring a historic building in the city of Ponce. I asked about a door that was randomly placed in the bathroom, and our tour guide provided us access to it. It led to a staircase that brought us to the roof; allowing us to overlook the city centre. The tour guide mentioned that this wasn’t on the itinerary, but something “secret” that he wished to show our group.

In England, I had the luck of traveling with a friend whom was native to the country. She provided us with a unique opportunity to navigate the bustling city of London with ease. She took us to local restaurants, shops, and museums, providing us with the best experience possible. On a whim, some other friends and I bought last minute tickets to The Globe to watch Hamlet. My inner theater kid had never been happier.

In terms of food, this is another way I love to learn about the places I am in. My Canadian diet often seems quite boring and bland in comparison. In Puerto Rico, I got to try corn ice cream (sounds strange I know, but it’s delicious!). Along the beach of Loiza in a kiosko, I got to try mofongo: a dish consisting of mashed fried plantains with salt, garlic and oil; a type of meat, like fish, chicken or beef typically accompanies it. In England, I got to sample cream tea (scones with clotted cream and jam) and authentic fish and chips.

Form New Friendships

Having the opportunity to travel is one of the best ways to meet new people and develop new friendships. Both times that I’ve traveled I have gotten to know more people from my program on a personal level. We did school work, living and touring together. Spending that large amount of time meant we got to know one another quite well. These friendships have continued since returning from our travels and have made my social circle so much better. 

Personal Development

One of the greatest takeaways from my travel courses has been how it has changed me as a person. It allowed me to develop a better sense of self-confidence and independence. I was able to take the tube in London by myself to travel from one part of the city back to my hostel. Once returning home, I have found that I am more willing to try new things in general, as I have experienced the benefit of doing so. Having the opportunity to travel means you will be pushed to your limits and experience challenges. Resultantly, you will be forced to adapt and overcome it.

Traveling is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Yes, it can be costly — but the benefits far outweigh the cons. Combing travel with education is also a sure-fire way to inspire a life-long love of learning and enhance your university experience!