Though travel grants for teachers are great, don’t forget that there are other ways to affordably see the world.
Let’s hear from an expert teacher traveler, Todd Simon, about how he’s been able to explore Europe by tacking independent travel on to chaperoning student trips, finding flight deals, and smart life budgeting.
Teaching Traveling: Welcome, Todd. Tell us about your background.
Todd: I was born and raised and have lived almost my whole life in mid-Michigan. I’ve been teaching for 19 years, am 42 years old, and have traveled quite a bit in North America, and extensively in Europe. I am a high school social studies teacher in one of the most diverse schools in Michigan.
I got into international travel about twenty years ago when my parents arranged a trip to visit an exchange student we had hosted the year before from Germany. He and I were, and still are, very close, so we began traveling back and forth to visit each other during our school breaks.
TT: Love it! Tell us about your recent travels.
T: I’ve helped plan and chaperone three different two week long international student trips. We’ve gone on a World War II themed trip in western Europe, a trip to Italy and Greece, and a custom WWII trip this past summer.
Each trip was amazing because I learned new things myself but got to experience learning about new culture, history, foods, customs, etc. through the eyes of my students.
A couple other trips that were memorable/interesting: After a student trip a few years ago, I traveled to Switzerland and spent a week hiking in the Swiss Alps, and then flew to Spain where I spent another week exploring Madrid and Barcelona and watched the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
After a different student trip, I flew from Athens to Berlin and spent a couple days there, then took a train and ferry to a small coastal island off the coast of Germany to visit a German friend and his family that was vacationing there, then took the train to Amsterdam and spent a couple days there, then flew to Santiago de Compostela, Spain where I met my parents.
My father and I hiked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage for five days back to Santiago de Compostela where my mother was waiting for us. From there I traveled alone for another week into Portugal to see the beautiful cities of Porto and Lisbon.
TT: Wow! How do you find your travel opportunities?
T: When traveling without students, my partner and I oftentimes read travel books or do research on the internet about where we’d like to go.
Since we are so widely traveled now and have hit the bucket list kind of places, we oftentimes just go to Google Flights to explore where we can go during our vacation time that fits in our budget.
TT: How did you find the money to fund your travel?
T: My teaching colleague has been kind enough to chaperone the students back home at the end of our school trips which allows me to stay and travel some more on my own, so that saves me the cost of a flight.
Other than that, my partner and I generally budget our lives so that we can travel, since that is a priority for us. It’s all about making sacrifices so you can do what we want.
For example, we both have cars that are paid off and don’t really ever plan on having a car payment again, so we’ll just save up to pay cash for used cars. We also live in a much more inexpensive and smaller house than we could afford because we would rather spend our money traveling. It’s all about priorities.
TT: Well said. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
T: One of the most moving experiences I’ve had is on the last WWII trip we took this past summer. We visited the American cemetery in Normandy, and one of the students was able to find the grave site of one of her relatives. That was a very moving and personal experience that brought tears to the eyes of those that accompanied her.
Another interesting story from travels about 15 years ago is when I went to visit my German friend at his university. By this point I had been out of college for a few years, but he was still in college.
The week I happened to be there was their version of a college welcome week. A bunch of his home town friends also came to his university for the festivities. It was a wild and crazy few days!
TT: Nice! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and as a person?
T: As a social studies teacher, my travels have allowed me to have access to historical artifacts to make my teaching more engaging. For example, when we learn about the post-WWI problems in Germany that allowed Hitler to rise to power, I’m able to pull out some old inflationary deutch marks that I purchased and allow students to pass them around and look at them.
It then leads to a good discussion when they start to figure out that the bills they are holding are 1, 5, and 10 MILLION deutch marks! I have lots of little artifacts like that that I wouldn’t have access to without traveling.
Traveling has also exposed me to different cultures and languages. As someone that grew up in a very homogenous small town, having those travel experiences has broadened my horizons and has made me more understanding and empathetic to the students I teach.
TT: So true. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
T: Just do it! Growing up I never thought I would travel internationally. I grew up in a very lower middle class environment and I thought international travel was only for the rich. It isn’t.
You can find flight deals all the time if you pay attention and know some travel hacking tricks of the trade. Flights are usually the biggest expense, but I flown to Europe and back for under $500 several times. Once you are at your destination, the living costs are probably pretty similar to what you are used to at home, or maybe even cheaper.
Also, don’t be afraid. Most people throughout the world are friendly and helpful, and English is the most popular international language so you will always be able to find someone that can help you if the language barrier is a concern.
Preparation on your part can overcome many of the obstacles or fear that keeps people from traveling.