Summer Travel for Students: Where to Go and Why

Image shows a yellow roadsign in New Zealand, giving distance markers both to nearby destinations and to faraway places like London and New York.

We’ve previously written about lots of ways in which you can use your summer productively in order to give yourself the best possible chance of a successful university application, as well as strengthening your CV.

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One of the things we suggested was to go travelling, and we want to expand on that here with some more specific ideas to help you make the most of your summer to improve your prospects. Travel is a fantastic and fun way of enhancing your CV and university application with life experience and transferable skills, such as effective communication and confidence in tackling new situations. Not only that, but travel boosts your confidence, builds on your general knowledge and broadens your horizons. The world is your oyster – but if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are a few ideas to get you started.

The cultural European tour

Europe is a continent awash with history, and a ‘Grand Tour’ of this fascinating continent is a great way to learn about its many cultures, cuisines and historic sites. As well as deepening your understanding of historical situations and cultural quirks, a European tour also gives you the opportunity to try your hand at many different languages – a tremendous boost to your confidence when you throw yourself in at the deep end. Here are some of the places you could visit in Europe to grow your cultural knowledge.

Visit the First World War battlefields

Image shows the rows of white headstones at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery.
Seeing the rows of gravestones in WW1 cemeteries – particularly those reading only ‘Known Unto God’ – brings home the full tragedy of the war.

It’s a hundred years since the Great War broke out in Europe, and it was a war that changed the world. With increased focus on the war due to 2014 being the centenary year, now is a good time to visit the battlefields (and cemeteries) to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the conflict that tore nations apart. You can still see some of the battlefields and trenches on the Western Front, with the sites of the Battle of the Somme near Albert in Northern France and Ypres in Belgium being the most visited. A section of the trenches is preserved at the Vimy Memorial Park and the Sanctuary Wood Museum, among others.

Absorb the artistic atmosphere in Paris

If you’d like to deepen your knowledge of art history, you can’t do much better than stopping in Paris. The French capital has been home to some of the greatest artists of all time: Matisse, Monet, Degas and Manet are just four. Visit the Louvre and see some of the world’s most famous paintings (notably the Mona Lisa), and then head to Montmartre to see modern-day artists at work. Grab yourself the Paris Pass for free entry into lots of the city’s finest art galleries and museums.

Explore the Eternal City (Rome)

Brush up on your knowledge of classical civilisations with a stay in the Italian capital. Here you’ll find some of the world’s best preserved Roman buildings, making it the perfect place to learn about the rise and fall of a mighty empire. But it’s not just somewhere you can go to learn about the Romans; in more recent times Rome became the centre of the Catholic church, so it’s a good place for some theological study, too. Head to the Vatican to visit the world’s biggest Christian space, and wander into any of Rome’s churches for a sense of how modern Italians worship. You’ll find some artistic masterpieces in some of them, too – look out for Caravaggio at the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi.

Auschwitz, Amsterdam and Berlin

Image shows a small section of the Berlin wall beside the bright lights of Potsdamer Platz.
A preserved remnant of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, which has seen huge amounts of development and rejuvenation since the wall fell.

These are three places that tell the story of a horrific chapter in European history, and harrowing though these events were, it’s important to know about them. Amsterdam is home to Anne Frank’s House, where the young Jewish girl and her family hid from the Nazis for two years until their cover was tragically blown and they were taken to the concentration camps. Auschwitz is the most notorious of these, located in Poland, 60km south of Krakow. A guided tour will help you gain an understanding of what went on there; it’s a sobering experience, but one worth having. In Berlin, you can learn about events both during and after the war, in particular the division of the city by the famous Berlin Wall and the culture of spying on its citizens that grew up during the Cold War. It’s hard to believe that the Wall only came down as recently as 1989.

Visit Oxford’s world-famous university

We couldn’t leave Oxford off this list of essential stops on a European tour. Our home town is an architectural gem, and one that’s been a centre of learning for centuries. Even if you aren’t coming to Oxford to attend our summer school, make sure you don’t leave Oxford without seeing at least some of its best buildings. It’s the ideal place in which to learn about different architectural styles, and thanks to its scholarly surroundings, you’re bound to leave Oxford inspired to push yourself further academically than you ever have before.

Volunteering in developing countries

If you have your sights set on exploring a more far-flung corner of the globe, there are numerous travel opportunities that also let you give something back to the communities you visit. In doing so, you’ll mature as an individual and gain important life skills that will prove useful throughout your life. Whether you’re interested in wildlife conservation or humanitarian work, you have a huge choice of places in which to lend a hand.

Humanitarian and conservation volunteering in Kenya

Image shows an African elephant in Kenya.
African elephants are classified as ‘vulnerable’ due to the ongoing threat of poaching.

This volunteering opportunity from Camps International allows you to work on a number of volunteering projects focused around wildlife conservation and humanitarian work. As well as working towards raising the standards of healthcare and education in rural Kenya, you’ll also participate in elephant and marine conservation and gain plenty of transferable skills in the process. This challenging environment will push you to the limit, but will be valuable life experience that you can draw on when you get to university and beyond.

Wildlife conservation – safari/game reserves

Conserving Africa’s wildlife and keeping animals safe from poachers is a hot topic at the moment thanks to the work being done by Princes William and Charles to raise awareness of the plight of endangered species such as elephants and rhinos. If you’d like to get involved, check out the African Conservation Experience to find out how you can make a valuable contribution to the work being done to save many of Africa’s unique wildlife from going extinct. There are many projects to choose from, based in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe or Mauritius.

Orangutan conservation in Borneo

Image shows a family of orangutans with a small baby.
Bornean orangutans are classified as endangered. They are highly intelligent, as the only non-human species documented to analyse gift exchanges and assess their ongoing value.

If you’re interested in experiencing life in a rainforest, and you’re an animal lover, The Great Orangutan Project could be just the volunteering opportunity for you. You’ll spend two to four weeks helping out behind the scenes at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Borneo’s Kubah National Park. You’ll be working with rescued orangutans – those who’ve been injured or orphaned as a result of deforestation, forest fires, mining and logging. As well as helping to improve the lives of the orangutans for whom the centre provides much-needed refuge, you’ll also build up teamwork skills and learn to live in an environment that almost certainly couldn’t be further from your comfort zone.

Conservation work in the Amazon Rainforest, Peru

Did you know that the Amazon Rainforest in South America is shrinking at a rate of thousands of square kilometres per year? That’s thanks to deforestation, which occurs because the rainforest is being cleared to make way for pastureland and roads, and because the Amazon is a valuable resource containing trees used for hardwood and medicine. If you’d like to do your bit to put a stop to the destruction, another volunteering option open to you is an Amazon conservation project. You’ll immerse yourself rainforest life and help out with tasks such as animal tracking, data collection and other tasks vital to the conservation work and community projects being undertaken to help protect this unique environment. At the same time as gaining a deeper appreciation of the conservation, poverty and climate change issues that afflict this area, you’ll also attain some valuable skills and experience for your CV.

Australia, New Zealand and the USA

If you can’t see yourself coping with the culture shock of a Third World country, our final set of travel ideas may be more up your street. They’re all English-speaking countries, so you won’t have a language barrier to contend with, but they nevertheless offer plenty of opportunities for expanding your horizons and general knowledge – and getting out of your comfort zone.

Have a go at some adventure sports in Queenstown

Image shows zorbing - a person inside a large semi-transparent ball rolling down a hill.
Zorbing: the ball is in two sections, with an air layer acting as a shock absorber.

Few places on Earth will unleash your spirit of adventure quite like New Zealand, and it’s little wonder that this spectacular country is so popular with thrill-seekers. The Kiwis are known for their adrenaline sports, and while that may not sound like something that will help your CV, such daredevil activities do at least teach you to get out of your comfort zone – and that’s an important thing to be able to do if you want to succeed in life. You’re spoilt for choice in New Zealand, with everything from the bog-standard bungee jumping and sky-diving to more outlandish adventure sports, such as Fly by Wire and Zorbing. Queenstown on the South Island is a good place to base yourself for these activities, and you can see a few of the filming locations for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy while you’re there.

Help out on a vineyard

Australia, New Zealand and the USA are famous for their wine, so why not visit a vineyard or two and learn about the process of wine-making? You could even get a job helping out on a vineyard at harvest time – as well as being good exercise, it’ll be valuable work experience and you’ll learn to be part of a team. Here’s a guide to doing this in New Zealand and here’s one for Australia. Here’s a guide to the best vineyards to visit in California, America’s “Wine Country”.

Learn about American politics in Washington, DC

Washington, DC sits at the heart of American politics, and it’s here that you’ll find the White House, Capitol Hill and all the other iconic landmarks you’ll probably recognise whether you’re a fan of The West Wing or not. It is possible to go on a tour of the White House, but it will take a bit of planning; you’ll have to contact your embassy in Washington, DC for assistance with booking. While you’re in Washington, don’t forget to pay a visit to some of the 19 museums and galleries that make up the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s biggest museum and research complex. Though its most famous exhibits are the Hope Diamond, which is housed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, there’s much to be learned on every aspect of American history and culture – and about the rest of the world, for that matter.

Visit NASA’s famous launch site

Image shows the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center, with the shuttle Atlantis about to be launched.
Space shuttle Atlantis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

It has been decades since man first stepped on the moon, but it’s an achievement that’s no less impressive for the passing of time. On your travels in America, visit the place where it all started:  the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Among other things, you’ll see the Space Shuttle Atlantis, find out all about astronaut training and see the rocket launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Experiencing this testament to what man can achieve is sure to inspire you, no matter how big or small your aspirations.
We hope these ideas have given you some food for thought; we’ve barely scratched the surface here, but we hope we’ve opened up your mind to the possibilities of how you can use your summer to help create a CV or university application that’s guaranteed to impress. You may also be interested in our Broadening Horizons summer school, which is designed to introduce you to a wider range of academic topics and help you build up an impressive body of general knowledge.

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Image credits: banner; gravestones; Berlin Wall; elephant; orangutans; zorbing; NASA