Mapping out the escape: a student’s way to travel

By James Kneblik, Jr.

Half way through the semester and bogged down with exams, students may not see the end in sight. Feel the need to get away?

Last summer that is what I did. I picked a spot on the map, San Francisco, and planned a week-long journey. I left by myself with a backpack, camera and a few hopes to find one of life’s most precious joys: serendipity.

I spent weeks planning and I finally settled on a complex but doable journey. After arriving at LAX in Los Angeles, I spent eight days traveling from LA to northern California. I rode over 35 buses and trains, shot over 1,500 pictures and visited eight cities.

People often have a city or destination they dream of visiting. The open road and freedom of wander the country is a recipe for surprise and memorable joy.

Choose a spot on the map

During Christmas break last year my parents and I, while visiting my sister in Pennsylvania, were “bumped” on AirTran Airways. In other words, the airline company overbooked our flight and they were looking for volunteers to take the next flight. In exchange we received a voucher for a free flight to anywhere in the country. We gladly took it.

During the layover I saw a map of the US cities serviced by AirTran. There it was, San Francisco, and I decided I would plan a trip there with my free ticket. After several months of researching I finally did it.

I virtually knew nothing about California, but I looked up sites of interest and cheap ways to get around.

I decided I had to see the iconic things of the city like the Golden Gate Bridge, but I also kept investigating other pleasant offerings of California like the magnificent redwoods and the U.S. entertainment headquarters: Los Angeles.

My one-city vacation turned into a plan to tour nearly the whole state of California. I flew to L.A., traveled to San Francisco and visited Northern California to see the redwood forests.

A college student’s way to travel

Traveling cheaply was my main objective. I realized it’s relatively safe and easy to find affordable housing at hostels. In San Francisco, I stayed in a hostel on the Pacific Coast next to an old lighthouse and another at Fort Mason in the heart of downtown.

A hostel providing the basic bed, clean bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room will cost approximately $30-$45 in most places. Especially in California, this is a good price. It gives college-age adults a great way to travel.

The communal way of living provides a unique atmosphere to meet new people and share traveling experiences. Most hostels will schedule male, female and co-ed dormitories with four or six beds to a room. The living arrangements resemble a home more than a dormitory and the bathroom, kitchen and living rooms are all shared.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect when it came to sleeping arrangements. While researching each hostel it’s important to check if they provide lockers to store valuables. Also, check out photos online and use good judgment while choosing a place to stay. I preferred calling the staff beforehand to get a feel for it.

Each hostel I visited was run by Hostelling International. I found this organization to be very professional; their staff and facilities were very reliable.

Finding cheap transportation

Of course, where to sleep is only half the challenge. Researching public transportation, bus schedules and flights are easily navigated online and travel guides can be found at most libraries.

I decided not to rent a car and stuck with public transportation, which seemed more efficient and reliable on the west coast than here in Florida. In L.A. and San Francisco most buses will run every 10 to 15 minutes. Purchasing passes to ride all day is pretty affordable and, generally, worth while.

Most cities have must-see sites and San Francisco and L.A. are no exceptions. I simply made a list of things to do and mapped out an agenda for each day. Find a city map for public transportation and map out how to get to each one.

It was challenging and sort of enjoyable finding the right bus, train or cable care to get around, almost like a puzzle.

Action behind daydreams

Whether it is people-watching on Hollywood Boulevard, touring a new city or taking in the beauty of the redwood forest, a new adventure can bring pleasant surprises. Try finding that simple serendipitous joy waiting around the next corner.

My challenge for the reader: put your dreams into action. While daydreaming during class or preparing for that exam can make you feel insane, go there in your mind. Then when classes let out for Christmas or summer break, go!

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