Q&A: Field trips vs. independent travel on SAS

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Hi Lindsay! I am currently preparing to go on the Semester at Sea Spring 2013 voyage! I can't even begin to describe how excited I am. I ran across your site, and it's been a huge help! However, I do have a few questions for you, if you can find the time to answer them.

1. Do you recommend going on the SAS field programs (that are overnight)? If so, how many? Or do recommend more independent travel. I would like to stay away from being too touristy, but seems how I'm going alone and I dont know anyone, I figured this might be a good way to meet some new people.

2. If you do recommend independent travel, any suggestions on how to do so? For example, none of the SAS programs in China appeal to me all that much. I've heard you can sleep on the Great Wall, but I want to be careful of getting ripped off or scammed. Thoughts? Opinions?

I don't know if you'll be able to answer these questions, but I'm just looking for a little direction, so any input would greatly appreciated! -Laura

Laura, thanks for your message, and I'm excited for you to experience Semester at Sea. I remember having this same conversation with a friend of mine who did the voyage before mine. He was all about the independent travel, and though that will be my underlying tone below, I definitely think your question deserves a little more exploration of the possibilities.

I wish I could write you an epic novel about SAS, but due to very limited free time, I'll try my best to answer your questions below.

 Field trips chapter mark for SAS

Field trips chapter mark for SAS

I think there's merit in going on a field trip (or field programs, used to be FTPs in my day) in the first location, because–as cliques form quickly–you can meet random new people and create relationships with many people from the get-go. I did a quick trip to El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, and this pulled together some adventure-loving travelers who were excited to get their new hiking boots dirty.

In my humble opinion, the only other time SAS field trips seem to offer a unique experience is with homestays. However, if you are ballsy and can plan ahead, a couchsurfing experience could be just as beneficial and definitely cheaper. This option wouldn't guarantee you the same amount of cultural exposure, but if you've got an active host, you never know!

If you're looking into field programs, be selective and only choose the ones that truly excite you. As soon as you board the ship, you will make great friends that you'll want to travel with, and safety isn't hard to secure on your own. I went alone on Semester at Sea, went on a couple field programs, traveled with new friends, and also traveled alone. Everything is possible, and you will realize you're a lot stronger than you are presently once you start setting foot in new countries and taking on adventurous challenges.

 Independent travel on SAS?

Independent travel on SAS?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Travel independently! Our two voyages overlap quite a bit, so if you're looking for ideas, check the lists I've provided on my blog post The truth about Semester at Sea. If I were on S'13, I would do the same thing I did in Mauritius, do more adventure activities along the Garden Route in Cape Town, take some ideas from Catfish and Mandala for Vietnam, and spend some extra time in Barcelona upon disembarking.

When I asked some travelers to offer their ideas for adventures off the S'13 itinerary, I received the following response:

Advice from Facebook

In Kobe, take the train to Nagano where the 1998 winter Olympics were held. Spend a day skiing on the mountain and then a night exploring the little town and mingling with the locals. There's not a whole lot to do in the city, but it's a quaint and a fun way to see what everyday life in a place that isn't a huge city is like. And there are great karaoke bars, which are a MUST when you're in Japan. I did this with a group of friends during my Spring 2009 voyage and it was a blast!

from Allison Davis of Frosch Travel

If you're still unsure, just wing it. I can almost guarantee you that any choice is a good one if your mind is open and your pursuit is genuine. Happy trails!

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