Finances are the number one reason mentioned as to why people don’t travel as much as they would like to. Money is especially tight in your youth, and those who don’t come from families with enough economic stability to finance family vacations, domestic or international, may find themselves doubtful that they will ever have a way to see the world without doing it on an extreme budget or going into financial debt.
I’ve been lucky enough to find an alternative to these two fates, and it’s now my mission to share it with the world and make the incredible accessible.
Gabby Beckford: Opportunity Expert
My name is Gabby Beckford, and I’ve always loved applying to things. Art contests, online poetry contests, the sweepstakes on the back of cereal boxes, I’ve loved it all. I’ve also always loved to travel, which I credit to my mother, a travel agent for 25 years, and my father, an active-duty Marine of 23 years.
In high school, I discovered the concept of scholarships, where entities of all kinds give you varying sums of financial aid if your actions or goals align with theirs.
With scholarships, I was able to enter college with $70,000 worth of financial aid in tow. But it wasn’t until my junior year of college when lightning metaphorically struck when I suddenly realized I could combine my love of opportunities with travel all while skipping the debt.
I call these opportunities PTO—“paid travel opportunities” (as opposed to “paid time off”)—because they are most often adventurous learning opportunities that either mostly, if not completely, take the financial burden off of the participant.
What Is a PTO?
For example: you are 20 years old, in college, and have always wanted to visit France. A logical thought might be to study abroad there, in which there are study abroad scholarships you can look into. However, it isn’t your only option! Have you considered applying to an opportunity such as Paris Accords of Science and Communication? If selected, you would attend a four-day journalism fellowship in Paris, France, that is fully funded: flights, accommodations, food, activities, etc.
Or perhaps you’d be more interested in the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France, which, also fully funded, would have afforded you a one-week experience interacting with other political decision-makers and youth activists to debate solutions to key challenges for democracies worldwide—during which, you could extend your trip by a day or two on the front or back end of the experience, and see a bit of France.
A huge portion of my brand and blog is dedicated to sharing such extraordinary PTOs because, as I said, they make the incredible accessible. Most, if not all of them, cover airfare and accommodations while you take part in a program, which are often the most expensive aspects of a trip.
And PTO doesn’t stop there. There are a host of ways you might participate in a program or be awarded financial aid that can take you internationally on someone else’s dime.
Think You’re Too Old, or Too Young?
You’ll see that there are many opportunities for every phase of life. Yes, that’s right: you’re never too old or too young to begin seeking paid travel opportunities. There are study abroad scholarships for those as young as middle school age and plenty of international opportunities for those who are long past student status, as well. I myself have won multiple PTO without being a student, including a one-week fully funded cultural exchange to South Korea, and a travel contest that will take me backpacking through the Andes mountains, for free!
What are some paid travel opportunities I’ve recently unearthed and share on my Packs Light PTO Dashboard?
- IV-Young Professional Fellowship Uzbekistan’21: A week-long, fully-funded fellowship for young people interested in global issues
- Green Talents 2021: An opportunity to collaborate with German research institutions on sustainable development research
- Taiwan International Graduate Program: A two-month scientific research internship in Taiwan
- A $500 Airbnb Credit giveaway by Honey
There are PTO for all ages, nationalities, genders, fields of study, and phases of life, and the best person to find them for you is you. Here are some tips to get started today.
Three Tips to Start Searching for Your Perfect PTO
My first tip to finding the first paid travel opportunity for you is to start talking about it as much as you can. The more people in your immediate circle who know that you’re looking to study abroad in Paris, the more sets of eyes and ears you have on the lookout for you. Talk about it at the dinner table, to your friends, write it in your private journal, and heck, even post about it on social media—the algorithm and ads have worked in my favor more than once.
The next thing you do is optimize your Google searches by using my 3KW approach: three keywords. The idea is to search as specific as possible using different variables like your nationality, college major, field of study, type of opportunity, age, etc. No one likes to be told to “Google it” but if there is a paid travel opportunity it’s likely posted online, and Google can find it.
My final tip is to go to the experts in your life: If you’re still a student, you’re paying tuition to have access to your advisor, scholarship office, and department administrators. Use them! If you’re out of school, start asking around the company you work at or professional or social organizations you’re a part of.
These paid travel opportunities and this methodology has helped me and many of my followers see the world in a way we never would have been able to on our own and without the financial and time constraints of trying to plan and execute an entire trip on your own. One PTO can stamp your passport and change your life!