fall break

Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel

What Are Your Plans for Fall Break?

How to make the most of your travel experience

Oct 9, 2016

Whether it is to fill awkward silences or get inspiration from friends, the harmony with which the student body is discussing this topic is almost orchestral. Fall break is much anticipated and bears the responsibility of delivering a mid-semester adventure.
This fall break will be the first opportunity for freshmen, hopefully after receiving their visas in time, to take advantage of the strategic location of the United Arab Emirates to fulfill their wanderlust. For upperclassmen, it is a window for some much-needed rest while exploring a familiar or unfamiliar location.
As much as the expectations are high and the buzz of ideas for fall break permeates the humid air, turning those ideas into solid plans is challenging. However, logistics and budgets do not need to ruin one’s expectations.
####Location, Location, Location Although this is normally a real estate mantra, it is extremely applicable to traveling. With a map of endless possibilities, the task of narrowing down where to go is significant. During his first fall break, senior Issa Nasr and four other friends chose to travel to Thailand and China.
“We had no exposure to East Asia and that’s why we chose to go there,” Nasr said. Discovering the unknown or considering the places that have piqued your curiosity at some point can be a reliable guide when determining location.
Another common consideration is whether one wants to explore one country in depth or adopt a Columbus-style mindset and discover everything. For Nasr, the choice was influenced by the shortening of fall break from seven to five days.
“After [the first fall break], we ended up doing five countries in five days. It was much more about maximizing the number of places … but at the same time you do learn more about that country so it’s a good balance of depth and breadth of that culture you end up discovering,” he added.
Nasr and his friends have done multiple road trips, including a sophomore-year trip to Russia, Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia and junior-year trip to Switzerland, Italy and Lichtenstein.
Some consider fall break travel to be an opportunity to interact with different cultures.
“I pick a country because I want to learn more about the culture and cuisine,” said senior Arame Dieng.
This goal is something Dieng realized when she spent her entire first fall break discovering the nuances of Sri Lankan culture. Throughout her trip she engaged with the country by eating at restaurants popular among locals, going to the spiritual centers in Sigiriya and going on multiple hikes on the mountains that compose the landscape of Sri Lanka. For her, these activities formed the great experience that she still enjoys talking about today.
Sometimes locations can seem interesting but be labeled as dangerous. Choosing to travel to such countries involves various levels of risk. Nasr, for example, traveled to Iran during the period when the P5+1 world powers were signing agreements with Iran to lift the imposed sanctions.
The portrayal of those countries in the media can exaggerate the situation. Talking to people who are actually from those countries can clarify the circumstances and help in figuring out whether traveling to that country is a risk worth taking.
“We wanted to go there before the sanctions were eliminated,” Nasr said when asked why he and his friends chose to travel to Iran during such a time.
Having had the experience of visiting a country with a security warning, Nasr offered some advice.
“Don’t take risks to the extent that you’re risking your life, but don’t limit your experience because of politics,” he suggested.
These breaks can foster surprising friendships, especially if you go with people outside of your inner social circle. This situation is particularly true for freshmen who have had less than two months to form relationships with other freshmen and upperclassmen before fall break. Travelling with others based on joint interests can create or strengthen bonds in unexpected ways.
In her freshman year, sophomore Lola Fernandez travelled to Sri Lanka with three other freshmen who she had occasionally talked to, but were not her best friends.
“We weren’t even super [close] friends … We [hadn’t] gotten to know each other by the beginning of October, so it was pretty random,” Fernandez said.
“It was beautiful how we connected: At first it was very awkward, but in the end, we became super close friends,” she said when asked how the friendship dynamic changed over the course of the trip.
Fall break can also be an opportunity to reconnect with people who were unintentionally neglected because of intimidating piles of homework, conflicting schedules or distance. Freshman Brian Kim and sophomore Liz Mao, who knew each other before coming to NYU Abu Dhabi, have decided to travel to Sri Lanka together this fall break.
####Perfect plans fall apart Dieng shared her planning perspective when it comes to the trips she has been on, some of which include London, Amsterdam, Belgium and France. “I plan everything. I want to know what I’m doing every day, not every minute but at least transport and accommodation.”
However, she does admit that some of the most memorable moments were the unplanned ones. Dieng’s spontaneity came in the form of staying up on a mountain to enjoy a picturesque sunset and coming back later than planned, only after the sun had fully sunk beyond the horizon. “The monks at the temple were like, you guys are crazy, you could have been eaten by animals,” said Dieng.
Nasr has a different perspective when it comes to planning. Even though he planned out his freshman fall break, his subsequent fall breaks have been more spontaneous, some even being arranged the day before.
“I think the major excitement is getting there and being like, I’m here, now where do I go?” For Nasr, the thrill of spontaneity can sometimes be better than any color-coded, minute-specific itinerary.
The extent to which planning is important depends on the person, and is influenced by what one hopes to achieve in a trip. Whether it is to visit iconic places within a country, like Dieng did, or to engage in random discovery of a nation, like Nasr, both Dieng and Nasr emphasized the importance of leaving room for exceptional sunsets and unanticipated adventures.
####Ridin’ Solo? The united stories and memories shared by a travel group is a driving force in traveling with others. People opt to travel in a group for reasons ranging from having company to being able to distribute the cost. For Kim, traveling alone is not appealing.
“I don’t think I’ll ever, in my life in general, ever travel by myself … For me, travelling is not about what you do or the destination you are going to, travelling is about connecting with people and getting to know people you went on a journey with,” Kim said.
However, travelling alone can be an opportunity for self-discovery and more profound cultural immersion.
“[Traveling alone] forces you to get out of your comfort zone. When you are lost in a place you feel like you are obliged to ask someone, to ask a local,” said Nasr.
He also explained that the experience sculpted by being a solo traveler is different because the decisions you make by yourself are different from those you make within a group setting.
“For example, I wouldn’t stay in a hotel, I would couch-surf or stay in a hostel, which also allows more interaction with [local] people.”
As a solo traveler, it is still possible to create bonds, but those bonds will be with other travelers and the citizens of the country you visit.
Vongai Mlambo is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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