University Grants Allowed Alex To Travel The World For Free!
What is GAFFL?

GAFFL connects solo travelers from with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time with you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.

14th Jul | 4 min read

Alex is an enthusiastic student studying Landscape Architecture in the UK. He's into just about anything related to the outdoors and his number one goal in this world is to live a simple life connected to nature and connected to a loving community around him. You can connect with Alex on GAFFL

What Inspired Me To Start Traveling And Why I Continue To Do It

For a student with no consistent income, long-distance travelling can seem like an impossible prospect, however, there are ways to overcome it. In the three years, I have been at university in the UK I have visited China, Lebanon, and Vietnam for free! The trick is to make the most out of travel grants, external funding, and research, then fit the sightseeing in when you can. There are so many fantastic opportunities out there for those people who are willing to send a few emails and put the effort into filling in an online application or two.

Thanks to my adventures during university, I have noticed that experiencing the world is the best way to learn. In my opinion, there is no book, lecture or exam that can rival the experience of seeing a place, object or person in real life. There isn’t one single event or thing which made me realize this. I travel because I want to see the world, I want to explore, I want to escape the everyday working life.

As cliche as it sounds, I have made real long term connections whilst travelling. A great example of this can be drawn from my time in Beijing back in 2018. After only two days I got to know a handful of people from the hostel, and we become real friends who are still in touch today. Hostels are great since they commonly offer group tours and sightseeing trips - as a solo traveller this is one of the best ways to connect with people. Travelling is intense, it’s tiring, it’s emotional. I think this and the fact that you all have the same goal is what allows complete strangers to get close so quickly. There are no distractions, it's just you, the place, and the people sharing the memories with you.

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How I Choose Where To Travel Next

The places that are always on the top of my travel list are the places with extreme natural beauty: as a result of training as a landscape architect, a burning passion for nature and wildlife is something I will never escape. A combination of cost and proximity often helps to narrow these places down. For example in a months time I will be moving to Norway to start a new job, this makes visiting Svalbard in the arctic circle way more realistic than if I was in any other part of the world. I hadn’t even though about going here until now, but all of a sudden it makes sense. The more opportunities you take the more appear.

I try to do 1-2 big trips a year. For me I find travelling for 3-4 weeks at a time is a good as it means I can keep costs  relatively low whilst still absorbing a decent amount of cultural goodness!

My Scariest Travel Moment

My biggest travel hiccup was when I was stranded in the Chengdu international airport after my connecting flight was cancelled due to bad weather. All would have been well if anyone spoke English but as you can guess this wasn’t the case. At the time I had no idea what was going on, I thought my flight was still going ahead and that I would miss it, thus resulting in my whole trip being compromised. Luckily the worst I faced was a 7 hour hold up in sweaty waiting lounge using my trainers as a pillow. I’ve visited a lot of airports now but whenever I’m queuing for the passport check or the security walk through, a sickly feeling still manages to grasp my lower gut. The same feeling I felt when I was basically being shouted at by the Chinese airport staff. 

My advice to new travelers who want to study and travel?

If I had to give 3 tips to someone thinking about solo travelling whilst working or studying they would be:

1 - Before you book that expensive flight or hotel see if there is another way to visit the place. Can it be part of research? Can you include it within the itinerary of a work trip? Is there an opportunity to be part of something you wouldn’t usually be a part of eg: voluntary work?

2 - Be friendly and speak to people. At the end of the day people are what will make the opportunities happen - especially if they are solo travelers too. Once you break the confidence barrier of doing this for the first time it will only get easier and easier. 

3. Be patient; the countries that you want to visit aren’t going anywhere. Let's say you do find an opportunity to travel somewhere as part of research but you don’t win the bid, try again next year, learn from the first time. Good luck!

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