The best summer escapes for students

Don’t waste the long break from college: why not head to the US, go inter-railing around Europe or help people as you see the world with a voluntourism trip?

Inter-railing around Europe is a time-honoured student tradition. Photograph: Thinkstock

Inter-railing around Europe is a time-honoured student tradition. Photograph: Thinkstock


Students get about four months of freedom in the summer. Chances are you will never get this opportunity again, so use it wisely. But you need to start planning now: some programmes are already closed. We have looked at the costs and the benefits of summers abroad.

Summer camp USA

A slightly cheaper and more unusual option than the J1. For €649, including flights and insurance plus the embassy fee of $160 (€145), you can work with children in one of the thousands of residential summer camps across the US.

Usit’s network will connect you to a camp in the northeast US, which includes sports camps, weight loss camps and camps for children with special needs.

You will typically earn $900-$1,200 but food and accommodation costs are covered. There can be difficulties securing a work placement with your friends. When your contract ends, you are allowed stay in the US for up to a month.


Inter-railing in Europe

Another tried-and-tested option for generations of students. An InterRail ticket allows you to travel across Europe by train by your own chosen route. There is nothing stopping an EU student from finding a job in Europe for two or three months and then bookending it with an InterRail pass. (With that in mind, some language departments in third-level colleges help to organise summer placements. So if you are studying a language in college, ask your teachers if they run any exchange programmes).

You can buy an InterRail pass for just one country, but it will cost €154 for three days of travel in a second-class carriage, compared with five days of travel in any European country for just €238. You can buy passes from Usit or Irish Rail. The price is the same, but Usit is offering 15 per cent off all passes until March 31st.


This service connects drivers with passengers looking for a lift. It is a safer, if somewhat more expensive, version of hitch- hiking across Europe, as drivers and passengers have public profiles and these profiles have ratings.

It is a decent way to meet new people on the road, although you can specifically choose a less chatty travel companion if you prefer.

Bookings can be made at the last minute. Drivers charge per seat, and BlaBlaCar has capped prices so that the driver only really gets enough to cover the cost of the journey and a contribution towards maintenance. The more passengers in the car, the lower the cost. BlaBlaCar takes a 10 per cent cut.


There is ongoing debate about the growth of the “voluntourist”: plenty of for-profit companies make money sending young people abroad, and not all programmes necessarily benefit the host communities when the volunteers pack up and leave after staying for only a few weeks.

There are, however, some very reputable programmes. Educational development charity Suas runs volunteer programmes in urban and rural parts of India and, this summer, is launching a programme in Zambia.

Participants are asked to commit to work as teaching assistants for 10 weeks. It might seem like a lot, but any organisation that flies you there and back in a few weeks is probably more concerned about its own bottom line than the people it purports to help. The programme costs €2,995, all inclusive. Applications for this year’s programme are now closed, but it opens again in October for next year.

EIL provides intercultural learning opportunities and options for volunteering abroad.

UCD Volunteers Overseas has a programme that is open to all UCD students, staff and alumni.

The J1 visa

Despite a new rule requiring students to have a job lined up before they fly to the US, it doesn’t seem to have dampened enthusiasm.

Usit, the biggest student-travel organisation, says it is lining up jobs throughout the US. Popular destinations include San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Cape Cod, Boston and Chicago.

Usit charges a programme fee of €499, for which it will process your work papers, provide access to employer listings, organise meetings with employers and provide administration, back-up and support.

SayIt has a significantly cheaper programme fee of €299, but it does not secure jobs on the west coast. SayIt also offers a free US sim card worth €30 and free exam repeat insurance worth €50.

Usit has a significantly stronger network of employers. Whichever one you go with, you also have to factor in the US embassy fees of $160 and another compulsory €35 embassy fee.

Flights and travel insurance are additional costs. Unfortunately, both agencies lock you into flying with them. This can work out more expensive than if you were allowed to get your own flights.

Given the nature of the US health system, it is a very bad idea to go without travel insurance. An agent at Usit said that you are not tied into their €249 “platinum” insurance policy but that you probably “won’t find cheaper elsewhere”. SayIt lock you into its policy, which costs €189.

J1 applicants are tethered to a duopoly controlled by Usit and SayIt, meaning there is a lack of competition in this market, which drives up prices.

What else is out there?

  • The Washington Ireland Programme is a competitive summer internship programme, whereby students spend two months working in Washington DC either as political interns with nongovernmental organisations or big DC-based firms.
  • Canada: There’s no equivalent of the summer J1 for Canada, which issues two-year work permits only. It might be quite wasteful to use it for two of three months of summer work. Usit runs a Camp Canada programme.
  • Wwoofing: Stands for “worldwide opportunities on organic farms”, and it is an excellent way to fund part of your travels, whatever part of the world takes your fancy. Wwoof hosts offer food, accommodation and information about organic food and lifestyles in exchange for volunteer help. Could be mixed and matched with Interrailing, volunteering or a J1 programme.
  • Far-flung destinations: Save like mad, get a loan, book a flight, and travel. You will have your whole life to work and (hopefully) plenty of time for retirement. If you can, squeeze in some travel before you get a full-time job. Go to cheap and well- trodden destinations such as southeast Asia. Burma is becoming more accessible and is reasonably inexpensive, but it will soon be overrun with tourists, so go now.
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