This summer I had the opportunity to explore Spain via boat. For two weeks, I lived on a Hallberg-Rassy sailboat, sailing from port to port along the coast of Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. After traveling in this unusual way, I want to encourage students to travel if they have the opportunity to, especially by taking advantage of study abroad programs. While my vacation was not affiliated with any university, traveling in an unconventional way enabled me to immerse myself in other cultures, while also learning more about myself and what I want in my life.

I was unsure of what I was getting myself into when I first signed up for this trip. Living on a sailboat for two weeks was definitely something I was not entirely comfortable with, but there was no way that I was missing out on an opportunity to go to Spain. I had not been on a sailboat in years, and although my childhood summers were spent on my family’s sailboat, I had since lost my sea legs. After two plane rides that left me bleary-eyed and grouchy, we hauled our bags onto the sailboat and settled into our floating home base. The boat was docked at Pollença on the northern end of the island. The marina was surrounded by steep mountains that protected the harbor and a small but bustling town was nestled at their base. It was so surreal. I stared at the mountains with awe, never having seen anything like them before.

My vacation was a full immersion into a cruising lifestyle. It was certainly not glamorous, and some creature comforts are bound to be sacrificed when living on a boat. For someone who likes to have the air conditioning on full blast, surviving in the heat was something that I had to get used to. The inside of the boat — although spacious and beautiful — was too hot for me to sleep in, so I ended up taking my blanket and pillow outside and sleeping under the stars in the cockpit every night. Some nights I felt seasick from the constant rocking and spent hours staring at the stars with my blanket draped over my shoulders like a cape, waiting for the nausea to pass. It was during one of those nights that I saw a shooting star for the first time since I was on my boat as a child.

I settled in quickly to this new lifestyle. Traveling in an unconventional way not only enabled me to embrace living on a boat, but also to better experience another culture. I loved sitting outside every morning, watching boats pull into the harbor and seeing the varied flags they were flying as people from all over the world congregated in this floating town. Living on the boat made me feel less like a tourist and more like a temporary resident of each port we visited, too. Whether it was asking for directions in broken Spanish, learning to use public transportation or hauling groceries from the local supermarket to restock the boat, I felt like I was living like the locals. It was something I had never experienced from staying in a hotel, where everything is made to be easy and comfortable.

This trip made studying abroad for a semester a priority. My mindset changed from this being a want to a necessity, and I realized how much I loved not only learning, but truly experiencing other cultures. Every year, the population of international students increases by 12 percent globally. Following this trend of international study, SUNY offers more than 1,000 study abroad programs, spanning 60 countries and all seven continents. Some programs, such as Binghamton University’s Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Semester in Barcelona, house students in city apartments and offer excursions throughout the semester. Like my experience on the boat, staying in an apartment in another country gives students the opportunity to live with local residents and learn their way around the city while also seeing some tourist attractions without being glued to a schedule. This is just one program I am considering doing myself, and I encourage anyone reading to explore their options too.

My experience traveling to Spain also helped me pinpoint what I wanted to study in college and the kind of life I envision myself having after I graduate. I started to consider majoring in political science with a concentration in international affairs. While I am unsure of an exact career, I know that I want to be able to travel abroad for work. Traveling in an unconventional way led me to understand more about what I wanted in my life, so I am encouraging students to take any opportunity they get to travel. Despite the discomfort and uncertainty that comes with a trip abroad, especially when there is no five-star hotel and daily itinerary of tours and sightseeing involved, traveling in an unconventional way feels more real, and studying abroad may be a great way to experience this.

Sophia LoBiondo is a sophomore majoring in political science.