Last April I had the privilege to go Peru through my high school's partnership with ACIS, a trip that my parents struggled to afford in addition to my projected college expenses even though my school's generous financial aid had covered half the cost. It was my first time traveling outside of the United States in nearly fourteen years.
Touching down into the first warm day I'd experienced in months I transformed into a full-blown nerd. Armed with an iPad, equipped with the singular best camera in my house, and the Notes app on the cracked iPhone 5 that was my daily phone, I constantly tapped names and dates into the screen.
I snapped pictures of Peruvian women on a Cusco street sitting with an alpaca on a colorful harness, the inside of a native Uros islander's house. I raised my bright pink iPad cover up in front of airplane strangers to capture, with an obnoxious shuttering noise, the airplane window at 3 a.m. from the middle of the aisle when the only thing actually visible was the darkness of my soul reflected back at me for waking the tall man next to me who took up the entire front aisle space and who periodically adjusted the airline blanket that could only cover 80% of his body (it was American, fyi, not United). I came close to tumbling down Huayna Picchu's steep trail photographing alpacas and the worst possibility that came to mind was a recurring play-by-play of my iPad dramatically shattering on the rocks.
Everything seemed beyond magical, from wandering without knowing where exactly I was in the colorful Pisac market to speedboating across Lake Titicaca. When we lifted off from Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport all I thought was, someday I'd like to do that again.
The important thing was, I'd been dealing with a severe case of writer's block for the months before the trip, since the eve of Donald Trump's ascent to the presidency. Though I constantly wrote for school I'd lost some of the happiness I'd once taken in the writing process.
During those nine days in Peru I ended up with a total of four poems that I had not only enjoyed writing, but felt proud of. And I recorded countless more sources of inspiration. My experiences were cast in a new light as the United States' divisions become more apparent through a series of travel bans against Muslim-Americans were revealed and rescinded in the months leading up to my trip - I was the only one without an American passport. As a U.S. permanent resident my red Chinese passport stood out against the solid blue every time they were passed back when we departed a hotel. I watched officers swipe it multiple times then lean over to confer with other officers so that my passage nearly always took the most time, was the only one who saw the screen, after scanning my passport, come up with a fingerprinting scan upon reentering America.
I smushed my hand onto the screen several times, then pushed on my hand with my other hand before the scan registered as a match and I was swept through with a printout of my photo. The immigration officer asked me an array of questions as out of the corner of my eye I spotted each member of the rest of our group get waved in after ten seconds. He was kind and polite - as I walked into the arrival area I wondered if the experience would have been the same if I'd appeared to be Muslim -American instead of Asian-American.
I came to some conclusions after my trip:
1. My writer's block was officially cured - I now still write a lot and enjoy it thoroughly.
2. I thought more about issues that hadn't originally seemed personal.
3. I'd become a regular note-taker and journal-writer, and I was the most productive utilizing my notes in the writing-sense during down times in hotels.
Traveling will always be an effective way to restart my mind and inspire my writing. As I grow up I realize I can find both comfort and adventure anywhere I go, but the further I travel each new mile becomes a sort of caffeine to get my typing/scribbling on. And because I found so many rewards through traveling and it is one of the healthiest and most inspirational addictive habits I know of, I was inspired to compile a list of ways to travel affordably for young broke people.
In this list, I either participated in these opportunities myself or know a friend who did, and had extremely positive experiences overall. Many of these opportunities are geared toward my fellow ambitious high-school-age peers, but some are accessible to a wider age range. A few are simply scholarships and awards that grant enough money for satisfying traveling times. All of them have deeply motivated me or someone I know to notice more in life and continue writing. Safe travels, you ambitious, wonderful people. Maybe I'll see you in the field.
Note: all traveling comes with unexpected costs, ranging from airport meals to flights, so plan accordingly!
Travel and Monetary Opportunities for the Badass But Broke 'Bodies
Here, I've tried my best to link to eligibility requirements so as to save your busy selves some time because there's nothing more frustrating than getting excited about a program only to find out you don't qualify.
Davidson Fellows Scholarship
When you're 18 and under on those days you think you can change the world. The application categories are Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Literature, Music, Philosophy and Outside the Box. It's a lengthy application but the rewards are well worth the effort: multiple $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000 scholarships. I submitted a 60- 75-page portfolio as well as two nomination forms, two essays, and a ten-minute video to the Literature category, and am waiting to hear back as of now. For the enormously passionate.
Inspiring Girls Expeditions
When you want to get out there right away. This free, twelve-day expedition for girls ages 16-17 combines science, art, critical thinking, and physical tasks in a gorgeous icy outdoor landscape. I'm thrilled to have been accepted this year to the Icy Fjords program as my family's never been able to afford to travel to Alaska, and I'm looking forward to adventurous kayaking and hiking as well as possible inspirational wildlife encounters for my writing!
National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program
Merit-based scholarships for high school students and recent high school graduates to study language abroad -- there are various eligibility requirements, including being a U.S. citizen, so read carefully before applying!
NSAL Young Writers' Fund
For the hardcore teen writer. This award from the National Society of Arts and Letters sponsors one student a year to attend the Iowa Young Writers' Studio free of charge. Simply apply to the Iowa program (there is no direct application to the NSAL) and the Iowa program directors will select the recipient. I received this award for the summer of 2016, and they flew me for free on the most long-distance trip I've ever been able to afford across America. The scenery and instruction I received was hugely inspirational, and there aren't enough good things I can say about this program.
The Penguin Random House Creative Writing Competition
For NYC public high school seniors only, with four $10,000 awards and multiple awards of other increments. I expect to hear back from them soon but I've heard lots of great things about this contest so if you happen to qualify give it a shot!
Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships
Go big or go home! An opportunity for all the ambitious poets out there as I regularly ignore the 21-31 age eligibility here. Five awards of $25,800 to the best young poets in America. They have always considered my application when I shift my birth date around a little bit, and though I never, ever expect to win, I encourage all of you to be daring, take this opportunity to get used to rejection, and throw your hat in.
Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
A classic for creative teens in grades 7-12. Opportunities range from the National Student Poets Program to awards for editorial cartoons and jewelry. The highest monetary award is $10,000 for a senior portfolio which would technically pay for a lot of traveling. Personally, even though I didn't reach the highest levels of this award over the six years I participated, regional awards landed my writing at a Metropolitan Museum of Art winner's exhibit as well as a sweet full scholarship to the Juniper Institute for Young Writers at UMass Amherst through the Scholastic Award's summer partnerships with organizations, which allowed me to travel to Massachusetts for the first time.
The National YoungArts Foundation
For those of you ages 15-18 into the visual, literary, design, and performing arts this is the one for you for the money, community, and places you'll go. Even as a honorable mention in poetry I was invited to participate in YoungArts Week New York, a free magical week full of masterclasses with people like Salman Rushdie, Joan Morgan, and Mychal Denzel Smith, and either commute or hotel expenses provided at no cost. Cash awards up to $10,000 and the chance to be named as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts (more free traveling!) make this a must-try.
Best of luck, and if luck's not on your side, keep trying! Stay ambitious and brave, and that'll take you further than any airplane.