By: Dani-elle Dubé
What are Algonquin students’ top travel destinations?
It’s a question that could be on the minds of many dreaming of warm sand and blue oceans as February winds blow around the campus.
Students chose to travel to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Florida, Jamaica and Mexico this month, thanks to student-friendly and inexpensive rates, say Algonquin Campus Travel’s Mina Delic and Shannon Ross.
“People just want to go where there’s warm weather and they can forget what Canada looks like right now,” said Delic, second-year tourism and travel student. “They want to go to places where they can swim and be with people their age. That’s always a concern.”
Passport and a Toothbrush is a travel blog that aims to help travelers plan their trips without breaking the bank. Created by two Algonquin television broadcasting alumni, the website focuses heavily on cost-saving measures and general travel tips.
“It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and experience something new,” said Matthew Purchase, one of the creators of Passport and a Toothbrush. “Traveling also teaches you so many skills that you can use back home, like stress management, tolerance, finance and chopstick handling.”
Second-year tourism and travel students operate Campus Travel at Algonquin. The student-run office operates much like any other travel agency, the difference being that finalization of plans and payments are not done at the college company and must be made elsewhere.
“The places where students are traveling are pretty much the same each year,” explains Ross. “These places are close so there’s not a lot of travel time and they are fairly cheap for students.”
According to gocuba.ca, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and has a population of over 11 million. Playa Paraiso Beach in Cayo Largo was listed as the 13th best beach in the world on CNN Travel.
“Much like Mexico, you will want to stay on the resorts in Cuba,” said Delic. “They do, however, have private resort areas and buses to take you to and from places. It might sound scary but it isn’t. It’s being safe.”
Having spent some time in Cuba, fellow Passport and a Toothbrush creator Caroline Leal, commends the country for its political growth. “The great thing about Cuba,” explains Leal, “being a communist country is that its doors are just opening more these days making it a hot tourist destination beyond just beach resorts.”
According to Leal, the downside of traveling to Cuba is the fact that tourists don’t get to experience the real culture because travelers rarely leave the resort.
Another destination students are traveling to is the Dominican Republic, a tropical island found east of Cuba in between Haiti and Puerto Rico with a population of just over 10 million. Frommers cites Punta Cana and Bàvaro Beaches as “the world’s greatest beach strips” as they are famously known as the largest concentration of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.
“The only con with the Dominican is that it is one of the more expensive places,” said Delic. “If you have the money, go for it. It’s amazing and super fun.”
To save money on expensive destinations, like the Dominican, Leal and Purchase recommend that students look at different options.
“Groupon is actually excellent while on the road,” said Leal. “Sign up for the local ones and you can have great meals or hotel deals wherever you are traveling to.”
“Shop around if you need to book a bus or a train,” said Purchase. “Prices are often better if you book directly at the bus or train station.”
Students on a tighter budget are making their way to Florida. The Sunshine State is known for its diving and snorkeling with tropical fish among shipwrecks and its balance of relaxation and adventure.
“There’s so much to do,” said Ross. “There’s Disney and there’s Universal and other adventure parks. Then there are also the beaches like Daytona.”
To save even more money, Purchase suggested skyscanner.ca, a website that compares flight fares and helps travelers find the cheapest rates available.
Described as a “diamond in the rough” by Delic, Jamaica is the next stop for students. Rich in culture and natural marvel, beaches may be the initial attraction, but historical sites, marketplaces and majestic waterfalls and waterways keep tourists coming back.
“Not a lot of people go there because they’re afraid it’s expensive,” said Delic. “But it’s not always the case. There are inexpensive resorts there, as well.
Students are also mixing more than just drinks when they partake in beach celebrations and experience historical culture as they head down to Mexico. Tourists traveling in February can take part in merry carnivals – a series of parades, music and activities that proceed a symbolic burning of evil spirits.
“It’s good because it’s popular,” said Delic. “Everybody goes there and everybody knows about Mexico. It’s one of those destinations where if you’ve never been down south, it’s easier to make accommodations because it’s so popular.”
Ross suggests that when exploring outside of the resort to be careful and take extra caution, especially at night. Take advantage of the free transportation that is often offered by the resorts.
Other tropical climates that Purchase and Leal suggest that did not make the list are Costa Rica, Panama and Belize.
“Try to seek out things that are authentic,” said Leal. “You can be offered something that caters only to tourists but has no link to the actual culture. Try taking a cooking class instead of going to a touristy restaurant. This way you actually get to try traditional food.”
To Purchase, traveling means experiencing other cultures and seeing how different people live. “Don’t always follow the crowd,” he said. “Do what interests you.”