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What To Do With Your Time Off


Appendices | Handbook

There will be times - three-day-weekends, semester breaks, and recesses - when most everything will be closed on campus, possibly including the residence hall in which you are living! In a matter of hours, everyone will be gone. And if everybody is going, you might as well go, too.

Find out soon after the start of the semester when the fall and spring breaks are scheduled for at UMSL, and plan ahead for the Christmas and summer recesses. These will be your opportunities to take a break from your studies and visit the huge country in which you have landed. There is so much to see and so little time! So start planning now!

Where Do Americans Go on Vacation?
You probably know the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." But what are the Americans doing? Where are they going?

Americans usually spend the holidays with their families. This will probably not be possible for you unless you have relatives in the United States, but you may get invited to spend one of the holidays in the home of a student, professor, or local family. Don't miss this great opportunity to get to know first-hand about life in an American family, how they celebrate their holidays, what these holidays mean, and what Americans cook for the occasion.

American students also enjoy going to the beach in groups and taking part in outdoor activities and sporting events. Their goal is to have fun and take a rest from the pressure of studying.

Nature is one of this country's best attractions. Most of the time, natural beauty is close at hand in the form of local, state, and national parks or national wildlife refuges. In most cases, you pay an access fee and can stay as long as you like. Most parks have a center where you can get maps an information about the things to see and do at the park. Check the guides and Web pages below for further information. To mention just a few of America's must-see natural wonders: the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Yosemite National Park in California, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming; and Niagara Falls on the border between New York State and Canada. There are hundreds of other natural attractions you should find out about, especially those close to you. Call 1-800-365-2267 for information about the national park system and the Golden Eagle Pass, good for admission to all parks for one year.

Missouri has some great natural attractions and other cities and towns worth visiting. A great website to check out for Missouri tourism is To mention just a few of Missouri's noted attractions: MO state parks at the Elephant Rocks and Johnson Shut-ins, 100s of caves to tour, the Hermann wineries and German-themed festivals, canoeing/floating the Meramec and other area rivers, biking the Katy Trail, and visiting Lake of the Ozarks and Kansas City.

If what you would really like to do is visit some of America's great cities, don't miss San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, New York, or Washington, DC. Each has its own character, lots of art and history to discover, and tons of exciting things to do. Be a smart traveler, however; stay in safe areas, and don't lose sight of your bags (this advice applies to any public place in which you find yourself). If your heart jumps when somebody strange approaches you in a big city, stay calm and just walk away.

How Do I Get to All These Places?
Buy a car, rent a car, or get a ride. Unless you are at an urban university and can use public transportation, you may soon start feeling stuck on your campus. You have already realized that most Americans have cars. If you are in the States for a long time, you may want to consider buying one and reselling it before you go back home. Used cars are inexpensive in this country, but if you decide to buy a car be aware that the insurance can be more expensive than the car itself, depending on your age, how long you have had your driver's license, and other factors. You may count on rides from friends, but having your own car or sharing one with a friend or two will give you more freedom to visit the surrounding area, go on trips during vacation, or just go to the movies and the local shopping mall.

Renting a car is easy and affordable in the United States. Even the smaller towns have car rentals, from the national chains to the small businesses that offer very competitive prices. Check their numbers in the local telephone directory (the "yellow pages"). It takes just a credit card and a driver's license, and you are all set to ride.
The bus is an affordable option for traveling. Most towns are connected with others by bus, even if they are not connected by train or air. Find out which lines pass near your campus. Greyhound and Peter Pan are large and affordable, but there are also many lines that operate locally. You can go anywhere by bus in the United States, but too many stops can make the trip seem long. Keep your eyes wide open at bus stations in big cities. They are not the safest place to hang out, but again, you will reduce risks if you are a smart traveler. Call 1-800-231-2222 for information about the Greyhound lines and prices.

Trains connect the major cities only and are often more expensive than the airlines, but the ride can be fun and the scenery spectacular, especially in the West. Call 1-800-523-8720 for information about Amtrak, America's passenger rail system.

Distances are so great in the United States that you may find that the only way to really "see it all" is to fly. Fortunately, most major U.S. airlines offer VUSA (Visit USA) fares. These consist of coupons that are valid for a minimum of three to a maximum of ten continental flights. You have to buy them in your country before you leave. They usually start at approximately $300 for three flights, which could mean great savings if you are planning to travel long distances. If you bought only a few coupons at home and you want more once you here, you can get more (up to a limit of ten) as long as you still have one of the coupons you bought outside the country. If you are already here and haven't bought VUSA coupons, do so when you go home for a visit. In the meantime, good airfare deals can often be found in the local newspaper's travel section.

Where Do I Stay?

Youth hostels and camping are great choices for outdoor adventures. Call Hostelling International ( at 202 783-6161 for locations and prices. If you are visiting major cities check the local YMCA for really inexpensive lodging in common dormitories or tiny rooms. Other alternatives are discount hotel chains such as EconoLodge ( and Days Inn ( For half-price hotel programs call Entertainment Publications at 1 800 477-3234 or Great American Travelers at 1 800 458-2812.

Every state in the United States has a 1-800 number for vacation and travel information. The vacation and travel number for Missouri is 1-800-877-1234 or 1-888-925-3875.

Whatever you do, don't let the next break catch you by surprise. Go places!

Travel Bibliography
Cantor, George. Historic Festivals: A Traveler's Guide. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996. Descriptive catalog and guide to musical, historic, cultural, and ethnic festivals in U.S. cities and small towns, including the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Frog Jumping Jubilee, and World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup.

Pop Culture Landmarks: A Traveler's Guide. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1995. Descriptive catalog and guide to more than 300 pop-cultural landmarks across the United States, including everything from Elvis' famous Graceland estate to Colorado's obscure drive-in movie motel.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know about American History but Never Learned. Rev. Ed. New York: Avon Books, 1995. Inclusive and concise introduction to U.S. social history from 1500s to present; written in conversational, anecdotal style ideal for foreign readers.

Global Network Navigator, Inc. Excellent departure for electronic links to travel information on airlines, trains, hotels, U.S. cities, weather reports, maps, travel agents, U.S. National Park Service, local daily newspapers, currency conversion, transportation bargains, and much, much more.

Grate, Heather, and Bret Mundt. Eds. Hostelling North America: the Official Guide to Hostels in Canada and the United States. Washington: Hostelling International/American Youth Hostels, annual. Description, location, cost, and contact information for the 260 HI/AYH-affiliated youth hostels in the U.S. and Canada.
Heat-Moon, William Least. Blue Highways: A Journey in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991. Fascinating, highly personalized travel narrative of solo journey across 13,000 miles of back roads and tiny U.S. towns, by author of Native American and European ancestry.
National Park Service. The National Parks. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior. Concise description, location, and contact information for all U.S. Park Service sites including parks, monuments, lake shores, seashores, memorials, battlefields, wild and scenic river ways, trails. Order by mail from Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 USA. (202) 512-1800

Overby, Darren K. Ed. The Internet Guide to Hostelling. World Wide Web site. Excellent source of information on hostelling; includes catalog of all affiliated and non-affiliated U.S. hostels (paper version available for $3 through Jim Williams, The Hostel Handbook, Dept. IGH, 722 Saint Nicholas Ave., New York, NY 10031 USA); also includes transportation tips, budget guide book recommendations, electronic bulletin board for hostellers, plus numerous useful links to other travel web sites.

Rand McNally Road Atlas: United States, Canada, Mexico. Skokie: Rand McNally, annual. The best book available for highway and back-road travel in the United States; organized by state; includes national, state, and local parks, wildlife refuges, historic sites, points of interest, tourist information centers, campgrounds, maps of major cities, plus less detailed road atlases of Canada and Mexico.

Russo, Doreen, Ed. AAA Guide to the National Parks. New York: Collier Books; 1994. Guide book to the 50 most visited U.S. national parks; includes lengthy historical and geographic descriptions, plus information on accommodations, camping, food services, activities and events, transportation, directions, park maps, contact information, schedules, cost.

Streetwise (city maps). Amagansett: Streetwise Maps Inc., updated periodically. Folding, waterproof, easy-to-use street and public transit maps of most major U.S. cities.

Sullivan, Michelle C. Ed. Let's Go: The Budget Guide to USA, Including Canada. Rev. Ed. New York: St. Martin's Press 1996. Comprehensive guide to low-budget travel through U.S. cities and attractions; written by students for students; includes travel directions, maps, telephone contacts, information on cost, accommodations, points of interest, transportation, night life, restaurants, tours, outdoor activities.

Adapted with permission from NAFSA's International Student Handbook (AT&T, 1996). Copyright 1996 NAFSA: Association of International Educators.