Travel Tales – American fun without the J1

Rachael Martin

For most students, travelling to America on a J-1 has become somewhat of a rite of passage, with up to 7,000 Irish students heading across to the USA each summer. At times it may not be the most glamorous, but if you ask any student who has been on a J1 they will more than likely tell you that it was one of the best experiences of their lives.

The independence that comes from living away from both your family and friends as well as being self-sufficient is something that helps you grow as a person. Emerging yourself in a different country, with a different culture and way of life is another huge pull towards the J1, as is the great American road trip that traditionally ends the Summer. As amazing as all of this sounds, a J1 is not for everyone. To have the J1 experience you don’t necessarily need to go on a J1.

Last summer I travelled to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas without spending an exasperate amount of money on embassy fees or Visa fees. I began to hear everyone excitedly talk about the ways they were spending their summer and I couldn’t get rid of the sinking feeling of ‘fomo’. A lot of my friends wanted to stay at home and work for the Summer which meant that jetting off to Canada or the US on a J1 wasn’t an option. Despite this all I wanted to do was go get out of the country and make my Summer a memorable one.

A friends of mine was heading to San Francisco on a J1 for the Summer, and one late Friday afternoon in April while I was moaning about how I had no Summer plans she said “why don’t you come visit me and come travelling with us at the end?” That is exactly what I did. Over the Summer I worked almost full time in retail saving every last cent for what ended up being the holiday of a lifetime. I flew over to the US and spent the last three weeks in August traveling across America. Living at home and working while my friends were away paying for their own food and rent meant that when I actually did go traveling I was in a much better position financially than I would have been otherwise.

One of the greatest benefits of going to America for just a few weeks on a holiday ESTA visa instead of a J1 visa is the cost. Living comfortably at home in Ireland as opposed to being crammed into a single room with four or five people is definitely a pro, but living at home also means you save money on rent. The cost of living in America all summer means that approximately 30% of your income goes towards rent depending on how many people you’re sharing with. If your living at home, you’re also saving on the cost of food which is also a big help. Embassy appointments, insurance and the visa itself can cost between €700- €900 and flights are likely to cost an additional €1000. An ESTA only costs $14 which is the equivalent to €11.32

The traditional, stereotypical J1 is of course not the only option. Working in an American Summer camp through ‘Camp USA’ or ‘Camp leaders’ means that all your meals are paid for, as is your accommodation. It is a totally different type of experience but again you will still have the opportunity to travel at the end.

If you are thinking about going to America this Summer, don’t forget to look at your options. You can still go and enjoy the sandy beaches of California, whether your surfing on Vennis beach in LA or Pacific Beach in San Diego. You can cycle the enormous 1.6 km golden gate bridge, look over the Grand Canyon which took 6 million years to form and go to a pool party in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Although you may not get to live in the country without a J1, you can still experience a lot of what a J1, and America has to offer.

Rachael Martin

Credit: Rachael Martin