‘Adventure’ tours snagging students
Mr. Kang is one of the multitude of Korean college students who are signing up for theme travel packages rather than booking expensive whirlwind tours.
Around 250,000 college students went on backpacking trips last year, a figure 10 times higher that the yearly average in the 1990s and a major chunk of the nation’s total 3 million college students. Tourist agencies say the students are not only going in greater numbers but are also taking on more challenging themes. Tours to South America and the Middle East ― regions never before favored by Korean tourists ― have done well recently.
Another student, Kim Ju-jin, 26, is planning to go through Iran, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in 30 days. She said she knows the areas can be dangerous but said she wanted to see the centers of ancient civilizations. She certainly has the travel experience to get by: She’s been to 40 countries, including all the former Yugoslav states, since she took her first backpacking trip in 1999.
The greater number of backpacking students reflects changes in both the trips and the mentality of students. In the 10 years or so that Korean tourist agencies have offered backpack trips aimed at students, the tours have improved and the rise of the Internet has provided a wealth of information. Students have also become more economical and interested in tourism that teaches them something rather than giving them the opportunity only to go shopping.
One agency, for instance, has been offering camping tours through central and eastern Africa in countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. About 100 people have gone on the tour since it was first offered last year. Another agency features tours of Iran, which it says will teach students the “essential elements of Persian civilization.”
“A lot of college students who travel still rely only on guide books,” said Jung Myung-yun, a travel agent. “But if travelers try to find things that interest them, they’ll have an unforgettable experience.”
In the early ’90s, a group of young office workers and college students created a club called “Train to the World,” which stationed itself in an office at Sogang University in Seoul. The club is still around and is generally cited as the “father of Korea’s travel maniacs.” Members of the Sogang club select a leader to serve as a “team guide.”
One of those guides, Ko Young-ung, 26, has so far been offered jobs at four travel agencies. He said he was surprised to find that traveling could help him get job offers. He shouldn’t be too surprised: He has backpacked for 9 years and written a guidebook.
The ultimate in cheap travel, though, is winning free tickets in raffles. That’s how Kim Tae-won, 23, has financed five trips so far, including a recent 10-day excursion to South Africa.
by Kwon Ho