Tracy Ann Foley loves to travel, and she does it the old-fashioned way – backpacking. But her travel style – and those of other college-age youths today – is definitely cutting-edge.

Unlike the backpacking travelers of earlier generations, who stuck mostly to Western Europe, Foley ranges far afield. She has trekked through Eastern Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand – and so have many of her peers.

Visiting such nontraditional destinations is a growing phenomenon among today's young travelers. Yes, they still love the old favorites – London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rome – but then they reach beyond.

They head for Eastern Europe, especially Croatia, say editors at the popular Let's Go student travel guidebooks. They go to Africa and Asia, to South America and Oceania.

Thanks to cheap fares, they're as likely to jet around a continent as take the train. They book their trips online, not through a travel agency, and they keep in touch with home via text messages, not postcards.

“Not only are today's youth more technologically savvy than most adults, they are also more likely to be willing to travel to places that may have intimidated older generations,” says Debbie Gibb, marketing director of the nonprofit Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA.)

“We've seen a large growth in adventure and volunteer travel,” says Kristen Celko, vice president of marketing for STA Travel, one of the largest youth-travel companies. “They go to Costa Rica for a conservation project, to Africa to help in orphanages, to China to work with pandas.”

Altruism may motivate some youths, but whether it's spring or summer, many travel for no other reason than to enjoy themselves and get some cultural exposure in the process.

That's the point behind tours from Contiki, which takes more than 100,000 youths abroad annually to destinations that range as far away as Australia and as exotic as Egypt. But Europe is by far the most popular locale, says Frank Marini, Contiki's president.

Packages include lodging, transportation, most meals and a lot of free time. A two-week European Discovery trip, which goes to London, Paris, Lucerne, Venice, Florence, Munich and Amsterdam, starts at $1,550 land only in the off season, Marini says.

Many youths are like Foley, however, who has traveled with companions but doesn't mind going it alone. “You can change plans whenever without disrupting others, you get to see things that a group doesn't,” says Foley, who is 26 and lives in Canton, Mass. “You also learn to handle unexpected situations by yourself and you test your limits.”

Most students visiting Europe travel by rail, but pricing has become more convoluted this year. Where once there was a single Eurailpass, now there are dozens of options, one of which is that the issuers may change prices during the year.

In addition to the basic Eurailpass, most European countries now offer their own railpasses, so there are dozens of passes out there. Result: young travelers need to have a very good idea where they want to go before commiting to a railpass.

Pass prices for 2007 have increased slightly from 2006, perhaps 1 or 2 percent. For youths planning to visit a few countries, the Eurail Select Youth Pass is a good option, as it offers travel between three to five bordering countries.

Rail Europe's Web site,, also lists special promotions and links to such sites as, where students can obtain the all-important student identity card ($22), which gets youths discounts to museums and other facilities, and to, where one can book hostels.

Two forms of educational travel for collegians haven't changed much: Semesters abroad and seagoing schooling.

Many students get their first taste of foreign stays when they take a semester of courses at a European university. Typically, this is offered by many American schools and comes between students' junior and senior years.

Semester at Sea, which has been offering educational cruising for many years, takes up to 700 students on each of three long voyages per year. Classes are held on board every day at sea, but students get to explore ports of call all over the world.

Now Semester at Sea is getting a competitor, Scholar Ship. This new company, backed by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, will make its first voyage next September.

“We have two programs,” says Scholar Ship's Ronald Zighelboim, “one for undergraduates, one for graduates.” The ship will take 600 students and six colleges are involved: the University of California at Berkeley, plus universities in China, Australia, Mexico, Morocco and Ghana.

Wherever students go, however they go, the idea is the same: To come home a little more worldly, mature and confident. But wisdom isn't all they may find, it seems. Cupid often joins the trip.

“Love? We find love all the time,” says Contiki's Marini.

© 2007, The Miami Herald.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.