At The Traveling School, our back-to-school list looked a smidge different than your average student’s.

Over the last month, families and students frequented office supply stores to check off their school supply lists. Meanwhile, Traveling School students frequented somewhat different establishments: outdoor stores, thrift stores and the back of their own closets to find the ideal wool base layer and rain gear.

High schoolers returned to classrooms with three ring binders, textbooks, highlighters and pens neatly tucked into their backpacks. Traveling School students faced the challenge of stuffing all their books, clothing, layers, toiletries and comfort items for the next four months into a singular backpacking pack.

To give you a glimpse into how TTS students prepared for their semester, we thought we would share our ten Traveling School essentials. These are items that students have found irreplaceable while traveling, whether they are camping under the stars in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pans, rafting Utah’s San Juan River, or exploring Peru’s Chan Chan ruins.

  1. Camp chair. We don’t have traditional four-walled classrooms at The Traveling School—nor do we have desks. Your classroom is a sandy riverbank, a trail overlook, and a city public park. We carry around our own chairs so we can make a seated circle anywhere. Simple “Crazy Creek”-style chairs work best, because they can be folded to minimize space and take mere seconds to set up.
  2. Headlamp. Just like we don’t have standard classrooms, we don’t have overhead fluorescent lighting. Sometimes, all you need is the moon and the stars—but you’ll still want a headlamp for early morning hikes, to finish your homework during evening study hall, or to read in your tent at night. Remember to pack extra batteries.
  3. Packing cubes. And/or, sacks and plastic baggies–basically, anything to organize your stuff. Studying out of a school backpack requires binder dividers to keep you organized; living out of a backpacking pack requires packing cubes to separate your tops from bottoms, warm gear from swimsuit, camera stuff from toiletries. Throughout your fifteen-week semester, you’ll develop, hone and finesse your packing systems so that you can find your journal right before Literature class, or your rain jacket the second it starts to drizzle.
  4. Warm layers. It’s one thing to be cold in your school building’s frigid air conditioning, and it’s another to be cold in a tent in the mountains. Traveling School semesters often feature big temperature ranges. One day, you’re in the Amazonian rainforest—the next, you’re in the cool highlands of Ecuador! The middle of the day in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon can reach eighty degrees F in the fall, but come nighttime, it’s down to forty. Even Africa has its moments of chilliness, like when strolling through the streets of Capetown at the southern tip of the continent. We recommend students bring base layers, a fleece, and an insulating down jacket, alongside thin gloves and a warm hat.
  5. Rain gear. This includes both a jacket and rain pants, both of which help with wind and warmth too. Though we travel through many desert regions in all our course areas, you never know when the clouds will unleash.
  6. Plenty of pens, pencils and paper. Yeah, that’s right: no computers, iPads, phones, or even Chromebooks here. We are intentionally tech free at The Traveling School, so we can look each other in the eyes, discuss, question, and ponder the possibilities in our minds without the infinite answers of Google. That also means you’ll be writing your history mock trail scripts by hand and drawing your science sketches with colored pencils.
  7. Sun protection. Think: sun glass, a hat, sunscreen, and a long-sleeve shirt to cover up when necessary. Whether you’re navigating Botswana’s Okavango Delta or Montana’s Missouri River, getting sunburned is not a good (nor comfortable) experience.
  8. Traveling School textbooks. The day you arrive at The Traveling School, we’ll give you a stack of newly printed, spiral bounded books that are yours to keep. Our courses are centered around where we travel, so we create our own TTS textbooks that are catered your experience and the relevant themes in our regions of study. Forget about your Pearson textbooks or fat, hardbacked Pre-calculus book—there are no 5 lb. hardback weights to lug around here.
  9. An (old school!) camera. Just because we’re tech free doesn’t mean we don’t want to capture memories. Our stories and pictures are the only way to share the richness of our experience when we go back home, so we encourage students to take plenty of photos—just not on a smart phone. Students scrounge to find point-and-shoot cameras or even use disposable cameras to capture iconic images of their travels through southern Africa, the western US and South America.
  10. Hiking boots. Because you’re going to be going places and doing work. Sometimes, you need boots to hike your Santa Cruz trek in northern Peru, and sometimes you need them during service-learning days building homes on the Navajo Nation in southern Utah. If you’re prone to ankle rolls, we recommend a sturdy, high-topped model.
  11. Your flexi-pants. So, it might be hard to purchase these at a store… But when we say put on your “flexi-pants” at The Traveling School, we mean get ready for anything to happen. The nature of travel is that we can’t always anticipate what’s next. Part of our journey is learning how to roll with all the shifts and changes that are part of adventuring somewhere new and interacting with new places and people. We prepare ourselves with a backpack full of gear; a detailed itinerary, dates and reservations; but we acknowledge that travel, at its heart, is unpredictable. Come ready to flex at any moment, and we promise you’ll find joy in the unexpected.

We are thinking about all the students who returned to their classrooms in the last couple of months. And—if you’re tired of the desks, the fluorescent lighting, and the standard back-to-school supply lists, The Traveling School is here to give you a different kind of back-to-school experience. Reach out to us with questions or to talk about a different kind of semester for you as soon as Fall 2023.