Traveling Illini venture across state lines

By Fizza Hassan, Staff Writer

Planning recreational trips to new destinations includes finding travel partners, managing logistics within a reasonable budget and ensuring safety which, may be a difficult task if done independently. The ‘Traveling Illini’ provide a unique opportunity to travel with a group.Jacob Birg, sophomore in Business who is the founder and president. He decided to create this platform in April, a few years after he took a leap of faith and decided to travel to Australia with a group of random people.
“At first the concept was strange to me, but it was actually eye-opening because you get to meet people from all over the world and make a lot of friends in the process, so that is something I was trying to copy,” Birg said.
A lot of members have never left Illinois, Birg said. When people step out of their comfort zone, they become vulnerable and discover their true selves.
The RSO offers a $20 membership which covers social events, day trips and weekend trips with a small extra fee that covers transportation, meals, accommodation and activities on the trip.
Alexus Moore, graduate student in Media, joined the RSO this spring. She joined their weekend trip to the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee. She also went on a hiking day trip at Allerton Park.
“I really like the RSO,” Moore said. “I am kind of an introvert and I felt between the officer board and members, people were really welcoming and friendly, so I didn’t feel too much of an outcast.”
Roy Khanal, Traveling Illini trip guide, led the two trips this spring. He said that his leadership skills from being a Resident Advisor helped him to succeed.
“I work as a leader during the trip, so I make sure that we get to our location safe and sound, manage things on the trip, answer questions related to when, where, what, and handle conflicts along with other trip guides,” Khanal said.
The staff try to arrange affordable accommodation for the participants such as private facilities through Airbnb’s. They ensure an affordable price, a safe location and that there is enough space for everyone to sleep comfortably.
The RSO takes 10 to 20 people on one trip where people can also volunteer their cars.
While on the trip, the student staff plans several activities during day time and the evenings provide a timeframe for students to explore the area on their own. Later at night, everyone has free time to either play games, do homework or catch up on sleep.
“We plan a lot of things during the trip, like put as many things together as possible in a specific place, but the best experiences come from the things we don’t really plan, like things we discover in the city happening spontaneously and also align with the itinerary,” Khanal said.
The Traveling Illini register every trip as a University event, submit a safety management plan and get approval. The RSO strictly follows University-established COVID-19 guidelines and requires participants to wear masks at all times.
“We are going to Starved Rock State Park on April 3 and later this semester, we have plans to go to Turkey Run State Park and the Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan,” Birg said.
In the future, they plan to extend their trips towards the East and West coasts during winter break and summer break, so they can have longer trips.
Sepehr Salehi, freshman in Business and membership director, saw a massive amount of membership growth this spring. Salehi said he attributes the growth in membership to people getting tired of sitting in dorms all day. He said international students especially have little to no exposure of the U.S.
“You don’t need to be too nervous about meeting anybody even if you are a solo traveler, you get to explore new areas,” Salehi said. “I hope many of the people who have access to this interview, consider joining traveling Illini, it’s really fun and if traveling and leading groups of people is your sort of thing, then it’s a great opportunity.”

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