As I took out my passport -- Mazatlan-bound -- at the Oakland International Airport Cal Jet ticket counter, I realized that not everyone holds the golden ticket.

I'm not talking about Charlie Bucket's ticket into Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. I'm referring to my passport. To me, a passport is a golden ticket; it opens doors to unlimited travel and adventure.

While only a small percentage of the world's population holds a passport, it appears that many California residents have one; many are students in our Lamorinda community.

Thirteen-year-old Hayden Wells of Lafayette recently traveled to New Zealand with his grandfather Jack. "We traveled from the top of the north island to the tip of the south island," noted Wells.

While the eighth grade student missed his electronics -- no access to computer or gaming devices -- he learned to take risks like bungee jumping and said it was "OK" to miss school. On independent study for five days, Wells said it was fairly easy to catch up on schoolwork.

"The trip with my grandfather was more important to me than school."

Kendall Andronico studied abroad in Madrid, Spain at Saint Louis University's Madrid Campus.

"I was there with people from my own university (Loyola Marymount), as well as students from all over the United States. I had the privilege to travel around Spain and Europe during my time abroad. While traveling, I learned to go with the flow and adapt to the customs and ways of the native residents. I also learned to embrace the unique cultures of each of the places I visited while keeping an open mind.


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Having never been to Europe before, Lafayette's Lindsay Cope was amazed by the cities she visited, and found the sights even more spectacular than she had anticipated. Studying in Seville, Spain, Cope noted, "There was something enlightening for me being in the presence of these landmarks that I had only seen in photos or movies."

Cope was amazed how easy it was to travel between countries and even continents with passport in hand. "The ease of travel and transit time, made my three-day weekends feel like an ample amount of time to get a taste for the culture of the incredible cities," she said.

Acalanes High School graduate Kelly Scribner learned that she was open to trying new things while traveling abroad in Austria.

"For the 3 1/2 months I was gone I tried to maintain the mindset of 'When will I ever be here again?' " Scribner said. "I tried foods I never knew existed and participated in activities I wouldn't be caught dead doing back home. I also realized how independent I am."

In many circumstances the University of Redlands graduate traveled alone and had to be quick on her feet when travel plans randomly changed. "Being able to travel all over Europe and go to places I never dreamed of going was truly life changing," said Scribner.

Kirsten Stabler studied architecture for a year in Copenhagen, Denmark through American University, Danish Institute for Study Abroad. "It's a fabulous program," said Stabler, "with plenty of excellent study tours and travel breaks."

Stabler learned that she could make home anywhere, as long as she was willing, and that Skype is one of the best inventions ever!

Direct to Mazatlan

For Bay Area residents looking to escape the cold, Cal-Jet Air introduced direct flights from Oakland Airport to Mazatlan, Mexico. On this inaugural flight I stayed at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa.

Located in Nuevo Mazatlan, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I could have stayed all day at Armonia Spa but Mazatlan's Golden Zone and El Malecon captured my attention, as did day trips to El Quelite and La Noria.

Where have your travels taken you? Send an e-mail to NancyBrownConsulting@comcast.net. For insider travel tips visit Nancy's blog at www.nancydbrown.com

ONLINE RESOURCES
Cal Jet Air -- www.caljetair.com
Passports -- http://travel.state.gov/passport
Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay -- www.pueblobonitoemeraldbay.com
Visit Mexico -- www.visitmexico.com