Traveling on a student budget is truly an art: there’s the research, the budgeting, the adapting, the planning. It’s about making the most out of a little, and mastering that is a proper skill.
Traveling is also such an important part of ‘growing up’ (yes we’re still growing). It opens up your mind and your eyes as you see different cultures, different customs, different people, etc. You learn so much about yourself and what the world is like, and nothing really beats that. Which is why honestly no matter where you live, I believe traveling should always be a part of college life. Whether in the US, Europe, Australia or Antarctica, it’s never impossible to incorporate a bit of traveling.
‘But I’m broke!’ you say. Ah, for this reason we have budget travel and travel hacking. Fret not, dear student, traveling on a budget is possible. In fact, I was able to spend only £135 (including all transport, accommodation, food, etc) on a 6 day trip to Ireland. And it gets better with practice. Not bad if you ask me.
How did I do it? By applying these glorious tactics below.
Set a limit (LOOKING FOR NEW WAYS TO SAY BUDGET)
This basically means answering the question: how much am I comfortable spending on this trip? How much do I want to spend, ideally? And then, how much do I think I will spend, realistically? Work out those two numbers and try to find some middle ground.
That budget number is gold, do not forget it. You now have a $$ amount that is a limit, that you have to try very hard to not overpass. Take your debit/credit cards just in case but only use the extra money if very necessary. Discipline yourself to stick to your budget.
With this golden number in mind, you can now follow the next few steps at ease:
A successful trip has a good combo of effective planning and some fun spontaneous things along the way (missing your plane and taking a detour through Rome yass). But still, it’s always better to overplan than underplan, so you want to make sure you kinda know what you’re doing.
Start with figuring out WHERE you want to go and for how long (keeping the golden budget in mind). Don’t know? Check out Google Flights: you can see at a glance what goes where and what price. Compare return tickets and how much time you have available.
Pretty snazzy if you ask me.
Evaluating Transport costs
It’s not just the cost of getting there: the cost of traveling once there. Subways, buses, trains, etc. You don’t want the nasty surprise of having to pay an unplanned £14 ticket from Stansted Airport to get to the actual city of London. Be prepared.
In most of Europe there’s this amazing thing called Blablacar, a carpooling app that will connect you with drivers going to the same destination as you. Great way to save money AND meet cool people. I also use the website GoEuro to compare train, buses and flights from one place to another.
Ouhhh this is a big one. Where tf will I sleep? Will it be hostel? Airbnb? Dare I say… HOTEL?
Well, my biggest secret to spending only £135 on my trip to the East and West coast of Ireland was this amazing, beautiful app: Couchsurfing. So basically: free accommodation. This app is God’s gift to travelers, and it’s not only in Europe (I used it in some parts of Asia and I’ve heard people use it all over the world). The idea behind it is simple: someone has an extra couch, and you can sleep on it for free.
Why would someone offer their couch for free? Honestly, it’s a great way to travel without going anywhere. You meet people from all around the world with amazing stories and amazing experiences to tell. In exchange, the Couchsurfer gets a free bed and maybe even a bit of food. Pretty awesome right?
What if I get attacked? Unlikely, but always keep your wits about you. Check their profile, read their reviews, make sure you’re comfortable with staying at them beforehand (going with a friend helps).
99% of my Couchsurfing experiences have been top notch amazing. I’m still in contact with a few of them and have hosted one person myself (all about giving back to the community yeah). It might not be a long term solution, but it can be done for a night or two.
But of course, Couchsurfing is not for everyone. You also have hostels (Hostelworld), Airbnb and maybe some people you know in the area. Just make sure you roughly know where you’ll be staying for the length of your trip (last minute booking can get stressful).
This one is tricky, and food budgeting while traveling is not a skill I have mastered yet (the pre-made wraps were FOUL). What I recommend? Setting a daily limit/budget on the amount you’re comfortable spending on food everyday while traveling (this will be incorporated in your golden budget already). Take some snacks from home too: chocolate, crackers, cheese, energy bars and fruit are pretty cool.
If you’re doing a trip and planning on visiting the city, you’ll also be planning on doing some visiting, cultural or not (cough cough Amsterdam). You don’t have to plan to the very detail, but it helps to do a quick Google search of what touristy stuff you can do in the city and roughly what the price range is. Are there parks? Museums? Hikes? Weird monuments? Food to try? (the research will also get you excited for the trip). If you’ll be Couchsurfing, ask your Couchsurfer some tips on where to go, what to do, etc. Locals will know their city best!
We are truly lucky in this day and age to be able to travel so much. And actually, we are even luckier to be able to take it a step further: packing your bags and going for good. Aka long term travel. This means staying in that country/city for several months, getting to know the culture, the language, the food and making local friends. This option is not always available to everyone, but when it is, I recommend to grab it quick.
Study abroad: Erasmus and other programs will help you do a semester or year abroad. Or you can plan it yourself (me doing a random semester at uni in China). Check out what other bloggers have been doing: Amelie blogged about her experience studying abroad in the UK. This is a truly amazing way to travel as a student. You get to experience the local life, you get to study your subject and you really get to travel and explore the culture. Definitely a must. And many times it won’t cost you that much more.
Take a gap year: I was slightly shocked when I heard gap years weren’t really a thing in the US. I honestly think every single college student should take a gap year before starting university. The experience is unforgettable and prepares you for life better than college itself. Oh, and it’s not expensive if you do it right. If you do your research well, you can totally make your gap year achievable through volunteering or working abroad:
Volunteer abroad: I don’t have any personal experience with this, but from what I’ve researched this is awesome. Many times the companies will offer free housing and maybe even free food in exchange for some volunteering time. Opportunities range from community work to raising awareness for environment. GoAbroad and VolunteerHQ have some cool programs.
Work abroad: This could be an internship, another program of some sort, or simply finding a job once you get to the country. Universities can also help you plan this out. Check out STA travel and Go Abroad for more info. I did au pairing (looking after kids and living with the family) for a few months and that was a great experience in a foreign country. You can also get your TEFL and teach English in Asia. So many opportunities.
Online university: This is the route that I am about to embark on. The full on, traveler-student mode. Traveling while studying online. This is really for those who want to try some hardcore traveling and are ok with missing out on the traditional college experience. Maybe just one semester, but it’s a great way to not completely halt your studies and have some more flexibility.
Here’s a lil recap on the main steps to traveling on a student budget:
- Setting limits: what’s your golden number?
- Planning: WHERE and for HOW LONG do you want to go?
- Local travel: how much are buses, trains and subways in the area?
- Accommodation: do I want a hostel, Airbnb or can I try Couchsurfing?
- Food: what’s my daily budget?
- Touristing: what is there to visit and roughly what are the prices?
- Other: am I willing to take it a step further? could I do volunteering, working or studying abroad? (or the three at the same time lol)
From those few steps and the other options available, traveling suddenly becomes much more attainable and doable. All it requires is some research and willingness to try something new. The more you practice it, the better you master it. If you ever decide to come by Scotland (beautiful scenery, nice people, a bit chilly), I’m always down to help (and maybe have a beer or three).