You’ve probably heard the adage about traveling: “Bring half of what you think you need, and twice as much money.” From food to accommodations to transportation and more, the price of traveling abroad is climbing higher than ever – and it isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. While you can’t lower exchange rates or make airlines reduce fees, there are a few solutions to make traveling abroad less expensive. Trust us, your bank account will thank you.
Planning Your Perfect Trip
Saving a little extra spending money should be your number one priority before taking a big trip. “I think in today’s economy, cost plays a very large factor,” says Michelle Murray, Director of Sales and Marketing for Contiki, a company that specializes in arranging tours and trips for 18- to 35-year olds. “We try our best to offer specials and great pricing to clients because, hands down, we love travel. It’s a life lesson. It’s worth scraping those pennies for the experience.”
When travel companies like Contiki book blocks of hotel rooms or arrange for transportation for large groups, you benefit from special bulk pricing. If you book a tour or trip with a bunch of friends (hello, summer after graduation!), Contiki even offers group discounts. And, the company makes traveling budget-friendly with its “Trips Under $1,200” category and Layaway program. If your birthday or graduation is approaching, suggest Contiki Layaway to friends and family and ask them to put money into your Contiki account. You can keep track of your savings online, and turn it into awesome memories abroad.
Knowing When To Travel
Murray recommends traveling during what’s known as the “shoulder season” – right before or after the peak summer season. Airfare will probably cost less, hotel vacancies are more common and there are fewer tourists. Plus, the weather is usually great during those months. Bonus!
Finding A Temporary Home
Websites like HostelBookers, Hostelworld, Booking.com, and Flashbooking will compare prices, show past reviews and provide detailed descriptions so you can make the best decision when choosing a hostel or hotel. You may be surprised, but hostels are not always cheaper than hotels!
If you want a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to meet new people, check out CouchSurfing. When you create a profile online, you instantly join a network of people all over the world who are willing to open up their house to you for free when you’re traveling. “I CouchSurfed all over Ireland and Belgium and met some wonderful, fascinating people!” says Kayla Riley, a University of Maine recent graduate. Kayla recommends that, for safety reasons, you CouchSurf with a friend and thoroughly check a person’s profile before you stay with them.
Getting Around Town
Rely on bus, train or subway – three types of transportation that won’t empty your wallet. Learning the ropes of public transportation is one of the best ways to shed the “I’m not from around here” vibe and blend in with the locals. Ask about discounts for international students or young adults and make sure to buy the correct type of train ticket (local, express, etc.) to avoid extra fees. For the ultimate old-fashioned, money-saving trick, nix the taxi and take a walk. As your own tour guide, you may stumble upon some of the best-kept secrets of the city.
Whatever you do, take advantage of this deal. Whether you’re taking classes overseas or just someone under 26 years of age traveling abroad, purchase your International Student ID card as soon as possible. The discounts you receive with this card are unbelievable, and you can even earn free passes to visit monuments like the Colosseum in Rome.
Food and Drinks
Set aside a big chunk of money for food. If you do splurge every now and then on drinks or desserts (hello, irresistible gelato), don’t worry. Use these tips and you’ll be back on track with your budget in no time at all.
1. Find the local gems. Allison Lantero, a Boston College recent graduate, discovered the Italian aperitivo tradition while she traveled in Milan. From 6 to 9 p.m., certain bars offered a great deal: access to a huge buffet with the purchase of an 8-euro drink. Do your research of the area and talk to locals. Find hole-in-the-wall restaurants with dirt-cheap, incredible lunches; discover family-style restaurants that offer big portions for little cost. If restaurants have frequent buyer cards, grab them. You could score a few free meals later on.
2. Make your own gourmet dinner. Shop at open-air markets for high-quality produce, meats, fruit and snacks. The food will likely be less expensive (and even more delicious) than what you would buy in the local supermarket. If you have access to a kitchen, turn on your “Top Chef” skills and whip up dinner for less than the cost of a restaurant meal.
3. Know the customs. Simply understanding cultural differences will help keep some change in your pocket when dining out. “Americans fall into the habit of leaving a tip, but it’s not customary [everywhere], so you can save a little there, too!” says Lauren Kaplan, an Emory University senior who studied abroad in London.
Trains are often the most convenient and cheapest form of transportation for weekend getaways to other countries or cities in Europe. If you must fly, websites like Skyscanner and Ryanair will be your best bet for cheap flights. Keep in mind that a flight that costs 15 euros will likely cost more once the airline tacks on extra fees for baggage. “Also, the low-cost airlines tend to fly into airports that are far away from the city centers, so look into airport shuttles beforehand so you don’t end up having to take an expensive cab to your hostel,” says Michelle Lewis, an UNC-Chapel Hill senior who studied abroad in France last semester.
To save money, avoid the big cities. Carrie Morris, a collegiette who studied abroad in Paris a few years ago, suggests that you travel outside city limits, venturing into the more secluded, less commercialized towns. If possible, try to arrive at your destination before Friday or Saturday. The cost of transportation and hotels are less expensive on weekdays than on weekends, similar to in the United States.
One of the best ways to save while traveling abroad is to understand how to handle your money.
1. Be cautious of ATM withdrawals. Before traveling, check if your bank has ATMs overseas or affiliations with foreign banks (like Citibank, HSBC and Bank of America, to name a few), and ask about foreign-transaction fees. Those costs add up! If you know how much money you want to withdraw, do so in larger increments. For example, let’s say your bank charges a $3 flat fee and 3% premium for each withdrawal, and you want to take out $600 during the next two weeks. If you make six withdrawals of $100, you’ll pay $36 in fees. But if you make two withdrawals of $300, you’ll only pay $24. See? It pays to be smart with your money.
2. Check exchange rates daily. Yes, it’s possible for your dollar to be worth more on Tuesday than on Wednesday. Keep an eye on exchange rates by tracking them online. Also, avoid currency exchange booths in high-traffic areas, such as airports or train stations, where tourists fall prey to terrible rates.
3. Open a local bank account. If you’re traveling abroad for a semester or longer, opening a local bank account at your new destination could help you keep track of your spending and reduce withdrawal fees. Again, check if your bank has any affiliations with foreign banks or research to find another bank that suits your needs.
Facebook and email won’t cut it when you need to hear your parents’ voices or want to see your best friend’s excited face as you recap your encounter with that gorgeous Italian.
1. Buy or rent a temporary phone and SIM card. You may end up with a less-than-glamorous, outdated phone model, but it’ll serve the purpose for talking and texting. Companies such as Telestial, Cellular Abroad, or the National Geographic Travel Rental Phone program offer rental packages that work for your long-term, short-term, single-country or multi-country travels. If you already have an unlocked GSM phone (find one on Amazon.com or overstock.com and other websites), save even more money by only buying a local SIM card overseas. Sign up for a cheap plan with an international company, pop the card into the phone, and you’re ready to chat.
2. Sign up for an international calling plan. Research your mobile carrier’s plans. Although they vary, international messaging rates can be as low as about $10 per month, and phone plans can be as low as $5.99 per month. If you can survive without having the Internet at your fingertips 24/7, don’t shell out big bucks for a data plan. Instead, get wireless access while enjoying a latte at your favorite internet café.
3. Skype. You can make international calls to landlines or cell phones for less than $0.03 per minute and unlimited calls to North America for only $7.99 per month. Also, video calls are free. Need we say more?
Whether you want to save money on food, transportation, museums, or sleeping arrangements when you’re traveling abroad, there is always a solution. Go ahead, put our advice to the test. See the world and make memories – without breaking the bank. Safe travels, collegiettes!