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You made it through the years of rigorous coursework, late-night study sessions, and the rollercoaster of emotions. Now it’s time to celebrate. Your college graduation is a monumental moment in your life so you deserve to treat yourself with an affordable graduation trip. However, after graduating from college, handling some lingering finances can make it hard to celebrate. 

The financial responsibilities of college from textbooks and tuition to rooming costs and dining expenses can create a burden for a lot of students. According to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, 58% of students have some form of debt at graduation, and the average debt is anywhere from $6,480 to $25,921 for each year of a four-year university. And according to LendEdu, the average cost of a trip is $2,000. Though life after college isn’t perfect and finances can be troubling, there are ways to reward yourself for all the hard work you did these past few years. Here is a guide to taking a graduation trip that won’t break your bank, with tips from travel experts on everything from budgeting and saving to cheap destinations and itinerary-making. 

Create a budget.

From flights and hotels to excursions and food, trips can get costly, so it’s important to allocate money for each aspect of your travels. Before making a budget, you should take into consideration the expenses of your trip: flights, hotels, excursions, food, shopping, transportation, and miscellaneous fees. 

First, write down how much money you have to spend. Then, research destinations and accommodations that fit into your budget. There are resources that can help you navigate the expenses based on what you want out of your trip, such as Budget Your Trip which will estimate your costs, find cheap flights and destinations, plan your trip, and track your expenses. 

When budgeting for a vacation, it’s better to overestimate the costs because plans on a trip always change — you always end up spending more than anticipated. Intuit Mint Life advises adding a 10% buffer for each category in case this does happen or you’re in the mood to splurge. This is your graduation trip, after all, so allow some wiggle room to treat yourself to a gift or an experience.

Set aside money leading up to the trip.

You might not be setting off on your graduation trip for a few months, since summer is a peak tourist season for most destinations. In the meantime, use the months leading up to your vacation to save money. 

Once you have a budget and a general idea of the total cost of the trip, divide that number by the number of months left till your vacation. The result is the amount of money you should set aside each month. If you already have money saved, lend some to the cost of this trip so you can lower how much you need to save each month. This method makes the total cost less daunting, but also makes sure you’re not scrambling for money last-minute. 

Travel during off-peak times.

Depending on when you want to celebrate your graduation, destinations might be higher in price during a specific season. This means traveling during an off-season or a shoulder season. Places that have high tourism during hot months will have lower prices if you go during the shoulder seasons, such as fall or spring. You might have to put off your graduation trip for a few months, but in the long run, it can save you money. 

Brittany Mendez, a travel expert and CMO of Florida Panhandle, tells Her Campus, “Traveling on a budget can rely heavily on timing. It’s important to figure out when the best time to fly is, as well as when the off-season of where you’re traveling to is. For example, some luxury destinations will be less expensive if you fly out on a Monday or Tuesday.”

Find cheap destinations.

Balling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to settle for a hole-in-the-wall location. There are plenty of destinations that are both inexpensive and beautiful. Be My Travel Muse outlined cheap travel destinations from all over the world, which include:

  • Asia: Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia
  • Europe: Romania, Greece, and the Czech Republic
  • The Americas: Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala

In the United States, there are many cheap travel spots as well, such as San Antonio, Texas,  Daytona, Florida, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you’re struggling to find cheap locations, flights, or hotels, there are resources that can help you, such as Kayak and Expedia which find deals and the best bang for your buck. 

If you would rather splurge on the destination and cut back on other fees, you can opt for cheaper transportation or accommodations. Lauren Keys, a personal finance advocate, tells Her Campus, “Driving affords the most flexibility and freedom to explore, rather than flying, which takes you to just a single place. While cheap flights can look attractive, you still have to figure out how to get around at your destination.” If you’re in a destination that isn’t within driving distance, you can travel via train, as well. Train travel is convenient and saves you money by eliminating the baggage fees you often have to pay while flying.

plan ahead of time by creating an itinerary.

Once you have your budget and destination, it’s time to start planning your much-needed celebration. Planning out using an itinerary allows you to save money by seeing which excursions, sightseeing opportunities, and reservations are the cheapest and allow you to book them ahead of time. 

Before you’re set on anything, do your research. Yelp offers insight with reviews and pricing — look at the site to see if there are any specials or certain days of the week that are cheaper for locations. Next, make a list of things you for sure want to see or places you want to stay. It’s your grad trip, so it’s important to make sure you fulfill everything you want to experience without settling for anything less. The Barefoot Nomad suggests categorizing this list into “must do’s,” “would like to do,” and “optional.” This allows you to take out anything that might put you over your budget. Lastly, make a calendar of each destination, attraction, or restaurant for each day of the trip. Make sure to include what transportation you will be using and the hotels you’ll be staying at. If you stick to a schedule, you’ll be less likely to get off-track of your budget.

when exploring your destination, opt for free experiences.

Whether you’re walking around a park or going to a public beach, there are a lot of options to choose from that will make memories that will last a lifetime, but won’t cost a thing. Save your money for essential fees, such as public transport or hotel fares. Free things to do while you travel include:

  • Taking a walk around your destination. Explore a historic site, downtown, or scenic area by taking a stroll. It’s free and allows you to scope out Instagram-able moment spots. 
  • Visiting a free museum. Although a lot of attractions cost money, research to find free museums in your location. For example, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C doesn’t cost a dime to enter. 
  • Going on an adventure. Depending on where your graduation trip is, chances are you have free access to natural attractions, such as a mountain or a beach. Once you’ve explored the area, branch out your horizons through a hike or a dip at the beach.

After years of education and working your butt off, you deserve to treat yourself to a vacation to commemorate your dedication and hard work. Though trips can be costly, memories are priceless and these tips can help curb the intimidating fees of a vacation. 

Hannah Tolley is a contributing writer under the Entertainment and Culture vertical. She covers entertainment releases, fan theories, pop culture news, and more. Aside from Her Campus, Hannah was also a member of the Florida State University (FSU) Her Campus team. During her time with the chapter, she served as a staff writer for three semesters, where she wrote biweekly pieces across campus, culture, and personal verticals. She also was a content editor for two semesters, where she led a team of 6+ writers and oversaw and edited their articles. Hannah was also an editorial intern for Her Campus during her spring and summer term of her second year in college. As an intern, she worked alongside the full-time edit team to curate timely and evergreen pieces across life, culture, career, and style verticals. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from FSU in May 2023, with a Bachelor of Science in Media/Communication Studies with a minor in English. When she's not dissecting the latest pop culture events, you can find her reading a cheesy romance novel or establishing parasocial relationships with fictional TV characters. She loves to rewatch her favorite shows (Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, and Friends) or spend the day going down a rabbit hole of reality dating shows.