The one question I often get, more than anything else, is how I manage to travel so much while I’m a student. These questions are usually based on the misconception that traveling is expensive, but the truth is it doesn’t have to be the case at all.
I’ve loved figuring out different ways that I can explore new places, even with my student budget — whether it’s taking advantage of visiting family or being strategic in my travel timing. Here are some of my own tips and tricks that I’ve tried and tested along the way:
- Take advantage of study abroad & summer programs
One reason that I chose NYU was that it offered Study Abroad for my program, and though I didn’t know for sure if I would do it, I liked having that option. Fast-forward three years later and now I’m fondly looking back on my two separate occasions studying in Paris: for a month-long summer semester in 2017, and for a whole semester (about 5 months) in Spring of 2018. These were both unparalleled experiences and I wholly recommend it to anyone who has the chance to do so.
The thing about study abroad programs is that they offer you the cushion and security of the institution, but enough independence to explore and learn about the new place and culture you’re in. And what if you study a school that doesn’t offer study abroad? Many schools open up their study abroad programs to anyone and everyone — I know for instance that my school does.
If you’re in university, talking to your course advisor is the best way to get a headstart on it – they may be able to help you directly and if not, should know some people or a company that they can help you out. Google will also be very helpful and link you to sites and programs that fit within your budget and course. You can dip your toe in by going for short-term programs and/or internships. You could even start by looking at specific countries you’ve always wanted to visit, and then see what local things are offered there.
- Schedule your trips during off-peak seasons
The first time I went to Paris with my family was during the summer, and the queue to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower was 4 hours long. When I there during winter, it was a 15-minute wait.
The basic rules of supply and demand come into play here – you’ll get cheaper deals travelling to a place when it’s not warm, or when it’s not during a popular event or vacation time. While it may seem a little bit underwhelming to travel somewhere in Winter, you’ll appreciate the space to breathe – tourist season can get claustrophobic, and your experience can even feel a lot less genuine as you can’t fit into the local culture as well. Furthermore, the trickle-down effects of tourist season, such as escalated prices, hostile locals, long waiting periods – it’s sometimes worth considering travelling at a different time. In fact, overtourism is becoming a large problem in multiple cities, so it’s perhaps also a responsible step to wait until the crowds fizzle out.
I understand how much warmth can play into one’s needs during a vacation, but try one where you bring with you a warm coat, gloves, and opt for a hot chocolate instead of a lemonade with ice. You just might be surprised.
- Book your transport at off-peak times & hours to make the most of your time
Getting on a bus at 3 in the morning is never going to be fun, but it’s definitely cheaper than booking a ride in the sunny afternoon hours. Trips around Europe particularly cost very little, and my friends and I were happy to buy significantly cheaper bus tickets, sleep on the ride, and arrive at our new destination in the morning or afternoon hours.
- Opt to stay at youth hostels instead of hotels
The reason hostels are cost-efficient is because they operate on the idea that you just need a bed to sleep in and a place to put your things. They happily provide communal kitchens and laundry rooms, and they even host social events to encourage their guests to meet other people in the building. Furthermore, they offer discounted ticket prices to popular tourist activities and valuable information you can use on your travels. The biggest thing for me though is that they’re usually located in centralized areas, or areas near transport links, making it easy for you to move around the city as you explore. There will sometimes be a correlation between cost and standards (the cheaper they are the more likely they are to be less well-taken care of), so it may be good to check out their rating first before committing. READ THE REVIEWS, outweigh the strengths and weaknesses of the place and see if you’re okay with that.
Another reason why hostels are cheap is because you have the option to stay in a dorm, i.e. a room with multiple beds. You can choose to sleep in dorms with a number of people (it can be a 6-person room or a double bedroom for instance, and there are options for co-ed, women only, etc). If this doesn’t sound like something you’re comfortable doing, that’s okay too. There are options for single rooms, too.
- Join in on rewards & loyalty programs offered by travel companies
Every time I fly a new air, train or bus company, I create an account and immediately become part of their rewards/loyalty/miles program because any accumulation of points can and will be super beneficial in the long run.
On a larger scale, airlines have really strong programs in place to ensure that the more air miles you’re collecting with them, the cheaper your cost of travel gets in the long run. This works best if you’re consistent with the transport company you use (or if you use partner companies/alliances), but even if it always isn’t possible to use the same one, make the account anyway — you never know.
When wanting to travel the world as a college student on a budget, preparation and planning are key. Take it from me — a little bit of research can go a long way.
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