One of my favorite passions is traveling. It might be cliche to say, but I’m okay with that; as long as I’m strolling along new streets, tasting new foods, and learning new languages, I am one happy lady.
However, it’s no secret that the travel lifestyle doesn’t come cheap, especially if you visit large cities. As a college student, I find it especially important to save as much as I possibly can. There’s nothing like the excitement and joy of visiting new places, but there’s also nothing scarier than the thought of going broke and being stranded in another city or country. Having done quite a bit of traveling myself, I have some tips and tricks for you to travel as cheaply as possible and still make extraordinary memories!
Chances are you’ve imagined your dream trip from start to finish. You can see it in your mind’s eye: the landscapes, beaches, cobblestone streets, Instagram posts to make your friends jealous, etc. But the truth of traveling is that things can, and will, go wrong. You might miss a bus or train. You might have dreamt of a beachside hotel or villa that you come to find you can’t afford. Don’t be discouraged! The joy of travel is not about materialistic things like hotels and flights. It’s about making memories, meeting new people, trying new food, meeting locals, and learning. Chances are, you won’t be spending much time in your lodging anyway! Don’t think about the Instagram pictures or the stories you’ll tell in the future – think about the now, and the stories you’re making with each passing day in a new place. I promise the rest will follow.
Flights are obviously a huge expense when traveling. It’s often the biggest obstacle in making your travel dreams come true. But there are tons of websites that can help you find the cheapest flights out there. Some of my favorites are SkyScanner, StudentUniverse, and Jetradar.
Tips for using these websites!
Visit these sites in incognito mode – flights tend to go up in price when websites register that there are tons of people searching for them. Incognito mode prevents websites from tracking your cookies, which in turn makes sure you are being presented the cheapest flights possible.
They say the best time to find cheap flights is 5.5 months prior to the trip at 3:30pm on a Tuesday. Not exactly sure how “they” came up with this, but I was told by a few study abroad advisors and ended up with a round trip ticket to Paris for $450, so I trust it.
Remember when I talked about adaptability? Sometimes, you might want to just travel – in this case, SkyScanner’s “Anywhere” feature is for you. When searching for flights with Skyscanner, instead of entering a destination, you can select the “anywhere” feature and see the cheapest places to fly to for your given dates! You might be astounded by how cheap you can fly.
This is another daunting aspect of travel. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be. I have two favorite options (although of course there are more).
Airbnb. This website is fantastic, especially if you’re travelling with friends. I traveled with a group of eight other friends to Prague and we found a massive, 4-bedroom apartment with two couches and a full kitchen for $50 a night on Airbnb. That was around $5 per person per night. Of course, depending on your location, prices will vary, but this is a great, reputable tool for travel lodging.
Hostels. This is my preferred lodging option. Again, I hearken back to my point about being adaptable. I chuckle a little inside when people scoff or grimace at the idea of staying in a hostel, as I think about all of the phenomenal experiences they are missing out on because of their hasty and unsubstantiated judgements. Yes, you are paying for a dorm in a room with other travelers. No, you do not get your own room. However, there are hundreds of specifications that you can determine when booking a hostel. And as with any aspect of traveling, their are sites that give you lists of hostels, so you’re not choosing one at random. I have booked a bed in a hostel for as cheap as $7 a night when I was traveling solo. It’s seriously the best.
Hostelworld is my favorite app for booking hostels. They have 1-10 star rating systems and tons of specifications under those ratings, like customer service, cleanliness, proximity to tourist sites, wifi, and more. It also shows you hostels that have different rooms for different specifications, like different numbers of beds and same- vs. all-gender guests. My favorite part about hostels is the social life – that’s right. Social life. Hostels are popular for solo travelers and people traveling in small groups. I have met countless friends from all over the world in hostel rooms and lounges. Additionally, most good hostels organize activities for their guests, like walking tours, museum visits, pub crawls, and more. I have stayed at a few hostels where the bulk of my trips were actually organized through the hostel – I just showed up and enjoyed.
Other types of travel
Once you are in the city you are visiting, it’s good to know how to get around. There are tons of apps that give you all of the information you need. My favorite app is Citymapper, which works in hundreds of cities all over the world and gives you every possible mode of transport in each city. You can also download transport apps that are specific to the place you’re visiting; for example, when I studied abroad in Paris, I used the app of the RATP, the Parisian public transport organization, every single day to plan my routes by metro, bus, and tram.
You may also find that you want to travel to a few places once you’re out of your hometown – this is smart! If you’re traveling to any European city, for example, it can be super cheap to travel to other cities or countries on the continent. For this, you’ll want to make sure you check cheap bus and train routes; GoEuro, Flixbus, and Ouibus were some of my favorites when I was in Europe, and there are discount bus lines all over America like Peter Pan, Greyhound, Megabus, and more.
Student discounts can be a lifesaver when you’re traveling. As you may be able to tell by now, I’m speaking from a largely European travel experience, and your student card is magic in Europe. You should ask everywhere you go if they have student discounts. Also, if you’re planning on traveling a lot or for an extended period of time, I would suggest applying for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). There are some places that only accept ISICs for student discounts. Also, if you’re under 30 and no longer a student, you can apply for an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC).
It’s free? Do it. There are tons of free activities when you’re traveling – you just have to look for them and, as always, be adaptable. Cathedrals are usually free to enter, and are often a jaw-dropping display of each city’s history of architecture. Museums can also be very cheap and, in Paris for example, totally free for students. It also never hurts to just google “Free things to do in ______”. I did this when I was in London, which was undoubtedly THE most expensive city I have ever visited. I ended up finding a company, Strawberry Tours, that provided free walking tours and operated entirely off of tips. There were themed ones, too; I went on a Jack the Ripper tour of the East End and a Harry Potter tour. Google can be your best friend – you just have to get creative.
Expect nothing and be present
One of my biggest tips for traveling is to refrain from setting crazy expectations for yourself. Of course, plan to see or do the things you want, but I have made the absolute best memories when I just lived in the present and took each day as it came. You would never want to feel frustrated because your trip is not meeting an expectation you had before you left. This is a time for you to grow, satiate curiosity, meet new people, and learn more than you ever thought you could. You will be surrounded by opportunities to make your memories once you’re there, maybe some that will surprise you. You want to be open to that.
I hope you find at least some of these tips helpful and that all of your travel dreams come true!