How to Travel in College

I got bit by the travel bug at a young age. As a kid, I lived in Germany for my parents’ jobs. During our three years, we visited so many different places and immersed ourselves in cultures outside of our own. When we moved back to the U.S. when I was seven, I knew that I wanted to continue traveling and see the world.

Source: Rob Greis

Fifteen years later, I still feel that urge just like so many other young people my age. There’s something about being in a strange place surrounded by strange people that is so inspiring and life-giving that it makes you want to keep pushing to see what else is out there.

 

My sister, Jane, and I have always wanted to go back and see Europe again since we don’t remember much of it from when we were kids. The plan originally began with us backpacking across the continent over the summer after I graduate. But, after lots of research, spreadsheets, and careful math, we realized that, even though both of us work multiple jobs, we wouldn’t be able to save enough money in time. So, not willing to give up just yet, we came to the decision to split the trip up into parts.

Caption: Jane and I before boarding. Source: Libby Greis

On December 29th, 2016, Jane and I boarded a plane and flew to London, embarking on the first of many parts of our world adventures. Here are a few things that we learned along the way.

 

1. Do a TON of research

If you’re like us, you’re super money-conscious and want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Before we could book any flights or rooms, we wanted to make sure we were getting the best for what we could afford. We managed all this information by creating Google docs and spreadsheets so we could see what the other had found and keep everything in one place. Based on all the info we collected, we then had to ask ourselves: 1) could we even do the trip at all and 2) what’s the best way to do it.

Sometimes, it’s worth the splurge.

You either learn this from doing thorough research or from experience. Sometimes, going with the cheapest option isn’t the best idea. Sure, it’s super cheap to stay in a 33-bed dorm in a hostel, but, at the same time, what’s the price of your sanity and ability to get a decent night’s sleep?

What we did:

Jane and I spent countless hours scouring Google Flights to find the best combination of dates and airports to get the best price for us. We were originally going to fly out of JFK airport in New York, but it ended up being too complicated because we would have to take a bus and a train just to get to the airport, which meant spending extra money. Timing is everything. Set up alerts on flights that you’re interested it and follow the trends! If you can hit it at the right time, you’ll get amazing prices. When I flew to and from London out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia in January 2016, it cost over $1,000. This time around, we managed to only pay $550 roundtrip for the same flight (different carrier) around the same time.

When it came to find a place to stay in each city, we looked at hotels, hostels, and renting AirBnBs. We filtered our searches based on a general price range that we were trying to stay within for that portion of our budget. In the end, we found that hostels were our cheapest and best option. A great website for searching for a hostel is Hostelworld.com. It’s easy to use and will help you find the best place to stay for a reasonable price.

 

Caption: Hostelworld's front page

 

Pro Tip #1: Be aware of any holidays and festivals happening around the time that you’ll be visiting. Jane and I decided to stay in London over New Year’s and, while that was an experience in itself, we definitely paid a lot more than you usually would during a non-holiday period.

Make a plan, but don’t expect to stick to it.

Before you go anywhere, make a list of all the things you want to see and do. There are websites like Triphobo.com that can help you plan out an itinerary for your trip. If you’re going on a trip where you have a limited amount of time to see everything, look into how long it’ll take to get to each destination and how long you plan to spend there. But, don’t stress if when you get there, you don’t follow the plan exactly. Things can change at the drop of a hat, whether it be that you find something else that you want to do more, a change in the weather, or there just wasn’t enough time. Jane and I tried to make a rough itinerary of everything we were going to try to do while we were in each city. Some days, we followed it to the ‘T’. Some days, other things came up that we wanted to do more and we went with that. Leave some wiggle room for spontaneity!

Caption: Jane at the Roman Baths Museum during our day trip to Bath, England. Source: Jane Greis

 

2. READ THE REVIEWS

I cannot stress this enough. Never go in blind. Before you book anything, read the reviews! There are people out there who complain about things just to complain, but sometimes, they hold some merit of truth in them. Always read the reviews about wherever you’re planning to stay to make sure it’s safe, clean, and has WiFi (because that is essential).

Do the same with airlines! Find out why their prices are so much lower than their competitors. There are airlines like WOW that offer dirt cheap prices to fly to Europe, but you have to pay to use the bathroom or for a cup of water. But, please, I urge you, read the reviews before booking your flight. When you’re spending several hours on a plane, the last thing you want is to be hungry, uncomfortable, and exhausted.

 

3. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE

I cannot stress this enough. I’m not the first to say that traveling can be expensive. Start planning your trip months before you go and set a budget that you can manage. Consider not only your flights and lodging, but food, museums, and other fun activities you may do while you’re away. For our U.K. and Ireland trip, we set a budget of about $1,500 for each of us and managed to keep close to that after all was spent. If this is your first big trip, make sure to budget in the cost of things like new luggage, clothes, and cameras. For bigger things like new cameras and luggage/backpacks, make sure to do some price comparisons! On this trip, we decided to use backpacks instead of rolling suitcases. We were fortunate enough that our trip fell right after Christmas and our parents bought the backpacks for us. Luckily, that handful of big-ticket items is a one-time purchase and you’ll get a lot of use out of them in the future.

If you have the credit score/money for it, consider getting a credit card that gives you points towards travel. If you save up enough points over time, you’ll be able to use it to get discounts or even free flights!

Pro Tip #2: Bring your student ID with you. There are a ton of restaurants, museums, and other tourist attractions that give you a discounted price if you show them your student ID. We saved so much money just by flashing our IDs.

Pro Tip #3: Alcohol at bars is expensive! Save some money by buying a bottle of wine or other alcohol of your choice from the grocery store on the corner and pre-game wherever you’re staying before going out.

 

4. Don’t be afraid to stay in hostels.

For each of the three cities we visited, Jane and I stayed in hostels and took away different things from each one. The first one was a 10-bed dorm in London. Pros: The staff was nice and we had somewhere to store and lock-up our luggage. But, we had noisy roommates who would come back from the clubs at 4 o’clock in the morning, the beds were uncomfortable, and the bathrooms were completely disgusting. The second hostel was a six-bed all-female room in Edinburgh. Clean, quiet, cozy, and we had our own bathroom. The third hostel in Dublin was where we had the most fun. The one thing that we had an issue had both a positive and a negative. We had a private bathroom in our room with a shower that had strong water pressure. The nice thing was that it felt nice on your muscles after a long day of walking around, but it was also tricky because it kept flooding the bathroom if you didn’t time your entry into the stall correctly. Every place is different, so be open-minded about what you’re about to walk into!

Pro Tip #4: Bring your own travel-sized pillow. The pillows they give you are the kind that you get on airplanes: thin and uncomfortable. Jane had to sleep on her jacket and a pile of sweaters to be able to lay comfortably. While it does suck to have to carry that one extra thing around with you, you’ll be glad by the end of the trip that you brought it. Also, take the blanket that they give you on the plane. You never know when it will come in handy.

Pro Tip #5: If you plan on doing your makeup or hair on your trip, bring your own mirror. Not like a compact mirror, but like a hand mirror that can fit into your bag. It’ll be useful when all of the mirrors in the bathrooms are occupied and you need to get ready.

Make friends!

Not only are hostels cheap, but they’re a great place to meet new people and learn about their homes and cultures. In Dublin, one of our American roommates introduced us to his group of friends that he met that consisted of people from all over Europe. They welcomed us with open-arms because, like them, we just wanted to have the best experience possible. With them, we made some pretty great memories that I will carry with me for years to come.

Caption: Jane and I with a group of friends we made in Dublin! Source: Facebook

Be aware of different cultural and social norms

Go into everything with an open mind and do a little research beforehand. Whether you’re going to the other side of the world or across the country, you can expect that people will do things differently than what you’re used to. Something I learned from traveling in the U.K. and Ireland was that waiters and waitresses in restaurants won’t check on you frequently throughout your visit. Most of the time, you have to get their attention. That definitely took some getting used to. Those differences in what is acceptable at home and what is acceptable abroad can vary in size and severity, so just be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it to avoid accidentally offending someone. Those friends I mentioned earlier can also teach you new things about their native culture so if you ever plan on going there in the future, you know what to expect.

 

5. Overpacking is the enemy. Don’t do it.

I’ve been known to pack WAY too much stuff when I travel, especially when I’m going on a long trip. I stopped myself from doing it this time around by laying out everything I planned on bringing and then cutting it in half. Pack clothes that you can mix and match with each other. Apart from underwear and maybe socks, plan on wearing the clothes you bring multiple times on your trip. The less articles of clothing you bring, the less you’ll have to lug around with you or worry about. If you’re traveling to multiple locations and have to fly in between, it’ll be nice knowing that you’re well below the weight limit. When I left for my trip, my bag and everything inside of it weighed about 21 lbs. Carrying less with you also leaves room for any souvenirs you may collect along the way.

Pro Tip #6: Invest in a luggage scale. They’re usually small, easy to pack, cost about $7 on Amazon, and come in handy when you’re not too sure if you’re going to make that weight limit.

 

6. If you don’t have a travel partner, don’t be afraid to go it alone.

We met SO many people who were solo travelers. I was always, and still continue to be, awed by their bravery to travel to a strange place on their own. While we were in Edinburgh, we met two people who were traveling on their own. One was from San Francisco who had been traveling the globe on his own for the better part of two years using his degree in Wine Making (I know, I didn’t think it was a thing either) to get jobs along the way. The other was from Taiwan, goes to school in Indiana and is studying abroad in Milan this semester. One of the friends we made in Dublin was from Boston and will be traveling Europe for the next few months on his own. So, if they can do it, you can, too, for sure.

 

Whether you’re traveling overseas or just within our own beautiful country, I hope that my tips have helped in some way or another. Safe travels, friends!