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Savvy, Smart, and Safe Travel Tips for Cash-Strapped College Girls

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

Recently, I traveled back home for the weekend, and on my return trip to Santa Barbara, I missed my connecting flight. My first flight was delayed, and not even Sha’Carri Richardson herself could have sprinted through the SFO airport and made it in time for the next one.

In my delusion, I attempted running and was left staring at an empty gate sweating from head to toe. Since it was the last flight to SBA for the night, I had to arrange amenity vouchers for hotel and food until the next available flight. All on my own, this was daunting to say the least. I made it happen, thanked my lucky stars I packed an extra pair of underwear for the unexpected travel day, and returned safely to Santa Brabara the following morning. All the trials and tribulations evoked inspiration for this article.

In light of the holiday season and all of the upcoming travels back home, I’ve compiled a treasure trove of some of my best travel tips. These tried-and-true tips are meant to make your travels efficient and stress-free.

Growing up, my mom had me pack my own bag from a very young age. She wanted me to learn how to think about which things I’d need, and if I forgot something, I’d learn to double-check for it the next time around. This learning curve produced some top-tier insights, some for travel in general and some centered on a broke girl’s guide to financing a trip.

First and foremost, and I cannot stress this enough, if you know you’ll be arriving at your destination late at night: pack your pjs on top so when you arrive you don’t have to dig through your bag and make a mess of things. This is so utterly underrated. You can save the unpacking for the next day; it’s much more important to get good sleep after a long travel day and it will start off your trip with less stress trying to remember where you stuffed your pajamas.

Next, if possible, travel with carry on only so you don’t waste time checking in or losing luggage. Better to do laundry than carry too much stuff. However, I will admit I’m a chronic over packer, so I understand the struggle. But if all else fails, just do the sit and zip to get everything in there.

The best for organizing your suitcase is zip pouches. You can categorize by outfit or by clothing article. Not only does it sort your items, it helps you compress everything into neat cubes. Click here if interested. I seriously swear by these.

Now, once you’ve mastered the art of packing, it’s time to know the ins and outs of prepping for your trip.

Note: these are tips focused on traveling in general, not just to home for the holidays, but if you’re headed to a vacation this break, this is definitely for you!

First, take spare money to trip. Have cash in the local currency to make transactions and exchange rates easy. Make sure to divide your cash between your luggage so if anything gets stolen or goes missing, you still have some spared and stored safely with your other bags.

For any new place, go eat where the locals go. It may look like a hole in the wall, but much better than where the Disney cruises go. Get to know the culture of where you are and make your trip authentic! These will be the hidden gems you’ll be unlikely to forget.

Rent a bike whenever, wherever you can. You get to see the town/place from a different lens. I’ve always done a bike yours during my trips, it lets you see more of any city than walking but still allows you to hop off and explore on foot if you want to inspect an attraction. Plus, your legs will thank you!

For female travelers:

Try to never allow someone to stand close to you as you check in. This way, they can’t know your room number or any personal information.

Avoid rooms with a connecting door. Check the room, under the bed, closets. Always remember to lock your door! Inspecting the room is a must! You need to not only be safe but feel safe. It will help you be more at ease throughout your stay.

Travel during daylight, that way potential dangers cannot take you by surprise and you are aware of your surroundings.

Let people know where and when you are traveling/staying. Communication is key! People at home can help you if you signal you are in danger. Check in with those around you and make sure there is a record of your whereabouts. Along with that, talk to someone on the phone while in taxis or Ubers, this is a common tip, but nonetheless one of value.

Always act confident as you walk through public places. Sit down if you need to figure out where to go next. Don’t make it obvious you don’t know the place. Dangerous people know how to spot visitors and easy targets.

Finally, I wanted to touch on financing trips as a broke college student. Budget conscious travel requires lots of planning! You need to know which options will be the cheapest and reap the most reward.  

For example, stay at hostels, especially in Asia. They are much better than they may seem, and you get to know people that you can travel with (of course be safe, smart, and cautious about this). My family often spends the first few nights of a trip in a hostel and the last few in a hotel. This way, you can balance out the costs and still enjoy some nights in more private rooms.

Arguably the best cost-effective tip: go to supermarkets for breakfast and lunch then splurge on dinner. I am a big foodie, but during a day with lots of activities, it’s easiest to grab a sandwich and snacks for cheap. It’s convenient and time efficient. You can buy meals ahead of time and eat on the go!

If traveling to multiple countries, backpack!!! Lots of European countries have cobblestone paths and no elevators in their buildings. Lugging a suitcase as it bumps and bobbles on the stones is a frustrating endeavor, one easily assuaged by a good-fitting backpack.

Take overnight buses, they are cheaper, and you save on a night of accommodations. On a budget, this is a great way to save cost – and save more on time.

For touristy places, go in the shoulder season. The prices are better and there are less people! Plus, locals aren’t overwhelmed by tourists and can allocate more time to helping you get the best and most personalized experience possible.

Whether you’re going home or going on vacation this holiday season, be smart about your travels! I hope these packing, safety, and financial tips serve you well. Bon voyage!

Hi! I'm Margot, a first-year student majoring in Global Studies at UCSB. I grew up in New Jersey but later moved to the Seattle area (bless Santa Barbara for saving me from all those rainy days). I'm an editorial intern but when I'm not writing for Her Campus, I like to eat good food, read, and make pottery or scrapbooks.