I am currently a first year graduate student at the young age of twenty-one, and have been to thirteen countries. Everyday people ask how I can afford to travel and what people do not realize is travel never has to be expensive. These are eight of the best ways I have found to travel on a budget while being a full-time student.
1. Make Your Own Study Abroad Program
While studying abroad is a very rewarding experience, it often times comes with a very heavy price tag. Therefore, sometimes it is not always possible for every student to formally study aboard. However, that does not mean it is not possible to travel aboard. This summer I spend seventy days in Central and South America and monitored my expenses very closely. Being the thrifty spender I am, I spent $2,400 for my seventy day, eight country trip through Central and South America. $2,400 covered all my meals, tours, transportation, nights out, lodging, and even a couple hundred dollars in gifts for my family back home. However, my airfare was an additional $1,900 which brought my trip to a total of $4,300.
But, if you take advantage of paying your tuition off with credit cards and reward offers, you can save yourself the cost of airfare and actually spend a summer overseas for less than it would cost you to live at home!
2. Stay in Hostels
Hostels are the best thing to happen to travel since airfare search engines. Sure you might be in a room with complete strangers and it sounds intimidating but sometimes you will meet your best friends in hostels. Not to mention hostels are extremely cheap and with websites like hostelworld.com, they are easy to book and find. In most countries hostels range from $5 – $15 a night. Oh, and that price usually includes free breakfast! In Central and South America, I spent an average of $9.67 a night at hostels and made memories with new friends that I never would have experienced by staying in hotels. In fact, I prefer staying in hostels over hotels.
3. Follow Airfare and Vacation Deals
Everyone always asks me how to find good airfare deals and how I have been able to travel round trip for $40 from Milwaukee to Orlando, or could book a ten night airfare, hotel, and meal inclusive trip to Beijing and Shanghai for $569. The answer is quite simple, I check a few websites daily and subscribe to travel news letters. I check theflightdeal.com daily for international airfare deals and travelzoo.com for all-inclusive specials. In addition, I sign up for budget airline news letters like Frontier Airlines as they often send flash sales with one way tickets as low as $19!
4. Use Google Flights
For all airfare bookings, use Google Flights. Let me repeat that. Use Google Flights. From my experience Google Flights airfare prices do not fluctuate based on your search history. The airfare prices are the same regardless of your search history . Also, Google Flights is easy to use, intuitive, and can show you different prices for multiple dates and airlines.
5. Book Multi-City Flights and Be Open to New Destinations
When I went on my Central and South America Trip, I flew from Chicago – San Jose – Panama City – Guayaquil – Lima – Cusco – Buenos Aires – Bogota – Chicago for $1,900. Google Flights allows you to search for multi city flights and gives you different prices instantly. If I would have booked all of these flights separate, it would have set me back at least $2,200.
In addition, it was never my intention to visit Guayaquil or Bogota however when planning my travels, I noticed that most flights from Panama City to Lima had a stop over in Guayaquil and from Buenos Aires to Chicago had a stop over in Bogota. Initially, my multi-city flight explained above was around $2,200 however by adding in stops in Guayaquil and Bogota, it became $300 Cheaper! With the $300 I saved, I was able to visit new countries and experience different cultures essentially for free.
6. Eat at Local Restaurants
Depending on the country you visit, it can actually be cheaper to eat out than to cook. In Peru I had three course meals for less than $3, in India I ate at a five-star restaurant for $5, and in Ecuador I never spent more than $5 for a meal. However, always be aware of tourist traps. For example in Cusco, Peru restaurants on the main strip were around $15 to $20 while walking three blocks up the street, local restaurants offered more traditional and many times better meals for $3.
7. Never Book Tours Online
I experienced this for the first time in Cusco, Peru which is the main hub for visitors looking to visit Maccu Piccu. If you look online, four days Inka Hikes or day trips to Maccu Piccu are priced well over two hundred dollars. However, when you get to Cusco, there are ample tourist providers and a little negotiation will cut that cost in half. All over Cusco I saw day trips to Maccu Piccu advertised for $99 and four days hikes with meals included for as little as $129. I suggest never booking tours online and always waiting to book them once you arrive at your destination.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have had traveling aboard was volunteering. I spend seven days volunteering at a sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica on an isolated beach. We had no electricity and slept in over 90 degree conditions. Although I did my fair share of complaining, it was extremely rewarding. Not to mention, being one of two guys at the conservation was a plus. I stayed at La Tortuga Feliz and at $40 a day with all meals included, you can volunteer on a budget!