Traveling Abroad on a College Student’s Budget (It’s Possible!)

By Kelly Leslie, Student at San Francisco State University

Bonjour, Chicsters!

Do you have a dream destination that you would give anything to be able to visit? As students, we are constantly told that this is the time of our lives to travel, but sometimes it seems like we will never make it on our college bank accounts.

I am here to tell you that you can and you will! I never thought I would be able to make it to Paris, but I did, and I paid for it by myself — even as a full-time student. This doesn’t go without saying that I was definitely on a budget, though!

Here are some tips that helped send me on my way.

Booking the ticket:
The plane ticket is by far the largest expense of traveling, ranging anywhere from $300 to $2,500 depending on where you want to go, but don’t let that stop you! There are always deals and some secrets to the travel world that you may not be aware of.

Did you know that tickets are actually less expensive on certain days of the week? Prices change daily, but they are always cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Trust me, I put this to test when buying my own ticket, and without fail, it was always true! It’s important to keep your eye out on all days of the week, but keep in mind that you may want to have your credit card handy on one of those two days.

One huge benefit for students is being able to book through a student travel agency. The internationally-known one that I would recommend is Student Travel Agency. They have deals for anyone under the age of 26, and it definitely makes a huge difference. I tried a few other student agencies, but this was the winner in the end. It’s easy to use, and in my opinion, had the best prices. I was on the lookout for tickets months in advance but ended up buying only six to eight weeks before my departure.

Saving for the trip
My trip budgeting began a long time before I left. I started saving four months in advance and really had to change my lifestyle. I found that the best way to save money was to cook all of my meals at home and make my own lunches for school. Cooking meals with friends was an even better (and more fun) way to save money because we could split the cost. I also had to question whether I really needed something before I bought it because I tend to waste a lot of money on "wants" that aren't "needs."

Managing money abroad
It's important to calculate how much money you will have to spend each day of your trip (keeping food and living expenses in mind) and then making a budget for yourself. It is easy to stay on track as long as you know your daily allowance and don’t exceed the limit you set for yourself. Also, don't forget to look into conversion rates. They change daily and could really do damage to your budget if you aren't careful!

Do you know where you will be staying? You have your whole life ahead of you to travel and stay in fancy hotels, so don’t focus on that for this trip. Hostels may not be the most comfortable way to travel, but it is definitely an experience and totally cheap. They range from only $9 to $20 per night, and you are sure to make friends while you are there. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone — it’s all part of the experience.

Food can be very expensive, so don’t plan on eating every meal at a restaurant. The first thing I did was found the local grocery store in the neighborhood I was staying in. I went there every day to buy cheap water and snacks for my adventures. I definitely became a huge fan of premade sandwiches and I hope you do, too, because it saves a lot of money! It is also more efficient because you can eat it on the go.

You definitely want to have money for souvenirs and gifts but don’t buy them right away (unless you will not be returning to the same place again). I did all of my shopping the final week I was in Paris. This was because I wanted to know exactly how much money I had left over before I decided what to buy. I’m also glad I waited because prices were different everywhere I went, and I got an eye for the best deals and exactly what I should be spending on an item.

One final tip …
Do your research in advance and know how much money things cost. I happened to have a layover in Istanbul, Turkey, which was an incredible adventure, but I needed to make sure I had money left over. The airline I chose to fly with offered me a complimentary hotel room, but I wanted to make sure I would be able to afford a place to stay if this fell through, and I definitely needed to eat while I was there.

Be prepared and make a plan — the trip of your dreams may be closer than you think!

Bon voyage!


Image courtesy of Kelly Leslie

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