By Megan Kenslea
I’ve had the travel bug for as long as I can remember. Even as a little girl, I dreamed about seeing the world – of backpacking through Europe, tangoing in Argentina, and riding elephants in India. The list of places I want to visit is much longer than the list of places I’ve actually been, but after I graduated from high school, I slowly, steadily started to check countries off my list.
The biggest obstacle in my path? Financing my trips. I’m lucky enough that my parents understand my never-ending wanderlust, but I’ve had to make large contributions to most of my trips. While I’d love it if cost were no object, spending my hard-earned babysitting money on weekends in New York City or adventures in Brazil has helped me appreciate every place I see more – and, most importantly, to become a more thrifty traveler. Here are my top tips for college students traveling on a budget.
1. Get an International Student ID
If you’re like me, you take advantage of student discounts everywhere you go. But I learned the hard way that a lot of places don’t accept foreign student IDs. The International Student Identity Card is an easy way to take advantage of student-only discounts and opportunities around the globe. They also have iPhone and Android apps in over 15 languages to help you scout local discounts – perfect for students on the go.
2. Use Public Transportation
It’s easy to fall into the habit of taking cabs, especially if they’re cheaper than they are at home. But if you take taxis everywhere, the cost will start to add up. Many cities have expansive, organized, and highly efficient subway systems that rival (or even beat) your own local public transportation, so save the money you would spend on a cab and take public transportation for a fraction of the costs. It’s one of the easiest ways to save money – and acclimate yourself to your new surroundings.
3. Eat Like a Local
Local restaurant chains and American menus may be comfortable for homesick tourists, but they’re typically much more expensive. One of my favorite parts about traveling abroad is finding hole in the wall restaurants. They’re usually cheaper, plus you get to sample the local cuisine – my favorite part about traveling. I’ll try anything once, but even less adventurous eaters can find basic meals on almost any menu. If you’ll be in once place for a while, consider stopping at a local supermarket for basics like bread, crackers, and deli meats to make sandwiches for a quick meal.
4. Study Abroad
If you have the opportunity to study abroad, take advantage of it. Whatever region you choose, studying abroad will open up doors to different parts of the world. Explore local cities and neighborhoods on weekends, and travel further distances on academic breaks – if you have friends studying abroad in neighboring countries, arrange to stay with one another to save money on hostels.
Some study abroad programs actually cost less than a semester of college, especially if you enroll directly at a foreign university, so do your homework – you can put the money you save on tuition toward your travels. If you’re just thinking about studying abroad don’t forget to check out StudentAdvisor’s Study Abroad Guide.
5. Plan Ahead
Wherever you go and whatever you do, make sure to do at least a little bit of research before you get there. Clueless tourists are an easy target for scam artists, so figure out what the conversion rate is for the local currency, and familiarize yourself with local costs (typical cab fare, meal prices and hostel rates are a good start). Other things to include in your research are hostels, restaurants, and bar prices. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet, my personal favorite, will include price ranges for places they highlight, so you can pick and choose where you want to save money and where you want to splurge.
You can be a savvy traveler on any budget. No matter the size of your wallet, try to learn at least a few words in the local language, be a little adventurous, and keep an open mind while traveling. You never know what you’ll learn – about the local culture, and about yourself. Most importantly, have fun!