Globetrotting on a Budget

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

When I first got to college I met many foreign students.  People from Asia, Europe and Latin America.  They talked about their travels and I was envious, since growing up in America, I always thought traveling overseas was prohibitively expensive.  Thankfully, I started to do some research and found that it’s not nearly expensive as I thought and a world of adventure opened for me.  I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve learned so that you too can have some global adventures during your time at university, if you choose.

Airfare

This was by far the biggest concern I had before doing some research.  I simply assumed a ticket would cost a thousand dollars or more and I would be out of luck.  Some tickets are thousands of dollars, but some are only hundreds.  To find good airfare you need to be a little patient.  Search many sites and, if possible, try selecting different airports to depart from.  Going to school in Las Vegas, I found that flying out of McCarren Airport was usually much more expensive than flying out of Los Angeles.  If I rented a car one-way and made the four-hour drive to L.A., I could save a few hundred dollars on a ticket.  Obviously, this only works if you can get to another airport easily and without a large additional cost.

If you are flexible with dates, consider flying with a discount airline.  Domestically, Southwest has made a name for themselves as being a cheap option for flying.  They don’t have different classes and the service is limited, but you get to your destination for a low cost.  Some international carriers are starting to copy this model.  Check out WOW air, a discount flight operator from the USA to Europe.  WOW flies out of a set list of airports and to only select destinations.  Again, if you are flexible this could be a huge bargain for you!  Just now, it literally took 2 minutes, I found a flight leaving Boston and going to Reykjavik, Iceland.  The flight there is $99 and the return is $109.  All in, I’m looking at round trip $209.98; not too bad.  Granted, you will be charged a small fee for checked bags and if you want to upgrade to a larger seat but, given that a comparable ticket from JetBlue cost $806, you are still getting a good deal.

Lodgings

So, once you get to your destination you are going to have to sleep somewhere.  Just like you can find a discount airline, you can also find discount hotel chains.  Red Planet Hotel is one chain located in Asia that I like to use.  The hotels are clean, have friendly staff and are reasonably priced.  The best part is they are also located in interesting areas, so you are not sacrificing convenience for cost.

If you are looking to go even cheaper than you can try a hostel or backpacker’s hotel.  Room rates are usually much lower if you stay at these locations and can be very good if you have a group.  A quick search of Berlin turned up the Grand Hostel Berlin, which is offering a 4-bed mixed room for an average of $20.24 per night.  If you and a couple of friends are traveling together, this could be a great option.  Hostels often provide amenities similar to a hotel, but you will need to check if they come with a slight fee or not.  The Grand Hostel Berlin does offer free WiFi, parking and maps, but other hostels might charge for these items.

It’s important to do some research on the hostel and the area in which it is located so ensure you are staying somewhere safe.  Read reviews from prior visitors.  Sites such as TripAdvisor are a great resource.

Food and Fun

Once you arrive at your destination and have secured lodgings, how much you want to spend is really up to you.  Food can range from very cheap to extremely expensive.  Set a food budget before your trip and do some looking around online before you arrive.  The cheapest option is usually the street vendors and, for me at least, this is usually one of the most delicious options as well.  If you have food safety concerns, you can always seek out small and affordable dining establishments.

For activities, your possibilities are endless.  Want to go super cheap?  Walking around the city you are visiting is cheap and good exercise.  If you decide to check out some local historical sites you might be able to visit for free or a small fee. 

A Few Additional Thoughts

Traveling cheap is possible and is something you should highly consider while attending university.  Your college years provide a new level of freedom and you should take advantage of the opportunity.  It wouldn’t be possible to cover every single piece of advice in one blog, but a few other key points to consider are: 

  • Traveling off season – It’s cheaper to visit when a major festival or summer vacation aren’t in full swing.

  • Cash or card – Check with your bank before leaving. Will you be charged international fees or is there a bank that you can use at no extra charge in the country you will be visiting? If the country you are visiting uses mostly cash be sure to have local currency on hand before you hit the streets.

  • Haggle – If you are into shopping then be prepared to haggle.  Shopping in open air markets can provide the opportunity to haggle and purchase items at a lower cost.

  • Know local customs – As Americans, we are accustomed to tipping at a restaurant.  In Europe and Asia, they will gladly take your money, but tips are usually not expected.

  • Public transportation – Use the metro (subway) system if possible.  This will be cheaper than a private taxi.

  • Last minute bookings – If you are ok with some ambiguity, then leave your hotel booking to the last minute.  To fill a room, hotels will usually offer discounted rates.  Check out HotelTonight for last minute deals.

  • Study abroad – If your school offers a study abroad program this could be a great opportunity to not just visit, but live, in a foreign country for a semester or more. Talk to your school counselor to see if this is possible and the costs involved.

Traveling is an amazing experience.  When you leave home for college you are expected to have some fun experiences that help to shape the course of your life.  Traveling abroad can help expand your world perspective and provide you with amazing stories and new friends.  It’s not as expensive as many people think and, if you are truly motivated to travel, you will be able to save up and take a trip.

If you have already traveled or plan on taking a trip, what are some tactics you used to keep your costs low?   Please share in the comments below.

Safe travels!

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