Traveling on a Student Budget
Spend your unpaid internship dollars wisely
When your primary source of income is student loans or savings from your summer job bagging groceries, budgeting for student travel can seem impossible. But, we swear, in between unpaid internships and babysitting gigs, the world is your oyster. So apply the skills you’ve learned in the lecture hall and do your research, because – with a little know-how – it's possible to travel even abroad on a student budget.
Baggage fees are the worst, especially if you’re not expecting them. If you can, plan your wardrobe ahead of time and pack only a carry-on to avoid baggage fees. If you’re carrying a load – or hope to bring home lots in souvenirs – consider flying domestically with a low-cost airline like Southwest, which allows two checked pieces free of charge, or JetBlue, which permits one.
Traveling with a group means splitting expenses, from your hotel room to cabs to food. Though your biggest expense will probably be your flight, you’ve got the chance to save big at your destination by going Dutch with travel buddies. Plus, you’ll feel significantly safer in a new destination with friends by your side.
Traveling is your chance to disconnect from school-year stresses, and that means everything “college,” from exams to social networks. Though we recommend ditching Facebook and getting to know locals face-to-face, your phone can certainly come in handy, especially abroad. Skip the internet café and hook your smartphone up to your hostel’s Wi-Fi network for free. To let your parents know you’re OK, of course. (Remember to unlock your phone before going abroad, to avoid roaming charges.)
Load up a currency card
Unlike on a credit card, you can only spend the amount loaded onto a pre-paid currency card, plus family members can add to your travel budget as needed. There are many around, so choose wisely and select those that don’t charge for usage or cash withdrawal, and are protected by a PIN – like MasterCard, my Travel Cash, and Travelex.
Learn exchange rates
Familiarize yourself with exchange rates of whatever countries you’re visiting to get the best rates when exchanging money. Traveler’s checks and credit cards can cost you a lot in commission. Bringing a debit card and using local ATMs to withdraw funds is a safer and cheaper option.
Invest in an International Student ID Card
Your student status can get you discounts on flights, hotels, transportation, and admission to museums, concerts and other attractions. If you’re staying stateside, your college ID should work. But for travel overseas, consider an International Student ID Card, available through STA Travel.
Save on hotels and hostels with a night on the couch. Try websites such as Couchsurfing.org and liaise with thousands of travelers or locals worldwide who are happy to host tourists on their couch for the night.
Eager to see another part of the world for an extended amount of time? Consider working or volunteering abroad, and cut your travel costs significantly. Teach English in Spain, work on an organic farm in Laos, or volunteer hours at a health clinic in Kenya. Qualifications are sometimes necessary, whether it’s experience or a particular college major. Using whatever skill set you have is a wonderful – and worthy – way to see the world.