My past two spring breaks have been spent abroad. Last year in Bergen, Norway and this year in Madrid, Spain. I had the time of my life exploring these amazing cities and hope to continue the tradition next year.
When people see my different posts and pictures from my frequent and extravagant excursions, I get a lot of questions about how a college student is paying for it all. (Yes, it all comes out of my own pocket.)
To start, if you want to travel in any capacity, you need to be good at saving and managing your money. I prioritize travel, so after paying the bills and eating, my life goes something like work, save, travel…rinse and repeat.
Once you have the money to spend, below are my tips for making it go the distance!
1) Buy your airline ticket early.
This is key. A cheap flight is where it all starts. For both my Norway and Spain trips, the flight was the reason we went at all. Starting with flights means you have to be flexible. Choose a time to travel where you have some wiggle room with exact dates for departure and return. One of my favorite travel companions, Stella Shon, has a great blog all about finding the best deals in aviation. We traveled around France together in 2017 and she has clued me in to a lot of tips and tricks ever since. Check it out here.
2) Do as much as you can ahead of time to plan out your budget.
Making a simple table that lists all of your paid expenses and potential expenses can help you see at a glance how much you intend to spend. Make sure to be generous when predicting money for things like food and transportation. Everything takes more time and money than you originally anticipate.
If there is a different currency used in your travel destination, buy cash before you go! This will help cut down on transaction fees and taxes. I usually get my cash at a local AAA office. (If you do plan on using a credit card, make sure to let your bank know you will be traveling so they don’t lock your account!)
Finally, make sure to do your research to catch as many unexpected expenses as possible. For example, are the prices for things such as food and alcohol compared to those in the U.S. or much more/less? Do they charge for public bathrooms? Are there cover or entrance fees to places you want to visit? Do restaurants charge more for eat-in than carry-out? Do you have to pay for water? What is the policy for tipping?
3) How will you get around?
Walking is always free. Choosing to travel to a walkable city in the first place is always a great move when you’re on a budget. Also, finding somewhere to stay in a central location to make different attractions accessible by foot is ideal. However, sometimes those great locations are out of budget, so be sure to do your research about what forms of transportation are available.
Behind walking, public transit is almost always going to be the cheapest. Metro and bus systems will sell single or multi-use cards so you can hop around town. Usually, you can find maps online of the systems as well if you want to plan out how much you’ll need to use them or what lines to take to different locations. I’m also a big proponent of choosing a line and seeing where it takes you. (Just make sure you are safe and know how to get home.)
Uber, Lyft and even taxis are not offered everywhere – shocker – so don’t rely on them to pick you up. As always, do your research ahead of time to know your options and compare, compare, compare.
6) Travel with a group.
Beyond having more friends around to make memories with, traveling in groups can really help cut down on costs. Put simply, more friends means more people to split the bill. From accommodations, to taxis, to a bottle of wine, the ideal number in a group is four. When you start getting five or six people, not everyone fits in the Uber, the dinner table is crowded and communication gets chaotic.
Communication when traveling with a group is key. Communicate early and often to help each other find the best deals and identify the best activities for the group. I recommend having a shared google doc with all of your travel information – Airbnb links, flights, budget, activities, etc. – and a group message. Pick each other’s brains for ideas and insights. Word of mouth is often the best way to find great activities and deals.
Finally, work whatever ~status~ your group has while traveling. If you are students, use your school ID any and everywhere. It never hurts to ask if there is a discount and you may be surprised by the number of places that offer deals. Seniors, military, large groups, etc., same idea.
5) Live local.
Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Hostels and even local friends/family are the best ways to stay when you are traveling abroad on a budget. With all of these options, of course, safety is the first priority. Make sure you read reviews, look up the part of town where they are located and trust your gut.
If you are traveling with a group I recommend Airbnb because you can have a private space to yourselves. Keep in mind that Airbnb rates hosts as well as guests, so be courteous of the house rules and clean up after yourself. If you get a poor review from a host you risk difficulty booking other Airbnbs later.
For single travelers Hostels and Couchsurfing are great options. Especially in Europe, hostels are fairly nice and usually safe. Again, always read reviews. I don’t have personal experience with Couchsurfing but have heard good things from solo traveler friends of mine. Both of these options let you live with locals and other travelers alike to meet new people, make friends, and share stories and tips.
Finally, in general, try to plan ways to avoid the most touristy locations. Sometimes this is unavoidable because they are touristy for a reason… it’s what the tourists want to see! But that doesn’t mean you have to necessarily eat or stay in those areas as well. Prices around tourist attractions spike significantly and it can save you a lot of money to even be just outside of their perimeter. Research the pros and cons of each area and decide if a popular location is worth the extra $$$.
Most importantly, have fun! Be conscious of your spending, but don’t hold the purse strings too tight. You’ve come all this way, and money is meant to be spent after all. What better way to spend it than on memories to last a lifetime!