I’ve recently received a lot of questions about how I manage to travel so much. How do I find time as a student to go all over the world? And more importantly, how can I afford it? The answer is simple, but no matter how often I repeat it, one believes me. Traveling is cheap. I’m just as broke as any other college student. I have rent, tuition, living expenses. I work part-time and fork over small fortunes for education, vet bills, the costs of being an adult, etc. If anything, I have negative money. But there are easy and cheap ways to see the world. It just takes a little bit of pre-planning, some luck, and a lot of courage. Travel can be cheap, but you have to consider the fact that I’m OK sleeping on a floor or a couch here and there, that I can skip meals, that I can walk for hours for the sake of saving taxi fare, that I can buy the cheap flights even if it means an overnight at an airport. Traveling can be cheap, but I don’t stay in hotels or resorts or go on shopping sprees. Certainly, to travel cheaply, I have become accustomed to discomfort. Seeing the world, however, is worth every ounce of discomfort. Here are the most important tips and secrets I can give to those who want to see the world without spending a fortune.
This is a no-brainer for students. There are tons of exchange programs catered to you that can cost just as much as what you pay for tuition already. Take advantage of them! When else will you be able to study in a foreign country, live with a host family, and have an entire school’s worth of resources at your fingertips? This was, in fact, my gateway to travel. I had never left the country until I decided to study in France. In cliche honesty, it changed my life.
Stay in Hostels
Travel can be incredibly expensive if you stay in resorts and fancy hotels. A few hours’ worth of sleep is really all you need out of an accommodation. You should be spending your time exploring, not trapped inside a hostel or hotel all day anyways. Hostels are inexpensive, and I always meet tons of cool like-minded travelers. I’ve never had a terrible experience at a hostel in all of the countries I’ve been to. I’ve also met people from all over the world, growing my network of people to stay and explore with on other adventures.
Or better yet, don’t spend any money for a bed at all. Join the couchsurfing community and find someone that will lend you their couch. For free! This is often scary for a lot of solo travelers, especially for females. But as long as you’re smart about choosing someone with a real profile, tons of reviews, and you share your location with a family member or a friend, you can save money and meet a local that will probably show you all the coolest spots in the area.
Take the Public Transportation
Never take the taxis. In most places I’ve been, walking has been the best way to get around and see the city at the same time. In fact, I always make it my first priority to go running in a new city. I get lost, stumble upon a bunch of cool things, and get a feel for the place. It also helps me get over that innate fear of being lost in a strange place. Most countries (other than the U.S. unfortunately) have awesome cheap transportation, whether it’s bus, metro, or city bicycles. Don’t be the tourist that pays exorbitant amounts for a taxi because you’re too lazy to walk or too afraid to get lost.
Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card
As soon as I had the credit score needed, I snagged one of these and it has been awesome. I use it for everything and within the first month, I’d already racked up enough points for a free flight. If you’re a frequent flier or traveler, these are invaluable in terms of saving money on flights and accommodations.
Don’t Souvenir Shop
You won’t have that plastic keychain or ugly t-shirt in 2 months anyways. Those overpriced souvenirs won’t help you remember the amazing experiences you had. Certainly, if there’s something you can’t live without, buy it. But don’t go “souvenir shopping.” I honestly hate this activity, even if I have to do it to occasionally to send little gifts to the family. I never buy souvenirs for myself anymore. Instead, I’ve discovered that the most meaningful things are irreplaceable, and usually free. I have tons of pictures. I also have a jar of sand and shells from every beach/desert I’ve visited. You’ll save time avoiding the tourist traps as well as maintaining a fat wallet by avoiding touristy shops.
Make Friends. Especially Local Friends
This is perhaps the best money-saving tip. Locals are often so excited to show travelers what they love about their home city or country. I’ve made friends that have taken me to the best restaurants, bars, even dinners with their families! And not to sound like a cheapskate, but they usually cover the bill. I’m also a shameless user of Tinder abroad, and I’ve met tons of cool people through the app. Oftentimes, I get a free meal, a coffee, or fun experience out of it, as well as a new friend.
Only Bring a Carry-on
Yes. Most people gawk at this. But on every trip I’ve taken, whether it be 1 week or4, I board my flight with a single carry-on bag. This saves money on baggage fees, but also serves as an excellent strategy for saving money in general. With just a carry-on, I’m less likely to waste money shopping or buying souvenirs because they literally won’t fit into my bag. A carry-on is perfectly fine for several weeks of travel as most major cities have cheap places to do laundry. If staying with friends or in a hostel, there are usually on-site laundry machines. I don’t bring my own toiletries, either- I purchase cheap local products once out of the airport to save space in my bag.
I love the outdoors. And the great thing about nature is that you can usually explore it for free (or for a cheap fee). If you have camping gear, find places you can set up. Go hiking, climbing, biking. See all of the natural beauty a place has to offer. Personally I’ve never been much of a shopper or museum person anyways, but even if you are, maybe take some time exploring the wild side.
Don’t Pay for a Phone Plan
Of course, bring your phone and use it. But don’t buy a plan, or send messages or texts. Travel plans are often ridiculously expensive. It’s much cheaper to just communicate with apps that work on wifi, like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. I don’t like talking or texting much abroad anyways, as a lack of phone service really forces me to stay in the moment and focused on the here and now. You can communicate with all your friends at home after your adventures anyways. If you absolutely need phone service, buy a cheap phone and get a SIM card.
Some volunteer programs are affordable, and cover housing and meals. I really like IVHQ, which has some of the cheapest fees around. Volunteering abroad is also a great way to make your trip more than just a vacation.
My last and most important tip: Be Uncomfortable
This is what traveling is all about. It’s about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. This can’t be accomplished in the safety of an all-inclusive resort. To really experience a place, you have to sleep in airports to get the cheapest flights. You have to get lost in foreign places alone at night. You have to struggle to communicate in a language other than your native tongue. You have to take risks and trust the strangers. You have to force yourself to meet people, make friends, take leaps of faith, and take risks. I have only been able to travel so often because I’m such a cheap ass. But in reality, I’ve learned and experienced every destination with so much more depth and adventure this way. Because at the end of the day, I might forget the time I spent indoors comfy, safe and sound. But I will always remember the days I was lost in foreign streets with five pesos and no phone in my pocket. Or the conversations I had with a sweet couple while hitchhiking home from Lyon after being stranded in a North African airport. Or the night I struggled to communicate with an Italian doctor in a Venice hospital. These are the unforgettable experiences. And they weren’t expensive. The best adventures never are.