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College. A time of limited funds, cheap food, and stressful all-nighters. While school is a time for education, I find that one of the best ways to learn is by traveling. And, believe it or not, there are many ways you can travel as a student, even if you don’t come from a filthy rich family (as many people presume).
I won’t say I wasn’t privileged in my ability to travel as a student. I was able to live at home throughout my university degree (even though my 1.5 hour commute killed me), which did save me a lot of money. But I also worked hard and saved money for years to afford my travels, and I want to share some of my tips (and more) with you today.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
My Experience as a Traveling College Student
Before I provide you with all the best tips and tricks on how to travel as a student, I first want to share my own experiences.
Now, to preface this, I worked a lot in high school. And I barely spent any of my income. While I wasn’t intentionally saving up to travel, I had no interest in buying anything, so all the money I had made from my part-time jobs was simply building up in my bank account.
So, after my first year of college, I decided to take the leap with my high school savings, and spent a month backpacking Europe on my own. It was my first solo travel experience, and it was beyond incredible. I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago, relaxed on the Algarvian beaches of Portugal, toured several cities in Spain including Seville and Barcelona, and went to an Eddie Vedder concert in Berlin.
Later that summer, I embarked on another trip, taking a small vacation to Oahu with a couple of friends. While Hawaii has a reputation of being expensive, we also traveled as cheaply as possible, staying in hostels, not drinking (we weren’t even of legal age in the US yet), and sticking with free activities like hiking.
Nevertheless, it was amazing.
I traveled two more times during my university degree: I spent one reading break (a one-week vacation in February) visiting a friend in Montreal. For that trip, I was able to keep costs low by crashing on her couch and walking around Montreal.
I also spent over a year saving for another spectacular solo backpacking trip, this time around Asia. With stops in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, and even a few days in Hawaii, I loved every minute of it.
Overall, I have never regretted the sacrifices I have made for travel. And, if you’re planning on traveling as a college student as well, I hope you feel the same way!
Want to learn more about my travel itineraries?
Click here for my 5-week Southeast Asia travel itinerary!
Or click here to see how I spent 5 weeks in Europe!
The Different Ways You Can Travel as a Student
Now, onto the reason why you clicked on this article. What are the best ways to travel as a student?
Now, the most obvious answer to this question is to study abroad! While I personally never did a semester abroad, I wish I had.
Studying abroad, whether for a semester or a year, is an amazing way to visit new places and travel as a college student, while simultaneously working towards your degree. With most universities offering study abroad programs, doing a study abroad is also very accessible.
That’s not to say studying abroad is cheap. The costs can add up, with flights, visas, and accommodations bearing a heavy price tag. However, depending on where you currently live and where you’re planning to study abroad, you may end up paying an equal amount of money to travel, or even less.
Overall, my advice for those who wish to study abroad is to plan ahead (especially in regards to your courses!), choose your destination wisely, start saving money early, look into several college student travel programs, and research financial aid and scholarships!
Semester at Sea
Similar to doing a study abroad, you can also sign up for the Semester at Sea program. Accredited through Colorado State University, doing a Semester at Sea is like doing a semester abroad, but more unique, as you live aboard a ship sailing to multiple destinations (across multiple continents).
As incredible as this experience sounds, it isn’t cheap. The Semester at Sea cost is around $27,000 to $33,000 USD for room, tuition, health insurance, and food. Adding in the costs of flights, visas, textbooks, vaccinations, and more, and you’ll probably pay around $36,000 to $41,000 USD for a semester. Ouch.
So, while there are several scholarships offered, doing a Semester at Sea may be one of the programs only available for the wealthy traveling college students. But hey, if you know of a way to do it without amassing a large pile of debt, let me know!
Another way you can travel as a student is by volunteering abroad. While there are many programs out there, quite a few of them are corrupt (especially in regards to volunteering in developing countries). So, I recommend researching the programs well before applying.
Nevertheless, there are three big organizations perfect for volunteering abroad: WWOOF, Workaway, and Worldpackers.
First, one of the biggest volunteer abroad programs is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where you work on a farm in exchange for room and board.
There are some great advantages with using WWOOF, as they offer opportunities to volunteer all around the world. Additionally, as a WWOOFer, you are given the opportunity to form in-depth connections with locals, providing you with a more educational experience, perfect for college student travel.
However, there are some cons to using WWOOF. For instance, as each WWOOF organization is separate and independent from one another, you have to pay separate sign-up fees for each country.
Additionally, some WWOOF farmers do exploit you for free labor (I personally considered signing up for WWOOF Japan, but read concerning reviews in regards to this phenomenon). My recommendation is to research the WWOOF volunteer opportunities well, and to choose a farmer with stellar reviews!
Overall, WWOOF is a great option for those keen on traveling the world on a budget.
Another trustworthy organization to consider is Workaway.
An international program, Workaway connects you with a host who offers room and board in exchange for work, whether it be working on a farm, hostel, construction, English lessons, etc. With an easy-to-navigate website and tons of volunteer opportunities, Workaway is definitely worth checking out!
Finally, the last organization I’m going to recommend for volunteering abroad is Worldpackers.
A trustworthy platform connecting you with hosts around the world, you once again exchange your labor and skills for accommodation. With opportunities to teach English, work on a farm, do general labor, become a nanny, and volunteer in a hostel, Worldpackers is one of the best places to find hosts.
While volunteering abroad is a great way to travel the world on a budget, you can also take it one step further, and actively make money while traveling! There are a few different ways to work abroad:
Working Holiday Visa
First, you can get a working holiday visa. With the ability to spend up to one year working and living abroad, getting the visa is the perfect way to spend a gap year, or your summer vacation!
If you’re looking for a more specific job position, consider becoming an au pair! The perfect role for those who love children, an au pair is someone from overseas who takes care of a host’s children and a few household chores, in exchange for room, board, and some extra cash.
While this job isn’t for everyone (especially me… I’m not great with kids), becoming an au pair can be a great way to travel, learn about the lives of locals, and make a bit of money.
Now, if you’re not keen on studying, volunteering, or working abroad, there are still ways to travel as a student. For one, you can try Couchsurfing.
While I’ve personally never couchsurfed, Couchsurfing.com is a massive platform that essentially offers free accommodations for budget backpackers around the world. Simply put, the site is filled with friendly people, offering travelers a place to stay in their homes.
But Couchsurfing offers a lot more than just a free bed. It offers cultural exchanges, allowing you to immerse yourself into the lives of local people. It allows you to make new friends, form new connections, and learn insider tips on the destinations you’re visiting.
Overall, I definitely recommend looking into Couchsurfing if you want to save money on accommodation, and love meeting new people. But, to stay safe, I recommend only choosing hosts with stellar reviews.
Another way to receive free accommodations (while simultaneously spending quality time with adorable animals) is by house-sitting!
Perfect for long-term travel (say, a summer vacation), house-sitting is when you watch over someone’s house (and pets) in exchange for free accommodation.
In my opinion, house-sitting is the best way to travel as a student. With the ability to explore one area in-depth, live like a local, save lots of money on accommodation, and cuddle with an adorable animal, what more can you ask for?
I use (and definitely recommend) TrustedHousesitters.
Thinking of traveling within the US? I recommend exploring Washington State! If you want to learn more, check out my article on the best day trips from Seattle.
How to Save Money for Travel
While I’ve listed all the ways you can travel as a student, from couchsurfing, house-sitting, and studying, working, and volunteering abroad, that still leaves the cost of traveling. No matter what, taking that vacation is still expensive, with the costs of flights, visas, vaccinations, and souvenirs adding up.
So, if you’re wondering how to travel the world on a budget, keep reading for my best travel tips!
Buy Your Airplane Tickets at the Optimal Time
While this may not be possible, I highly recommend buying your tickets early, but not too early. Before you get too irritated, let me elaborate.
While there is some debate on the best time to buy airplane tickets, the general consensus is this: for domestic flights (within the US), it’s best to purchase 76 days before departure. However, this number does fluctuate per season (for instance, it’s usually best to book a summer vacation 99 days in advance).
In regards to international flights, the best time to purchase fluctuates per destination, but in general, I recommend buying tickets at least 3 months in advance.
Some additional tips for booking flights is to search for flights on incognito mode. Additionally, be flexible with the day you depart (as this can greatly impact the cost). And, while some say it’s best to book on a Tuesday, I find that this isn’t always true. I recommend checking the prices of the flights daily to find the best bargain.
Select Your Destinations Carefully
While this may seem obvious, I have to say it: some destinations are way more expensive than others.
By choosing your destinations wisely, you can save heaps of money on travel. And while you may be bummed you can’t go on that skiing trip in Switzerland or take that luxury vacation to Dubai, you’ll be shocked at how beautiful some of the cheapest backpacking destinations are.
My recommendations for the most inexpensive and best places to travel as a college student are the following:
- Southeast Asia: With some of the cheapest Asian destinations, I especially recommend visiting Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.
- Eastern Europe: If you’re wondering how to travel on a budget in Europe, I recommend visiting locations like the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania.
- Central America: Filled with beautiful locations, I definitely recommend checking out Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
- South America: Overall, it’s very easy to travel South America on a budget, especially if you visit countries like Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru.
Create Free Stopovers
The best way to travel to multiple destinations at no extra cost is to create free stopovers.
I personally did this on my flight from Japan to Canada. Once I noticed that the cheapest flight included a layover in Honolulu, I decided to extend that stopover (at no extra cost) to three days, and spent that time hiking the North Shore!
So, if you notice your flight has a layover, try extending it, and spend that time exploring a new destination. It’s one of the best hacks for traveling in college!
How to Save Money While You Travel as a Student
Finally, let’s talk about how you can travel on a budget, so you can stretch your limited funds as far as possible. While I have already written an article on how to travel without breaking the bank, here’s a summary of my best budget travel tips:
- Use Student Discounts: One of the biggest perks of traveling as a student are the student discounts. From museums, art galleries, attractions, and more, always make sure to check for student discounts!
- Find Cheap or Free Activities: One of the reasons why I love hiking and walking around new cities is because they’re free. By opting for the free or cheap activities, you can save a lot of money by the end of your trip. (And hey, if you’re a beginner hiker looking for some tips, click here for my article on the 15 essential beginner hiking tips!).
- Avoid Eating Out: While it’s okay to splurge on some delicious local food every once in a while, constantly eating out can really add up. By buying your own groceries and cooking your own food, you can save a lot of money in the long run!
- Skip the Drinks: Even more expensive than constantly going to restaurants are opting for the alcoholic drinks. Once again, it’s totally fine to splurge every once in a while, but if you really want to stretch your dollar, it’s best to skip them when you can.
- Use Public Transportation (or better yet, walk!)
- Book Overnight Transportation: A way to combine transportation and accommodation, booking an overnight train, bus, or airplane can help you save some money (perhaps at the expense of your comfort).
While travel may seem like an impossibility while you’re still in school, there are so many ways to find cheap vacations for college students! All in all, I hope this article inspired and helped you figure out new ways to travel.
Thanks for reading the article! If you have any questions, feel free to comment down below, and if you want to see more travel and hike-related content, make sure to check out my other articles.
Photos by Mia and Pixabay.
Planning a trip to Vancouver, and wondering what to do for free? Click here for the best Vancouver hikes, and here for the best hikes near Vancouver!
Or if you want to see within the city, click here for the ultimate (free) walking tour around Vancouver!
About to embark on a trip? Here are some helpful articles to make your trip as awesome and stress-free as possible:
And here are some additional helpful links:
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