You’re young and you want to see the world, but you can barely afford a box of mac n cheese.
How do you afford to travel as a student?
That’s the question I get most frequently from family, friends, and fellow students.
A lot of travel bloggers quit their jobs, sell all of their possessions, and buy a one-way ticket. They live cheaply and do sponsored or freelance work to earn their incomes. I have a ton of respect for people who do this but I am not one of them.
I sleep in the same bed 90% of the year and I have classes to attend and a job to show up to every day. I’m not a permanent nomad and I don’t want to be. But I have taken some incredible trips over the past few years.
I never traveled before college. I got my passport during my sophomore year and have traveled 12 countries since. I’ve bathed with Elephants in Chiang Mai, learned how to surf in Taiwan, snorkeled with turtles in Mexico, and slept in jungle treehouses in Guatemala. I’ve done solo travel, spring break trips with friends, and multiple study abroad programs. That’s all in a span of about three years.
I think a lot of people assume I have rich parents or a millionaire sugar daddy. The reality is that I work my ass off and I make a lot of sacrifices. Everyone has different life circumstances but I truly believe that everyone can travel if they make it a priority.
I’m going to break down exactly how I afford to travel as much as I do as a student and how you can do it too.
Everybody I know wants to travel but it’s easy to tell who is going to make that dream a reality. There are dreamers and there are doers.
The people who are going to travel the world are the ones who make it a top priority in their lives.
You could have those two lattes this week or you could have another night stay in a hostel in Bali a couple months from now. Be mindful about where your money goes. If you regularly find yourself spending money instead over saving it for travel then it may just be that travel isn’t enough of a priority for you yet.
2. Make Sacrifices
After studying abroad in Thailand I made the decision to move back in with my parents. I had an incurable case of wanderlust at that point and I wanted to save every penny I could to get back on a plane. My university is only 20 minutes from my house and I already had a car so there was really no reason to be spending money on rent.
Do I love living at home while all my friends are out being independent and decorating their homes with cacti and multicolored tapestries? No, of course not. But I save thousands of dollars every year and I’m able to do the things I want to do because of it. I know not everyone has the option of living at home but there are plenty of other sacrifices that can be made in the name of travel.
I also spend a lot of nights at home. Partying and going out to eat are serious budget busters. So many people are spending at least $30 on a round of drinks every weekend night or eating out 9 times a week. This adds up to a lot of missed travel opportunities.
3. Work Your @%$ Off
I’m writing this post at the end of a 13 hour work day. I had an eight hour nannying shift this morning and I went straight to a five hour babysitting gig. After this I’m heading over to a paid housesitting job. Today was an extreme case but a lot of days I work more than one shift. I haven’t graduated and so I don’t have a big girl job yet where I make tons of money. I have to work long hours at mediocre-paying jobs to save up enough money to travel.
When I’m traveling I never regret a single hour I spent working.
There are some days when the hours are pretty soul-crushing. But when I’m sitting in a cafe Italy I’m not thinking about the hours I worked. I’m thinking about how much gelato one girl can fit in her body in one sitting.
4. Work Odd Jobs
I work as an administrative assistant and a supervisor at a local nonprofit pool and beer garden. I get about 30 hours a week in the summer and a little less during the rest of the year. That gives me a lot of hours of free time that could be spent earning travel money. To fill my time I nanny, blog, and take the occasional housesitting gig.
I’ll be honest — blogging does not make me much money at all yet. I started my blog a few months ago and aside from the occasional comped or discounted hotel stay I haven’t made a penny off of it. And that’s okay with me. I got into blogging because I love it and I want to write more, not to make it my full-time job.
My main additional source of income is nannying and babysitting. I actually make more per hour babysitting than at my normal job but I prefer not to work full time as a nanny because it’s extremely exhausting.
Housesitting is basically bonus money. I work all my normal hours at work and then get paid to sleep in another person’s house and maybe walk their dogs or water plants. This definitely isn’t a reliable source of income but it’s a great side gig to have once in awhile.
4. Set Money Aside
This one is huge. Even if you’re making a lot of money, that doesn’t mean you’re going to save any of it. I like to set aside a certain amount each month into a separate bank account. For me it looks like this:
Every penny I make at work goes into my regular savings account which goes towards tuition and loan payments. All babysitting gigs I get paid in checks for go into my travel account. Any cash I make either through tips or other babysitting jobs gets deposited into my checking account and that’s what I use for spending money.
This will look a lot different for people with more bills and rent to pay. But this is what works for me. Once money is put aside for travel I don’t touch it until I’m on the road. A really easy way to do this is automatically through direct deposit. You can automatically deposit 10 or 15% of every paycheck into a designated travel bank account. This way you’re never interacting with the money so you’re never tempted to spend it before it makes it into the account.
5. Learn Cheap Ways to Travel
- Find Cheap Flights
I’ve seen flights to Europe from the US for under $500 roundtrip. I flew roundtrip from Chicago to Bangkok in 2015 for only $800. My upcoming flight to Belize is only setting me back about $370. The deals get even more incredible once you’re abroad. I once flew from Bangkok to Krabi for $22 roundtrip.
A key factor in finding cheap flights is being flexible with your dates. Prices can be outrageous one day and super reasonable the next. Using a flexible flight finder tool like Skyscanner can save you hundreds of dollars.
- Save on Accommodation
There’s a common association with budget travel and roughing it. This doesn’t always have to be the case. I’ve definitely stayed in my fair share of dodgy rooms but for the most part I’ve slept in clean and comfortable beds on my travels. I love staying in hostels when I’m traveling long-term because they save me a ton of money, but when I’m on a short trip I prefer to have my own space.
A great way to save money is by avoiding traditional hotels and staying in Airbnb’s, private rooms of hostels, or even home stays with locals.
I slept in a home stay in Guatemala, Couchsurfed in Italy, and used Airbnb in Seattle and Vancouver. If I’m on a long-term trip I try to keep my accommodation costs under $30 a night. For shorter trips I can be a lot looser with my budget and pamper myself a little bit more. I try to stay in budget accommodations for half of the trip and splurge for the other nights. I still try to keep my accommodation costs close to $100 a night even when splurging and try to find someone to stay with me and split the bill.
- Take Advantage of Layovers
This is a tip I need to put into practice a lot more. On my flight home from Italy I was able to spend a night in Munich, Germany. We didn’t get to do or see a ton but I got to check another country off my list and get enough of a taste of it to decide to come back or not.
You can take this one step further and create free stopovers. This essentially just means extending your layover for a couple days. This little trick can give you two adventures for the price of one. The most popular stopover is Iceland with Icelandair but you can also see Bangkok with Thai Airways, Paris with Airfrance, Dubai with Emirates, Helsinki with Finnair, and tons of others.
- Eat Local or Cook Your Own Food
I have never gotten (seriously) sick from eating street food. Local vendors often offer the best bang for your buck and usually the food is the tastiest as well. If you’re a foodie definitely splurge on some fancy dinners while you’re traveling but stick with the cheaper eats for the majority of your meals.
An even better way of saving money on food is by cooking it yourself. A lot of hostels offer really well-stocked kitchens. Go to the nearest grocery shop and stock up on some cheap basics — potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. I cooked almost every meal in Costa Rica and I saved hundreds of dollars.
There are so many resources online for learning cheap ways to travel. Don’t let a small budget stop you from getting out and seeing the world.