When I was in college, I had two spring breaks — the perks of receiving a Jesuit education where first Spring and then Easter break are two separate weeks consecutively after each other. But even though I had two weeks to go and explore another area of the country or inch of the world, I didn’t take advantage of that time off because being a full-time student while wrapped up in a million and one activities, clubs and unpaid internships meant I had very little money to take that advantage. I’m sure many of you can empathize with this sentiment.
Enter summer break, where there are fewer commitments, a lot more time and a handful of more dollars saved up from working those extra hours here and there.
Traveling in any way, shape or form does NOT have to be expensive. Before I started going on my own adventures, I told myself that it was impossible. That booking a flight was a great feat and way too big of a price drain and commitment. That going somewhere new and unknown meant spending a ton of money to get to know it well and experience it “properly.” I was so wrong.
And if you’re not considering any of these routes before booking your next trip, you may want to change how you trot about the world, too. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to travel smarter, cheaper and better.
Avoid looking toward the typical travel destinations.
Cities like Paris and London are two of the most visited in the world, and with good reason. They’re beautiful and have so much to offer no matter how long your stay. They’re also expensive…especially with the British pound going strong. And though the Euro has been steadily on the fall, it’s still no equal match to the dollar. With that said, if you want to go someplace new and exciting, forget Europe entirely (…that’s saying something coming from me, as I can’t seem to get away from it myself). South America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia are just as beautiful, fun alternatives to the typical destinations across the Atlantic that are growing in popularity among young travelers. They also work on their own currency which most times, is at a lower value than our own. Not only are you saving yourself a couple bucks, but you’re also boosting the tourism economy of those smaller cities. It’s a win-win.
Use websites like Skyscanner, STA Travel and StudentUniverse to book flights.
These websites have completely changed my traveling lifestyle. Despite no longer being in undergrad, StudentUniverse and STA Travel are both sites that provide youths up to the age of 25 with discounted and cheaper rates for flights. Comparing the prices to Expedia or the flight carrier’s main website, you could find yourself saving 100s of dollars. The first time I used StudentUniverse was when I studied abroad. I was able to find a flight on Virgin Atlantic, arriving and returning on exactly the days and times I needed for only $900. Compare that to the average $1200 ticket. Of course, if you’re traveling for pleasure, flexibility is key. Some dates and times are more expensive than others, which makes using SkyScanner extremely helpful. A friend of mine wanted to find the cheapest route to Europe and didn’t care which country he landed in. A single ticket to the first option shown on SkyScanner was Prague. The price: $400.
The one drawback to these sites is that you have to be certain of your travel plans and stick with them. These sites charge hefty cancellation fees and only include carry-on luggage in the deal. So pack light, be flexible and go with your gut. Disappointment doesn’t exist if you travel with an open mind.
Don’t stay in hotels/accommodation in the city center.
The luxury of staying at a nice hotel in the city center is exactly that. It’s a convenience where you don’t really have to plan or think about anything because it’s easy and already mapped out for you. And that luxury comes at a cost. Since I’ve begun traveling on my own or with friends, I’ve always opted for the hostel or AirBnB life. Split among friends, the costs dwindle down immensely. Hostels allow for the opportunity to meet strangers and make new friends. It forms a community of foreign travelers so that you never feel alone, scared or bored, while Airbnb’s allow you to experience a city in the eyes of a local and live like they do. Another, win-win whichever option you choose. So what if the commute is a little longer than a five-minute walk to the main square? Get your map out, put your navigation skills to the test, take in the surrounding area and enjoy it.
Have a personal itinerary.
Traveling takes research. I love being spontaneous in my travels just as much as the next 20-something, but having a general idea of what sights you’re going to see, what activities you’ll be up to and where the good brunch spots are is always a smart idea. So perhaps you’ll be a little more stressed during the planning stages, but it makes for a less stressful time during the trip itself. Also, forget taking the easy option and book a ton of costly tours that don’t immerse you into the local culture and environment. Utilize TripAdvisor but don’t depend on it. Instead, find what natives of the city do when exploring during the day and drinking & dining on a night out – always plan and live like a local — they know what they’re doing.
Fight the urge to splurge on clothes, gifts and souvenirs.
This one has always been a toughie for me. It feels like no matter what new city I’m in, the clothes look so much better. And how could I go back home without buying myself six different postcards bearing the same city skyline in different angles? If you’re on a student budget, spending money on gifts isn’t a good idea. Not only is buying souvenirs a money kill, but it is also time wasted and unnecessary added stress. Skip the gift shopping and utilize the short time you have abroad to enjoy the end of your travels. Use the time to squeeze in the things you thought you didn’t have time for. Trust me, your mom won’t disinherit you if you don’t bring her a mug or a magnet from every place you explored. And if all else fails, the airport gift shop line on your flight back isn’t too long…most of the time.
Remember, traveling is supposed to be new, exciting and scary at times. But it is also an experience that you will never ever regret. Don’t let anything, not even money, deter you from taking a chance and booking that flight. It is the greatest reward for all the hard work you put in throughout the rest of the year.
No one knows who can be attributed to this quote but it doesn’t make it any less true. “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
So go and see the world some time.
Image via Taylor Thoman