How To Travel on Your Student Budget

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The one question I often get, more than anything else, is how I manage to travel so much while I’m a student. These questions are usually based on the misconception that travelling is expensive, but the truth is – it doesn’t have to be the case, at all.

Granted, there are other factors in my life that have enabled me to travel (living in Kenya and Singapore while pursuing my 4-year degree as an international student in the United States), but even apart from this, I’ve loved figuring out different ways that I can explore new places, even with my student budget. These are all some tips and tricks that I’ve tried and tested along the way:

1. Be a Tourist in Your Own Area!

Local and Regional Tourism are some of the most underrated kinds of travel. I get it – it’s hard to get excited by the things that you see everyday. But with a little attitude adjustment, your outlook on your town or city can completely transform! How about taking that 40-minute train to the beach front that you’ve been meaning to go to? Or checking out a new park every week?

Travel doesn’t have to be a grand vacation to a completely different country. It can also be a grand vacation within your own. Some of my favourite holidays have been the ones I took within Kenya, such as to Lake Naivasha or to the coast.

If you have had the chance to get a university degree outside of home, continually remind yourself that 3-4 years is actually a shorter time than it seems. Regional tourism is relatively cheap because it keeps transport costs low. If you’re studying in England, how about a trip to Scotland or Wales? If you’re in the USA, what new States could you maybe spend a weekend at? A flight from New York (USA) to Toronto (Canada) is only under 2 hours. A bus ride from Singapore to Malaysia is only 5 hours long. You could go for the weekend, it could even be a day trip. Take advantage of where you are. See what’s near you.

2. Take advantage of Study Abroad & Summer Programs that your School (and even Other Schools) Offer

One reason that I chose NYU was because it offered Study Abroad for my program, and though I didn’t know for sure if I would do it, I liked having that option. Fast-forward three years later and now I’m fondly looking back on my two separate occasions studying in Paris: for a month-long summer semester in 2017, and for a whole semester (about 5 months) in Spring of 2018. These were both unparalleled experiences and I wholly recommend it to anyone who has the chance to do so. The thing about study abroad programs is that they offer you the cushion and security of institution, but enough independence to explore and learn about the new place and culture you’re in. And what if you study a school that doesn’t offer Study Abroad? Many schools open up their study abroad programs to anyone and everyone. (I know for instance that my school does).

If you’re in university, talking to your course advisor is the best way to get a headstart on it – they may be able to help you directly and if not, should know some people or a company that they can help you out. Google will also be very helpful and link you to sites and programs that fit within your budget and course. You can dip your toe in by going for short-term programs and/or internships. You could even start by looking at specific countries you’ve always wanted to visit, and then see what local things are offered there.

Education is always a good reason to travel: we never stop learning, and living in a new city while doing it teaches you even more important lessons outside the classroom.

3. Visit your Friends and Family Abroad (Keep up with your Relationships!)

I’ve been super lucky to have an international network of friends and family, meaning that some of my favourite travel experiences have come from visiting people I know from home in a different environment! This was the case in my trip to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, as well as to San Francisco, and it’s an amazing way to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in ages. You’re bringing them a little piece of home, but you also get to see them thriving in a place where they have carved a new identity for themselves.

The reason this type of travel fits well in your student budget is because you’ll hopefully be staying with your peeps, so you aren’t paying for accommodation. Furthermore, you’ll eat more home-cooked meals. Staying with people you know also generally lets you extend your stay for a longer period of time.

There’s also nothing better than being shown around a place by someone who knows all the little pockets of it. It makes for an even more genuine experience, and you’ll end up saving a lot of money for it.

4. Look Out for your Local STA Travel & Use Travel Sites to Compare Rates (for Flights & Accommodation)

STA Travel are pretty much the biggest student & youth travel company in the world and have been running for ages: my Mum told me that she’d use STA back in her time, too. If you live in a university city, check for an STA office near you. (They also offer email or call services and their website is pretty accessible). I’ve visited to discuss possible spring break options, for instance, and before I knew it I was walking out their office with ten different pamphlets full of incredible itineraries and trips that were all reasonably within budget. They have student prices on flights and are able to hook you up with unforgettable group and even solo travel experiences. This especially helps if the prospect of planning a trip seems slightly daunting. Look for them! (I promise this isn’t an ad).

I’ve also used sites such as Kayak and Travelocity (and Expedia, although my experiences haven’t been too great here) to compare flight rates and book trips accordingly (and they even have hotel and rental car deals). It’s always good to look at the various options you have and keep track of when prices rise and fall.

The rise of budget airlines is another thing that’s made travel significantly cheaper. I have a friend who managed to bag a flight from Nottingham (UK) to New York (USA) for under £300 ($390) when these flights usually cost £1500 ($1900). Granted these opportunities arise a lot less frequently, but keeping your eyes open to deals like this as you can definitely bag an awesome holiday within your budget!

5. Schedule your Trips During Off-Peak Seasons

The first time I went to Paris with my family was during the summer, and the queue to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower was 4 hours long. When I there during winter, it was a 15-minute wait.

The basic rules of supply and demand come into play here – you’ll get cheaper deals travelling to a place when it’s not warm, or when it’s not during a popular event or vacation time. While it may seem a little bit underwhelming to travel somewhere in Winter, you’ll appreciate the space to breathe – tourist season can get claustrophobic, and your experience can even feel a lot less genuine as you can’t fit into the local culture as well. Furthermore, the trickle-down effects of tourist season, such as escalated prices, hostile locals, long waiting periods – it’s sometimes worth considering travelling at a different time. In fact, overtourism is becoming a large problem in multiple cities, so it’s perhaps also a responsible step to wait until the crowds fizzle out.

I understand how much warmth can play into one’s needs during a vacation, but try one where you bring with you a warm coat, gloves, and opt for a hot chocolate instead of a lemonade with ice. You just might be surprised.

6. Book your Transport at Off-Peak Times & Hours (Sleep on the Bus!)

Getting on a bus at 3 in the morning is never going to be fun, but it’s definitely cheaper than booking a ride in the sunny afternoon hours. Trips around Europe particularly cost very little, and my friends and I were happy to buy significantly cheaper bus tickets, sleep on the ride, and arrive at our new destination in the morning or afternoon hours.

7. Opt to Stay at Youth Hostels (or Airbnbs), instead of Hotels

Hostelworld is one of my favourite go-to sites to check up on places I could stay while visiting several countries in Europe. And while Hostels usually have a reputation for not being the cleanest, you can definitely find some that are cheap and that live up to your standards.

The reason hostels are cost-efficient is because they operate on the idea that you just need a bed to sleep in and a place to put your things. All the extra stuff that hotels give (three meals a day, massages, entertainment) aren’t paramount to your travel experience (unless that’s what you’re specifically looking for). Hostels do happily provide communal kitchens and laundry rooms, and they even host social events to encourage their guests to meet other people in the building. Furthermore, they offer discounted ticket prices to popular tourist activities and valuable information you can use on your travels. The biggest thing for me though is that they’re usually located in centralised areas, or areas near transport links, making it easy for you to move around the city as you explore.

There sometimes will be a correlation between cost and standards (the cheaper they are the more likely they are to be less well-taken care of), so it may be good to check out their rating first before commiting. READ THE REVIEWS, outweigh the strengths and weaknesses of the place; and see if you’re okay with that. I’ve stayed in hostels in London, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, and these were all decent and cost-friendly places to stay in: my hostel in Lisbon charged only €10 a night, was very clean, and was located only 20 minutes from Rossio Square.

Another reasons why hostels are cheap is because you have the option to stay in a dorm, i.e. a room with multiple beds. You can choose to sleep in dorms with a number of people (it can be a 6-person room or a double bedroom for instance, and there are options for co-ed, women only, etc). If this doesn’t sound like something you’re comfortable doing, that’s okay too. There are options for single rooms, too. Then there are Airbnbs. These can be a little trickier for a number of issues – legality, for one, and additionally I’ve found the cheaper listings to be located much further away than is ideal. This varies from city to city though, and the amount of time you’re looking to stay, but Airbnbs really pull through especially if you’re travelling in a big group because you can share the costs. Experiences depend on the hosts and the environment you’re in, so remember to read the reviews again!

8. Capitalise on your Visas Before they Expire & Consider Visiting Places Where You Wouldn’t Need One

This obviously depends on the power of the passport you hold, but in my experience, having a Kenyan passport has meant that visa costs definitely factor into why some trips end up being more expensive and take an even longer time to plan for. Some countries give a visa for 6 months, some for minimum one year, and some even stretch it out to 10 years. If you have the option, always apply for multiple entry.

There are also visas like the Schengen Visa that enable you to visit a bunch of countries within the EU without needing to attain individual visas for each country. I’ve been able to use this visa to move through various European countries. This isn’t only the case in Europe though. My US visa allows me to visit a number of different neighbouring nations (that I otherwise would need a visa for should I not have had this American one). See what you can do with the visas you have before they expire!

To check whether you need a visa for a country or not, websites like Passport Index can really come in handy. You might be surprised by some of the countries you don’t need a visa for, or the ones that you’ll just need to pay a small fee upon arrives. So why not look at flights right after? (Here’s a list of some countries that your Kenyan passport can get you to without a visa – the list includes Hong Kong, Singapore, Seychelles and Barbados!)

9.  Join in on Rewards & Loyalty Programs Offered by Your Travel Companies

Every time I fly a new air, train or bus company, I create an account and immediately become part of their rewards/loyalty/miles program because any accumulation of points can and will be super beneficial in the long run. I’ve been riding with Vamoose Bus between Maryland and New York around twice a semester (to visit family) and have been able to pay for about $150 worth of bus tickets with these points! On a larger scale, airlines have really strong programs in place to ensure that the more air miles you’re collecting with them, the cheaper your cost of travel gets in the long run. This works best if you’re consistent with the transport company you use (or if you use partner companies/alliances), but even if it always isn’t possible to use the same one, make the account anyway. You never know.

10. Make Travel a Priority in your Budget

Truth is, if you do want to travel somewhere, you shouldn’t see it as something to do only if you have money left. While all the tips above are super super helpful, it all solely boils down to this one point: you’ve got to make travel a priority by budgeting for it like you do your groceries and your phone bill. Cutting down on how much you eat out, shop or party can allow you to use the money to book a trip instead – one click of a button is all you’ll need to have your tickets and hostel room booked, and all you’ll have to do is show up! Sometimes opportunities to travel will come to you, but sometimes it’s on you to make the trips happen. So go, now! Start this weekend! Go somewhere you’ve never been before, whether it’s 20-40 minutes away, whether it’s an hour away, whether it’s 7 hours away. Go!

(And if you’d like to know how to keep costs down while you’re there, stay posted because a post on that will definitely be coming up soon!)

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your blog this week speaks to the words of the famous author Paulo Coelho… “Travel is never a matter of money but of courage”

    Like

    1. Kabi says:

      Love this quote!! Thank you for reading and for sharing!

      Like

  2. Carol says:

    Your suggestions are real gems, will definitely try them on my next travel adventure. Thanks for the practical yet fun ways to travel

    Liked by 1 person

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