How to Travel on a Student Budget
After graduating high school, I kicked off my newfound freedom with a trip to Vietnam and Laos and immediately, I began to fulfill every travel stereotype you’ve ever heard. I was bitten by the travel bug, was speechless but became a storyteller, left only footprints and took only memories, the whole works.
The end of that trip was bittersweet for me because it meant returning home for my first semester of college, and I had absolutely no hope for traveling in the near future. I was ready to fulfill my destiny as a broke, ramen-eating, all-nighter-pulling student. Experiencing the trip of a lifetime then coming home to serve a four year sentence at a desk kind of seemed like trying the world’s best cheese in the Swiss Alps only to be told that you can only eat Cheese-Whiz for the rest of your life. But, I knew what I had to do, so I put on my big girl panties and buckled down.
That first semester was one of the most challenging and rewarding times of my life because I learned what I was capable of and knew that I was on the right career path. Even so, I couldn’t stop looking at old travel photos and signing audibly (a habit that would soon earn me a warning in the silent library). I’m all for pushing yourself with your education, but I came to realize that this is also the time to do what makes you happy. Two years later, I have spent four months traveling through eleven countries, all while attending university full-time.
At this point in my pre-amble/ humble-brag, you’re probably thinking, “is she going to say anything useful? I could have been halfway through a season of Gilmore Girls right now.” So because I appreciate you postponing your Netflix binge to read this, here is everything I have learned about traveling on a student budget.
1.Take Advantage of Breaks
For a lot of students, taking off for weeks at a time is not realistic. We have practicums, jobs, summer courses and all of those real life downers. Luckily, the school year is packed with mini breaks that can easily be expanded upon. This year’s fall reading break was supposed to be four days long, but being the sneaky underachiever I am, I was able to take off to Guatemala for ten. Talk to your professors and see if you can miss a class or two and catch up on the classwork on your own time- I’ve found that they often understand and are willing to accommodate you. This can often allow you the flexibility to hop on deals offered by individual airlines or comparison services.
Disclaimer: Ignore this if you’re going to school to become a brain surgeon; if I need to be operated on in the future I will be counting on you, and I would prefer if you knew what you were doing.
2. Bursaries Are Your Friend
When I first started looking at scholarships and bursaries, I had no expectations that anything would actually come out of it. My grades were good but not great, my athletic abilities were laughable at best, and the extent of my community service consisted of taking empty beer cans to the recycling depot after a party. But here’s the thing about scholarship programs- we all want to live in a society where education is accessible, and there are endless organizations and foundations that will help you get there. Seriously, if there are scholarships for being a left-handed female (true story), you will find one that fits you! Start by checking out my list of databases below for scholarships that relate to your hobbies and field of study, or make an appointment with your program advisor and let them point you in the right direction. Trust me, if it can work for me, it can work for you!
ScholarshipsCanada (Canucks only!)
3. You Do Have Time for a Job
When school starts, it can seem inconceivable that you would have time for anything else. I had already planned out the sassy yet dignified way I would quit my part-time waitressing job, thinking that I would be way too buried in schoolwork to make any money for the next half decade. But, most jobs that depend on their part-timers understand the reality of student life and that they will have to be flexible to keep their valuable employees. Find a position that lets you pick your hours and has a electronic system in place for booking time off- this has guaranteed that I am never scheduled when I don’t want to be, whether it’s during midterms or I’m off gallivanting on another continent. Working during school is not easy, and I can guarantee that you will feel a little stretched thin, but the freedom you will get come vacation time is priceless. Just think, one night waiting tables= three nights accommodation on the beach! If you find yourself living in the library, check your university’s website for on-campus listings; everywhere from the bookstores to the pubs are always looking for good people.
4. Cut Your Non-essentials in Half
This one is going to hurt, but we are going to rip the bandaid off together. Every month, we spend little nuggets of money on the things we want, but don’t necessarily need. I broke my own spending into 5 major categories:
Clothing and Makeup
Movies and Live Music
These can be different for everyone, so look back at your last three credit card statements, pick your five poisons, and whip out that calculator. The bills don’t always give you a full picture, but they should give you an idea of what you’re spending. Split that amount in half and voila-
Your new budget
This is the point at which you are probably starting to sweat and nervously stroke your credit cards, whispering, “my precious.” Cutting down on spending is hard, there’s no denying that. But before you start cursing my name and blocking this blog from your browser, know that I am not suggesting you adopt a minimalist existence. It’s important to not miss out on experiences while you’re young, and you should never cheap out on making memories. But staying in every once in awhile or wearing drug store makeup will not ruin your young years, I promise.
5. Get Creative
The amount of opportunities out there for travellers these days is pretty unbelievable. Practically any skill or hobby can be turned into free accommodation, tours, or even cash money. Whether you want to work with your hands in Italy, mix drinks in Australia, or speak conversational English in Tokyo, there are countless ways to support yourself in cities all around the world. I’ve listed just a few of these intriguing tidbits below.
Workaway is an absolute goldmine. Just click on “View Hosts” and you will instantly be connected to thousands of organizations or independent business owners who are willing to accommodate travellers in exchange for an endless variety of services, from marketing to manual labour. This site is also a great way to find genuine volunteering opportunities that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Sometimes this one seems almost a little too good to be true. Housesitting is when homeowners offer free accommodations in their homes while they are away in exchange for minor care-taking tasks, like maintaining their pools and gardens or showing their fur babies some love. There are several websites to help you find these kind of positions, but my favourites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. I’ve seen opportunities from luxury apartments in Kuala Lumpur to beach huts in Costa Rica. Desirable spots can be tough to nab, so any references from previous jobs are definitely an asset.
Think housesitting, but substitute fur babies for real babies. If you have a way with children, nannying can be a great way to live abroad while experiencing family life. These families are trusting you with the most important part of their lives, so you will need to be 102% committed before applying. Try searching online for agencies in the country you’d like to visit, or contact the agency directly for placement opportunities.
For every tourist hub, there are countless jobs that need to be filled to keep the industry booming. The kind of part-time jobs you might be working now- bartending, serving, reception- are all jobs that can be easily found abroad. These positions can often be secured online, or by approaching hotels, bars and hostels directly while on the road. Check out the list below as a start and see what’s right for you!
Jobs Abroad Bulletin – Great for all types of seasonal work.
Caterers Global – Specializes in the hospitality industry.
Goabroad – Everything from studying abroad to volunteer and paid positions.
Hostel Jobs – Self-explanatory!
Just like the hospitality jobs above, but on the high seas! These jobs will often give you the opportunity to visit different cities or islands around the globe in a short period of time, all while letting you work on your tan. It’s great to apply for these positions with related experience, but often all you will need is your sea legs. Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival cruises regularly post employment opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled!
6. Sugar Daddies/Mamas
JUST KIDDING. Let’s keep this list respectable, okay?
So there you have it folks. Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean that you have to be a prisoner to your degree. Before long, we will graduate and the working world will not be as hospitable to our nomadic tendencies. So let’s get out there and see the world while we can!
Are you guys smacking your foreheads right now because I missed a glaringly obvious tip? Leave yours below, I would love to know how you guys pay your way around the world while rocking the academic world!