For college students, travel can be an enchanting elixir. Whether you venture across the globe or two states away, your travels will likely include unique (even résumé-building) experiences, new friends, and a taste of distinct cultures and cuisines. You're bound to make memories that last a lifetime.
The trouble is, travel can also sometimes be a costly endeavor. Particularly for students saving for school expenses, spending money on a trip might feel irresponsible, but it doesn't have to be. It is entirely possible for students to travel on a budget and still come away with top-notch experiences.
Here are a few ways that students have managed to see the world and still keep some money in the bank.
1. Become a Student Travel Guru
These days there's no reason for students to pay full price on travel. From flights and accommodations to activities and everything in-between, there are tons of companies looking to help students save a buck or two.
No one knows this more than Micah Leal, a 23-year-old first-year graduate student in theology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. During his four years in undergrad at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Leal traveled to the United Kingdom five times (including England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales), to India for one summer and for one week each to France, Spain and Scandinavia (including Sweden, Norway and Denmark).
How did he manage? Leal says he was frugal during the school months. He didn't eat out much or buy new clothes, kept a strict budget on any additional cash he spent and found cheap ways to hang out with friends, like taking advantage of local parks. In addition to participating in one study abroad opportunity, these measures helped him save for travel.
Other than that he was simply savvy.
"I would check flight deals online almost every other day, which helped me find some incredible airfare," he said. "I've found the best way to travel is to always be looking at flights, use Airbnb and make friends wherever you go. It sounds cheesy, but being personal and getting to know people as a college student abroad often provides experiences (and meals) that you could never find on your own."
Besides checking airlines frequently, you can log on to student-friendly sites like Student Universe and STA Travel that offer student discounts on everything from flights and hotels to tours, travel insurance and car rentals. For domestic destinations consider the train — companies like Amtrak may also offer student discounts.
2. Take Advantage of Study Abroad Programs
During the summer of 2016, Shivangi Baghel, a 19-year-old junior at Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was able to travel to Barcelona and Madrid through his school's study abroad program. He took classes that were required of his core curriculum and the credits transferred. He was also able to sign up for a payment plan option where students could decide how much money they pay per month toward their travel. Baghel's payment plan, which he's already paid off, gave him five months to pay about $5,000.
While abroad, Baghel saved by limiting his spending on things like souvenirs, and he was frugal with meals.
"For example, for dinner it was a great trick to buy multiple tapas — or small appetizers — instead of one large meal," he said. "You get a lot of variety of food, and it's less expensive."
If you need help deciding where to go or how to make travel work with the classes you need to take, check with your university's study abroad center, if they have one. That's how Emma Vogel, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, ended up studying in Florence, Italy, during the spring semester of her junior year.
"Through my university's relationship with my program, I was able to pay a similar tuition that I did to attend college in the United States," she said.
Alternatively, if your school doesn't offer a study abroad program, or if the one it has doesn't appeal to you, look for summer travel programs for college students that will sponsor your travel and still allow your credits to transfer.
As a French and communications double major at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, Natalie Swimmer, 22, said that she wanted to travel to France to work on her language skills. However, when it came time to decide how to get to France, Swimmer chose not to attend her school's program in Versailles. Wanting to be in a city instead, she went independently to Paris with Cultural Experiences Abroad, a popular study abroad program that she had heard good things about from other students. All of the credits Swimmer earned — both through her studies at Sorbonne University and the CEA center — transferred to Furman.
As an added bonus, she saved money, too. "As it turned out, the program's cost ended up being a little less than Furman's tuition," Swimmer said, "and I was still getting the classes I needed."
3. Get an Internship Abroad
Sarah Allen, a 22-year-old recent graduate with a degree in communications from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, spent a semester abroad in Florence during her junior year. This was actually her second time visiting Florence while in school — she spent her freshman year there as well as part of Marist's Freshman Florence Experience program. During her second stay, Allen also had a local internship for school credit.
After arriving in Italy, Allen worked with an internship coordinator and ultimately was placed in a public relations position for a local shoe brand. As her first internship in an industry she wasn't used to, and in a country with language and cultural barriers, Allen said the work was challenging. Ultimately, however, it taught her a lot about how she works and what kind of companies she would explore for employment after graduating. The company she interned with was small — typically only two or three other people worked in the office on the same day.
"I learned that I really like working in that small, startup type of atmosphere," she said, "and those are the types of job opportunities I've pursued since then."
While in Italy, Allen made the most of her location and traveled to nearby places like Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice and Bologna, among others. She also took advantage of being in Europe and made weekend trips to places like Santorini, Barcelona and Munich. She roughed it on overnight buses and slept in airports to get the most time in each place for the least amount of money.
Her one piece of advice for students abroad looking to do some additional travel: be leery of student tour companies. "They're super convenient and make the process easy, but you can travel on your own to the same places for less, and you get a more authentic experience," she said. "We used online tools like Skyscanner, which gives you the cheapest flights to or from anywhere in the world, and took advice from students who had taken similar trips before us. They already knew the scams to look out for and the cheapest ways to get around."
4. Look into Scholarship or Financial Aid Opportunities
Saving on travel may be possible with scholarships or financial aid opportunities through your college as well. At Rutgers there are several scholarship programs available for study abroad including those based on financial needs, merit or through the college's individual schools. Scholarship awards range from $500 to $5,000 to help curb travel costs. At James Madison University, several travel scholarships are available, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, and are generally awarded based on a combination of GPA, financial need and personal essay submissions.
It's always worth checking with your own school to see if similar summer travel programs for college students are available, but an alternative option is collegescholarships.org, a program that also offers travel scholarships.
Whether you're just starting out in school this fall or you'll be returning for your final year, there's no reason travel can't be part of your overall agenda. Take a page from students who've done it before and use every tool at your disposal to save some cash while seeing the world and even get college credit.