It’s the unending student dilemma—you want to travel more but you’re on a shoestring budget already. How can you afford to book a ticket to the other side of the globe when you’ve been eating Top Ramen for dinner every night this week? Thankfully, there are ways to travel on a budget so that you can make the most of your college years and start seeing the world! You do not have to be rich to travel—but there are a few tricks of the trade to make traveling without breaking the bank a lot easier. So how do you travel on a budget? We’ve got 18 tips you need to know.
1. Save for travel regularly—before you’re planning your trip!
The easiest way to have money to travel is to start saving in advance and work your travel fund into your regular budget. Set aside a separate account for your travel savings and put money into it each month like a bill. Having a regular savings plan can help you save up a lot for future trips! Even if you’re only able to save $20 extra every month, by the end of the year, you’ll have an extra $240 for a fun getaway.
2. If you can, pick up a side job or extra hours at your current job for your travel fund.
Free time isn’t always easy to find in college, especially when you’re busy juggling classes, friends, homework, internships, clubs, a part-time job or other things. However, if you do have some spare evenings each week—or even just a few hours on the weekend—see if you can pick up a side hustle or even some extra hours at your current job to help save more for your travel fund. If you want more ideas, check out our guide to how to save money to travel more in college.
3. Plan a trip to visit friends.
It’s likely that some of your friends from college live in some pretty cool places—take advantage of the opportunity to go visit them in their hometowns and explore a new city! Staying with friends—or staying with someone your friends know if you’re traveling through town—can save you a ton on hotel costs. Plus, you’ll get to explore somewhere new with a friend and have a built-in local tour guide. Win-win!
4. Consider options besides a hotel.
If you’re not staying with friends or someone you know, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to stay in a hotel. There’s a lot of other options for budget accommodation that can help you save money. If you’re traveling internationally, hostels are very popular in many parts of the world and you can often stay a night in a hostel for less than $40, even if you’re in a popular destination like Rome or Paris. Airbnb and other home-sharing apps also offer some cheap places to stay, especially if you’re sharing a space with friends.
5. Get student discounts on flights.
If you’re a student or under 26, you basically never need to pay full price for flights. At StudentUniverse, we work directly with the airlines to negotiate cheaper prices for students so that you can travel more for less! Plus, we have regular sales and promo codes on offer to make your flights even cheaper. Whether you’re flying back and forth to school or away for a summer vacation, snagging a discount on your flights can bring down the cost of your trip by a lot. Struggling to find something that fits your budget? We’ve got nine essential tips to make sure you can always find cheap flights.
6. Be flexible with your travel dates.
Even if you want to—or need to—travel during a peak travel time, there’s still ways to find cheaper tickets. If you have any flexibility with your travel dates, you can sometimes save hundreds of dollars just by leaving or returning a day or two earlier or later than planned. Typically, it’s more expensive to fly on Fridays and Sundays and cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In addition, be sure to check all your airport options. Many large cities have several airports and sometimes smaller airports have great deals!
7. Consider your destination carefully and pick one that’s budget-friendly!
If you want to plan a trip, but don’t have anywhere specific in mind, picking a budget-friendly destination can save you a ton of money. Of course, you can travel on a budget to any destination if you plan carefully. However, some destinations are much easier to travel cheaply than others. For example, Santorini might be a bucket-list trip, but it’s much more expensive than, say, Croatia, Mallorca or Malta—all other similar destinations. Central and South America or Southeast Asia are also home to dozens of budget-friendly destinations.
8. Travel to cities where you don’t need to rent a car.
Similarly, if you’re flying to a new city, consider a destination where you can get around without having to rent a car. Car rentals can sometimes be pricey, especially if you’re under 25. As a result, if you can eliminate the need to rent a car altogether, or at least for part of your trip, you can easily save hundreds of dollars. Look for destinations that are easily walkable or have great public transit options—New York, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin and New Orleans, just to name a few.
9. Don’t be afraid of public transportation.
This is especially important if you want to avoid paying for a car rental, but make sure you take advantage of public transportation! Many cities, in the US and abroad, have great public transport systems that are usually fairly cheap, reliable and easy to use. Taking the subway or hopping on a local bus or streetcar can get you around to many major attractions and areas of the city for usually just a few dollars—much cheaper than an Uber or taxi! And of course, renting a bike or just walking can be a great way to experience a new city as well.
10. Travel during off-season.
If you have the option of choosing when you’ll be traveling, try to travel during off-season. Off-season, or “shoulder season” (in-between peak and non-peak seasons) can vary based on destination, but in general, summer is peak season and late-fall through early-spring is off season. For some destinations, like Colorado or Miami, winter can actually be more crowded. Do some research for your destination to find out when peak and off-peak seasons are, then plan accordingly.
11. Pack your own snacks.
When you’re making your packing list, don’t forget to pack some of your favorite travel snacks with you! Airport food is notoriously expensive, so having your own food for the airport is a MUST. But even beyond that, having some granola bars or other easy snacks on hand while you’re exploring a new place can help you save money on eating out costs. By not having to spend money on snacks or smaller meals, you can plan to splurge a bit more on a fancier dinner or local specialties.
12. Cook some of your own meals.
If you’re staying in a hostel, Airbnb, with friends or in other house-sharing options, you’ll probably have a kitchen at your disposal. If you can make some of your own meals, it’ll make it much easier to travel on a budget! While eating out in a city will likely cost $15-$20 or more per meal, groceries for a week of dinners will cost much less. To save even more, check out all of our tips to save money on food while traveling.
13. Pack light.
If you want an easy way to save money while you travel, try to avoid checking a bag. While some airlines offer a free checked bag (especially if you’re flying internationally), many airlines still charge between $25-$50 for checking a bag, and more if your bag is over the weight limit. Depending on your itinerary, this can easily add on $100 or more to your trip! Keep in mind too that if you’re traveling internationally and planning on hopping on some budget flights overseas that those flights will incur luggage fees as well, if you have a bag. For the easiest (and cheapest) airport experience, try to pack lightly!
14. Opt for an outdoor adventure.
If you’re looking for a budget getaway, consider going camping, heading out on a National Park road trip or even going for a backpacking trip. Camping can be a lot cheaper than staying in a city, since campsite fees are much cheaper than a hotel and exploring a National Park is usually free, or basically free. If you’re heading out for a road trip, planning a few nights to explore a State or National Park along the way can help you save money AND explore somewhere incredible.
15. Use credit card points.
If you have a credit card, make good use of credit card rewards to book travel. Many credit cards offer reward centers where you can book flights, hotels, cars and more, or (even better!) cash-back options where you can earn cash back on regular purchases and put it towards your travel expenses. Look into what your credit card offers and take advantage of those points! If you don’t have a credit card yet (and want to get one), look into some of the best travel credit cards for students and start earning points now that you can use for traveling.
16. Work or volunteer abroad if you’re taking a longer trip.
Want to live in Europe for a few months but don’t have the cash to make it happen? No worries, there’s still options for you! Sometimes longer trips actually make it easier to travel on a budget because you have the opportunity to get a short-term job or volunteer placement that often will cover your accommodations and some food costs. Work as a waiter/waitress, a bartender, in a hostel, as a tour guide, at a ski resort or even on a farm! While it won’t be a complete vacation, it’s an incredible opportunity to travel for cheap and stay abroad for a much longer time. WWOOF and Workaway are great places to find placements almost anywhere in the world.
17. Enjoy free and cheap things to do in town.
No matter where you’re going, there’s always some options for free activities and things to do. Whether it’s a free walking tour of the city, a picnic in the park, a local hike or a free museum, there’s a lot of options for things to enjoy for free (or very cheap!). Do some research in advance to find some budget-friendly activities. Need some ideas? Start with our guides on free and cheap things to do pretty much everywhere.
18. Don’t forget your student ID!
Your student ID can score you discounts on all kinds of travel-related expenses—not just flights! Many museums offer discounted rates to students and you can sometimes find discounts on rail passes, attractions, some hostels and more. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask!
For more college travel tips, check out our guide to everything college students need to know about travel! Ready to start planning your trip? Check out some of our cheapest flights available currently.