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How to Travel on a Budget in College
  • Posted:
  • December 13, 2016


I have traveled coast-to-coast from L.A. to New York and many places in between. On any school break, I am desperate to leave my college town and go somewhere different. As a college student trying to ration my time and more importantly, my money, I have learned to travel on a budget and I would like to share these things with you.

Travel where you have friends or relatives.

travel collegiate storage and rentalStaying with a friend or relative is a great way to save money. Hotels can get very pricey. However, traveling on a budget may require some humility. Putting your pride aside to reach out to friends that you don’t keep in touch with in order to visit a certain place could make you a little uncomfortable. But you should go for it, this happens. It’s always good to reconnect. If it’s a relative, tell them how you would like to travel but don’t have much money as a college student but you would love to come visit. Let them know you’re sorry that you don’t keep in touch. Make sure try to stay in contact afterwards, I am sure it would be appreciated.

If it’s a not-so-close friend, you could tell them how you would like to experience something new, that it would be great to catch up. You could also say you would appreciate them showing you around so you can travel safely alone. This is extra important if you are traveling abroad, safety is a priority. Your parents may even have a friend that they know who lives somewhere you would like to visit. Your parent’s friends might be kind and understanding enough to let you stay at their place a couple of nights. This could give you the Airbnb experience, but safer. It may sound a bit odd, but just be respectful and appreciative, and you’ll be fine.

You could use Airbnb, if you’re daring, or Hotel Tonight if you are not so daring. Where there is a will, there is a way. You may have to ask for things you normally wouldn’t, to get a free place to stay. Safety should really should be one of your main concerns so staying with someone can be better than staying alone in a hotel. This is a big reason why someone might be willing to let you stay at their place.

Set up a budget

Seriously, make a budget and try your best to stick to it.

First, figure out how much you need to retain to pay any bills you may still have for the time that you are gone. Pay your bills ahead of time so you can work with what you have left. You don’t want to figure out how much money you have to spend first because when you return home to reality, you will still have bills to pay and things to buy, so get that worry out of the way!

Next, figure out how much it will cost to get to your destination whether you are driving or flying. When getting around in a city, Google Maps and Apple Maps have a great feature that lets you get directions using transit options such as buses and trains. Purchase a transit pass when you arrive and you should be able to get around easily. It may be hard to accurately budget a transit pass when you are unfamiliar with a city, but it is still one of the cheapest options. However, many times this information is readily available online.

Decide how much you have to spend on food every day, but keep this number realistic. For me, I usually like to grocery shop instead of eating out every night and I know I spend about $50 on groceries for two weeks, then I allocate $5 per day to try something small from a place that piques my interest such as a quirky café or a pastry shop I’ve never seen before. Overall, this means I budget about $100 to spend on food for 10 days. So, you may have to sacrifice eating out every night, but it can be done!

Lastly, figure out how much you have to spend on other things, including admissions into places, shopping, or souvenirs. I recommend staying away from shopping though, you’re there for the experience not material things! Keep your budget as tight as possible by allocating the most precise amount as possible each day. This way you’re less likely to find yourself spending a few extra dollars every day and suddenly running out of money.

Do your research. Find free or inexpensive things to do.

I am not the biggest fan of views and sightseeing. For me, the great canyon is not that fun to just look at and the Empire State Building view is not worth hours waiting in the line. I like going to places that are unique to each city. Themed cafes, historical places, farmers’ markets, music events, and museums provide more flavors. And best yet, some are free!

Do a quick search online to find free things to do in the city you will be visiting. However, you’ll have to weed through the generic and touristy options first. Try looking up the local newspapers to see what their website says about free events that may be happening while you visit. I also like to look for a more authentic visiting experience by looking through real pictures of things that look fun where I will be visiting and reading posts about what locals are currently doing. I start by searching a map of the city and then checking out places in the vicinity where I will be on apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Guidebooks on Airbnb. This takes a little more time, but there are always people showing off something fun they are doing and tagging places or using hashtags. This is how I have found some of the most unique places in cities I have visited. I even like doing this to find new things I haven’t heard of where I live.

Find an internship

An internship is great for school and career experience. Sometimes an internship will be able to accommodate a place to stay and will give you things to do and ways to meet people! An internship might also pay, or give you incentives like a transit pass or free food that will make it easier to travel on a budget!

Good luck with your winter or upcoming spring break travels!

Guest Post from New Mexico State University Junior, Stacey Ramirez