There’s no doubt that visiting the likes of New York, London, Paris and the rest of the world’s top cities can be the most fantastic and enriching experience. But it doesn’t come cheap.
And if there’s one thing that unites all student travelers, no matter where they’re from, it’s a budget…. Because if you don’t manage to stick to it and over-spend, you can end up in a lot of trouble with a mountain of debt when you get home!
We’ve all been there, done that – so here’s our advice on how to travel as a student on the cheap…
Setting Out and Travel Costs
For starters, you’ve got the actual act of traveling – getting around, in other words – and this is your biggest cost.
A good student card like STA can go some way towards alleviating the problem. For as little as $25 (€19/£13) a year, you can really drive costs down. And with a whole host of savings and student discounts available all around the globe, it really can’t fail to pay off in the long run.
In addition to a student card, a rail card can really reduce your travel expenses if you’re traveling in one geographical area, like the United States or Europe. Apart from giving you freedom to travel around your chosen area, this is a great saving device.
Another important thing you must remember to do is to hunt around. It’s not just flights that can be different from company to company, and day to day. Coaches and trains are subject to all sorts of deals and special offers. For more detail on this and great rail journeys, see our Train Travel section.
But the there’s also the question of paying for your accommodation….
This is a bit of a no-brainer, frankly. Wanting to counterbalance the cost of a pricey city like London or Paris? Rather than just turning up, realizing that all the cheap places in town are full, and having to stay somewhere that’s out of your price range, have a look around first, and you’ll find the cheapest accommodation out there.
The additional bonus of this from a budgeting point of view is that, the more hostels you book before you leave, the easier it is to budget whilst you’re actually on your trip. You can lay your booking confirmations out on a table and add up EXACTLY how much you’ll owe when you get there, and how much you’ll have left over to spend.
From a financial point of view, it’s important to check out which hostels provide what facilities as part of the price – sheets and towels can be a real drain, whilst perks such as free internet access, and complementary breakfast can come in pretty handy, too. It may not sound like much, but a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, or a couple of slices of toast and jam and a coffee can really set you up for the day.
All in all, a little research can help you save in surprising places – the hostel with the cheapest beds might not actually be the most cost effective, compared to somewhere offering lots of facilities for free!
Another way in which you can find your money quickly disappearing is through all the assorted monuments, art galleries and museums you visit. We’re obviously not suggesting that you shouldn’t take in as much culture as you can on your travels, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Ask yourself if you really want to pay €10 to see a collection of obscure Byzantine artworks. If not, don’t bother, and save your money for the things you really do want to see and do. You’re not obliged to visit every dusty, half-empty museum in a city.
Another good tip is to track down the small museums, galleries and historical sights – the ones tucked away down a side street where you have to ring a bell, or call out for an old curator to come scuttling out. They’re often equally interesting, and quite often, free.
Eating and Drinking
You’d do extremely well to get a recent guidebook before you set out. We can’t emphasize this enough. There’s no point traveling with an out of print guidebook that your elder brother handed down to you, from his backpacking days.
There’s no point being snobbish about it. Sometimes you hear people in your hostel running guidebooks down, as if by having one you’re somehow a less ‘authentic’ and ‘spontaneous’ traveler. But how else are you going to get to know a city?
Do some research before you set off (or whenever you’ve got access to the internet on the road) for recommendations on cheap hostels and a general overview of the city. And after that… It’s a good guidebook all the way. This will give you a good idea of how much a drink and a bite to eat at such-and-such a bar or restaurant costs. Most even have budget travel sections for each city, town or area.
But don’t just stick to the places recommended in your travel guide. Ask around. Find the scruffy local places, the ones with sawdust on the floor, the slightly grubby ones, the packed, noisy, poorly lit ones: these are where you’ll get the really cheap (and usually) great things to eat.
Another key is to avoid places that are directly adjoined to important tourist sites, where prices are dramatically inflated. A coffee and a sandwich in St. Mark’s Square in Venice can cost you as much as a cheap meal elsewhere in the city.
Ultimately, though, we’ve always found the main way that you really hemorrhage money on your travels is through incessant cokes and coffees during the day. Yes, it’s nice to hang out in a café or bar, watching the world go by, but it all adds up. It’s far cheaper to find a park, square or a nice spot by the river where you can lounge around all day.
If you’re really pushed finance-wise you can also extend this principle to eating: A loaf of bread and some cheese and ham bought from a local market comes to a lot less than the same thing from a sandwich shop or bar. That way you’ll find you’ve got more money at your disposal for when it really matters – the long evening ahead.