“How can you afford to travel as much as you do?”. This is a question I get all the time. The answer is not simple. I am only a student, and no, my trips are not sponsored – nothing is free. Because the question is asked frequently, I think it is appropriate to dedicate a blog post to it!
First, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself. I am a student. Being a travel-addicted student has good sides and bad sides. The good side is that I do not have any mandatory classes or anything at uni so I can travel whenever I want, and I have a long summer vacation. The bad side is that I do not have a lot of money. Another bad thing is that whenever I have vacations, I need to spend most of them working. So usually I end up traveling during the semester. I also work part time to save up money.
Here are a few advices – how to travel a lot, even though you do not have a lot of money!
When you are at home:
- Work as much as possible. I do not have a lot of free time when I am home, because I am usually at school or at work – but this is a price I want to pay, because it gives me more money to travel. While I was in school, I tried to do all I can to save money. I even looked into the idea of getting cheap car insurance for young drivers when I eventually passed my test. It made all the difference for when it came to saving for travelling. Earlier, I had up to three part time jobs at the same time, in addition to being a student. If you are a student, you should also try to work full-time during parts of your vacations.
- Save money to travel. Instead of shopping clothes and things you do not really need, you should save money to travel. This doesn’t only apply to travelling though. Whether you are looking to buy a Semi Truck, a new phone or a designer bag, you need money. If these are items that you really want, put some money aside from your wages or student loan to buy what you want. This way, when you finally reach your money goals, you’ll feel proud that you managed to make it possible. When I am considering buying something, I always measure it in how far I can travel for this amount of money. If I am considering buying a jacket for 1000 NOK, I usually think “well, I do not really need it, and I can get to England for this price”. Put things in a wider perspective! I also have a very economic lifestyle compared to most people (maybe it has something to do with me being quite interested in budgeting and economics – after all, I am studying economics!). I do not go shopping very often, I buy the cheapest groceries and try to buy things used, etc.
When you are planning a trip:
- Avoid the traditional vacation periods. For example, I do not travel much in July or during Easter and Christmas, because the prices tend to rise in these periods.
- You do not need to go on a holiday to explore the world. If you are a student, you can go on exchange to another country (avoid the schools with high tuition fee), or you can join international societies that gives you the opportunity to travel. You can also do an internship abroad or do volunteer work – this is fun, you get to see a new country and it is in general a good experience. If you are working, check if there are any exchange programs at your workplace, or take a leave to do some volunteer work abroad. In this way, you can explore the world without using a lot of money. I have for example been an exchange student twice (in Hong Kong and Sydney), and I worked in Tanzania, India and Shanghai.
- Join different clubs that can give you discounts. For example, I usually book my hotels at Hotels.com because I am in a reward program here that gives me every 10th night for free. When I have three nights saved up, I can go on a weekend trip without paying for the hotels at all! I am also a member of several frequent flyer programs, for example Eurobonus (Star Alliance). Let’s Deal and similar companies often have great travel deals at a very low price.
- Choose your destination based on flight prices (and the country’s price level). I always check out flight tickets first, and then I decide where to go based on the prices. I also spend some time checking different options for tickets (like Momondo, Skyscanner and the flight companies themselves). It might be cheaper to split up the trip, by booking one flight to a big airport, and then booking another one to your end destination. Make sure you have enough time between the flights though, as it is a bit risky to do it this way in case of delays etc.
- Go to low-cost countries. Avoid high-cost countries, typically Western countries. Go to Krakow instead of London, or Vietnam instead of Australia.
When you are traveling:
- Make budget for your trip, and stick to it. When I am traveling, I use budget apps to track my spending. In that way I know when I have to save money, or when I can afford spending a bit extra.
- Eat on a budget. If you are staying in an apartment or a hostel, you can cook your own food. In general; avoid fancy restaurants and eat where the locals eat. I always plan where to eat, so I do not end up at expensive tourist restaurants (luckily, you can find most details online these days – check out reviews as well as menu prices). Instead of buying bottled water several times a day, you can bring a bottle for free refills. If you are in a country where you should not drink tap water, there are often drinking fountains where you can refill your bottle for free, even at the airports.
- Where to stay. If you do not want to spend any money at all, go for Coach Surfing or something like that. Hostel dorms are very cheap, but in low-cost countries you can also find quite decent, cheap hotels as well.
- Find free things to do. Check if there are any free walking tours in the city you are visiting. In many cities, museums are free one day a week as well. In general, there are always lots of free things to do, you just need to find them.
- Use the cheapest transport option. Avoid taxis – even in low-cost countries, where they often over-charge tourists (I once had a taxi ride in Prague that was more expensive than what I would have paid in Norway!). Sometimes, it can actually be cheaper to get around by a rented car than using public transport. Whether you are travelling to Australia or France, looking into options such as Car Hire Sydney or Car Hire France, you’ll be able to find a vehicle that you can rent, instead of paying for taxis. We all know that can be very expensive, especially if you are doing that throughout the trip.
Check out the options before you decide what to do. Often, slower and older transport options are more reasonable than the most comfortable once. For example, airport express trains tend to be quite expensive, while airport buses can be a real bargain.
- Travel with other people. Splitting the costs makes the trip much cheaper. For example, sharing a taxi among four people can be cheaper than taking the bus, and on for example Airbnb you can share a big flat at a very low price. If you are traveling alone (or with one more person), you can for example share a taxi with people you meet at the airport.
- Get to know the locals. Even in low-cost countries, you may experience high prices as a tourist. If you get to know a few locals, they can give you advices on how to keep the budget low. They may show you the city for free, and teach you about their culture. And maybe you will make some very good friends as well?
- The flights. I mentioned how to find the flights above, but here are a few more advices. You can for example save a lot by only bringing cabin luggage. Low-cost airlines often charge more for the luggage than the ticket itself! Use low-cost airlines, they are often better than their reputation say! Avoid buying food at airports and on the flight – bring your own food.
- Buy a local sim card. I remember a trip to India a few years ago, where I did not buy a local sim card for my phone. You would not believe the bill I received from my phone company when I got back home – even though I only used my phone when it was absolutely necessary. By using a local sim card, you can use the phone whenever you want, and it is so much cheaper. It also makes everything easier, as most deals today include internet (and if you do not have internet included at your hotel/hostel, getting internet access can be quite expensive).
- Special discounts. If you are a student, you will have discounts all over the world – either it is on flights, food, drinks, attractions, public transport or something else. There are also some companies offering youth discount if you are in your 20s or younger. Sometimes hotels and hostels have special discounts on attractions, restaurants etc. for their guests. Check out what discounts that are available for you!
To make a short summary: The key is to plan as much as possible. Plan your life at home in a way that let you save up money to travel. Plan your trips well, so you do not have to spend more money than necessary. We are all lucky to live in the internet age, which makes it very easy to plan whatever you want. If you are good in planning, your budget will be at the minimum!
Remember to follow me on Instagram @mariameland!