How To Study Abroad on a Budget (Final Project Submission)

The time has finally come for your semester abroad. Your bags are (mostly) packed and you’re gearing up for the adventure of a lifetime. Passport? Check. Boarding pass? Check.

I bet you’ve worked tirelessly all summer to save up as much moo-lah as possible (Picking up that extra shift on the Fourth of July is totally gonna be worth it…Right?). But, despite your best efforts, no amount of money in your savings account will stop your wallet from begging you to knock a couple trips off your travel bucket-list. But, do not fret.

First off, let’s get everything out on the table: If you’re planning on studying abroad, there’s a good chance that the whole study thing is going to take a major backseat to the abroad thing. And that’s okay. Luckily, most programs understand that you are an international student for a reason; and that reason is to learn and grow not only as a student of a university, but more importantly, as a student of the world. The way the work is allotted abroad is a lot different than in America, so you will actually have very few assessed assignments. Instead, you might have one or two papers and/or projects that will account for most of your grade percentage and how you go about managing your time to meet your deadlines is really up to you.

As you may have already picked up, this leaves you with tons of free weekends to take trips to all the places you’ve always dreamed of visiting if you ever found yourself across the pond. Yes, traveling can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are actually a lot ways to travel on a budget so that you can still check off every spot on your bucket list without breaking the bank.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask about a Student Discount.

First and foremost, I cannot stress enough that you should NEVER be ashamed to ask if there are student discounts available. Whether it’s a coffee shop, the mall, or an airline, lots of companies have deals for students. Let’s face it, it’s no secret that college students are broke. Most businesses are more than happy to give you a discounted rate—or at the very least, knock a few euros off your total—just for being a student. More often than not you will need to show valid identification, so bring your Student ID with you everywhere: the movies, the grocery store, and even to the clubs (student discounts on entry covers are more common than you might think). It never hurts to ask!

(Be sure to check out this student site for awesome promo codes on all your favorite brands and this site for cheap student flights!)

2. Buy groceries.

It’s easy to fall into the routine of eating out for every meal during the week because it’s so quick and convenient. Unfortunately, paying for coffee and a muffin for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and then God knows what for dinner, can really start to add up if you make a habit of it. Instead, buy fresh produce and make your own meals. Three to four week’s worth of groceries typically costs the same amount as a few days of eating out. Stock up on food that will last you a long time—rice, pasta, frozen chicken, etc.—and then you’ll only need to buy produce every week or two. Trust me, I know it can be a pain to disrupt your day to go home for lunch, but the cash you’ll save eating a PB&J instead of a Starbucks panini will be so worth it. And if you live off-campus, get up a few minutes earlier to pack yourself a quick lunch in the morning and shove it your backpack for later. Your future-self will thank you when you can actually afford that flight to Venice.

3. Stay in hostels.

If you’re jetting off to a new country every weekend, it’s not practical to book 5-star hotel rooms every weekend, or even hotel rooms at all. Sure, securing yourself a place to stay that is super comfortable might seem important, but do you really need a mini fridge and a microwave when you’re in Paris? My answer is simply: No, you do not. Most decent hostels are basically student-hotels with bunkbeds and cheap breakfast, and you’re going to be out all day and most of the night anyway. You don’t necessarily need to book a bed for €10 in a coed room shared with 10 people, but there are usually options in same-sex rooms with 2-4 beds, or even private rooms, that are a hell of a lot of cheaper than booking a hotel.

Try to put it into perspective. If you’ll be able to go on X many more adventures, who cares if your mattress is hard and you have to bring your own shower towel? Of course, you should do your due diligence to make sure the ratings are good and people who have stayed there in the past were decently happy.  But as long as where you’re sleeping is safe, clean, and there’s running water—I’ve made the mistake of staying somewhere that didn’t meet any of these requirements, but that’s a whole ‘nother story—it’s worth it to live without the extra amenities if it means you can see more of the world.

(Hostelworld.com is a great resource for finding hostels with the best prices and location.)

4. Use public transportation.

Yes, the thought of navigating an underground in a foreign country sounds less than ideal, but it really does save you big bucks. Uber can be expensive and taking a cab can be even worse. Most cities are either very walkable and/or have a convenient public transit system that is relatively inexpensive. Plus, being able to master the underground in a new city in just one weekend feels amazing! (And your wallet will be so proud of you.)

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If you do opt for public transportation, be sure to allow ample time in your itinerary for delays and personal error. You got this!

6. Hold back from buying souvenirs. 

While you’re traveling to the most famous cities in the world you’re going to want to bring home a piece of your adventure, whether it’s for your loved ones or for your own nostalgic purposes. Buying cliché gifts like Eiffel Tower keychains and “I ❤ DUBLIN” shot glasses is tempting, but try to keep in mind that those things are usually overpriced, cheaply made, and destined to collect dust in your junk drawer. And let’s be honest, who has the room in their checked bag for the extra weight of souvenirs anyway?

Instead, try collecting an inventory of items that will remind you of your trip but won’t cost you extra cash. Maps, travel guides, train tickets, boarding passes, postcards and museum passes are just a few ideas of paper-weight keepsakes that you can take home at no extra cost. Plus, they make for great scrapbooking!

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5. Book in advance!!!

If you ignore everything else in this post, please at least heed this warning. When planning weekend trips it is absolutely imperative that you book in advance. Purchasing a plane ticket and somewhere to stay is not only far less expensive when done weeks (or even better, months) ahead, but it will save you the headache and unnecessary anxiety. Traveling is stressful enough. There is no need to put extra pressure on yourself  by booking last minute. Prices go up daily as the date creeps closer, so nail down your travel schedule in as much advance as possible and then start booking right away.

(EasyJet and Ryanair usually have the best prices on flights, so be sure to check them out first.)

Another slick trick is to fly on days that are generally not busy travel days, like Thursday or Saturday. Depending on your schedule, this might not be possible. But prices on these “off” days are a fraction of the cost of Friday or Monday flights.

See? “Studying” abroad doesn’t have to be so hard on your savings account. If you take advantage of student deals and travel smart, you might just be able to—dare I say it—add destinations to your semester bucket-list. Safe travels.

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