Hey everyone! As I’m writing this, I’m killing a bit of time before I go into the last three hours of my work week. Life has been pretty good lately, and I hope things are going just as well for you all. I want to, first of all, thank you for reading this. I’ve been in the process of transforming my blog into more of a reader-oriented travel site, and I appreciate the support and patience you all have been given in the process. I’ll keep this short so we can move on to the post, but honestly, this all means a lot.
As many of you know, I spent this past semester in Valladolid, Spain on a study abroad trip. It was the best experience of my life, and I highly recommend that anyone who is even slightly considering studying (or travelling) abroad should just go for it! During my time abroad, I visited seven countries in Europe, and I flew out to South America to visit two more over my spring break. Outside of the program costs and my airfare to and from Spain, I spent just under $3,000 on some of the most incredible travel experiences of my life. You may be wondering how that was possible, and well, the intent of this post is to describe just that and to more importantly, tell you how you can do the same.
I first of all, can only relay my own experiences and give you ideas on how to save. I cannot, however, guarantee that you will stay in a certain price range (that’s up to you to decide). Every person is different. They prefer different styles of transportation or accommodation, and they enjoy doing different things while in a new place. Money spent will of course vary depending on these values and costs. As for me, I kind of kept things very basic. I explored what I could, and I was always after the cheapest options. That all worked well for me.
1. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.
Before I make any travel plans, I do a LOT of research. I often spend hours looking into where I want to go, how I can get there and in between places, and what I can see and do in these places. I want to make sure my money is well-spent (and well-saved), so I’ll often make a detailed plan of a potential trip before deciding if I should go for it or not.
Believe it or not, if you want to travel well, you should put a lot of research into it. Research what are the best transportation and accommodation options, based off your needs. For transportation, I usually look for the cheapest option that is at a good time. With accommodation, I look for the cheapest option that is in a good location and preferably has free breakfast. I do heavy research into what countries I should visit and what are some of the best places to visit in that country. Pretty views and cool things to do are a must for m, and I tend to search beyond the typical touristy places. Whatever I like best is where I’m going to go, and trust me, it will be well planned out and budgeted before even purchasing tickets and making reservations.
2. Compare transportation options.
This one ties in with my first point. It’s probably one of the most important pieces in my research process because well, travel is the most inevitable cost. You can look into the cheapest options, but you can only do so much about it. It has been and always will be the most expensive part about my travel.
Luckily, there is easy and reliable transportation all throughout Europe, giving you several options in how to get from Point A to Point B. I like to use GoEuro.com to compare all flight, bus, and train options, and from there, I find the cheapest option that also works well in my itinerary. A lot of times, flights can be just as cheap or even cheaper than buses or trains, so that’s something to keep in mind. I’ve flown with Wizzair, Iberia, and RyanAir between Spain and other countries, and then I take a bus in between closer locations in Europe. It has worked well has definitely saved me a lot of money (Most of the time, the total transportation costs have been under $200). I also use momondo.com to find cheap flights and simple google searches to find additional, more local information.
3. Catch an overnight bus, train (or long flight).
Okay, this is turning into a pattern of one point bouncing off of the previous, but for real, as your looking into transportation options, consider taking an overnight bus or train to get somewhere, especially if travel time is 7 or more. You don’t lose precious chucks of your day by traveling, and you can also save money by ditching a hotel or hostel for the night. I know sleeping on a bus can seem scary and impossible, but I have done it, and it has worked well for me every time. If you’re concerned about showering the next morning, most hostels will let you stop by the hostel before your check-in time to shower, drop off your luggage, etc. Otherwise, gyms or public shower areas to use.
4. Stay in a hostel.
Consider staying in a hostel for cheaper accommodation and a more vibrant travel experience. There have been times when I’ve traveled with friends and splitting the cost of a hotel was cheaper than a hostel, but more times than not, a hostel will be your cheapest option. You can easily find a place to crash for the night for $15-$20. Some people don’t like hostels because they don’t like sharing a room with strangers, they feel it is unsafe, etc. (which I totally get), but I absolutely love it. It’s fun meeting other young travelers and getting to know them. I’d rather meet someone new than be stuck in a hotel room by myself the whole time. Hostels also have areas to cook, hang out, and do other fun things, so that’s a plus. I stayed in one in Nice, Madrid, and Buenos Aires, and they have been some of my favorite experiences. Definitely worth the money (moreso, the savings).
5. Or look into other cheap accommodation.
Don’t worry. Plenty of other options exist outside of an expensive hotel. Airbnb gives you the option of staying in a room, house, or apartment during your travel, and a lot of times, prices are comparable to those of hostels. I haven’t personally used it, but my friends have, and they have had positive experiences with it. They enjoyed having their own apartment space to just chill, cook, and do whatever.
Couchsurfing.com is another great resource that I have been wanting to use. This website is a community of travelers who both host and stay in the homes of other travelers, typically for free. Getting more of an authentic cultural experience by staying with a local? That sounds cool. Doing it for free? Even better!
6. Travel with other people.
Not only is it more fun to travel with other people, but it can also make things cheaper. For a couple of my trips, some friends and I found reasonably inexpensive hotel options. When we split the cost between two or three people, we ended up saving a lot on the room, and we spent a comparable amount to what we would have spent with other options. It worked well.
When you travel with another person, you can also share the costs of groceries and make food at home, saving you a lot of money in the food department. Sharing shower products is another good way to save money (and lighten the load when packing). As for the little things that you forgot to bring or didn’t think you’d need, perhaps your friend has some in her backpack. You never know! There were a couple times when my friends saved me from those little, annoying purchases such as bandaids. Having another person there so you can bounce off of each other with costs is a huge money saver!
7. Visit other people.
I’ve focused quite a bit on Europe and how easy and inexpensive it can be to travel through European countries, but I’m sure many of you are wondering, “But what about South America? How did you travel there and back for two weeks, without spending $3,000 in that alone?” Well, to be honest, this point was my main money-saver for South America.
I traveled to Uruguay to visit my boyfriend who lives there. Obviously, I just went to see him and well, taking on the full cost would have been something I’d do in a heartbeat. Anything was worth it to see him, and I never entered into it thinking about how I could get out of spending money. It just naturally worked out that we each paid half of the airfare (less that $350 each). And of course, I stayed at his house for the entire two weeks, which cut out accommodation costs on the spot.
During our time together, we didn’t spend much outside of grocery costs and going out for food. We did take a two-day trip to Buenos Aires, so we spent a little bit more on our bus + ferry and our hostel though. Totally worth it, and completely economical. I think I saved a lot of money by staying with my boyfriend and sharing costs, rather than hitting as many European countries as I could in that two-week time.
Unless you’re in a similar relationship as me, you probably won’t have someone paying for half of your airfare, but perhaps you have an aunt in Germany or a friend you’ve been wanting to visit in Ecuador. If they haven’t invited you already, I’m sure they would be more than happy to host you if you ask. Spending quality time and visiting the people you love sounds a lot better than spending money for a hotel or hostel.
8. Look into student discounts and rewards programs.
Okay, this is something I don’t know much about. I didn’t take advantage of student discounts or rewards programs, but it is something that I know exists, and I wish I had used it during my time travelling. I believe you can buy some kind of card that will sometimes give you student discounts on train and bus tickets and maybe even airfare. All throughout Europe, student discounts are offered for entrance tickets to museums, and other tourist sites. Just bring a student ID and passport along with you. I think some places require you to be under 24 or 25.
You can also look into signing up for a rewards program if you fly frequently with a specific airline. Otherwise, there are some really good travel credit cards out there if you want to get points for traveling and spending money abroad. Just do a quick Google search of whatever you’re wanting, and I’m sure you’ll find something.
9. Find free things to do.
With things like transportation and accommodation, you only have so much control over the costs. However, one thing that you do have control (and a lot of it) over is how you spend your money when you arrive somewhere. What do you enjoy doing, and what do you plan to do in that city? Do you want to hit up every museum there? Visit the touristy areas? Dine out at expensive restaurants? Or are you one to favor an occasional coffee stop and lots of time simply walking through town and along the beach? What you like to do and what you want to do really dictates how much you spend.
Luckily for me, I didn’t spend too much on these “extra” things. I’m the kind of person who simply likes to explore the area. I’ll walk around the city center, peruse different stores and make an occasional purchase. If there’s a beach nearby? Well, all of my time will be spent there, soaking in the sun and relaxing with the waves. I stick to simple restaurants and my own groceries, rather than dining out at expensive restaurants. I’m not too into the expensive touristy things, spending nights out at bars, or anything like that. There’s nothing wrong with being that kind of person, but my wallet definitely thanked me for preferring the free joys of live.
I recommend you simply walk around the area. Relax by the beach. Climb to the top of the hill to get that breathtaking view of the city. Walk through street markets and plazas. Treat yourself to the little things like local desserts or coffee. And save your money for other travelling.
10. Have a plan.
Yupp, here it comes again. Another planning talk. This kind of ties in with a lot of the previous points, but I seriously want to emphasize. Know exactly what you want to do during your travels.
Okay, maybe not an exact, hour-by-hour itinerary of your time in a city, but still. Ask yourself a few questions. What do you want to do? What is there to do, and what do you not what to do? Have you gotten ideas from people who have been here before? Having answers to these questions and having a general plan will keep you more in line with your budget.
I think for me, it’s easier to spend a lot if I don’t have a plan. I’ll drop a bunch of money on food if I don’t plan out when and what I want to eat. If I don’t have anything planned to do, I’ll gravitate towards the first expensive, touristy thing I see. By having a plan, I avoid letting the extra costs creep in. I definitely recommend at least having some backbone to your days abroad.
11. Skip the international phone plan.
For some people, this isn’t a possibility. You already have a plan to use up and maybe you have a lot of good reasons for keeping it. For me, however, a phone plan and data were necessary during my time abroad. I’m happy I went without it. Instead, I relied on wifi wherever I went. I know that seems really risky, especially if you’re stuck in another country and nothing seems better than Google Maps to help you find where you’re going. However, I promise you will easily find access to wifi somewhere. If not, you can go to a bus stop or ask someone and get all of the information you need. I downloaded offline maps and took screenshots of any information that I could possibly need ahead of time (just in case). It worked out well. Facebook and Whatsapp serve as great mediums for calls and messages, and with wifi, you don’t lose iMessage abilities.
12. Travel Lightly.
Extra luggage is another thing you can easily skip. Many of the budget airlines in Europe charge extra for checked luggage. For this reason, I usually just brought a backpack with me when I traveled. I promise you that you can do the same. You’d be surprised by how little you can live off of for a few days. Not only will it save you money, but it will save you time in the airport and it’ll lessen the hassle of dragging your luggage everywhere with you. Need some packing tips? I’ll be writing more on that later. You can message me as well. I am happy to help!
13. Country (or city) hop.
Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly a money saver in itself, but trust me. If you’re in Spain and you want to visit, let’s say, both Budapest and Prague during your time there, you should look into lumping them into one trip. You’ll save a lot of money on transportation. Rather than paying for four flights and four bus rides to or from your home airport, you can instead pay for two flights, two bus rides, and a much cheaper bus ride between the two cities. It’s very easy to travel between countries and cities in Europe, so you might as well take advantage of that and see even more places as you’re traveling.
And that’s about all I have for now. By using all of these combined, I managed to get in quite a bit of traveling with the bit of money I had. I could not be more satisfied with the trips I’ve had. Seeing 10 countries in a semester? It was incredible, and I hope you all can have amazing travel experiences as well, no matter what they look like.
I hope to be posting more travel tips, personal travel stories, trip ideas, etc. to help you on your journeys. If you have anything specific you’d like to see, do not hesitate to ask. Much love!