When I was a senior graduating college, I did something a little unconventional; I did my last semester of college abroad in Rome, Italy. Then, after my semester was over, and I was technically a college “graduate”, I took another 2 and a half months to backpack Europe before returning home to America. Keep reading for how I afforded to travel Europe as a college student!
Most of the expenses of this trip were paid from my own pocket, and I was diligent about how I made/spent my money so that I could make sure to keep backpacking for as long as possible… Right up until my money ran out!
Before I left for Italy, I spent hours, days, weeks of my life obsessively scouring the internet for ideas of how to 1. Save enough money to go and 2. Travel cheaply once I was there. A lot of the advice was pretty obvious, but I often felt like a lot of it was vague. It was hard for me to find a true guide that really gave me the help I needed and taught me how to afford to travel.
So, once I got home, I made a list of all of the things I had done leading up to and during my trip that had allowed me to travel for 6 months on a college student’s budget. This list isn’t comprehensive, and some of the advice may seem kind of random. But this is what I did. This is how I afforded to live my dream and travel the world, while still being a college student.
Disclaimer: I’m lucky and have no debt
As a disclaimer, I’d like to say that I am a very, very lucky individual because I have no debt that needs to be paid off. I was able to graduate college without taking out any loans, which means that I experienced a certain level of privilege before even stepping foot out of my door.
I know for quite a lot of individuals, debt is a very real, very debilitating thing that keeps them from their dreams to travel as a college student or beyond. This is simply my experience as someone that made it out of college without any debt hanging over my head.
The Set Up of How I Afforded to Travel Europe as a College Student
My experience abroad was unique in its design, but there are certainly ways to make these tips work for you even if you don’t follow this plan.
At first, my parents were extremely uncomfortable with the idea of me backpacking by myself. They were worried for my safety and felt a lot more comfortable if I was in a controlled environment to begin my adventure.
Because of this, I ended up participating in a study abroad experience, which cost me THOUSANDS more dollars than simply backpacking would have. Due to these extra expenses, my parents and I came up with an agreement. They would pay for the cost of the extra classes I had to take in order to participate in a study abroad (I wouldn’t have had to take classes otherwise) and I would pay for the study abroad fee + housing + food + school supplies + anything else I might have needed.
This added up quite a bit, and significantly rose the amount of money that I needed to save. Without adhering to this set up for my parents’ comfort, I would have required a lot less money to fund my travels.
Steps I Took to Save Money Before I Left
1. Worked like a madwoman
I knew the amount of money that I needed to save before I left for my trip (about $12,000) and I worked like a crazy person to make sure I saved enough.
For an entire year, I had two jobs around the clock. During the summer, I worked 75-80 hour weeks. I was an intern at a reputable company in Michigan and worked with about 40-50 other interns. During the evenings and weekends when my intern friends were going to parties or taking trips, I was working.
My job wouldn’t allow me to take overtime, so I found a second job. I became a waitress at an upscale restaurant in town, and spent nights and weekends picking up shifts. Between the two jobs, I had a goal to save $10,000 in 12 weeks.
I created a motivational poster above my bed, and every time I saved another $1,000, I got to fill in the sketched “money jar” a little bit more. It was so satisfying, and I became OBSESSED. By the end of the summer, I had reached my goal. To travel as a college student requires some iron will, my friends.
2. Saved my Change
On my 16th birthday, my parents gave me a large coin jar that said “gas money” on the front. I took a piece of duct tape, covered up the word “gas”, and wrote “Europe” on the tape. From that day on, I saved every piece of change I ever received.
If a cashier handed it to me, if I found it on the ground, it went in my coin jar. A few months before I left for Europe, I went to my bank and used their coin counting machine (pro tip: do NOT use coinstar. They take a portion of your money. Your bank will count the change for free).
I had saved $800 worth of change over the last 6 years. I used this money to pay for my round trip ticket to Italy. You may not have this much change, or if you do, it may not be enough to cover a plane ticket. But something is better than nothing! Give it a try.
3. Became a Brand Ambassador
Many large colleges will offer roles as Brand Ambassadors for different companies on campus. See if you can find a role such as this, as companies will often pay bonuses or commissions to the ambassador that does their job better than their coworkers.
In my brand ambassador role, if I was able to beat my coworkers and get more people to download an app than any other person, I would receive a large bonus. You bet your booty I got myself to work and won that bonus! This is a great way to make extra money to travel as a college student without needing to commit specific hours to a job!
4. Apps like Hopper
I used an app called Hopper to make sure I got the best deal on my flight. In Hopper, you input your desired destination and your travel dates. Hopper will scan flight deals daily and tell you when the best time to buy is.
For example, for many months Hopper indicated that the price was on the high end for my travel destination and dates. One day I got a notification that the price was the lowest it was probably ever going to be… So I bought my tickets immediately!
5. Asked for Donations
If you’re doing a study abroad like I was, you can approach different organizations or clubs for donations. I was doing the study abroad portion of my traveling in Rome, Italy so I found local Italian organizations and asked if they would help fund my trip. When I approached them, I told them about why I had chosen Italy and how I was excited to experience the culture.
I offered to write pieces for them when I returned about my experience. Many of them made small donations to my trip budget, which helped immensely!
Steps I Took to Save Money Once I Was Abroad
6. Diligently budgeted
I got all of the initial, large costs out of the way, like flights, travel insurance, etc. Then, the money that I had left over was specifically for spending on housing/food/activities while abroad.
I took the amount of money that I had in my bank account and divided it by how many days I expected to be gone. This created my daily budget.
Every. Single. Thing. I bought in a day was recorded in my “notes” section on my phone. If I bought a 30 cent cookie, it went on my budget. Every day I would try to use less than the amount I had allotted for myself. At the end of every day, I would recalculate my “daily allowance” based off of how much money I had in my account and how many days I had left.
I went from having $20 a day to spend on myself at the beginning of the trip to having $218 on my last day.
7. Eat from Markets for Breakfast and Lunch
While I was abroad, I visited 15 countries. My favorite way to start out my day in any of them was to go for a run through the new city and end my run at a local market.
At the market, I would buy fruit or cheese or nuts or bread to eat as my first and second meals of the day. This normally meant that I was spending $2-$5 per meal every day.
Obviously, I run a food blog about foreign food, so exploring the foods of other countries was really important to me. Spending small amounts on breakfast and lunch meant that I had larger amounts of money to spend on dinner and local snacks!
8. Took Busses Instead of Airplanes
In the beginning, I was traveling through a lot of Eastern Europe, which was faiiirrrllly close together. Instead of spending $60-$70 on airfare one way, I chose to take bus trips. These tickets were normally less than $10, and I would take overnight busses, which meant that I wouldn’t have to pay for a place to stay that night either!
It’s up to you to decide if an 8 hour overnight bus ride is worth saving $50. For me, that was the difference of another two days in Europe, so I chose the bus ride every time it was an option.
Plus I saw some of my most beautiful views of the countries I visited from those bus windows 🙂
9. Free Walking Tours (Don’t Forget to Tip!)
One of my very favorite parts about visiting new countries in Europe was the abundance of free walking tours offered in each country! Normally in place of one of my morning runs, I would choose to sign up for a free walking tour.
These walking tours showed you around the city that you were in, and cost nothing! At the end of the tour, you tipped what you could. I ALWAYS made sure to tip at least $10 because these tour guides depended on tip money for their livelihood.
This still ended up being a lot cheaper than most activities I could find in countries, and they were a great way to get local recommendations and learn my way around!
10. Eat Aperitivo as Your Dinner
Europe has this beautiful tradition called aperitivo. In many countries (such as Italy and Spain) if you go into the restaurants around 4:00 or so and buy a drink, you will also get access to a huuuugggeee spread of delicious appetizers.
These appetizers are normally served buffet style, but you can eat them to your heart’s content as long as you have a drink. Obviously, I always capitalized on these opportunities. The cost of a drink was typically much less than I would have paid for a meal of the same caliber at a normal time.
11. Staying in Hostels with a Microwave and a Fridge
To travel as a college student, sometimes you need to give up some conveniences. I stayed in a hostel in every country that I visited (except for Portugal where me and some friends got an Airbnb). I always made sure to stay in a women’s only dorm for safety purposes. This normally cost me a few extra dollars per night, but, to me, this was worth it for my peace of mind.
One non-negotiable for me was to have a fridge and a microwave in my hostel. That way, any leftovers from my meals or market trips could be kept as leftovers. I also brought plastic resealable bags with me when I went abroad. I used these bags frequently when going out for a day, and would pack snacks from my market trips so that I didn’t have to pay for a meal.
Okay, there you have it, folks! They’re a little random and a little out of order, but these are the EXACT things that I did in order to afford 6 months in Europe. In my opinion, these six months were invaluable, and it was worth it to me to be a little stingy so that I could make sure it lasted as long as possible.
Did you like these tips? Do you have good tips to add to the list? Leave me a comment below letting me know how you afforded to travel on a budget! I’d love to hear from you. And if this article was helpful for you, don’t forget to share on Facebook or Pinterest and tag @TheForeignFork.