Chances are you know of at least a couple of people who have backpacked through Europe, traversed South America, or spent time in Southeast Asia. The idea of it sounds so expensive that it is a concept to you and your wallet just can’t fathom it. I’m here to tell you that traveling isn’t as expensive as it is made out to be and that you can do it on a student’s budget if you have the gumption and the facts.
Travel begins with simply getting there and the trick to finding the cheapest flights is watching the rates like a hawk. Prices will fluctuate by the minute so it is best to use a website that shows you prices from several websites at the same time. Kayak.com and Cheapoair.com do this and both sites offer student travel discounts. Airlines such as RyanAir and IcelandAir are known for being the most affordable. Choose flights with layovers rather than nonstop flights to save money and go during the spring for best airfare. According to a survey conducted by Kayak, it is best to book exactly 21 days prior to departure for domestic flights and 34 days prior to departure for international flights. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the cheapest days to book while Sundays, Mondays and Fridays are the most expensive. Those who wait until the last minute spend the most money.
Your next decision is to choose where you want to stay. Hotels, hostels, and couch-surfing go from expensive to cheap in that order. From my experiences in Holland and Germany, I absolutely recommend hostels over hotels. European hostels charge as little as $15 USD a night if you are willing to share a room with other travelers. You will save a ton of money, the difference in experience is not significant, and you will be out and about more often than being in the hostel anyway. Hostels make it safer for tourists by providing lockers to put your valuables in and by offering gender-specific accommodations. Some even offer free breakfast and in a cafeteria style setting.
The money you will save by not staying in a hotel will be crucial for the other expenses of the trip. Inner-city travel (bus, subway, train, tram, taxi, bike, scooter, horse-drawn buggie… ?) food, souvenirs and gifts, daily necessities, and museum passes are all things for which you will need funds. Student and group discounts are offered at most museums but the expenses do add up. You should also have an emergency fund in case you become ill or injured and need to pay medical bills.
My well-traveled friend Jake Pugh who has backpacked all over the world for cheap ($570 to Korea and $550 to Peru both roundtrip), shared his experience couch-surfing in Paris with me. He stayed in a loft at the top of a building in Paris and the people he stayed with were so hospitable that they even cooked for him. If you want to try your luck at an awesome experience like that, CouchSurfing.org is the go-to website for finding legitimate locals who wouldn’t mind you staying in their homes for a few days. Stay away from Craigslist as that site can be pretty sketchy to use for this purpose, especially in a foreign country. If you are looking for a more rugged experience consider WWOOFing. Organizations such as WWOOF (World-wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offer listings of farms all over the world that are willing to offer lodging and food to travelers in exchange for daily farmhand work on a farmer’s land.
As far as getting around town, use all modes of transportation except taxis which can be the most expensive. Jake says to travel by taxi at least once during your trip because the drivers often know of the best restaurants that the locals go to and can tell you about events and cheap eats around town. Subway, tram, and bus systems are the most efficient while biking and mopeds are the most fun.