“How can you afford to travel so much? You must be so rich!”, exclaimed one of my friends as we chatted about our travels while cooking our dinners. I shrugged, “it’s because I make it a priority”, and continued on making the fifth pasta dinner I’ve had for the week.
After being asked time after time how I manage traveling nearly every weekend, I have decided to write a post on how I have made all of my travels possible. It seems to be a common misconception that traveling requires being rich. While being rich does definitely make traveling a whole lot easier, this isn’t a reality for most of us.. especially as students. However, traveling shouldn’t be obtainable, if planned right. Before I get started, I’d like to thank my mother for inspiring me to pursue traveling as well as for her continual support. I owe a large part of my success to her. So thanks mom!
(pictured: my lovely mother having some fun in Germany)
Britt’s Tips and Tricks for Traveling on a Budget
So you want to travel? That’s awesome! Traveling is rewarding in so many ways. However, you need to figure out how badly you want it. Traveling is not easy. It’s going to wear you out, feel stressful, and deprive you of things most people have. With that said, here is how I have managed to afford all of recent adventures:
- Save beforehand. I spent a majority of my summer interning. My hours were awful at times (one time I worked from 10pm until 6am.. not including the commute there and back) and my days were long. It was hard watching my friends sleep in until 8 am and enjoy their weekends off as I woke up anywhere from 3-6 am and had to sacrifice going out with them for work. However, my internship paid me very well and I knew that. So I saved as much as I could and spent as little as possible.
- Prioritize spending. I think this is where I have set myself apart from most of my classmates. You would not believe the number of people who have said to me “I can’t afford to be taking all these trips you take” and then proceed to drop hundreds of dollars at the mall. I see this happen over and over again (mainly with girls). If you want to travel, don’t spend money buying new clothes that you’re probably not going to wear in a few years. This also goes for eating out. A few of my friends like to make fun of the fact that I eat the same thing almost every single night- pasta- but it saves me so much money. To put things into perspective, one meal at a restaurant is going to cost you around €20. One bus ticket to Paris from Lille costs €9 and a bus to London is around €25. In fact, I have seen flights to Milan for only €8. So be sure that you out eating out for a good reason, because that one meal that lasted an hour or so could have taken you to a whole new city.
- Plan ahead. This is where I struggle. I am so bad at actually organizing myself. I love doing things last minute. I prefer to just go places on a whim rather than actually planning things out. My friends know that I usual wing half of the adventures I take them on (hi Paige!). However, this is not a good trait to have when it comes traveling abroad. Not properly planning leads to problems such as missing your bus and having to buy train tickets in addition to the bus tickets you already paid for.. yes, I made this mistake my first week abroad. So, it is very important to organize yourself and sort out the details of your trip in order to avoid situations like me missing my bus. Additionally, planning ahead will save you money on transportation costs. Flights are a lot cheaper if you book ahead. However, sometimes universities make this difficult to plan for. I know that many of my friends abroad would agree with me in the disorganization of classes and final exam schedules. Things are always changing, so sometimes it is very difficult to plan around an uncertain schedule.
- Don’t be a prince/princess. What I mean by this is don’t expect to be traveling in luxury. Don’t waste your money on staying in a hotel. Use Airbnb and split the cost with your friends, it’s a lot cheaper. You could also try staying at a hostel, but be careful where you stay. I have heard of people getting bed bugs after staying at hostels in Paris. This also goes for transportation. There are quick ways in which you can travel, however, sometimes this can cost more. For example, when I was planning my trip to London, I knew that the train would only take an hour and a half to get there.. but for around €300 round-trip. The bus on the other hand, was $60 round-trip but for 5.5-6 hours. I didn’t like the thought of a 6 hour bus ride, but I knew that I’d rather use that €245 or so, on enjoying the city and another trip.
- Utilize resources. If your residence offers free breakfast, take advantage of it. Most of the residence halls here in Lille, offer free breakfast Monday- Friday. In my building, they set out loaves of bread, jam, Nutella, orange juice, hot chocolate, coffee, and milk. Super simple, but super helpful. Whenever I have a long day of traveling ahead of me, I toast their bread and put a little Nutella on it. I then pack one or two sandwiches with me (depending on length of travel). This then saves me from buying overpriced food at airports. It also keeps me from being hangry, so there’s that. This also applies for Airbnb reservations, there are a good number of places that offer free breakfast with your stay, so take advantage of it!
- Use ATMs. This is super helpful. Using your debit card abroad charges you an additional interest rate. I think my card is 3%, which doesn’t sound like much, but it all adds up. By using the ATM, I avoid that interest fee and my bank actually covers ATM fees. So it’s pretty nice! As for other banks, do your research before heading abroad. If your bank doesn’t wave ATM fees and charges you interest, open an account with a bank that does. You can also open a bank account wherever you are living/studying.
- Make grocery stores your bff. If you are on the go and find yourself getting hungry but don’t want to spend a lot on a meal, visit a local grocery store! They have pre-made sandwiches, fruits, veggies, and varieties of yogurt to choose from at a very low price! I think the Carrefour Express by my residence hall charges around €1.40 for a ham and cheese sandwich. Add a fruit or yogurt to that and you’re looking at €3 max for a meal on the go.
- Skip the metro. Whenever you can walk somewhere, do it. I avoid using the Metro in Lille at all costs. Yeah, it’s faster and easier than walking but it costs anywhere from €1-1.6 each ride. In a city like Lille where everything is accessible by foot, there really is no reason you should be wasting money on a metro ticket. Not to mention, it’s healthier for you to walk. Take in the beautiful sights around you and enjoy the fresh air!
- Don’t bring your debit/credit cards to clubs. Just don’t. This is something I’ve been doing since I’ve been back in California. If I want to drink with friends, I will drink beforehand. Or, if I know that I want to buy a drink later, I will put a few dollars in my phone case or my pocket but I NEVER bring my cards with me. For many reasons. One, it eliminates the temptation of me using it for overpriced drinks. Two, it prevents me from misplacing it. Three, it is safer. I never carry anything but my phone when I go out. The last thing I need is a group of sketchy people seeing a 5’5 friendly looking girl walking with a purse of potential items to steal. I try to draw as little attention as possible to myself when walking at night. With that said, I never look at my phone while walking in the dark. I hide it in my pockets. I suggest you all do the same. There are a couple girls here I know that have been mugged because of holding their phones out while walking in the dark. They then had to buy new phones, order new cards, and they lost all of their cash. So if you want to save your money and maybe even your life, be smart and always be aware of your surroundings.
- Order drinks. Ok, this kind of contradicts the last point I just made, but not really. This point applies to socializing with friends during the morning/afternoon/evening. It’s hard to save money when people always seem to want to hangout at a restaurant and order food. That’s why, when my friends ask me to meet up with them, I always suggest meeting up for coffee or a beer. By sipping a coffee and chatting, I am spending around €2.5-3 opposed to ordering a meal for anywhere from €8-20. Beer is slightly more expensive than getting coffee, but a lot of places offer happy hour specials for €3 for a pint. Otherwise, it’s usually €5 for a pint. Regardless, it’s easier to save money by meeting up for drinks rather than food.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. For some reason, Europe doesn’t seem to like giving people free water. I made the mistake my first week here by asking for water at a restaurant. To my surprise, the waitress returned with a cheap-looking (I may add) water bottle and poured it into my glass before I could even utter a word. Shockingly, that water bottle cost me €4 or $4.35. Huge rip off. I could have ordered almost two coffees for that price! With that said, bring a bottle with you. It will be better for the environment and for your wallet.
- Buy the bare minimum. You would not believe how many things I tried going without when I came here. I was so determined to save money that I refused to buy a pillow. I guess I didn’t feel like spending €10 on a pillow that I would throw away in 3 months. Fortunately for me, after a month of sleeping without a pillow, my mom found out how ridiculous I was being and brought me a pillow when she was in Germany. Looking back, I don’t understand why I thought saving €10 on a pillow was a big deal.. but hey, at least I know now that I don’t actually need a pillow to sleep? Anyway, please go an buy yourselves a pillow. However, keep in mind that you can save money by sharing things such as cooking utensils with friends. I bought one pot, one bowl, a wine opener (it’s France, how could you not?), two containers, and a travel mug. One of my friends bought a set of forks, knives and spoons, so she gave me one of each. While this might not seem like much, I have gotten very creative with what I have. I think the funniest thing for my friends to watch, was when I insisted in making quesadillas in my pot and used a pepper shaker to flatten it… But hey, it worked so I’ll probably do it again. With that said, let yourself get creative! You will Be surprised by how much you can do with limited tools. It’s also entertaining for other people to watch 🙂
- Use a student card! Whether it’s from a few years ago or from your current university, use your student ID whenever possible. I have saved so much money using mine when getting into museums! Some countries also give students discounts on their public transportation, so look out for opportunities for discounts!
- Visit family and friends abroad. If you have any extended family or friends who live abroad, take the time to visit them! It will make them happy to see you and you will have the best tour guide to show you around! Not to mention, you can save money on rooming. Most importantly, be sure to cherish the moments you have together and to thank them !
Alright, well there you have it! Those are some tips and tricks I have been using while here in France. While these are great ways to save money, don’t worry about letting yourself indulge in a night out with friends! Traveling should be fun, so do not completely deprive yourself of good food and a fun time with your friends.I usually treat myself to good food on the weekends when traveling or whenever it is someone’s birthday. Sometimes I will treat myself to a treat from a local patisserie if I’ve had a very long day. It’s all about balance 🙂
I guess my main point is that traveling is always possible if it becomes a priority. Before ruling out traveling as a possibility, look at your spending habits and look for areas of improvement.
Hope this helps any of you who are traveling on budget or plan on traveling/studying abroad in the future!
What is your favorite way to save money while traveling?