Traveling can be quite expensive, especially when working with a college budget. I’ve gathered a few tips on how I have tried to save money while traveling abroad. But forewarning, this doesn’t work in all countries and all instances.
1. Choose a hotel with complimentary services
A travel tip I learned from my mom is to always choose a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast and airport-hotel shuttle. What would I do without my mother…
The Holiday Inn Express is fairly well-known for breakfasts as well as a few others. Tourist areas tend to charge a lot more for meals so a complimentary meal can go a long way. Especially if its all-you-can-eat.
The free shuttle is a big one, even more so if it goes to the city center where most activities will be. It saves a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on a spendy taxi.
2. Shop at the grocery store instead of constantly eating out
Eating out is a large part of cultural experiences, but the food from the grocery store can contribute to new experiences as well and even cost less. Gladys and I decided to gather food from the grocery store for a few meals and snacks for the three days we would be at our hotel before the program started. It costed less than 25 euros for both of us during the three days and we only ate out once.
3. Wash your clothes in your own hotel room
Since we had a few days in hotels before meeting our host families, the limited amount of clothing that we all brought had its fair share of wear. In other words, it needed to be washed… and who wants to spend money on ridiculously priced hotel laundry service? We also didn’t want to show up meeting our host families and say “Hi it’s nice to meet you, now I have a full suitcase of laundry for you to wash”.
The only other (viable) option was to wash our laundry ourselves in our hotel rooms (tread lightly on this one because there are multiple variables that go into making this tip successful). Before I left for Spain, I did a whole lot of reading blogs, Google searches, Pinterest posting, etc. to find the best tips I could. One that I found was to buy single-use Tide packets (good luck finding these in the stores because I didn’t). Instead, Gladys and I washed our clothes in the sink and bath tub with shampoo. Now our mistakes were 1) we didn’t have much time for them to dry and 2) the ratio for clothes that needed to be hung and spaces to hang these clothes to dry effectively were about 10:1. Hence, most of our clothes remained damp for quite some time.
My advice? Try to find single use laundry packets or just use shampoo, make sure you have enough time and space for your clothes to dry, and don’t wash too many clothes at the same time.
4. Cost-efficient flights
If flights seem to be outrageously priced at your nearby airport, try flying out of another destination. Since I live in Washington state, it isn’t a great hassle to fly out of Vancouver, BC… especially when those flights cost about $300 less (~$850 roundtrip) than those coming out of the United States. It was even easier because Gladys lives in Bellingham which is a lot closer to the Canadian border than the Tri-Cities (or even Bothell) is.
You also really have to weigh your priorities as well. Our trips to Spain and back were both about 30 hours (longer than average) with about 3 connecting flights and long layovers because our flights were so cheap. If I were to do it again, I would consider paying a little extra for a more comfortable trip.
5. Apply, apply, apply
Honestly, there is no way I could have studied abroad without financial aid or scholarships. Fortunately, my financial aid covered the cost of tuition/housing. That just left the travel expenses, insurance coverage, food/activities, hotels not covered in program and some of the miscellaneous costs. I applied for about 3 study abroad scholarships for this trip and received one for about $1,600 and the only conditions are that I promote study abroad as a Study Abroad Ambassador (talk about my amazing experiences abroad and encourage others to join? Easy!). With an $850 airfare, the rest of this really helped me with food and paying part of the program so I didn’t have to take out as much of a loan.
Scholarships can be very discouraging, especially when you are someone like me who doesn’t receive many. The good thing about study abroad scholarships is that there is a much smaller pool of applicants because not as many students study abroad and apply for scholarships compared to the larger amount of students who apply for general scholarships. There are even program/location specific scholarships that give you a shoe-in. Still can’t afford to study abroad but want to travel to another country? Try an internship, working, or teaching English abroad.
6. Buy travel insurance
One of the best investments I made for studying abroad was buying the comprehensive travel insurance for students (okay, it was a requirement to go on the trip but still…). If anything, it gave me a piece of mind that if anything at all happened I would be covered. And something did happen. I got sick and ended up in the hospital for some time. No worries though because everything was covered and it only costed $75 (the cost of the insurance)!
Something Americans don’t do enough of. Many times we go to a store and think that the sticker price is the only price (which isn’t always necessarily true). Different countries have different customs, but I found haggling in Spain easier than I ever have elsewhere. I actually talked a guy down for a backpack that was $15 to $10 (so proud).
9. Convert currency before leaving (including any change)
I learned this one the hard way. I simply didn’t make enough time to go to the bank before leaving and thought I would be fine. Boy was I wrong. So much hassle could have been avoided if I had just converted currency beforehand… plus conversion rates may be more expensive in other countries.
10. Find a bank that has the lowest withdrawal fees possible
I heard of some companies charging crazy fees for withdrawing money abroad. I also didn’t want to carry all of my money with me in fear of losing it all and having nothing. Fortunately, I had a BECU account and was able to use this abroad with only a 10% fee.
The overall themes for being cheap in another country is doing your research beforehand and knowing when to spend a little more money for protection/comfort. It may not always be the best idea to go with the cheapest possible everything because you’ll get what you pay for: cheap. You still want to enjoy your time and feel protected… but if you are someone whom is okay with that, than by all means go for it!