Full-time studies and travel are not mutually exclusive. Over the course of my undergraduate degree (at Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada) I travelled to 10 countries, and explored my own. I attribute this not only to financial and lifestyle choices, but also to some of the attitudes towards travel that helped me find creative ways to see the world.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: not everyone is in the position to pursue full-time studies and travel, and I acknowledge that. I’ve enjoyed a lot of great opportunities and privileges that gave me the option to travel, and can only provide tips and insights based on my own experiences. This is what I’ve done, and what worked for me.
I think that you already know that if you want to travel, you have to save your money and budget accordingly. Have less drinks out, cut back on miscellaneous shopping, maybe cancel one of your many subscriptions, or scrap a coffee habit. I’m going to trust that you know this, and instead focus on attitudes and student-specific travel tips!
How to Travel More as a Student
I’ll start by sharing a little bit of my own story. I started my undergraduate degree, officially, in January 2014. One year in, I switched degrees from a B.A. in Cognitive Science to a B.Sc in Neuroscience and Mental Health, the degree that I graduated with in February 2019. I started travelling for fun in the Summer of 2015, when I went to visit a friend in San Francisco. I went to Costa Rica that winter, and to Europe the summer after that.
There are a couple of things that you should know. First, I lived at home through out my entire undergraduate degree. Secondly, I have had a job since I was 16. I opted to work part-time, year round and increase my hours in the summer or pick up a second job in the summer, rather than only working summers.
My travel money throughout my undergrad was any “extra money” that I received. My standard pay check was budgeted for tuition, phone bills, some living costs, and savings. If I worked extra hours, or took on another small job (I coached cycling for a few summers), it went towards travel. This also went for tax returns, any kind of holiday bonus or time-and-a-half pay, or anything else that wasn’t part of my “regular pay check.”
None of that would have helped without the right attitudes and ideas, though… so here’s how I travelled!
1. Don’t Wait for Friends
Friends that bail is a difficult reality of travelling as a student. There’s more than one trip that I didn’t go on early in my undergrad because of friends cancelling last minute, neglecting to save up for the trip, or some other reason.
Rather than allowing this pattern to repeat, I looked in to group travel. The beauty of small group travel is that you can still invite your friends, but if it doesn’t pan out for them to come along, then you simply go and enjoy the trip yourself without having to modify your plans in any way. There are many parallels between small group travel and solo travel, but small group travel has the advantage of group safety, guides that know the area you’re visiting, and there’s usually someone that wants to do and see the same things as you so it’s just a lot of fun.
Companies like G Adventures, Intrepid, and Under 30 Experiences offer small group trips for ages 18-30 at that are lower in cost than some of the larger, all-ages trips available. My first group trip was to Costa Rica, and I absolutely loved it. I chose Costa Rica because it was the cheapest, which brings me to my next point!
2. Use Student Discounts and Travel Opportunities
There are dozens of travel opportunities and discounts that are only available to students. It’s sort of a catch-22… everything is the cheapest that it’s ever going to be, but your income as a student is typically fairly low.
When you do come up with some money to use for travelling, make sure you get the most out of it by using student and youth discounts available for travellers.
Student Discount Programs
There are some student programs that you should always check before you travel. The International Student Identify Card gets you discounts on accommodations and activities all over the world. The card costs $20, but it will quickly save you much, much more than that if you’re travelling. Websites like Student Universe will help you find deals that only available for travellers ages 18-25.
Student Transportation Discounts
Before buying tickets with any major airline or train company, always check for student fares. VIA Rail Canada offers a youth pass for 25 and under in the summer. If you’ve ever dreamed of a train trip across Canada, take advantage. Going to Europe? Eurail offers a youth card for anyone ages 27 and under that gets you 23% off the regular fare of train tickets. In the U.S.A., Amtrak offers different discounts depending on the state you’re travelling in. Airlines like Delta, Lufthansa, and Air Canada have been known to offer student discounts.
Local Discounts for Students
There are also discounts for many entry fees, museums, and activities for students all over the world. For example, the Heritage Passes in Ireland is €40.00 for an adult, but only €10.00 for a student. The MET in New York City is regularly $25 for an adult, but only $12 for students with valid photo ID – and your ticket is valid for 3 days, at 3 locations. Every city I’ve been to that had public museums with an entry fee offered a student discount of some kind!
Taking advantage of students discounts takes a lot of research and planning, but it’s worth it and can save you a lot of money. Most importantly, always have your valid student ID with you and ask about a discount. If you’re in the midst of planning a trip, tweet at the tourism boards to ask about student discounts!
3. Be Destination-Flexible
Travelling during University is great because you have relatively few responsibilities in between semesters. 3 times a year, at minimum, there are gaps between semesters during which there are no projects or deadlines looming over year. Most part-time jobs will also consider requests for time off during these times, so there can be times where there really is nothing on your plate.
One of the best ways to take advantage of this time in your life is to be flexible about where you go when you travel. The countries that I visited during my undergrad were largely determined by flight and accommodation prices. Most of the destinations that I have visited are (relatively) cheap and were made cheaper by scoring good deals on flights. Here are some tips for finding cheap flights.
Rather than deciding exactly where you want to go, save up your money for travel and research a few possible destinations. Watch for flight deals, and be a little flexible with your plans. I wound up visiting Ireland because a $500 round trip flight deal came up in my newsfeed, not because of a long-term plan to go there!
Read on to find flight deals! How to Find Cheap Flights
4. Take Short Trips
I’m a champion of short trips. I really believe in making the most of short trips (and even have an extensive guide on how to do this). Short trips are time and budget friendly. There’s a misconception, I think, that students have a lot of free time. Most students are working during the summer, reading weeks and spring breaks are spent desperately trying to catch up on your work load, and there are expectations for extracurriculars and all kinds of other things.
One of the number one things that I noticed holding other students back from travelling from ideas about trip duration. I hope you do have the opportunity to travel for a longer period of time one day if that’s what you want, but if you’re a student who is yearning to the see the world and just wants to get started… let that go for now. Plan a long weekend, a week, or whatever amount of time you do have and make the most of it. I talk about this in a lot more detail in my other post on short trips, so check that out for more tips and strategies!
5. Explore Your Own City
If you’re in university or college, chances are you’re in a city with a decent amount of things to do. Take advantage. On more than one occasion, I have marvelled at someone on Instagram constantly posting photos of a far off place, only to realize that they live there. The place that you consider home is a destination in someone else’s mind, and as a student one of the best things that you can is try to see it that way yourself.
There are often lots of opportunities to be immersed in other cultures, too. It’s becoming more and more common for cities to have various cultural festivals throughout the year – so if you’re still a ways off from saving up for a plane ticket to India, Italy, China, or elsewhere, look in to festivals that will give you a chance to learn more about the culture (and probably try some great food!) without needing a plane ticket.
Check out the tourism board website, look up itineraries, and follow local bloggers and Instagrammers. One of the reasons that I started Nina Near and Far was because I realized that my habit of exploring my own city was a little unusual, and I really wanted to encourage others to do the same.
6. Sign up for Points and Rewards Programs
There are all kinds of ways to save money and accumulate points that can be used travel, through your credit card and other points programs. My advice? Join them all.Most of them are not putting points or rewards towards travelling, but you can do that yourself with the money that you save by earning a reward.
There are points and loyalty programs for just about everything now, and they’re a great way to save money. Starbucks rewards, the Farmboy salad card, drug store points programs. There’s even an app that let’s you earn Aeroplan points for walking. How cool is that?
- Carrot Rewards: Canadians earn points for walking. Sign up with the code Nina1078 to sign up and get started with 50 bonus points!
Travel Credit Cards
If you’re comfortable owning a credit card and qualify for one, a credit card that lets you earn points towards travel is great idea (only if you pay off your credit card each month. Carrying a balance will hurt you in the long run). Credit cards that allow you to earn points for travel often come around with great sign up bonuses at some point. If you don’t currently have a card and are not in immediate need of one, keep an eye out for offers and sign up during that time. Many credit cards will give offers with enough points to cover a small trip, and you can save those points until you have enough for something else.
Travel credit cards often have annual fees, but there are usually perks that worth a lot more than the cost of that fee. Decide if it makes sense to you. For example, I pay an annual fee for my credit card but it provides all of the travel insurance that I need (so I don’t have to pay for that separately whenever I travel internationally) and complimentary access to airport lounges (which I was doing fine without and would not pay for, but it’s really nice to have).