Embarking on self-guided travels, assimilating into everyday life in an unfamiliar place, meeting new people, and exploring a city are some of the most rewarding experiences you can have. As a vegan, trying out new restaurants may make the top of the list! But let’s face it: travel is hardly inexpensive, especially as a student (or on a student’s budget). If you’re not independently wealthy or haven’t won the lottery yet, money can be a slight setback. However, there are many ways to make your adventures a little more wallet-friendly without making sacrifices. Plus, calling the shots on your trips is exponentially more rewarding than a school trip complete with tour guides, haphazardly booked flights, handholding, and homework, and won’t break the bank in the process. That student ID will also get you some great discounts.
So, you’ve decided on your dream trip and are ready to make it happen. That’s great, now make a shortlist of other destinations you’re interested in, what you want to do there, and decide what the best plan for you is at this time. Maybe flying first-class to Australia to liberate the kangaroos is off the agenda for now, but there are so many options for the here and now. Do your research and find the best time to make your move, and keep your options open. That Kayak price alert for Australia can always be in the back of your mind.
Consider taking multi-city trips. With some careful planning, you can visit a few nearby cities in one go. Pick a coast or region and find out where the cheapest one-way tickets will take you. You can go on a west coast tour of the US getting from one city to the next on busses and trains, only buying plane tickets to your first destination and your way home at the end. You can see so much more with a couple days in a few different cities and get more bang for your buck.
Carry on your bags! Who wants to pay $25+ to check baggage and wait for it on the carousel when you arrive in your home away from home? You could be out of the airport immediately and en route to the Chicago Diner to spend that money on sandwiches and milkshakes!
While travel can be affordable, it still is far from free. Make it a habit to cut back on expenses in your everyday life. That doesn’t mean you have to eat beans and rice for every meal or churn your own Earth Balance, but you can stay away from expensive processed food, make meals from scratch, and shop around sales. Yes, this requires a little bit of planning, coupon clipping, and writing out grocery lists, but just think of that Peanut Butter Bomb in your future!
Direct your travels to friends. Especially if you’re not an experienced traveler, staying with friends can help you ease into solo adventures. Take your friends up on that offer to visit Austin, Milwaukee, or Vancouver. You can learn about the city from a native, have a travel buddy, find out where the good eats are, share meals to save money, and spend time with your friends! Oh, and you won’t have to spend money on a place to stay! Typically, wherever you’re staying is mostly for sleeping since you’ll be out and about during the day, so forking over $75+ per night to sleep in a hotel is unrealistic on a student’s budget. If you’re not staying with a friend, some more affordable options are hostels, couch surfing, or splitting a hotel room with a friend (if you’re traveling together). If you’re traveling for an internship, short-term job, or volunteer position that extends beyond normal vacation length, look into subletting or housesitting.
Seriously, don’t take taxis. Unless you’re in dire need to make it somewhere on time, about to miss your flight, or so far away from public transportation, save your hailing for seitan (you know, that sandwich you’re going to buy instead of the overpriced car ride?). Vacation is about slowing down, walking, and seeing those sights that will whiz by you from the inside of a taxi. Also, they always end up costing way more that you think and you’ll regret it forever. Get an unlimited ride public transportation pass and put it to use. Subway and bus routes are easy to catch on to, especially if you have Google Maps on your phone, or analog Google Maps…an old-fashioned map made of paper!
Tourist traps are crowded and overrated. Look at a picture of the Statue of Liberty and get off the beaten path. Check out sights and neighborhoods that interest YOU. Talk to the locals and ask for recommendations. You won’t find that amazing thrift store, market, or kitschy dive bar in a generic tour booklet. Don’t stay away from buying souvenirs entirely, but be creative with your souvenirs—save ticket stubs, maps, menus, and photographs, then splurge a little on something you really want without excessive spending on overpriced plastic crap at gift shops.
Decide what meals you must eat, and then plan accordingly. Maybe now is not the time to dine at Candle 79 or Millennium. But you came all this way, so do what you want! Just think frugal for your next meal, save leftovers instead of going out to eat for the fourth time that day, or sticking with water instead of getting that apricot rosewater hazelnut sugar-rimmed ooh la la cocktail.
Realistically, you might not be lounging in a picturesque scene being waited on with spa treatment when you’re trying to save money. However, you can get more out of making your own adventure and saving the lounging for when you get home. You can plan an amazing trip and splurge on a select few things. Thinking about money during your trip is the worst, so budget accordingly, then go crazy and forget you’re being thrifty!
Take the inspiration back home. Abruptly ending a trip by going home and back to the grind is always a little unsettling. Until you’re next trip, bring that flair into your home kitchen by replicating dishes from your trip (Portland is not the only place to find mac n’ cheese and tortillas) and finding something similar in local restaurants. Speaking of, try “touring” your own city or nearby places! Chances are, you haven’t meticulously checked out every little shop, restaurant, and museum in your hometown. Bring that mentality into your everyday life, until next time!