Let me tell you straight off the bat, this is 100% doable, and you're absolutely going to have the best time. The first time I traveled was with a group of friends while I was a broke uni student - and I went to Japan, not the cheapest country to go to.
Not only is it doable, it's also very realistic. It's not for the 0.001% of people, you, yes you, can absolutely go traveling while being a student. I've even written a comprehensive article on traveling the world on a dime, practically for free in terms of breaking even.
But today we're going to go over the student specific things you can do, and the preparation involved in go traveling for a break. The ultimate guide above is aimed at people who are going for a longer time, you might not have all the time in the world, you might just be going over the semester break or holidays. But it'll still show you how to save money for traveling, how to get cheap flights, and how to get cheap/free accommodation.
We'll cover the basics here in The Basics section, but the rest will be student specific. Enjoy 😎
These are the 5 best ways that you can travel while being a student.
- The Basics - Preparation & Options
- College & University Exchange Programs
- Low Season Travel
- Credit Cards with flight benefits
- Making money during the semester via tutoring
The Basics - Preparations & Options
So your 3 biggest expenses are going to be flights, accommodation, and food. But not only can we bring all of these down, there's actually plenty of free options as well. We'll cover flights and accommodation, you can always do your research for cheap food options when you're at your destination - the best way to do it.
For your flights, you'll need to keep an eye out for them throughout the year, set up price alerts for the dates/months you're looking at, and compare prices every chance you get. The two best apps for this are:
Note: Make sure you download Skyscanner's app version.
Both of which will let you see flights across each month with graphs showing you how expensive or cheap a flight on that day is compared to others, all for the specific flight you want.
They also let you set up email reminders, and search the cheapest flights with open ended destinations if you just select your airport. Full article with all details below.
Using these apps, you'll be able to get 40% to 90% cheaper flights if you play your cards right and really get into it.
Other options would be to sign up to flight deal type email lists like the ones below, but you'll certainly have more control using Skyscanner.
Because you likely have a time frame for your trip, and you want to hit up specific places, hostels are going to be the cheapest and best option, if you're with a group of friends, Airbnb's could turn out even cheaper and more private - these will be your 2 best options.
Hot Tip #1 - When booking a hostel or Airbnb, it's a good strategy to book a place slightly outside the city center or points of interest, while still making sure it links up with public transport so you can get around easily. This is usually much cheaper than something smack bang in the middle.
Places to look for accommodations:
The free options that'll work on your student schedule would probably be limited to; working in a hostel 1 month minimum, camping in a country where free pitching is allowed, or signing up for couchsurfing - where you'll be hosted by someone on the platform for free if they're interested in hosting you.
Other options are a bit more sporadic, but you can check them out in the Ultimate Backpacking Guide linked above.
One other way, especially if you're still a student is to become friends with exchange students that come to your college. This way you both have a place to stay, and a guide when you visit each others countries.
College & University Exchange Programs
Most colleges and universities have exchange programs that will link you with multiple different schools all across the globe from Europe, Asia, Australia, to the US and Canada as well.
Each college is different and has different requirements but most will have options for financial assistance - you need to look into these options.
For instance, in Australia, a semester abroad can be supplemented by the OS-HELP Program which can add up to $8300 (AUD) towards overseas study - which will be repaid to the government along with the national student loan scheme post study, and after starting work.
- Some include full time internships 💻
- Most include board 🏡
- Options for summer semesters that are cheaper and shorter 🌞
- Potential for scholarships 💰
You can make the price of the semester abroad go down even further by picking a country with a weaker currency, or weaker local economy - this could even be in Europe.
A semester abroad is one of the highlights of being a student. It's at a time where you'll be able to get credit for education you're already doing, and weave in travel while you're doing it - it's a great opportunity, so definitely go for it!
Low Season Travel
Low season varies for each country and is typically when the majority of holidaymakers, vacationers, and other travelers would rather not be there. It might be too cold, too hot, a lot of rain etc. But that being said, most travelers are there for a fancy holiday and not really for travel itself. There are so many benefits to traveling during low season that'll make your bank account smile.
- Cheaper flights
- Cheaper hostels/hotels/Airbnbs
- Less crowded attractions
- More potential to meet like-minded travelers
Low season is the bread and butter of the broker backpacker. For multiple countries, it'll align with college breaks. Spring Break, prices are hiked everywhere for partying, but in the southern hemisphere, it's Autumn and prices are in decline.
If you're living in Australia or New Zealand, during spring/summer the rest of the world is in winter, which leads to some crazy good flight deals.
It's also not necessarily about summer or winter. South East Asia has a wet/monsoon season which goes from June to October for places like Malaysia and Thailand - coming in on the tail end of these would mean you get a cheaper trip and you'd skip the worst of the weather.
There definitely exists a country that you're interested in traveling with an off season that suits the time you can travel. You just have to find them. Simply type into Google the country you want to go to, and type in off season after, you'll narrow it down quickly.
Credit Cards with Flight Miles
Credit Card debt is no joke, so be careful with this one. We're not using this to fund our trip, and we're not using it buy things we wouldn't buy otherwise because we don't have the funds - this is just for the flight miles.
There're dozens of credit cards where you'll get no interest on them when you pay within the period, but you will get flight miles. Some will even give you bonus miles or points for making large purchases within a period of time. So here's how you should go about it.
- When you're about to make a large purchase, get a good credit card - read the terms carefully.
- Buy the thing with the credit card to get those miles/points, and immediately pay it off with funds you already have.
- Keep using it throughout the time leading up to when you want to go traveling to rack up those points.
By the time you're going to buy flights you should already have enough to pay for them with points. If not, you'll definitely have enough for the return flight when you buy the departure flight with the card as well.
There's a few out there that are great for traveling. But please do your own research on these before committing. Annual fee's range from 0 to $95 and are for the US.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
Disclaimer: Thrifty Backpacker isn't affiliated with any of these - do your research before committing.
Saving Money for the Trip
The saving part for your travels can be hard when you're busy studying full time and working non-salaried casual jobs - but it's doable. There's a lot you can do as a student that others may not have the opportunity for.
If there were particular courses/subjects that you did well in, try tutoring for those specific subjects. There're always people who need the help when it comes to this. Also in the tutoring space, consider tutoring apps that connect high school and elementary students, with college students who study something that the kids need help with - there are a number of these apps with a quick search.
Paid Internships & Working Holiday Visas
Not only can you actually get paid internships abroad as a part of your travels (as we talked about in the exchange section), there's also the opportunity to work in your future industry in your own city to save before heading out.
- Check college job boards
- Get details of employers at networking events
- Ask for references from classmates that have got an internship
Internships aside, there are tons of opportunities, especially in the tourism industry that you could snap up over the summer to pad your savings for the upcoming trip, one of them being a working holiday visa, but even a summer job would do it. You could work in a number of different jobs.
- Diving Schools
- Travel Agencies
- Call centers
There are quite a few countries that offer working holiday visas that you could check out as well, most of the opportunities to work being in those same industries as well. A great tool to use is Visa List.
Other Saving & Earning Tips
- Put away 20% of your income into a savings account
- Sell your old unused textbooks at the end of each semester
- Freelance using a skill you have in design, writing, translation, coding etc.
- Do low skill work like Uber/food delivery in your spare time
If you follow these tips and strategies, you should definitely be able to travel as a student. You just need to really want it.
It's easy to not put in the effort to find an international internship, or spend your extra money instead of saving - the difference that actually implementing these strategies makes is astonishing.
If you put in the effort to earn, save and be resourceful - I guarantee you'll be on your way abroad. Best of luck!