By Lindsey Zimmerman
There are some things that just can’t be learned in a classroom – you have to go out into the world and experience them firsthand. Whether you’re with a study abroad program, a volunteer project or simply traveling independently, international travel is one of the absolute best experiences money can buy.
The costs of traveling internationally might seem daunting, especially to a first-time traveler, but this shouldn’t deter anyone from setting off on the adventure of a lifetime. With some research, careful planning and awareness of where your money is going, a little bit can go a long way.
- Set a budget. I wish I had done this before my study abroad trip last summer. I had the most incredible time, but certain trips and activities ended up costing me more than I was expecting. It might not seem like the most exciting idea to sit down and plan out how you plan to spend your money while abroad, but it can be extremely helpful so that you don’t dig yourself into a hole. At the very least, come up with a rough draft based on your travel plans. If another trip or opportunity presents itself, adjust your budget accordingly.
- Be aware of your surroundings. This is a given no matter what – it doesn’t just apply to finances. However, knowing where your wallet and other important items are at all times is extremely important, especially in a new city. A bit of awareness could save you an overwhelming amount of time and money if, God forbid, you fall victim to a pickpocketer or other thief.
- Take advantage of student discounts. Use that student ID while you can: it can get you some amazing discounts on everything from museums to transportation. If you’re headed to Europe, make sure to check out the youth discount for the continental train system, which could save you hundreds of dollars while traveling from country to country.
- Get to know the locals. Chances are, they’ll know the best places in town to get great deals. Local friends can also help watch your back and warn you if you’re about to fall victim to any kind of scam.
- Research accommodations beforehand. Every style of accommodations offers something different in the way of experience. Sites like Hostelworld are great for comparing prices on hostels and hotels in different cities around the world, and can be super convenient when it comes to looking for good value for your money. Staying in a hostel is a great opportunity to meet and connect with other travelers from around the world. If you’re feeling more adventurous, Couchsurfing offers you the chance to stay with a local resident for free.
- Familiarize yourself with the exchange rate. That way, there won’t be any surprises when you check your bank account. Exchange rates rarely stay at an exact, constant number, but having a rough idea of how much your local currency is worth compared to the U.S. dollar will help you stick to your budget.
With a little bit of planning and budgeting beforehand, along with keeping a close eye on your expenses while on your trip, international travel can be a reasonable goal. The experiences you will have and the friendships you make along the way will make the expense worth every cent.