How to Travel Like a Poor College Kid

During the summer of 2013

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I traveled to Europe from May

22nd until August 18th.

While there I got to

experience multitude of

sights, sounds, people and

cultures. My life gained whole

new perspectives and

outlooks, and I made friends I

still keep in contact with to this day.

An invaluable experience, but if you had to put a price tag on my trip it’d be for

less than $2,800. Here’s how. 

_______________________________________________________

Let me begin by saying I go to college, work a job, have student loans, and am really your average guy. I don’t have a huge amount of money and I don’t have a super rich family to rely on to send me on these trips that I enjoy. All the saving is done by myself.

The only reason I say those things is to say that traveling isn’t hard, or really that expensive, it just requires a bit of willpower when it comes to the saving, a little bit of cleverness when it comes to booking and planning, and knowing how and where to save money at. All of which I had no idea how to do going into last summers trip. But after hundreds of hours put into research, planning, reading, comparing and then some more reading I finally began to figure it out.

Here’s what I learned and here’s how you, with whatever situation you’re in can begin planning and saving for an adventure and experience of your own.

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Getting to Europe

This will be the most expensive part of your trip almost hands down, at least for me it was. But there are ways to find the cheapest and best ticket possible. Going into this there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for your ticket.

  • Try to fly, if you can, during off times.

What I mean by this is if you can’t help it don’t fly in the summer months to Europe, or where ever you may be going. That’s when all the other tourists are going to be flying, and that’s when the airlines know they can charge more.

Also in accordance to this, generally plane tickets are cheaper during the week as opposed to the weekend. As once again more people fly during the weekend than the week.

Think as an anti-tourist, and avoid when you’d think tourists would be traveling, as this is how airlines think as well.

  • Shop around and compare prices.

There are many websites that’ll  compare dozens of different airline prices for you and cut out some of your leg work. Some of the better websites I’ve found that do this are.

-Kayak.com

-statravel.com

-skyscanner.com

-momondo.com

Try ’em all, and even once you’ve found your cheapest ticket I’d then go to the airline that is selling that ticket and double-check there to make sure it’s not cheaper directly from them.

Also if you’re in Europe and looking for cheap plane tickets, these websites won’t compare other airlines for you, but are pretty cheap in and of themselves, and worth looking into.

-ryanair.com

-easyjet.com

  • Sign up for Airline rewards cards.

I’ve personally never done this, BUT, I’ve read a lot about it and know of a lot of people who do this successfully. Basically most airlines offer reward credit cards, that for lets say every dollar you spend you get one skymile in return.

Also it’s worth noting that most of these card offer huge rewards for signing with them, we’re talking thousands of skymiles. This is just a good way to get free flights. Sure it may take some time but I mean you’re spending money anyways right?

  • Get a Student travel card. (If you’re a student obviously)

Some airlines will offer discount tickets for students if you have an international student Identification card. These are only $25 (at least that’s how much mine way when I bought it in 2013) but will save you hundreds. Just about everywhere in Europe offers discounts for students.

The biggest benefit to this card, (at least for me) was that it saved me roughly $100 on my plane ticket, which paid for the card by itself right there.

If you’re a student I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend getting one of these. It may sound cheesy BUT you’re honestly loosing money if you don’t.

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Travel in Europe

While you’re in Europe and you’re city hopping there are a couple of cheap methods to get from city to city. Keep in mind that these methods are usually only for the larger cities and if you trying to get to a smaller town or village that you may have to find the closest city to get there from. But it’s not that difficult of a thing to do.

There are three main ways to travel around Europe though, by, Plane, Train, and Automobile…. well by bus really. Let’s start with the cheapest and work our way up.

Bus 

There are several bus services in Europe that’ll get you to where you need to go for pretty cheap. It’d be impossible to list them all though for there are many in the continent, and some specialized to only cities, a certain geographic area or region, or to a country. In short there’s just a lot of bus services.

A good place to start your search would be some with these three major lines.

-Megabus.com

-Eurolines.com

-Busabout.com

Bus about was the only three of the services that I did not use while over there, but have heard good things about them. My favorite to try and start with though is Megabus, as I always found them to be the cheapest, the only downside to them is they don’t have as many routes as Eurolines does. Eurolines is not a bad company at all though and their prices are usually on par with Megabus, and sometimes just as cheap or cheaper.

If none of those services fit your needs though the next place to go would be the cities main bus hub. Which should be easy enough to find. Just speak to the nearest police officer, public worker, or citizen, and they should be able to point ya in the right direction. Once you find the hub just do some comparisons, talk to the worker and you should be in good shape and on your way in no time.

Also it’s worth mentioning that busing around Europe is a totally viable option of travel as compared to train and plane. Just because it’s not as glamorous or always as comfortable it’s still a great option. Sure there are cons involved in taking the bus, the most notable of which is that bus is going to be your slowest method of getting somewhere. BUT! There is good in that alone. A: It’ll give you time to journal, or write down some of your journey if you’re into that. Or give you time to plan out your next stop, next bus ride, or time to read. Sure it takes a while, but you’ll be grateful for the time off the feet and rest. B: You’re getting to drive through Europe… that should be reason enough to be okay with taking the bus. Europe is an incredible country to see via the road, pretty much wherever you are.

Train

Of all the ways to travel in Europe this is the one that I wanted to do the most yet never got the pleasure to do. That being said I can’t offer any first hand knowledge here but I’ve read and researched into it and came up with this. From what I found train is usually a bit more expensive than bus, especially if you’re not booking it further in advance, it can sometimes even end up being more expensive than planes if you don’t. That’s why I never ended up taking the train, there were always cheaper methods to get to where I needed to be, and I’d rather have saved the euros. That being said it’s still a great way to travel.

Two places to start with train would be.

-eurail.com

-raileurope.com

If neither of these suit your fancy, than once again I’d pass on the same advice about finding the nearest bus/train hub in your city. For they are usually the same place. But once again beware, for if you’re booking on the same day or week train can get pretty pricey. Although that’s not always the case, and it’s definitely worth the look, for train is one of the more scenic and beautiful ways to see the country, and will obviously be faster than bus.

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Plane 

One of the nice things about Europe is their unbelievably low-cost of airfare, at least compared to the United States. Not much advice to give here that wasn’t given in the plane ticket area above this. But a good place to start when looking for airfare in Europe is one of the two major budget airline the country has, those being.

-ryanair.com

-easyjet.com

More than likely if you’re flying intercontinental and looking to do so cheaply, it’ll be one of those you’ll end up using. Before buying your ticket I’d be safe and still run your destinations through,

skyscanner.con

momondo.com

They may not get your flight down but by a couple of euros, but hey a couple euros is a cheap beer or street vendor snack somewhere! Silver linings my friends, it’s all about the silver linings.

Hitchhiking

Probably one of the worst repped and misunderstood things in this whole article next to hostels. Hitchhiking is a very valid and realistic way to get around Europe, and the cost of doing so is free. Not something you can say about hardly anything else in this article. Not to mention it can be done and get you just about anywhere in Europe.

Sure hitching has it’s dangers, but so does everything else. The trick here is just being smart, knowing who to take rides from, and knowing how to do it. Here’s some tips though to improve your hitching game.

-Look clean and don’t wear your sunglasses. When you’re hitchhiking you’re really selling yourself to every driver who passes you. Keeping that in mind you want to look your best, while looking as safe, humble, and kind while doing it.

-The less bags you have the better your chances. Saves the driver the hassle of clearing a back seat or popping the trunk.

-Make a sign. Better and catches more attention then a tiny thumb thrown up, and be creative in making it!

-Choose your location wisely. You’re going to have much more luck hitching on a main road or vein of travel as opposed to some rural road with no one around for miles. Also consider whether or not the car would even be able to pull over to pick you up without holding up traffic. And also don’t necessarily try starting your hitching in the middle of a big city. People will be running around doing errands and chores, so they won’t have the time to pick you up.

-Consider the time of day. If it’s rush hour out people may be less prone to pick you up as they’re headed to or from work, and after a busy day of stress someone may not want to be giving out time consuming rides to strangers.

Basically put yourself in your drivers shoes and go from there. They are people just as you are, and have the same concerns, fears, and heart that you do.

Accommodations in Europe

So that takes care of the travel, to, from, and inside Europe, but that’s only about half the prep work done and half the journey planned. Now that you’re there you’ll need a place to stay, and food to eat. Let’s break this down though and take it one thing at a time starting with where you may want to stay, be it in hostels, someones couch, or on a farm.

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Hostels

Hostels sometimes gets a bad wrap because of the misconception that they are dangerous and dirty places to stay. This isn’t the case at all, not for the most part, and not from what I’ve experienced.

Hostels are simply an alternative to staying in an expensive hotel, and are a great way to put yourself around like-minded travelers, closer to the heart of the city, and around people doing exactly what you’re doing. Traveling.

Hostels are not the absolute cheapest way to stay in Europe, but as compared to most other ways to stay in a city without having to make arrangements beforehand it’s one of the cheapest ways you’ll find.

Of course there are some cons to staying in a Hostel, but they don’t outweigh the good. Rather they are just some things that one must keep in mind when staying in one. Some of these things being.

-Multiple people per room. Unless you want to shell out a few more euro, chances are most hostels you’ll be staying in will house multiple people per room. This can be as little as four people to as much as 16 to even 20 people per room. Often on bunk beds as well.

– With being around that many people one must be wary of their possessions. Keep all your belonging on you at all times, and be aware of where they’re at if they’re not. Also, try to keep everything locked up and secured. This usually doesn’t present much of a problem, as most hostels have lockers or a safe room to put your things in. It just requires one to be more aware of their surroundings is all. Just because there are those out there looking to make a quick profit at your loss. But that being said I’ve never encountered any thievery or mischief anywhere I’ve been. Just stay aware is all.

–  If you’re a terribly light sleeper then make sure you bring some earplugs, as with being around that many sleepers/travelers it’s not going to stay completely silent all night. People may be coming in late at night from their own adventures on the town, or leaving early to catch a bus or plane to their next destination, so once again be prepared going in.

All that being said those things aren’t really cons. Rather just things to be aware of so they don’t catch you off guard and become a problem.

But with so many people, especially backpackers and fellow travelers around you’ll have ample opportunity to make new friends, connect with people you never otherwise would have.

Keep your ear to ground as well, as you may hear about local gems that many tourists never even knew existed.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing.org is a great way to stay locally and experience a city the way it was meant to. The idea is that couchsurfing is a community of travelers who help each other out. A sort of karmic investment. You may crash on someones couch in some city for a period of time, but then someone may crash on your couch at some point in the future.

It’s not really about just having a free place to stay, but rather getting to experience a city from a local point of view, as your hosts often will take you out and show you the city the way they know and love it.

One of the biggest perks about it all is that it’s 100% free.

Helpx

Helpx.net, short for help exchange, is in my opinion one of the best ways to travel if you have an extended amount of time and are really interested in getting yourself entrenched in the local culture.

How helpx works is in exchange for a few hours of work a day your host family they will take you in, furnish you with a place to sleep,  and will even feed you. The amount of work done exactly, and what that work consists of is between you and your host. Generally though it’s no more than 20-25 hours a week and the work usually isn’t back-breaking.

The website provides pictures, bios and a description of what you’ll be doing and what to expect before you even get into contact with a host. Besides that there are also reviews from other helpxers who have been there before you.

Work can range from being a hand on an equestrian center (what I did last summer) to being a receptionist at a hostel, to walking dogs. It absolutely just depends on what your host needs and what you’re looking for. But the possibilities are endless.

The only thing to know before going into helpx is that there is a fee before you can start getting into contact with hosts. That fee being 25$ for a two-year subscription. (At least that’s how much it was when I signed up) The fee isn’t to turn a profit on you, but rather a way to keep helpx running, and a spot for it on the internet, for those kind of things don’t just run themselves.

Also if you are planning of doing helpx, it’d be a good idea to get in touch with your host a good month or two in advance of when you plan on traveling there, for the best places often fill up fast, and you don’t want to be left scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

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WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)

Wwoofing is very similar to Helpx, one of the bigger differences though is that wwoof only provides opportunities in farming as opposed to helpx’s many many different work opportunities. Also the wwoofing website is not as easy to navigate as the helpx one, just because each different country you go to has a different wwoofing set up. Also each country usually has a fee to be able to wwoof there. Similar to helpx’s fee, but the difference being helpx’s fee gains you access to the whole globe, where wwoof you have to do it by country and per country.

But all in all the two programs are much the same. You’d get into contact with your host, figure out what arrangement you both are comfortable with and then go from there.

Both programs being almost free (besides the site fees, and travel expenses to and from your host.)

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Other

There are many other exchanges and programs to get you around Europe for free or for little money, but I couldn’t begin to go into detail on them all. But other things to look into if you’re not interested in any of the things above, and that a simple google search will turn up are.

-House sitting

-House exchanges

-Teaching English

– Working as a hand on a yacht

– Being a nanny or au pair

And there are many others I’m sure that I’m forgetting and neglecting, but all those listed above should provide a great place to start.

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Other expenses to take into consideration

Travel and accommodation are hands down going to be your biggest expenses while over in Europe. But even once you get all those squared away there are still a couple of expenses to keep in mind that pertain to the trip.

-If you haven’t gotten your passport yet, then that’ll be an extra $100+, and make sure to take care of that at least two months before travel. There’d be nothing worse then having everything planned and booked only to be stopped by a late passport coming it. Yeah F that.

-Travel insurance. If you’re traveling for any extended period of time then look into getting travel insurance. Not only will it save you a boat load of money in case something does happen but it’ll make getting into countries much more smooth as well. I almost didn’t get into Ireland last summer because I didn’t have travel insurance. It isn’t to terribly expensive either. It just depends on where you’re going and for how long.

-Any extra baggage you may need to check onto the plane. This could add up fast, as most airlines charge $30+ an extra bag. This is why I like to pack as light as possible when traveling. Last summer I fit my whole three months into one backpack that I was able to squeeze onto the plane with me. In doing so I probably saved a good couple hundred dollars and the worry of losing my bag along the way.

I understand that not everyone can pack all they need into one bag, but it’s just something to keep in mind while packing. Make sure you bring only the essentials, and then even lose some stuff on top of that.

-Food. Food will cost you $10-50 dollars a day just depending on how you do it. You can eat out every meal (which I wouldn’t recommend), or buy some groceries to cook in your hostel at the end of your days, while eating off some cheap delicious street vendors. Either way realize that food will be one of your bigger expenses after accommodation and travel.

If you want to save the most money I’d recommend buying your own groceries for the week, and preparing them in your hostels kitchen (which 80% of hostels have) or even on the go. Also avoid expensive restaurants, as little street vendors and your more odd shops will be much cheaper, and just as good/if not better sometimes.

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-Any gear you may need that you don’t already have. Perhaps a backpack, microfiber towel, locks for you bags, shampoo, power adapters, toothpaste, things of that nature that you may have to pick up, before, or even during your trip. They all cost money.

-Being a tourist. Not all places are free to go get into or look at. Often time they are ten to twenty euro a pop. Especially for the more popular places. If you plan on doing any serious sight seeing in a city for more than a day then I’d look into getting a city card.

City cards get you into most touristy destinations for free, or for a majorly discounted price. They are a bit pricey but will save you money in the long run if you plan on seeing a bunch of places. Besides that they usually have discounts for dinning and others things you may be doing while in the city. Definitely worth looking into.

-Public transportation. The tube, taxis and buses of Europe aren’t free, and you may be taking multiples of these a day to get to where you need to go. Possibly look into renting a bike, or plan on doing a lot of walking if you’re looking for an alternative to public transport.

-Drinking. One way to drain your wallet quickly is hitting the local pub every night. Keep in mind that a pint usually costs anywhere from 3-5 euro depending on where you’re at, and it’ll usually takes a few of those babies per night to have a successful one. When you get to Europe just keep a close eye on your bank account if you plan on drinking a lot.IMG_4517

Money Exchange

When you get to Europe you’ll have to exchange your dollars or whatever currency you may be using to the local Euro or Pound or whatever currency you may be needing. Be careful when it comes to exchanging your money though for there are good places to exchange it at and not so good places.

I personally never exchanged my money at a commercial place, for often their exchange rates are not the greatest and they’re just looking to turn a quick profit on you. My preferred way to  exchange the quan was to just pull money out of an ATM. That’s right curve ball.

You see ATM’s often have the best exchange rate, also they’re just convenient, you don’t have to deal with any faces or possible language barriers for that matter. Although when you do pull out your money try to do it in larger amounts. Don’t constantly be pulling out 10-20 euro increments because that ATM will have a service fee. Granted these service fees are usually cheap but they will add up quickly.

Also keep your ATM receipts as well because more often than not your bank will reimburse you for any charges you may have received. Mine did and I ended up with an extra 25 bucks in my pocket once I got home.

Now lets say you don’t want to use an ATM for whatever reason, that’s totally okay first off, but second off if you don’t just be very conscious of the exchange rates of what ever service you may be using. I’d avoid any exchange counters at airports or hotels, as they usually are a tad higher knowing that tourists are a bit gullible. (Remember being the whole anti-tourist thing from earlier?) Not saying that is always the case just be aware of it and shop around for the best exchange rate a bit.

Now if you don’t care loosing a couple of dollars then go ahead and just exchange where ever you want, the only reason I mention it at all is because I didn’t even take it into consideration for a long time before I went over to Europe. And the way I look at things is the more ya know the better off you’ll be. Anyways onto the next section. Hoo ha!

Saving

The final piece of advice I’ll leave you with is in regards to saving money for the trip. Honestly the saving of the money is the hardest part (at least for me) but there are a few little tricks I use to help me stay on top of it.

Examine all your purchases prior to your trip as essential or non-essential. Before you buy ANYTHING ask yourself if you really need it. Would you rather have a pair of $40 dollar shoes or  two nights in a hostel? Would you rather have a Big Mac here, or a falafel in Germany. When you put it into terms like it helps justify putting whatever you want back on the shelf.

Also before you make any big purchases give yourself a day or two to really think about it. Let the buyers excitement and anxiety that we capitalists have been trained so well to hone a bit of time to wear off so you can make a rational decision on a purchase.

There are many things to do in Europe and even more places to see.. It’ll definitely cost you money to do and see everything you want to, but it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune to do so. It just has to be done correctly and with a bit of intelligence is all.

And finally just realize that whatever money you save now is an investment in your future. Rarely do you get to make investment such as traveling abroad. It truly broadens you mind, puts a big ol smile on your soul, and gives you perspectives you never would have other wise had. Just be careful for traveling is highly highly addictive. But to be cliche for a moment, it really is one of the few investments that you can make that never stops giving back. Not to mention the friendships you make will last a lifetime and change your life in ways you never dreamed possible.

I hope this guide was helpful to you and perhaps pointed you in the right direction for your future travel plans, and gets the ball rolling.

If you know of any huge things I’m forgetting to mention please let me know, or if you have any questions what so ever pertaining to travel. I’ll help the best I can.

Good luck in your travels and I hope it’s a good trip!

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17 responses to “How to Travel Like a Poor College Kid

  1. Thanks a lot for liking and following my blog, I really appreciate it. I’m still new to this but I’m planning on doing a massive trip round Europe, Turkey and Morocco this summer so there will be loads more then.

    This post is brilliant, I’ll definitely be taking tips from this when I start booking stuff, it’s really useful.

    • I’m glad this was a help, I wrote it especially for the situation and time you’re in now, so if it saves you even a fiver it was worth it. Thank you for the kind words and stoping by!

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