Traveling on a Budget

Saving money, budgeting your finances, and pinching pennies doesn’t end once you’ve bought your plane ticket and paid your study abroad program fees. But I’m sure you knew that.

I wrote about choosing a study abroad program and my first piece of advice was to consider the type and length of your program before you worry about the cost. I stand by that advice, but I realize that cost is a big deal and one of the biggest stressors for students thinking about and planning to study abroad. Before we get into scholarship opportunities and ways to fund your study abroad program, I thought I would share my best budget travel tips. I’m sure there are a lot of other great budget travel tips, I just don’t know them all! So feel free to leave us a comment below, post on our Facebook or tweet us with your best budget travel tips!

Traveling is so exhilarating!

Traveling is so exhilarating!

1. Getting There

For booking flights, my favorite site was, a site that allows you to compare ticket prices across airlines and booking sites. My friends and I used to sit in our dorm room comparing flights until we couldn’t wait any longer to book.

Europe in particular is well known for budget airlines; airlines like Ryanair and easyJet aren’t known for their comfort or amenities, but they get you where you want to go. Most of the time. To be quite honest, I have heard absolutely terrible things about Ryanair and a Google search turns up more than a few nightmarish travel situations. But in my limited experience, it was fine: I got where I wanted to go, safely, and without much (if any) of a delay. Plus it was cheap! But watch out for hidden fees. If you’re flying Ryanair, plan to bring only a carry-on to avoid being charged to check a bag (this can sometimes cost more than your flight!). Also be aware that Ryanair tends to fly to and from smaller airports that aren’t as centrally located.

If flying’s not for you, then what about taking the train? No one I knew bought a Eurail (EuroRail) pass, so perhaps gone are the days of traveling to multiple countries within a couple of weeks. That sounds too stressful for me anyway! If you’re planning on doing some in-country traveling, checkout what kind of rail passes are on offer.

Special edition Women's World Cup BahnCard 25 from summer 2011.

Special edition Women’s World Cup BahnCard 25 from summer 2011.

For example, in Germany, you can get a Bahncard and, depending on what level you buy, you can get up to 50% off regularly-priced fares. And as a student, you can get a Bahncard 50 for half off! When I lived in Rostock from 2008-2009 I got a Bahncard and more than recouped the price with frequent train trips to and from Berlin.

2. Sleeping

Now that we’ve talked getting there, what about once you have actually made it to your travel destination? I always did my research and read hostel reviews on before booking. A lot of my friends went the CouchSurfing route. I had only vaguely heard of couch surfing when I went abroad, but if I were abroad now, I would definitely consider that as an option. Via you can also contact people to show you around the city or recommend things to do/see/eat.

What I will say as far as hostels go: don’t sacrifice your happiness or your wellbeing for a good price! Multi-bunk rooms in hostels are cheaper, but if you don’t really want to share a huge dormitory with 20 people, budget the money for a smaller, 3-4 person room. Yes, you might still have really inconsiderate hostel-mates who party all night, come home at 6am and turn on all the lights. But it’s a lot less likely to happen if there are only 4 of you to a room!

3. Exploring

View from the Museum of Scotland

In addition to free admission to the Museum of Scotland, my friend and I enjoyed a free flute concert and this amazing view of Edinburgh Castle from the museum’s rooftop terrace.

As far as exploring the city goes, my best advice is to take some time and explore the city without a purpose. Walk until you can’t walk anymore and then hop on public transportation or take a break in a café. Speaking of walking, a lot of cities have free walking tours (with a suggested donation). I did a walking tour of Berlin even after having visited several times and it was such a fun few hours. The guide was great and offered a lot of interesting history of the city. By the end of the tour, I wanted to pay him because I’d had such a good time. This list of over 80 free walking tours around the world should help you find a walking tour.

I always enjoy a good museum or gallery visit. If you read my post about my personal travel philosophy, you’ll know I try not to plan to do too much when I’m traveling, otherwise I get burned out. But it’s a good idea to know when museums have discounted days and/or which museums are free to the public. In the UK for example, entrance to all national museums and galleries is free, though special exhibitions do cost money. In Berlin, the Deutsche Guggenheim is free on Monday afternoons; in Munich the Alte Pinakothek is only 1€ on Sundays…the list goes on and on, it just requires a bit of research beforehand.

With a valid student ID in your host country you can take advantage of student prices at movie theaters, museums, hostels and hosts of other places. If you’ll be traveling outside of your host country or don’t have a Student ID, it’s a good idea to get an International Student Identity Card before you go.

4.  Eating

Bastille Market in Paris

The Bastille Market in Paris was a great place to find some fresh fruit and people watch.

One of my favorite things to do when exploring a new city is to check out the parks. My friends and I used to go to an open-air market, buy all sorts of fruits, cheese, and bread and have a picnic in the park. I may not have the best bargaining skills, but buying from local markets and making a meal for yourself is still cheaper than eating out.

Venture outside the touristy areas because that’s where you will find more affordable eating and drinking options, as well as more opportunities to interact with the locals. I never look at the eating and drinking sections in guidebooks. Instead, I prefer scouring the internet, which is a lot easier nowadays because you can sit down in a café, use their Wi-Fi, and find restaurant reviews. I’m partial to native language reviews from sites like and, because if the locals go there, it must be good!

5. One Last Word of “Wisdom”

I know money is tight as a student and you’ve got to budget well, but make sure to budget a little extra for a splurge here and there. I visited a friend in Bavaria one summer and even with my rail pass the ticket price was still exorbitant because it was a last minute booking and over a holiday weekend. But do I regret it? Not at all. I got to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year and we had an awesome long weekend. The ticket price was the last thing on my mind.

Do you want to go Skydiving or see your favorite band that just happens to be on tour in your host country? Are you a foodie who would love nothing more than a 5-course meal in an Italian restaurant? Or – as cheesy as it sounds – do you want to eat French Onion Soup and sip on a glass a Champagne in sight of the Tour Eiffel?

Do it! You’ll regret not doing these extraordinary things more than you will regret eating Ramen noodles for a week to make up for it!

What do I regret not doing? I try not to regret anything about my travel adventures, but I wish I had taken a Trabi Safari (a tour of Berlin in an East German car) while living in Berlin. One day…

What are your best money-saving tips and tricks for traveling abroad? Leave us a comment below, post on our Facebook wall, or tweet at us @SparkySpotlight!

Emily Caskey is an intern here at Study Abroad Spotlight. She studied abroad in Rostock, Germany for 10 months and interned in Berlin for two summers. To learn more about her experiences abroad, check out her Spotlight!

* This is not a sponsored post. All opinions expressed in this post regarding companies and websites are my own.

Study Abroad Safety Tips

If you're studying abroad and traveling, keep these safety tips in mind! Study Abroad Spotlight intern Katie writes about being the victim of petty crime while studying abroad.

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