How to: Travel Europe on a Student’s Budget
When I first made the decision to go to Europe this summer, like many college students one of the first things to hit me was the dream-blocker question of finances. After all, isn’t that one of the first things to hit us every single morning? You know, the daily guilt that sinks in after buying a $4.63 Caramel Machiatto at Starbucks or the soul-shattering feeling as you pay for on-campus parking?
Well, dreams are more expensive than that. Especially ones that need to be chased across the globe.
There is the plane ticket, the hotels, the food, the clothes, international phone bills and more. I’m not one of the few at ASU who can swipe dad’s credit card or dip into the scholarship fund. Luckily, the very first thing to hit me was the realization that I needed to make Europe happen – which was way more powerful than any uncertainty I had. With a little courage and determination, I can now proudly say I’ll be on a red eye to London right after finals, destined for an internship and backpacking. Here are travel tips I’ve found along the way that can turn your summer travel dream into financial reality:
As much as I wish I could say I’m 100 percent spontaneous, it would be false. Because of my major (journalism) and the competitive field I want to enter upon graduation, time is valuable. I can’t bask in the French Riviera (if only); I need an internship or work experience to keep myself and my career momentum satisfied. Also in my line of reasoning: London Summer Olympics, Coldplay on their European tour and Prince Harry’s recent eligibility. Find some way for it to benefit your education and lifelong goals – it’ll make it that much more worth it.
Once you have that down, start saving.
Start here: ASU Study Abroad.
Your biggest expense will likely be your ticket across the pond. Get this taken care of as soon as possible. That sweet confirmation email makes everything seem real, and the sooner you do it, the cheaper it is.
- Fly earlier in the summer – it cut my ticket price by about $300.
- Experiment with the airport you fly into and out of. You don’t have to fly in and out of the same place and stick to the traditional roundtrip ticket. European countries are very connected and it may be well worth it to fly into a cheaper airport and take a train to another destination – plus you get to see more than you imagined.
- Avoid flying in on weekends, as they are the heaviest traveling days. I find flying in and out midweek cuts ticket prices by about $100. Search for your ticket at different times of day. I find that searching around 1 p.m. (Arizona time) resulted in the cheapest prices.
My go-to ticket site: Kayak.
This is where you have to let your adventurous side loose and put your American luxuries aside. It’ll be worth it – the best memories are usually created outside the comfort zone. Here are two friendly and affordable options for students:
This one is increasingly popular among college students and not quite as creepy sounding as it used to be. The official Couchsurfing website is used by millions around the world. The gist? You create a profile and connect with people around the world who are willing to host you in their spare bedroom or couch (for free!) and show you their way of life. This is definitely a deep cultural experience, and word is it's a priceless one.
No, it’s not like the movie. My only prior hostel experience was New York City, but that alone was one of the greatest weeks of my life. You have a chance to connect with young people from around the world and make lifelong friends. Hostel prices average around $20-50 a night per person and are in every European city you can imagine. Rooms are usually shared in a dorm-like situation, so it’ll be a fun freshman-year throwback. Read the reviews for red flags, but for the most part the experience is bound to be great.
Find a hostel here.
Remember, Europe is very small and connected in comparison to the United States. The key to sticking in your budget is near-flawless planning. Map out the countries you want to see and the cities you want to visit, but don’t overbook yourself. There many options of mass transit including trains, buses, ferries, small airline carriers, buses or even the backseat of a Roman’s Vespa. You will develop a love for it and won’t want to drive when you get back!
I plan to get the 15-day rail pass and use buses in between so I can travel between England, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy for $392.
The Little Things
Personally I have the best travel experiences when I avoid the typical tourist itinerary. Sure, when you’re in Paris you have to visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, but the real culture and way of life can be experienced by example of the locals. Eat like them. Have espresso in the morning and light dinner. Walk the streets and stumble upon the hidden treasures. Go clubbing on a Saturday and see how much harder Europeans party than we do. Go for your morning run, but along the Seine. Research local things to do and favorite parks. Not only is it cheaper than hitting all the tourist spots, but immersing yourself in a foreign culture gives you a new perspective.
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