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I’ve written numerous destination specific guides on my blog, but today’s post is a bit different. Instead of taking a deep dive into one specific country and provide a detailed guide with recommendations, this blog post is instead going to give an overview of how I was able to see 30+ countries around the world as a college student… and how you can too! I hope this post, along with my other content, helps to break the stigma that international travel is extremely expensive and not realistic for younger travelers with tighter budgets. This blog post outlines some budget travel ideas you should consider doing in your early 20s that will allow you to see the world without spending every cent in your bank account.
PS. I linked dozens of my destination-specific blog posts about the trips listed below in this article, so feel free to click around my site a bit! My comments are also always open for questions!
Go On A Service Trip
I traveled to South America for the first time at the end of my freshman year in June 2017 as part of a service-immersion trip through my university. School-sponsored (or church) service trips are a great way to give back and see somewhere new. My group and I fundraised heavily for this trip, working at various bake sales, writing to loved ones, etc. For a full week away + flights, the trip ended up costing me only $500 out of pocket. I used money that I had saved up throughout the year for this one. If you’ve already graduated there are tons of organizations that you can volunteer internationally through. Most notably, I’ve had Daniel Radcliffe’s IVHQ on my mind for awhile! They have programs in over 100 countries.
Take A Road Trip
Road trips are extremely affordable ways to budget travel! Car gas is typically much cheaper than long-haul flights, and camping is always a cheap (if not FREE!) option for accommodation when you’re on the road. From Boston, I road tripped up to Montreal, Canada for a weekend in 2017. This drive is only 4 hours and Montreal makes a wonderful weekend trip! Old Montreal feels just like Europe, except it’s cheaper to visit and much more accessible for most Americans.
Study Abroad For A Semester
Studying abroad for a few weeks, or if you can – a full semester is another amazing way to see multiple new places on a budget. When you study abroad through a university, your housing is typically included in the tuition cost so you don’t need to worry about long-term nightly fees, which would easily add up if you were forced to book an Airbnb or hotel each night. Additionally, some universities offer a meal plan that could save you a lot on your food budget.
Lasty, most people reading this probably have no idea that there are scholarships and student aid to help fund study abroad programs! I earned a scholarship to study abroad as part of an inaugural program for sophomores to Florence, Italy during Fall 2017 that covered my roundtrip airfare from the US! Once you’re in Europe, it’s fairly easy to travel around affordably. I’ve written quite a few posts about how I managed to visit 10+ countries during my semester abroad in Europe, so give that a read for more tips. Always be on the look out to find cheap flights and don’t be afraid of hostels and overnight buses. They’re great options for budget travel and the perfect way to meet others while you’re young!
5. Czech Republic
9. The Netherlands
17. Northern Ireland
Search For All-Inclusive Caribbean Deals
Looking to take a tropical vacation or spring break trip? All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are the way to go! Most come with food and drink packages, and with an already discounted cost – this pays for itself very quickly. Mexico is one of the more affordable Caribbean destinations, so I highly recommend it for a getaway. Use websites like cheapcaribbean.com to find amazing resort + flight bundle deals. I did this in May 2018 and believe it ended up being $400 per person for 4 days – talk about Cancun on a budget!
Consider A Short-Term Study Abroad Program
If you’re not able to study abroad for a full semester due to scheduling conflicts or financial restraints, I highly recommend looking into a short-term program for budget travel. During summer 2018, I took a “Communication Between The East & West” course throughout China for 10 days through my university’s Communication department. This course also came with a scholarship and ended up costing about $2000 all in. That INCLUDED roundtrip airfare from NYC to China. Additionally, this specific course actually fulfilled 3 requirements for me at the time – it counted towards my Communication major, my International Studies major, and fulfilled a World Studies gen-ed requirement. Since one college class at a private university can cost up to $5,000 for the semester and this was a 3-in-1 for $2000 (plus a trip to China??), it was a no brainer.
Intern In The Travel Industry
Looking to travel for FREE as a college student? You may have to work for it! Also during summer 2018, between my sophomore and junior years of college, I interned full-time for a company called EF Education First. This company is primarily in the travel space, so I hoped there would be a potential to shadow a trip as an intern. I expressed my interest in this and hopped onto any project I could in case an opportunity came up. I was working on an educational service-learning tour project when my manager approached me with an opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic for a week to shadow a few of the tours and aid a video team with a content shoot! The best part? I was PAID to go! I was clocking my work hourly for that whole week.
20. Dominican Republic
Book Multi-Port Cruises
Another way to hit several countries at once, especially in regions like Europe where it’s fairly easy to country hop, is on a cruise! I was fortunate to be born into a family that values travel and went on a two-week Baltic cruise in August 2018. Since the Scandinavian and Baltic countries are so geographically close to one another, we were able to pull into a new port in a new country almost everyday. We also extended our trip to Norway for an extra 3 days on the back end allowing us to see Copenhagen, Berlin, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen all in a period of 2 weeks.
PS. Since the cruise industry took such a hit during the pandemic, there are some epic deals right now! I’m currently based in Charleston, SC where Carnival is offering 5 day Caribbean cruises for as little as $175 per person. Everything included. Do some digging – this is my fav way to travel!
Pick A Major That Encourages A Second Semester Abroad
Depending on your area of study in university, you may be able to study abroad for a second semester. My nursing, engineering, and accounting friends didn’t necessarily have this luxury, but as an International Studies major, it was highly encouraged. Most students opt to do a full year abroad, but since I had studied abroad during my sophomore year, I chose to do my second semester abroad as a junior. I did a business study abroad program in Sydney, Australia and since the semesters are skewed due to the flipped seasons, I was there from Feb – June 2019. I had an extra long winter break where I worked full-time again, saving every penny I could for budget travel and avoiding any unnecessary expenses.
32. New Zealand
Find A Spring Break Deal
I actually visited The Bahamas 3x during college – on a family vacation during my freshman year, on a cruise with my extended family during summer 2019, and as my senior year spring break destination with my best friends! I wrote an entire post about traveling to the Bahamas for spring break, but just know that if you can get a big enough group, you can score some pretty epic deals! We were in Nassau for 5 days and the trip was about $800 all in (international flights included). Considering the fact that it was spring break and we were pretty much eating and drinking 24/7, this quickly paid for itself. Use companies like STS Travel to find budget travel deals.
33. The Bahamas
That’s my list! I hope this blog post inspires you to seek out some more unconventional options for budget travel. It’s definitely possible to explore the world at a young age with a tight budget, assuming you’re a good saver and savvy trip planner. Even if it means working 12 hour days all summer long, I promise it’s worth it!
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