I lead an annual summer study abroad course in amazing Chiang Mai, Thailand, where my students engage in service learning — and much else. As a sociology professor at a public university, I’m well aware that many of my students can’t easily pay for an extra program, especially an international one, even though my Hands on Thailand (HoT) is one of the least expensive and most rewarding study abroad opportunities.
Travel is priceless, but it can come with a steep cost. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love," reminds us that “To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice,” because study abroad and travel, especially in this increasingly-globalized world, are invaluable socially, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and professionally.
If your parents (or grandparents) can’t or won’t financially support your adventures, there are many possible ways to raise money for travel and study abroad. I developed and share the following 21 tips with my students, and you can tailor them for yourself and your dream destination. Be frugal and creative!
1. Saving more.
Before anything else, put some of your earnings away in a dedicated account and don’t use it for anything else.
2. Spending less.
This is important, so cut down on or eliminate unnecessary things like buying coffee and tea, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, sodas, juices and smoothies, cookies and desserts, clothes and shoes, professional haircuts, manicures/pedicures, and makeup, knick-knacks and souvenirs, music and movies, and eating out!
3. Ask people to gift you money instead of purchasing an item.
Instead of buying objects for your holidays, graduation, and birthday, have people gift money for travel.
4. Consider a “-thon.”
Whether by yourself or with others, create a volunteerathon, walkathon, bikeathon, danceathon, picketathon, boycottathon, jokeathon, kissathon, weirdathon, servathon or any other creative activity where people can sponsor you for performing some action (e.g., dressing or acting a certain way, doing something musical or theatrical, performing a good deed or strange service, planting a garden, cleaning up trash, etc.). Create an online form and ask people to sponsor you for each unit of time (e.g., 15 minutes) you do for your activity or for accomplishing some goal or outlandish activity, getting as many sponsors as possible.
Similarly, you can organize some pay-to-play activity, where people can pay to perform some activity, play a game, or enter a contest.
5. Set up a GoFundMe page.
Start a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, FundAnything, Crowd Rise or Rally and share it widely in your social networks, with your family and friends, on campus, at work and elsewhere.
6. Work additional hours at your job.
Or get an additional job, or join the gig economy (e.g., Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Mechanical Turk, Fiverr, Etsy, craigslist and eBay) and dedicate those earnings for travel.
7. Speak with your religious institution, union, club and/or local civic group.
Have them sponsor part or all of your trip in exchange for a slide show, newsletter article and/or talk upon your return.
8. Financial aid.
Apply for scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid.
9. Travel hacking.
Acquire frequent flier miles by signing up for certain credit cards or other deals.
10. Don’t forget about bake sales.
Or pad thai sales, fried rice sales, coconut curry sales, Thai iced tea sales, bracelet sales, car washes and the like.
11. Reduce your bills.
Reduce your electricity and other utility bills by being more eco-conscious and unplugging.
12. Enjoy free activities instead of things you have to pay for, which is also a great travel tip!
Collect experiences, not things! Take walks, explore neighborhoods, talk to strangers, play games, visit farmers markets, picnic in parks, attend free events like outdoor concerts and theater, go to meet-ups, volunteer at a food pantry, cleanup a park, block or beach, etc.
13. If you have to get something, never pay full price.
Get it free (e.g., Craigslist), borrow it (e.g., Peerby), barter for it (e.g., Simbi), try getting it used (e.g., thrift stores, eBay, ask around), wait for a sale, do a price match, or use coupons or discount codes to get it cheaper.
14. Save money on food at home, so you’ll have more money to spend while traveling.
Buy healthy, filling foods like beans, lentils and rice in bulk. Cheaper vegetables like potatoes and onions, seasonal food from your farmers markets, and drink tap water. Also, look for free food opportunities.
15. Don’t sign up for or renew a gym.
Go outside instead!
16. Skip the hotel or AirBnB and stay with friends.
Or camp or try CouchSurfing.
17. Sell your unnecessary possessions.
Exchange physical things that weigh you down for cash that gives you freedom to travel.
18. Stay healthy.
Avoid expensive doctors visits and overpriced medicines by eating lots of fruits and veggies, drinking water, washing your hands, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress.
19. Cut your cable service.
The world out there is much more exciting than the world in there!
Also look to decrease other subscriptions and fixed monthly expenses.
20. Bargain or negotiate on...
Your salary and benefits, rent, insurance premiums, car payments, credit card fees and interest rates (which you should pay off ASAP and then avoid for the future), medical bills, big ticket items, and scholarships/financial aid.
21. If you want, take more extreme saving measures.
Some options: stop purchasing any prepared foods or drinks as well as most new things; revert from a smartphone to a dumb one; sell your car and use public transit and a bike; move to a cheaper living arrangement and look for any other ways to staunch the outflow of money and, instead, to get more money coming in.
As has been said, “Travel is the only thing money can buy that makes you richer.” Make your dream a reality. It’ll all feel worth it when you’re finally away in beautiful Thailand — or wherever else you desire to go!
Dan Brook, Ph.D. teaches sociology at San Jose State University, from where he organizes the annual Hands on Thailand (HoT) program. Dan also has a free ebook of travel inspiration called "GO! Travel Quotes to Send You Off."