Truthfully, traveling is expensive, but it is not impossible to travel the world even on a college student budget. The most important thing to remember is that you need to strongly desire to travel. If you can always find a reason why you cannot travel, then you are never going to travel. If traveling becomes more important than anything else--entertainment, school, romantic relationships, family, career, and everything else--then there will be nothing holding you back.
Skip the takeout, the makeup palette, the Netflix subscription and concert tickets, and you will have a hefty travel fund by the end of the year. I usually budget about $10-$15 USD per day in most Asian/African countries and $35-$40 USD for European countries. That is the price of a takeout dinner or a lipstick at Sephora, so believe me -- it is very much doable! Here are some tips and tricks to making your traveling experience more affordable and more fun!
Hostels, airbnb, and homestays are always the cheaper alternatives. Out of the three, I especially love the hostel environment. When I was backpacking through Western China and Central Asia two years ago, I spent three months sleeping in the bunk beds of hostels, sharing a bedroom with 3-11 other strangers. I truly believe that travelers who have slept in the same room share something special, even if they never say a word to each other, will never see each other again, or simply knowing that you both stopped to rest for a bit in each other’s life.
There are 7 billion people on this planet; for any two people to cross paths, it must be some kind of fate, right? I have formed some of my best backpacking friends through staying in hostels. In fact, my most spontaneous trips are the result of last-minute decisions to join other backpackers I have met along the road to their next destinations.
Airbnb’s are a little more expensive, but also worth the comfort and privacy. And if you want to always pay half price on Airbnb stays, just message me for an insider tip ;)
This is another big money killer. The hardest fee to avoid is obviously the plane tickets getting to your country of destination. My only tip is to use websites like Orbitz, CheapoAir, Skyscanner, and Vayama instead of booking directly from the airline. In addition, if you are trying to fly within the country you are traveling, and you are able to read that country’s language, it is often cheaper to book your ticket through their regional airlines and discounted websites, instead of looking at plane tickets on American websites.
When traveling within a country, your cheapest bet is almost always going to be long distance buses and extremely slow trains. My longest train journey was a 38 hour train ride (3 days 2 nights) from Xian to Urumqi. It was very long and sort of crazy. But for some strange reason, I have slowly grown to love overnight train rides--something about the white noise and coziness of hard cots in those dirty beaten trains takes away all my insomnia and stress problems, and I can finally sleep like a baby.
My most memorable bus journey was an overnight bus ride from Cairo to Dahab. There is a distinct feeling of being dragged off the bus half-awake at 2 a.m. by patrol guards with dogs so they can sniff you and everyone else while rain soaks you to the core. I never figured out what that was about but apparently it is custom protocol.
For me, the best part about long-distance transportation is getting to think about life. My life back in America is extremely busy because like any other college student, I have to juggle 4-5 courses, two jobs, four clubs, a sorority, learning a new language, broadcasting in Chinese, writing a new book, and maintaining relationships. I never get “me time”, and cannot remember the last time I just sat back and did nothing for hours, without feeling the slightest guilt that I am not productive. But when I am stranded on a long-distance train or bus, I have all the time in the world to just look outside the window, appreciate the sun and rain, and even taste the cold flavorless food that suddenly tastes so good.
Literally the best part about traveling is the food. Nothing tastes better than cheap street food that looks kinda sketchy, but is actually delivered right from heaven. When food can be extremely cheap everywhere else in the world, it makes happy hour here look too expensive.
Some additional tips:
- Student discounts! Either invest in an international student card (they have these for teachers as well) and get half price off of most entrance fees around the world (from the Pyramids of Giza to any obscure temple in Thailand), or just use your university ID, which should work most of the time. I usually start talking in English and pointing at the English words on my ID and it works (because I am too broke to get the legitimate international student card).
- Public transportation is always the cheapest, but if you really want to get a taxi, consider uber first. Uber exists in a lot of other countries too, and it is ridiculously cheap compared the prices in the United States.
- Do not buy souvenirs. This may be a hard one to follow through on, since you want to buy all the pretty trinkets. But buying souvenirs adds up quickly and can eat on your wallet. Plus, if you are traveling for a long period of time, it adds unnecessary bulk onto your luggage. The best souvenirs are the memories we take with us as we move to a new chapter of our life.
4. If you want to travel and you have $0
Look into couchsurfing or research for hostels that give you a bed and three meals in return for working there. Of course, the work you will be doing for the hostel would probably be along the lines of washing dishes, sweeping the floor or cleaning toilets. Nonetheless, it does help pay for your travel expenses. I have only ever had to resort to this option once in my life (thank god!), but it was immensely memorable, and helps you deeply appreciate the bed and food you earn from an entire day of labor. I have also met many hardcore backpackers along the road who basically travel homeless with a tent. They either sleep in parks or ask hostels if they could set up a tent in their backyard. I do not think I could ever do that, but it is an option if you are out of money.
With all this said, no matter how cheaply I travel, I always understand that I am very fortunate. There are so many people in the world who could only dream of traveling the world, from monetary to familial or personal reasons. I wish to use my fortune to take more pictures, write about more places, create more vlogs and share my experiences with the rest of the world, so that they can be inspired to travel, or see the world through me.
I could continue to write forever on traveling, but I will stop here because I need to pack for my flight to Japan tomorrow. But I have some great news to share as well -- starting December 16th, I will be going on an 8-month backpacking trip around the world (with some study abroad thrown in). I will be spending my winter break traveling throughout Japan, then going to London to intern abroad while getting to see all of Europe! After my study abroad program ends, I am heading off to (hopefully) travel through all 21 countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia. I will be uploading vlogs and photographs on Facebook and Youtube, and I am hoping to get my website up too! Stay tuned!