College Connect: Traveling on a Budget

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By DAVID WIETLISPACH, University of Missouri

It’s one of the great conundrums of college — going away for school, gaining independence, and … being stranded. For many, getting anywhere in a college town, or getting from a college town to anywhere, can be a tricky proposition. It was my reality for two years of my college experience. But, if you’re on a budget, and determined to travel, you’ll find that there are plenty of options.

I grew up in a suburb of the third largest city in the country — Chicago. Transit was never an issue for me. I had a car. I had a bus system. I had access to commuter rail service. I was just down the road from two international airports. But coming to school at the University of Missouri put me smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

I quickly learned, though, that there were still plenty of cheap, easily accessible travel options in my new hometown.

First stop, Megabus is a budget bus line with networks running across much of the East coast and Midwest. The attraction of Megabus for college kids is that its fleet is largely new, offers free Wi-Fi, and generally carries a younger, more college-type crowd. (I don’t mean to be disparaging, but on my one-and-only trip aboard Greyhound, I sat between three people who just were released from prison.) Megabus makes conscious decisions to stop in large college towns. For example: Columbia, Mo. (Mizzou), Champaign, Ill. (University of Illinois), Iowa City, Iowa (University of Iowa), Gainesville, Fla. (University of Florida), and State College, Pa. (Penn State). Rides on Megabus, when purchased early, can cost as little as $1.

If you have a car on campus, but are planning a road trip, you should consider Amtrak for your travel. My car has 120,000 miles on it. It was a hand-me-down from my parents when it became apparent junior year that I needed wheels. While it works great in town, it’s not necessarily a car I want to put a ton of miles on road tripping to see friends at colleges in the next state over. This is the beauty of Amtrak. Generally, stations in college towns or smaller cities will offer free parking, and an access point for a nationwide rail system. Tickets are typically equal to what you would spend in gas money getting to your destination, and my personal experience has never seen a service delay. I even spring the extra $10-20 for a business class seat and get a guaranteed power outlet and cavernous legroom for my 6-foot frame.

And if you simply must travel by car — or use one to run errands around your college town, it’s important to know the best places to get gas. Many regional grocery store chains — such as Hy-Vee here in Columbia, Mo. — offer discounts at their gas stations when you do your grocery shopping in their stores. While the cash value of the discount always varies, it’s an incentive to not only knock out to errands at once (grocery shopping and filling up the tank), but it will save you a few dollars while you do it. Jewel-Osco in the Chicagoland area offers gas rewards that build up the more you keep buying groceries. The grocery store gas station is always a good stop before taking one of those aforementioned road trips.

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