College Connect Spring 2019: How to travel cheaply while studying abroad

By Chloe Thornberry

Arriving in the country that you’ve chosen to do your study abroad is a thrill. But it’s just the start – now that you’ve taken this big leap, you might as well see as much of the world as possible. If there are alarms going off in your head telling you that sounds off-the-wall expensive, take a breath. There are ways to travel abroad without breaking the bank.

I’m a journalism major, I don’t study finance and I’m definitely not claiming to be a professional travel agent. I’ve been abroad for about three months and have already managed to travel to four other countries. I’m also currently planning a trip for after my program to three other countries, all while not having to claim bankruptcy. This is all from my own personal experience and research.

The way my brain sees traveling is by splitting up the finances into four parts: travel (flights, buses, trains), accommodation, attractions and food. All of these are going to differ depending on where you decide to go and how long you decide to stay.

First step: choosing a destination

Some cities are cheaper than others, definitely keep that in mind. Budapest was a lot cheaper than Amsterdam, which was cheaper than London. Go where you want to go, but don’t go somewhere with the only reason being it’s cheap. You can make any city affordable. We’re college students, we have to figure out how to ball on a budget.

Bloomberg just announced the 10 most expensive cities. Find them here.

Here is an article with the 10 cheapest European cities. The Independent also published an article with 19 of the cheapest cities. This article breaks down each city by cost. Find it here.

Step two: Getting there

First decide what the best way to travel to your chosen destination. I put best in italics because this could change from person to person. The fastest probably isn’t the cheapest but the cheapest might not be a good option. Factor in how much time you’re willing to spend traveling. If you’re only traveling for a weekend, you probably don’t want to take a 10-hour train or bus.

I’m not sure if I’ve just gotten really lucky with flights or if I actually know what I’m doing. I scored my one-way flight from St. Louis to London for $200. That still blows my mind. I’m flying home out of Barcelona on a flight that cost about the same. I’ll share my ways.

Finding the cheapest flight is all about comparison. Open up multiple tabs and go to multiple websites. I’m a huge fan of Student Universe, which usually has the cheapest options but it’s always worth looking around, just in case.

I open Google Flights, Skyscanner, Student Universe and Kayak. I enter the dates and destination I want to go to and compare the prices.

Google Flights has a feature that will tell you how the price listed compares to most flights to and from the destination you chose. For example, I’m meeting a friend in Berlin on May 4 and I am flying out of Dublin. Google told me that for flights from Dublin to Berlin, my particular flight was priced high. I had no option because I was meeting someone, but in this case, look into booking it a day earlier or later.

Don’t forget to check the airline’s baggage policies. A flight might only be €50, but the airline might charge an extra €30 for a bag. It’s definitely worth checking to prevent any surprises at the airport. (And make sure you know the conversion rates, as flight fees will display in local currency – in my case, UK Pound Sterling.)

There is data on the internet that swears there are better times to book flights. I’ve never booked on a particular day, but it might be worth looking into.

Step 3: Accommodation

Once you have your travels booked, now you need a place to stay. If you have a friend studying in the place you’re headed, it would definitely be worth asking if you could crash on his or her couch. This could be tougher when traveling a groups, but it is your cheapest option.

Personally, I love meeting people while traveling. I think the concept of hostels is brilliant. They come in all shapes and sizes, have all the amenities you can think of and are a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel.

I always start my looking on Enter in your trip details and start narrowing them down. Consider location, price, reviews and type of hostel. Some hostels are considered “party hostels,” while others allow kids and families and there’s everything in between. It all comes down to the vibe you’re looking for.

If you’re wanting a more private option, look into getting an Airbnb. There are cheap options and if you’re going with a large group, you can split the stay between everyone rather than paying for individual beds.

Airbnb now has an option to stay with a Super Host, which basically means you’ll be staying in someone’s house while they’re there.  It’s like staying at your grandparents’ house.

Depending on your budget, there are options for everyone. Remember the more expensive the city, the more expensive the accommodation. My hostel in Budapest was less than $10 a night while my hostel in Amsterdam was about $40 a night.

Step 4: Attractions and food

Research, research, research! As soon as you book your flights and accommodation, create a tentative itinerary for your trip. Research the activities and food that you definitely don’t want to miss. You’ll fill in the itinerary quicker than you think.

Food can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a kitchen at your disposal. Don’t splurge on every meal. Look for cheap eats in the area and read reviews. I’m a huge fan of Yelp because it tells you the price range of the restaurant and also gives customer reviews.

Check for discounted rates on different things you wish to do around your destination. You can usually book things in advance for a discounted price. ALWAYS check to see if there is a student discount.

There are also always free things to do around all major cities. If it’s a popular tourist spot, there are most likely free tours given. Take advantage of these and read reviews to find the best one. Some museums are free and if they’re not, they usually have a student discount.

In Paris, all museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. Other cities, like Florence,  have similar deals, it’s worth looking into.


The best way to save money while traveling abroad is to plan, plan, plan! Have a solid idea of what you plan to do and don’t settle for the first flight or hostel you find. It’s not impossible to travel on a budget. If traveling is something you know you want to do, start saving now. Saving a little here and there will go a long way. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Thornberry is a junior studying journalism at the University of Missouri.

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