8 Ways to Travel Smart on a Student Budget
Disclaimer: this is minus major costs, aka accommodation and main (flight/ferry/train) transport costs, so this is what I like to call mess-around-money - for more info on how to save money on those major costs, see this post.
Growing up, I always dreamt of travelling Europe, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I'd get the chance to do this before I even reached 20.
Pros: More time to explore more places in my 20s! Such energy, very yes!
Cons: The Bank of Students isn't a very prosperous one, even though I worked 25-35hrs during uni and 60-80hrs in the holidays, per week.
So how do we make it work? We stretch that dolla dolla bill yo, and here's my fave tips on how to travel on a student budget ala Kina, cause I reckon limited funds ≠ limited fun ❤️
1. Make a budget and know your limit!
For me, having a budget is like the backbone of travelling el cheapo, because if I don't know how much I have/can spend/roughly have leftover, how else am I gonna be able to control my spending? Having a budget is kinda like having a speedometer for your spending.
Here are my basic steps and notes for making a budget:
- Write down the total money you have for this trip's budget, after exchange rates (if applicable of course)
- Always round prices of expenses up, and round the money that you have down. This way, you have a little buffer of money without realising it.
- Write down all your major expenses - these are things that are generally prepaid or prebooked, like flights, accommodation, and transport.
- With the leftover money, divide that by a number of days you're going to be travelling (including the day of departure and arrival, because transport to and from the airport might not always be free, and food at the airport/terminal/harbour is definitely not free)
Magic, now you have the amount of money you can spend in a day! This is my bottomline for how much I spend - for my first Europe adventure around Greece - Italy - Portugal - Germany for about a month, I had roughly €30 a day, and I'd aim to stick to that, but if I didn't some days, that's okay, it meant that I'd go on a bit of a diet the next day and das okay ☺
2. Drink more water
You'd think I'm joking, but I'm not. If you think about it, spending €4 a day on bottled water (or juice or coffee) adds up over time - if you're like me and travelling for a month, that's €120 already! That's enough to stay at a hostel for about a week, or go to museums and galleries, and maybe even buy a nice little meal to #treatyoself at a restaurant.
My point is, spend your money wisely - if you can save money on it to do something else with it, why not? Here are some cheeky money suckers when it comes to beverages:
- Bottled water
Unless it's sweltering and you've run out of water, or the place you're at has undrinkable tap water (Santorini, Bali, etc.), try to bring your own water and refill as you get food throughout the day. I actually brought the bottle of my cheeky fave homegrown juice from NZ to Europe, so A) I can have crack up yarns about how much I love NZ and homegrown juice and B) I can keep my bevvies cold because the bottle is white so it doesn't absorb as much sunlight
Going out drinking in town is a quick way to spend way too much money, so I'd recommend either BYO spirits from Duty-Free shopping in the airport, or choose the nights you go out, or to skip the drinks altogether (I know, I know)
I usually buy a nice drink or cocktail if the bar has a minto view (usually of the sunset), or if it's a spesh night out with the McMateys.
Even better, if you pick a mocktail, its usually 2/3 - 1/3 of the price - major steal deal alert, the drink is still gram worthy, tastes awesome, doesn't ruin you, and doesn't break the bank.
If you're in Europe though, this shouldn't be much of a biggie - wines in Portugal can be as cheap as €1.2, and in Germany my mate found beers for 90c, so there ya go. If you're in New Zealand though, good luck mate, we all know alcohol is expensive in New Zealand.
- Coffee, Juice & other Beverage Buddies
Aaah the struggles, everyone loves a good beverage, but try to limit buying beverages unless the place has a nice view or if its part of the experience - no tricks for this one, unfortunately, just self-control and picking when to buy and when not to.
3. Eat local!
Gyros in Greece are generally €2-5, an absolute bargain, while buying a sandwich or something else foreign would easily set me back at least €10. Count up an average difference of €5 a meal, that's saving €15 a day - something that could easily go to a cute souvenir instead.
If you're staying somewhere for longer than a few days, you can also just cook food yourself from local produce from the markets or grocery store, even better if you're not travelling solo and can go halves on groceries instead of having to eat leftovers.
Eating local food is cheap (especially in Asia!) , delish, and also a great way to discover proper local cuisine. Trust, I won't judge ya for secretly thinking "this Sate Ayam is nothing like what they had in Bali" after eating local in Indonesia.
4. Learn the local language!
Knowing how to say some basic phrases like hello and thank you before you get out of the airport goes a long way to make locals feel appreciated, here are 10 of my must-learns:
2. Excuse me
4. Thank you + very much
7. Very good
8. 1, 2, 3
9. Without (__) - for food allergies and preferences
10. Bye (said in a cheery manner ofc)
In my experience, It helps to find sites that have samples of how to say it properly too, even if they might sound kinda robot-y sometimes. By divine providence, a few greeks thought I legitimately knew greek when I said hello and thank you, so that's good!
Being nice to people in general not only makes you feel good for not being a total d*ck but also it can lead to some pretty nifty opportunities! Someone might give you a good local restaurant recommendation or give you a cheeky discount at the markets ☺
5. Choose what you want to experience
You don't have to go to all the tourist spots to say you've been somewhere - the experience is totally defined by you and that's A-OK! Like, I went to London and didn't go to Buckingham Palace for a tour, I went to Mykonos and didn't go to Paradise Beach, all because I simply wasn't that interested, and would rather spend my money elsewhere. Here are some ideas on what to pass up vs. what to spend on, from my own perspective:
DON'T SPEND MONEY ON:
- A day under beach umbrellas and sunbeds
In Europe, this will easily set you back €10 - €25, depending on location, and being on those comfy beds with a menu from the local restaurant by your side makes it way too easy to spend more money on food at the beach. Setting up a beach towel in the sand is always free /and/ you get to work on that sick tan even more (don't forget to BYO sunblock!)
PICK WISELY ON:
There's a whole heap of tours, from sightseeing to wine tasting, but pick what you think will be most memorable for you - sometimes, adventuring the place by yourself without a tour guide, in your own time, makes it a better experience - maybe that's also cause I struggle to hear things when its one tour guide for like 15-20 people and I feel herded. Definitely consider whether you can experience the place without a tour guide well or not though, as some places might have history that is hard to understand without a tour guide (e.g: Museums without english captions on items, temples)
Some places have bomb public transport systems! Weigh up the price of using public transport and the time it'll take to use it vs. using private transport and the price of gas and, if applicable, paying the driver (I'd recommend this in countries with more hectic roads - either because of narrow streets, crazy traffic, or difficult directions)
- Photos from tourist attractions
Honestly, this is exactly where places get mad mons - be it from underwater photos at Waterbom Bali or pics of you in hysterics at Disneyworld, if you can manage to get a photo yourself (even ask staff if you can use your own GoPro or get a friend to take photos for you), weigh up if you really need them to do the pics for you or not, save them dollas and hone up your photo/videography skills!
6. Plan your route for the day and be time-efficient!
This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but anyway. You spent lots of hard earned money to get to your little adventure spot, so make the most of your time and try to go in an efficient direction throughout the day by having an itinerary sorted and going to one area once, instead of going back and forth.
When I plan my itinerary, I usually have a massive search of places I want to go to in an area aka points of interest. Then I sort it by the must-do vs can-go-if-I-have-time, then I make my own Google Map of the place with all these spots and plan my day around a route that lets me cover as many spots as I can, with time to enjoy the places and room for transport (including delays - again, not every country has a super efficient public transport system, while other times it might be worth to rent a vehicle)
Here's how to make your own little map on Google Maps and add your spots!
Don't forget to research ticket prices and add that to your budget! Some places also might need a booking waaay in advance, like tours for The Last Supper in Milan or going to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
7. Consider buying a roaming card for the data
If you're gonna be travelling somewhere for a while and don't have the best dora-the-explorer map reading skills, it'd be worth to buy a roaming card for data to navigate yourself + do some googling when communicating with locals. Definitely consider the following and follow the flow below - enjoi I made it with love:
8. BYO stuff!
Some things will be way more expensive when you get there because of convenience. If you don't have the item, try to borrow it from a friend or family, then use renting as a last resort.
Here are some things I reckon you should definitely bring, based on destination:
Summery, sunny places:
- Jandals - yeah nah I ain't buying Havaianas for €80
- Goggles - both for Snorkelling & Swimming
- Water shoes - if you're scared of random stuff on the seabed like me (shudder)
Neutral, aka regardless:
- Toiletries - if you're travelling between lots of places, it's worth to buy some small (not travel) sized toiletries, instead of repeatedly buying either massive or travel sized bottles of shampoo. Also, you can save more money and be more eco-friendly and just refill a travel sized bottle of your usual stuff!
- Chargers and cables - make sure you have at least 2 phone USB cables cause depending on the person you are, if you're like me, a cable probs won't last a semester unless it's one of those Kickstarter kevlar ones
- Adapters - holy mo do airports suck in on this essential
- Travel pillows
- Eye masks & ear plugs - try to nab the free ones from your flight, especially if you're a light sleeper.
Snowy, cold places:
- Snow goggles if you're going skiing or snowboarding
- Lip Balm
Bonus: if you're ballsy, confident, or think you can tell a good deal from bad, try to haggle prices down when applicable (remember to be considerate too and don't be rude, if you're in the middle of nowhere and its hard to get things to the place, like a little island or top of the mountain, ofc pricers are gonna be higher) and always look around at other places first!
I got 50% off a transport shuttle from Santorini's port to my hostel, from the way overpriced €20 to €10, by simply being shocked by the price and looking like I was gonna go somewhere else.
Well, das it for now, more to come soon!