With classes back in session and winter well on its way, many students are already thinking about the upcoming holiday season, and perhaps even further towards spring break. With most students having limited incomes and being on tight budgets, budget-wise travel tips are important, in addition to all of the usual travel considerations. Here are a few tips would-be travelers should take advantage of.
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Make a Budget and Stick to It
The easiest way to make sure that you actually have the funds to go on a vacation, when the time comes, is to plan for it far in advance. Figure out how much money you're left with at the end of each month, once your bills are paid. Set aside some money for discretionary spending, and set aside the rest for your holiday. If you have a specific destination in mind, figure out how much it will cost you, and make a realistic budget that will help you achieve that goal. However, you may find that spring break in Europe isn't a realistic option, though a trip to Las Vegas might be. If you end up coming in under budget, on your discretionary spending each month, add the remainder of the budgeted amount to your holiday fund. It might be easier to spend a couple of extra nights a week eating at home, if it means an even better holiday in a couple of months. Also, if you don't already have a part-time job, it might be a good idea to get one, if you can spare the time. Having even a small income will help to cover your monthly expenses, and allow you to set some aside for future fun.
Find Flight Deals
Finding inexpensive flights can drastically cut your expenses when traveling. You can either book a flight far in advance, when they tend to be less expensive, or wait until the last minute. Either option has its drawbacks. If you book far in advance, it means you'll have to pay the cash far in advance. If you wait until the last minute, there's a chance that the flight you wanted could be booked up entirely, or much more expensive – especially if you're traveling at peak season. Traveling off-season is often less expensive for this reason. If you're flexible about the location of your holiday, waiting for last-minute deals might be a great option. Also, many airlines offer occasional flight promotions. Some airlines might have an electronic newsletter that will give you advance notice of special fares. You can also check with any student-oriented travel agencies that might have locations on campus. These student-based travel agencies often specialize in budget travel, and will be able to help you plan a holiday you can actually afford.
When it comes to travel, getting there is only part of the cost. Accommodations can dramatically increase the overall price of your trip, especially if you're paying full price. Youth hostels offer a great alternative to paying for expensive hotels, and they're often oriented towards a younger crowd. Not all hostels are created equal though, so it's always best to do your homework before you book anything. There are a number of websites devoted to hosteling, and many guidebooks offer reviews of hostels and budget accommodations. Another option is to find a travel buddy and share a hotel with them. Sharing a room will always be cheaper than booking a single room - just make sure you're staying with someone you can live with for a few days! Also, there are a lot of websites that offer promotional rates on hotel stays, or allow you to bid on hotel rooms. Keep in mind, though, that many of these sites require that you book your accommodation without knowing the exact name or location of the hotel you're bidding on. So, if it's important that you stay in a specific location, it's probably best to book the traditional way.
Get an International Student Identification Card
An International Student Identification Card (sometimes known as ISIC), is a great way to qualify for reduced rates on visits to many attractions worldwide, as well as some stores and accommodations. These cards are not free, but they will likely save you quite a bit of money if you plan to travel for an extended period, and you may even qualify for some additional discounts right at home! These cards usually require that applicants fall within a certain age bracket, or be staff at an educational institution, in order to qualify. Your student ID card might qualify you for some discounts outside your local area, but these international cards tend to be widely accepted worldwide.
Regardless of whether you're traveling alone, with a friend or as part of a larger group, following a few basic security tips is in every traveler's best interest - especially for students who are likely to be less-experienced travelers. If you're traveling internationally, be sure to find out where your nearest consulate, or embassy, is before you go. You don't want to be struggling to find the embassy if an emergency arises. If necessary, you may have to let your embassy know, in advance, before you visit some countries, or even apply to that country's embassy to get the necessary travel visas before you leave home. Many travel agents provide travelers with information about local customs and laws. However, if you book online, you will need to find this information out for yourself.
Leave any expensive items at home, if you're afraid of losing them, and get a money belt to safeguard your passport, any important travel documents and any extra currency you're carrying - you only want to keep as much money as you're likely to need, that day, in your wallet. You should always inquire with the front desk at your hotel, or hostel, to find out how safe the area is, and if there are any parts of the city that you are best to avoid.
The Bottom Line
Learning shouldn't be limited to the classroom. Students can learn a great deal about cultural diversity, history and even about budgeting through travel. Making sure to do your homework is just as important when it comes to planning a vacation, as it is when you're studying for exams. You'll stretch your dollars the furthest when you know exactly what you want to do, where you want to go, where you should stay and when you'll get the best bargain for your hard-earned dollars. Always make sure that you know exactly what you're getting into, in advance. If you are aware of the security concerns, you'll get the most out of your holiday.