“How to travel as a college student” is one of the most asked questions of college students. It can be challenging to find time amidst your busy schedule to hang out with friends, let alone travel. Some students even contemplate leaving college altogether to travel for a year or more as a gap year.
Studying abroad, traveling on a budget, and applying for scholarships are possibilities. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain, for a semester as a full-time college student. It requires planning and finances, but it’s doable! For those broke and busy college students, there are some ways you can travel for cheap.
How you can travel the world as a college student
Join work exchange programs
When in doubt, consider a work exchange program. WWOOF, Help Stay, and WorkAway is a few options. You can work in a hostel, volunteer at a school, or work alongside an NGO. These are not paid opportunities as you work in exchange for a place to stay.
Before you go, I would recommend you read about voluntourism. As much as I support traveling, we should understand our travel privilege and voluntourism. Responsible traveling is key to the future of travel and knowing our impact on the world.
Take a class abroad
Studying abroad is the most common way to travel as a full-time college student. For those students who do not want to go overseas for a semester, I recommend taking a class abroad. Many colleges and universities offer programs over winter break and summer break for two weeks at a time. These are low commitments in comparison to spending months abroad.
Study abroad for a semester or year
For those looking for an immersive experience, studying abroad for a few months to a year is ideal. Not only are you traveling while studying abroad, but you are also learning about a new culture for an extended period. When done right, you can have a richer experience.
If you are studying a language, you want to go for a semester or a year. And if you do not like to learn a language, check with your study abroad office to determine what classes in your major you can take abroad. It’s a great opportunity, and we want to keep you on track!
Apply for international summer internships
Getting an internship abroad has multiple benefits for college students. Not only do you go abroad, but you are pursuing your career dreams while doing it. Plus, there are websites to help you find fully-funded international internships and fellowships, such as ProFellow.
Pursue international fellowships
International fellowship programs are an excellent opportunity to get some work experience while working abroad. There are short-term fellowships such as Humanity in Action, where there is a component you do abroad and one you do at home. These can set you up for long-term fellowships such as Global Health Corps and Princeton in Latin America (and their other locations in Africa and Asia).
Fulbright Fellowships are some of the most competitive in the world! For example, I won a Fulbright to teach English in Spain post-graduation, which had a long-lasting impact on my career. They also offer short-term and long-term fellowships based on your chosen Fulbright Program.
Travel with group tours during breaks
A group college tour can do the trick if studying abroad does not work. Programs such as EF Ultimate Break host students’ trips abroad with other like-minded travelers. Intrepid Travel is also an option. However, Intrepid is not explicitly for students – though they have adventure travel group trips! Other companies to look at for group tours include Tru Travels and Contiki.
Tips on how college students can travel for cheap and on a budget
Start saving before college
To travel the world for cheap as a student looks different for everyone. However, it is never too soon to start preparing, even before college. I traveled with student loan debt, but even better if you can do it without it. Applying to as many scholarships as possible before becoming a college student is critical.
Present at or attend conferences
Professional/student development is a significant component of college. My advice? Use it to your advantage! College is meant to expose you to new career opportunities. Submitting a project or proposal to a conference is an underrated way to travel as a student. Whether in undergrad or grad school, your college or university will often reimburse you for attending a conference.
Talk with your college major advisor about the opportunities to attend conferences in your field. For example, your career probably has an association that annually hosts a conference. Chances are they also have scholarships and presentation opportunities for students.
Utilize student discounts
Companies such as Amtrak and Expedia provide student travel discounts on their experiences. Student Universe is one of the best resources for students to understand more about student travel discounts on flights. You may have to dig, but chances are many travel companies offer student sales and deals. Join their email lists to be the first to know. In most cases, you need an ID to prove you are a student to get the student entry prices listed.
Save money on flights and transportation
Looking for how to save money on flights as a college student? The key is finding cheap flights far enough in advance. Resources such as Skyscanner, Google Flights, Hopper, and Student Universe are all options for finding cheap flights. You must be a bit spontaneous and flexible to catch them or use the “Everywhere” options to find the cheapest days.
Spring break travel is popular. If you can plan your schedule, leave a few days before everyone else to catch a discount. Why don’t you leave that Wednesday? Flying on less-traveled days is helpful too.
Skip hotels and stay in hostels
Staying in hostels is not the only way to travel on a budget as a student. But it is one of the easiest ways to save money. Hostels are social, cheap, and force you to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve traveled and stayed in over 30 hostels and don’t regret my experiences.
Hostels are also great for students due to all the free stuff. They offer free walking tours, complimentary breakfast (in most cases), and discounts on bar crawls and other activities. If you are curious about what to look for when booking a hostel, check out this blog post here.
Prepare to make sacrifices
In addition to all these ways to travel as a full-time college student, sometimes it means making small sacrifices for travel. For example, saving money means going out less or working extra shifts/jobs. Applying for more scholarship applications means socializing less to get them done. And when you study abroad for a semester or year, you will miss the milestones of those loved ones you left behind.
It’s a hustle to travel more as a broke college student! It requires you to plan, stick to that plan, and keep your eyes on the prize. While it would be great to find another college student to hold you accountable, sometimes it is on you. So stay organized and prioritize all the possible steps and tasks to get you abroad.
More ways to travel for free as a broke college student
External study abroad scholarships
Outside of school and your study abroad programs, there are tons of external study abroad scholarships. These are scholarships that companies, travel organizations, and different funds in foundations use to get more people to study overseas. And yes, there is government-supported study abroad money to get too!
Highly coveted external study abroad scholarships includes the Benjamin Gilman Scholarship, Fund for Education Abroad, Rotary International Scholarships, and Boren Awards. But do not limit yourself just to the big-name scholarships. Instead, seek out backpack companies like Tortuga and other funds that are travel adjacent but not necessarily study abroad-funded program scholarships. For many of them, all you have to do is write an essay to enter to win.
Program-based study abroad scholarships
If you decide to travel as a full-time college student and study abroad, check your respective program for scholarship opportunities. Big-name international education organizations such as CIEE, IES, and AIFS all offer scholarships within their affiliated study abroad programs. These can be great opportunities to get funding directly from the program of your choice.
Internal study abroad scholarships
Use your college or university as a resource! Go to the international programs or study abroad office for help. They may be able to connect you with more resources on how to travel as a college student, including internships abroad.
Another internal resource is the financial aid office. While some institutions separate study abroad aid from traditional aid, it’s worth a shot. You can also seek out department-specific scholarships based on your degree program.
Paid travel opportunities
Gabby Beckford of Packs Light is an excellent resource for students who want to study abroad for free. She posts Paid Travel Opportunities for students and non-students to travel through grants, scholarships, and contests. Check out her PTO Dashboard for open opportunities to apply.
Work in a hostel
Work exchanges are common ways for students to travel for free. Now, you are exchanging your labor for work – which means it is not free. However, when you work in a hostel, they cover the cost of your room. The trade-off is cleaning or working reception in exchange for that private hostel room.
So what is the best way to travel as a full-time student?
The best way to travel as a full-time student is whichever method works for you! Some people start small and study abroad for two weeks. Then perhaps they go abroad for longer, later in their college career. Others decide to study abroad for a year or even take a gap year.
Then some students don’t study abroad at all. Some students maximize their breaks or get internship opportunities abroad (or require travel). The different ways you can study abroad vary. So talk to your parents, advisors, and study abroad office to figure out the best lane for you. The worst thing someone can say is no. Go for it!
If you’re looking to study abroad as a college student, check out these tips here!