8 Tips to Travel for Cheap in College

Got the travel bug but stuck on a student budget? Check our guide for cheaper ways to travel and tips for planning a budget-friendly vacation.
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  • Shop around for flights to get the best price, but be wary of using hidden city flights.
  • Consider work or volunteer programs that offer free room and board during your trip.
  • Travel credit cards can score you discounts, access to airport lounges, and travel insurance.
  • Pack light, choose a budget-friendly destination, and use your memberships.

For most students, an integral part of the college experience is exposure to cultures and customs that differ from their own. Interacting with different groups on campus is a great start, but there's nothing like expanding your horizons by traveling to distant places and absorbing the local lifestyle.

The only caveat: National and international trips can be costly and potentially outside many students' price ranges.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Finding cheap ways to travel may take some planning and research. We've compiled a list of eight tips and resources for planning a budget-friendly vacation for students.

1. Shop Around for Your Flight

Utilize a variety of airline search engines and sights to find your flight. Different sites may be able to find better prices for your flight, and you'll find the best deal by comparing.

Search Different Sites

Some search engines to try include:

You can also sign up for email alerts with Scott's Cheap Flights — a site that monitors deals across the internet.

Hidden City Flights

There's one site in particular with a unique travel hack that's earning some headlines — Skiplagged. This flight booking site uses hidden city loopholes for cheaper fares.

A hidden city flight is one where your destination is actually the layover stop on a flight heading somewhere else. For example, if you want to go from Seattle to Dallas, it could be cheaper to book a flight from Seattle to Orlando with a layover in Dallas. And then you simply don't get on the second flight. There are a few caveats with this strategy. You can't check a bag, can only book one-way flights, and airlines really don't like it when you do this. If you use this method too much, airlines could take action against you. Also, don't attach your frequent flyer number to the ticket, as airlines can seize your miles. This loophole is best utilized when you really can't find a good price anywhere else and are on a tight budget.

At the end of the day, comparison is your strongest budget tool. We found flights on Skiplagged that claimed to be a good deal, but actually ended up being more expensive than booking the same flight on the airline's actual website.

2. Work or Volunteer for Your Room and Board

There are several travel programs that allow you to immerse yourself in the local life, learn some new skills, meet new people, and save on room and board. There are cultural exchange opportunities where you can work or volunteer on farms, ranches, vineyards, wellness centers, and other businesses.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is one organization that will connect you with farms across the world. You'll experience the daily life of your host, work on the farm, and get free room and board. There are farms across the United States as well, so you don't have to go far for these opportunities.

Another program that arranges work for board programs is called Workaway. This service will connect you with work opportunities on farms and ranches as well as at hostels and babysitting gigs. On Workaway, you can find renovation projects in France, dog training opportunities in Norway, and teaching jobs in Tanzania.

3. Use a Travel Credit Card

Travel credit cards can score you a variety of travel discounts and perks. Miles and points earned with travel credit cards usually have more transfer value than regular credit cards.

Travel cards like the Platinum Card from American Express and the Capital One Venture Card can also grant you access to airport lounges. Translation: free food and drinks.

Your card may offer credits for a range of travel expenses, like baggage fees, lounge access, in-flight Wi-Fi, or Uber trips. For example, Capital One Venture Card will give you a $100 credit to go towards the application fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($80).

Paying for all your travel with a credit card can protect your spending too. Credit cards can protect you from strange hotel charges or deposits and dispute fraud. Many travel cards also have some form of trip insurance and can help cover expenses if your flight is delayed for a long time.

4. Pack Light With a Carry-On

Checking a bag typically costs $30 each way. If you can slim down your packing to just a carry-on, that's $60 in savings you can put towards food and souvenirs. Doing laundry on your trip is cheaper than checking a bag. Not to mention, it can be quite a bit easier to travel and navigate a new place when you've packed light.

If you're really committed to packing light, you can try traveling with just a backpack.

Here are some tips for slim packing:

  • Create a capsule wardrobe. This is when all of your pieces can be mixed, matched, and worn together in different outfits.
  • Plan to layer. Packing outfits that layer can give you options for changes in weather and mixing up your outfits. It's better to pack items that can pull double duty over outfits designed for specific occasions.
  • Choose your shoes wisely. Pick two pairs of shoes that are comfortable enough to walk around in all day but stylish enough to go out for dinner.
  • Limit your toiletries. Bring travel-sized toiletries when you can and create a slimmed-down skincare routine. You can skip tools like a hair dryer if your hotel provides one.
  • Wear your bulky items. Rather than packing bigger coats and heavier shoes, wear those items when traveling to your destination.

5. Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday

According to Hopper, a site that predicts and analyzes airfare, you can save an average of $75 by flying out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. The weekends will be the most expensive, so you can save money on flights if you time your trip to depart and return on a weekday.

Weekday travel is also likely to be less stressful when it comes to TSA lines, transportation, and general airport chaos.

6. Choose Cheap Destinations

There are a few ways to choose a destination that will be inherently more budget-friendly. The most obvious tip is to pick a place that generally has a low cost of living. For example, Thailand has a reputation for extremely cheap food and accommodations — you can find hotels for as little as $7 per night.

Opting for a destination with ample public transportation can also help you save money by skipping a rental car. Similarly, a city with many hostel options can make it easy to find budget-friendly accommodations.

Another way to lower your vacation cost is to choose destinations where you have friends or family to stay with. This can help you save money on accommodation.

We also suggest considering locations with plenty of free excursions and attractions. Washington D.C., for example, has an endless list of free activities and exhibits.

It's also savvy to travel to popular destinations during their offseason. Hotel and flight prices for places like Hawaii will be cheaper in the fall than during spring break.

7. Get an International Student Discount Card

If you're planning on traveling abroad, you can take advantage of student discounts. Get the International Student Identity Card. It works as proof of your student status and is internationally accepted. You can use it for discounts on accommodation, food, VPN services, shopping, and more.

If you're not traveling internationally, you should still bring your student ID and ask about student discounts anywhere you go. For example, Amtrak and Greyhound offer student discounts for domestic destinations.

8. Make the Most of Memberships

Check your (and your parents') memberships and affiliations for travel discounts. Many banks, credit unions, insurance companies, and other memberships offer discounts for travel. For example, USAA will waive the under-25 rental car fee, and AAA can hook you up with free vacation planning ripe with discounts.

If you have a credit card, they likely have a travel portal where you can book discounted vacation packages, rental cars, and hotels. Memberships at businesses like Costco also offer travel and vacation discounts you can take advantage of.

We also recommend signing up for travel rewards programs with hotels, airlines, and rental car companies. This strategy is more of a long-game tactic, as you'll earn rewards after spending money with these companies. There are some perks you can receive for simply signing up, though. For example, Hilton Honors members can get a discounted rate, no resort fees, free water bottles, cookies, early check-in, and upgrades on their room.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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