Complete Guide to Travelling as a Full-Time Student

Complete Guide to Travelling as a Full-Time Student
Complete Guide to Travelling as a Full-Time Student
Complete Guide to Travelling as a Full-Time Student

When people see how frequently I travel, their most common question is simply “How do you do it?” My answer to this is that it really comes down to how much you want it. Being a full-time student and being able to travel often do not have to be contradictory conditions. Admittedly, travelling as a full-time student requires countless sacrifices. A common theme for all the points I will list below is to be conscious of your finances and play off of that. I have personally experienced and exercised the amount of power I have in controlling how much I spend on trips. I have had weekends in New York City where I’ve spent hundreds of dollars and weekends where I’ve spent (including transportation and accommodation) as little as $20. I’ve also realized how I can completely control how prepared I am in terms of finishing schoolwork before travelling, being excused from extra-curricular commitments, and more. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned to take every opportunity I’m given to travel and to never stop finding ways to make my travels a reality. Here is my complete guide to travelling as a full-time student.

READ MORE: How You Can Travel 120 Days Each Year With a Full Time Job

1. Take advantage of your breaks.

Breaks and holidays should be your best friend. Whether it’s a one day break or a month long break, every day off is crucial when it comes to planning a trip. Many people view short breaks as useless time off, but these breaks could be prime for a trip from Boston to New York City. On the other hand, a longer break might be more ideal for an international trip from Toronto to Paris. Based on the duration of your break, you can decide where you want to travel, what your budget for the trip is, and the sites that you’ll focus on exploring. The longest break to take advantage of is summer vacation. My school, for example, has a summer vacation of a little over four months. This is a third of the entire year that I could potentially spend travelling, and that doesn’t even include Christmas break, spring break, etc. Being a student leaves an enormous amount of time to travelling, even if it often seems like the opposite is true.

Mural in honour of ODB in Brooklyn

2. Travel like a student.

When you are a student, it is assumed that you will not have the money to go on a luxurious trip living in 5-star resorts and eating at Michelin star restaurants. Instead, acknowledge that travelling as a student is a give and take and that you will have to say goodbye to certain comforts that you may be accustomed to at home. This may include, on an extreme level, living in places such as tents or boats (see our post on 40 things to know before living on a house boat) where hot water is not available or showers are broken or nonexistent. Sunlight is very important to me but I have sacrificed that to live in a cheaper basement room so that I could afford to travel. I typically choose not to dine in more expensive restaurants while travelling because it leaves me with more money, for example, to buy tickets to see other places. Additionally, you will have to begin rationing your budget in advance. This may mean cooking at home one extra meal every week for a month, choosing not to buy the cute (but unnecessary) pair of shoes you saw in the mall, or for those with less self-control (such as myself), avoiding the mall completely.

READ MORE: 40 Things You Should Know Before Living on a House Boat

The boat we stayed on in the US Virgin Islands

3. Choose your school wisely.

I am currently a sophomore (second year) at the University of Michigan but only transferred here at the beginning of last semester. I spent my entire first year at Gordon College, a small liberal arts college near Boston. Academically, Gordon was 100x easier than Michigan. When I look back on my year there, I essentially had a gap year. For my second semester there, I literally cannot recall a single weekend where I stayed at school and didn’t travel. I was still able to pull through on my grades because again, it was not even close to being as rigorous as Michigan. I grew accustomed to this style of schooling which allowed me to travel almost whenever I wanted (I went to Miami Beach days before final exams), but I quickly learned that Michigan would not allow that kind of flexibility. I am much happier at Michigan than I was at Gordon, but it has become increasingly unreasonable for me to travel even for a weekend. Now, I would likely need to spend an entire week catching up on missed work from a weekend away. I have had to make many other lifestyle adjustments to accommodate my travelling habits even after cutting back on the number of trips I take. Given this scenario, I would highly recommend that if your number one priority is to travel, choose a school that may not be as strong academically but will provide you with more free time.

Reppin’ my school everywhere I go

4. Take advantage of your school.

Following my previous point of choosing your school wisely, it is also important to consider that if you do want to go to a school with strong academics, it is still possible to gain valuable opportunities for travelling. This may not be during the school year, but as I mentioned before, there are still four months of summer. There are tons of study abroad programs and internships offered through the University of Michigan that I would not have had if I’d stayed at Gordon. I recently accepted an internship for this summer at a startup company in Berlin and can confidently say that I would not have found summer plans so easily if it weren’t for the size of my school and the enormous amount of people affiliated with it. The position was listed through my program by the founder of the startup who had spent only one semester as an exchange student at the University of Michigan. Now I will be able to travel the entire summer while still being able to justify it through my internship.

All work no play??

READ MORE: Tips for Hiking Trolltunga

5. Plan plan plan!

It isn’t necessary to plan every second of your trip, but just like in an essay, outline the main points that you want to hit. Have a general picture of the entire scenario, starting from before you even book your ticket. Your time as a student is precious, so don’t lose valuable time to planning mishaps. Yes, there is always something going on in college and as students, we hate waiting around and want to save as much time as possible. However, trying to arrive at the airport at the latest possible time to catch your flight and then subsequently missing it is not worth it. Arrive at the airport early, spend the extra few hours planning a few important details of your trip, and let your travels be a recharging adventure instead of a stressful burden.

My tentative plan/outline from when I went to Vienna

READ MORE: 24 Hours in Vienna

6. Choose your destination wisely.

You will meet a lot of people in college who come from all different places. Take advantage of this and choose your destinations accordingly. At the very least, they will be able to offer you great insight into local spots that you would not have otherwise known about. They may also be able to save you time by bringing you around the city and may even go so far as to offer you a free place to stay. Another consideration to make when choosing a destination is to determine the purpose of your travels. If you are simply trying to get away while still being able to dedicate time to schoolwork, a repeat destination may be the best way to go. During my year at Gordon, New York City was my go to because I knew I could relax, get work done, visit sites, and not feel FOMO even if I didn’t spend every waking second exploring new places.

I definitely got more work done in NYC than in Miami

7. Be flexible.

One factor that often determines the destination of my travels is where I can get the cheapest plane tickets to. It is important in this sense to be flexible in terms of destination. For me, a big part of travel is the journey rather than the destination. I am in love with every aspect of travelling from being thousands of feet in the sky, to spending extra time figuring out a new system of transportation, to walking around unknown streets. There are plenty of places that I want to visit but when the travel bug bites (and it does, constantly), my primary concern is simply to go and not to care as much about where I am going. You will also need to be flexible by prioritizing travel above other commitments you may have. Even if I have a light workload on weekends, there are other obligations that I am bound to in the form of meetings and other errands. This is why I will rarely skip meetings due to sickness, heavy workloads, etc., because I would rather save the few times it is necessary to skip meetings for travel related reasons.

The journey is just as important as the destination!

8. Be smart.

Be smart. This is my last and most important point. Travelling as a student is made more plausible when you put in time and effort to finding deals, free activities, and overall, thinking through the most cost efficient and time efficient options. Before I travel, I spend at least an hour looking for the cheapest flights. This doesn’t just mean looking at various websites (although you certainly should do that as well, especially student specific sites like STA Travel) – it also means playing around with dates, departure airports, arrival airports and more. Calculate whether it would make more sense to fly from Detroit to San Francisco for $350, or from Chicago to San Francisco for $150 with the added cost of a $30 bus ticket from Detroit to Chicago. Calculate whether you are willing to leave one day later than you wanted for a $50 saving. Decide whether it is worth it for you to take a 5 AM flight for $50 cheaper than the 10 AM flight. Find free or low-cost activities in your destination city. These activities are often equally fun and will allow you to save more money for future travels. Take into consideration all of these factors when planning your trips, and I can guarantee that you will find yourself with a larger travel fund for more adventures.

Do you, or have you, travelled as a full-time student? How did you manage it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Author: Hope Chen

Student at the University of Michigan with an insatiable desire to travel. I blog about budget travel for students, my spontaneous adventures, and occasionally an outburst about global politics as it relates to travel. Currently planning for another summer in Germany – this time in Berlin.

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55 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Travelling as a Full-Time Student

  1. If you really enjoy doing something, you make time for it. Whether you are a student or have a full-time job, these tips are applicable to everyone. Plus, traveling does not only mean going abroad. You can see places near your city that you haven’t visited before!

    1. I couldn’t agree more! I hadn’t planned on going anywhere for MLK day but suddenly got the travel bug, so my friend and I will be headed to Detroit in an Airbnb for one night ?

  2. Great tips! I think traveling whilst your a student is a great idea and as you say – is possible if you want to travel badly enough. Living by the rules you’ve set out above are certainly transferable to when you finish school and start work.

    1. Yes! It’s a great time where you have freedom but minimal responsibilities. It’s super easy to just pack your bags whenever you have free time and want to travel!

    1. Thank you for reading! I find that finances are one of the biggest concerns for students who want to travel but don’t, so I wanted to address a few of those issues!

  3. I think it depends on the location of your college…New Zealand is so far away from the rest of the world! I used to visit Australia a fair bit while studying, that was totally do-able, but never made the most of the proximity to the other Pacific Islands, mainly due to the financial cost. As a student, even the package deals for the resorts always seemed so expensive. Sigh. I would have loved to have studied abroad.

  4. Some great tips here! I travelled quite a bit as a student and definitely couldn’t have done it had I not had a similar set of rules in my mind. For instance, I knew that I wanted to travel and wanted that to be a big part of my life so opted to study a degree that not only included a year abroad studying in Spain & Italy, but has opened so many doors post-graduation too!

  5. Loved reading your post and quite honestly I wish I had read it 8 years ago! I feel like I took advantage by studying abroad, but I didn’t explore much more than that during my college years! I definitely am making up for it now, though! Great tips for current students!

  6. It’s awesome that you got so much travel in while you are still a student. I wish I had traveled more during school but I worked so much to pay for my schooling. I really started to travel once I got out. A lot of these tips are still relevant when trying to travel with a full time job 🙂

  7. Apart from the schooling advice (which wouldn’t apply if you’re not a student), I think anyone can make use of these saving tips. You’re right, the most important thing is to make traveling a priority. If you really want it then it will happen!

  8. Great tips for other fellow students, very creative! Some of these we all can take advantage of as well. Once you start a job it will be a whole new kind of juggling. Happy and safe travels!

  9. Hi! Honestly I wasn’t even a student when I took my 30 day backpacking trip but opted to stay in hostels over fancy hotels anyways just to try it out. The beds ended up being 10000x nicer than the two Airbnbs I stayed in throughout the trip! So cost effective doesn’t always have to mean sacrifice. I loved all of your points! I use to travel a lot in school while somehow having a social life and making straight A’s. Don’t ask me how haha. Students should also take advantage of all the student discounts places have to offer! Great post <3

  10. I really wish I had taken advantage of the long uni holidays and travelled more! Really great article and I’m taking notes of some of the tips for myself anyway and my uni days are long gone!

  11. Good one you for being able to balance both! I didn’t start travelling until I graduated uni but thats because I had my heart set on moving abroad and needed to work and save during my breaks! But for shorter breaks and (much needed) getaways, your tips are perfect.

  12. I wish I would have traveled more as a student but at that point in my life I was afraid to travel by myself and I didn’t have anyone to travel with me……glad to see you really make the most of your time.

  13. Good job at balancing both – if you’re effective with time and money, it’s possible! I’m a perpetual student and this is great advice, especially saving up your sick days to use as travel! I would still go to school even if I was dying, but happily skip a day for a cheap flight. Ha. I’d also recommend getting a casual job, that allows you to work as little or as much as you like and take time off any time.

  14. #5 Plan, Plan, Plan – I couldn’t agree more. It’s nice having a list of places you are interested in before you arrive so that you don’t waste any precious vacation time researching activities. We use google maps and pin our places of interest so we can hit up as many places as possible within a certain radius. We also still carried our student IDs to try to get student discounts as much as possible lol

    1. Yes! That’s exactly what I did – google maps has a cool function where you can put a bunch of places into it and it plots out a route for you, so I’d screenshot that for a general idea of where to go 😀

  15. Love the first picture of the mural in honour of ODB in Brooklyn. I remember going to the CD store to buy the album when it came out in 1995. Can’t believe it was that’s long ago! I’m not a student anymore but remember money was extremely tight when I was at Uni. You’ve listed some practical tips.

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