Making the Most of Study Abroad

One of the main reasons I think any student goes abroad is to see the world - hence "abroad". As I've learned, it's not always the cheapest or easiest of tasks, but it is possible, even on a tight budget. I made many mistakes in my earlier travels, but having been on many trips to numerous countries on both sides of the globe, I can confidently say I've gotten pretty good at stretching a dollar while traveling away from my abroad university.

This section came about after I began putting together all of the knowledge I had acquired into one place. I've learned exactly how to fly, sleep, and eat cheap, the best way to make your way around large and unfamiliar cities, and how to make it home in one piece.

While I can't give you a step-by-step budget plan, I hope the information I have provided will help you see the world without breaking your bank account. I've done most of the grunt work for you, now all you need to do is put my advice into practice.


Everyone wants to bring a little piece of their travels back home with them. The problem is that souvenirs can be expensive, they take up room in your suitcases and carry-on bag, and are often times just cheap trinkets that will either break before you get home or collect dust when you realize you have no use for them.

You know the kinds of things I’m talking about – paperweights, key chains, picture frames, shot glasses, items of clothing, coffee mugs, etc. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy those things, but if you’re a student on a budget who doesn’t have any room left in the one carry-on you’re allowed to take on your flight, then those aren’t really practical options.

Here is what I’ve done, and have found it to be both cost and space efficient. Follow this motto – don’t buy, collect. What you don’t realize is that you already have a handful of reminders of your trip without having to buy that cheap snow globe with Buckingham Palace in it.

Think about it: You rode the Tube in London – public transportation tickets are small and free. You bought a ticket to get into the Coliseum in Rome – why not keep it as a souvenir rather than wasting money on a Coliseum paperweight? Maybe you have a pamphlet from the tour of the Guinness factory in Dublin – sure, buying a couple of pint glasses from the gift store are great, but do you really need a fancy cup to bring back memories? Collecting memorabilia from the attractions you visited and the events you attended can easily be collaged into a scrapbook that will last a lifetime. They can also create a really neat-looking shadowbox frame that you can hang in your bedroom back home, or in your office once you land your first job.

So start collecting. What do you collect you ask? Here’s a list:

  • Maps
  • Public transportation ticket stubs
  • Restaurant menus (a lot of times places will sell them to you for a penny)
  • Restaurant receipts
  • Postcards
  • Plane tickets
  • Museum tickets
  • Napkins with logos
  • Coasters (especially from places like breweries)
  • Tour pamphlets
  • Bottle labels
  • Whatever gets you excited!

Fly and Sleep for Cheap

You can save money before you even step foot on a plane or in a foreign country by researching things like flights, hostels and restaurants well ahead of time. A little preparation and research in the beginning will end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. It’s often about waiting for the right season to travel, the right day to leave and the right hostel for the right price. Touring a city or country at the right time of year will undoubtedly factor into whether or not you break your wallet.

1. Find cheap flights. There’s no real trick to this. Unfortunately, prices of seats fluctuate right up until the day before the flight. Just remember, cheaper fares can often be found at low cost carriers such as Ryanair, EasyJet, KLM and Wizz Air. Use travel services like STA Travel, Wegolo, Kayak, and the travel agency at your abroad university (if they have one) to assist you in finding the best deals.

Compare results with major travel search engines like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity to make sure you’re getting the best deals.  I don’t recommend paying for things like priority boarding or travelers insurance. Every seat is usually the same on low cost carriers, so priority boarding isn’t worth it, and most travelers insurance provided by the airlines won’t reimburse you if you miss your flight.

2. Couch surfing. Now there are a few different ways to do this. If you are lucky like me, there are other students from your home institution who are studying abroad in other countries. Instead of staying in a hostel, see if you can crash on their couch. They don’t have a couch? Crash on their floor. It’s not the most comfortable surface, but with the cheapest hostel probably running at a minimum of 20 euro/pounds a night, who cares.

 3. Go in the offseason. So maybe you want to visit Germany, and you think to yourself, “I’ll go during Oktoberfest”. Well if your sole goal is to go to Oktoberfest, then by all means, go during the busiest season of the year. If your goal is to actually to see a lot of Germany on a tight budget, plan your trip at an off-peak time instead. For example, hostels during Oktoberfest triple in price. So if Oktoberfest isn’t a priority, then choose a different season that will have cheaper rates. This applies to all countries with major tourist seasons. Because business is slow during the offseason (which can vary from location to location) many hostels, airlines and local restaurants will dramatically decrease prices to attract business.

Accommodation and transportation are probably going to be your biggest expenditures, but don’t let this deter you from traveling because there are many ways to get around the steep costs of flying and lodging. Just remember; a little research and a little patience before you book will make a big difference.