Affordable Travel as a College Student

College students are, in many ways, in prime positions to take off for unknown destinations with very minimal planning; many of us can find someone to cover our shifts, watch our dogs, and take class notes for us, with minimal hassle. However, many of us are also flat broke.

Travel can be simultaneously memorable and affordable. What follows is some advice for the oredigger looking to get away for a couple of days:

First, try to find a travel buddy. Until you are retired, there will probably never be another time in your life when all of your friends are in the same geographic location and have the same time off that you do. There are cons, of course, like that your friend’s habit of switching songs after thirty seconds was okay for the fifteen minute drive to grab lunch but is much more annoying after driving thirteen hours through the midwest. Or that you will probably have the “what do you want to do now?” conversation eight hundred times.

But there are also positives: an AirBnB that sleeps four is comparable (if not cheaper) than a hostel or hotel; if there are two of you, you can still take an Uber pool; it is safer – think of how much better your mom will feel when she finds out you did not take a late night bus to a strange city by yourself, you had three equally irresponsible young adults with you; you can split gas costs and share camping supplies; and most importantly, if one of your friends does something embarrassing you will be there to help remember it so you can share it with their significant other one day.

Second, figure out where to go and how to get there. I prefer looking up flights/trains/sleeping expenses before I decide where to go, and then picking the best out of the bunch. Kayak, a travel booking website, has an “Explore” feature designed for this where you select a time frame and it gives flight prices on a map for that time. It is also worth it to consider flying into cheaper area and then taking a train or bus to the place you actually want to go. If you already have a destination in mind, sign up for travel alerts with an airline and keep an eye out for sales. The emails may be annoying, but a fifty percent off flight deal is probably worth the inconvenience.

Remember to keep in mind extra costs when traveling. For flying and taking a train or bus, this can be baggage fees and transportation in your destination. For road trips, this is gas and any extra wear and tear on the car. The quality should also be a consideration: taking a train from Portland, OR to San Diego, CA takes almost the same amount of time and is twice the cost of a bus from Denver, CO, to St. Louis, MO, but one is a trip you would probably enjoy and the other is sixteen hours of wind turbines and towns made up of a church, two gas stations, and liquor store.

Third, get a handle on where you are staying. As mentioned before, AirBnBs can be a great and affordable option for staying near the action in a big city, as long as you do your research and make sure you do not wind up in one of the more crime heavy neighborhoods. Hotels can be great for roadtrips in the West, but make sure you and your travel companions have the same idea of a “good” hotel: some people are okay staying in a Motel 6 that looks one step away from being the site of a *Crime Show* episode and smells like the type of mold that could kill someone with asthma, and some people have standards.

Staying with family and friends is also a great option. My brother recently spent ten days driving through the midwest staying with friends in he had met in college and through his internship, and none of them kicked him out in the middle of the night despite the fact that he can be a bit of a brat. Friends or family can also pick you up from the airport and show you around a new town, which can save you a lot of time on the whole “planning” aspect of your trip.

There is also camping and sleeping in your car. The first is great if you are either comfortable with freezing temperatures or know how to pack, dress, and plan enough to avoid them. It is also great if you are with a big group of people and like s’mores. Sleeping in your car is nice as long as you remember to crack the windows and do not have high expectations for your car’s ability to trap heat. Also, I cannot recommend it in good faith if you are traveling with more than one other person.

Fourth, remember to pack your problem solving skills. There are a million things you need to consider to have a “flawless” trip, but you are probably only going to think of twenty eight of them before you leave. Along with the problem solving skills, also remember sunscreen and the address of the campsite/BnB/Walmart parking lot.

And finally, don’t get so caught up trying to save money that you do not enjoy the trip. You may only be in certain cities once in your life, so at least consider splurging on a museum, attraction, or experience. In Philadelphia, it would have been cheaper for my friend and I to skip the Saturday night brewery, but if we had not gone we would have missed the revolutionary war reenactors drinking pumpkin spiced ales and aggressively cheering against the Dodgers, which has been my only cool Snapchat story this year.


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