I've gotten to travel the world and save money as a college student, and I hope my tips help you do that as well.
Seeing the World
I've worked hard to cram a 4-year college degree into five and a half. It wasn't easy—it required backpacking Europe, going on several mission trips to South America and Asia, studying for a semester in Australia, and volunteering as a high school teacher for a year in the Marshall Islands. I've surfed with Aussies, run from sharks with Israelis, paddled dug-out canoes with locals on the Amazon River, been drugged and mugged by an old Italian man, and was a guest of honor at a wedding in India.
Many college students talk about wanting to see the world, experiencing new cultures, and gaining a broader understanding of life. But most of them stay home, claiming they are too poor to travel the world.
This article aims to reveal that being a broke college student is the best time to travel the world. Why? Because you're in school, have few responsibilities, and probably won't be able to find a job after graduating anyway.
Here are five ways that you can travel the world while broke and in college:
- Save Money and Travel
- Study Abroad
- Go on a Mission Trip
- Volunteer Abroad
- Find a Job/Internship Abroad
Save Money to Travel
Nearly any college student can save enough money to travel if it's a priority. Take a moment and think about the large amounts of money you spend on new clothes, computers and phones that do more than you need them to, and going out to see movies.
These are all great activities and a part of college life. But it's all a matter of priorities. What do you want your money to do for you? I am confident that a college student who works one summer and has a part-time job throughout the school year will be able to travel the following summer.
Great Summer or Short-Term Trips
Europe: Every college student considers the idea of backpacking Europe. Riding on trains, discovering their ancestral roots, and meeting beautiful European people. The only problem with Europe is that it is very expensive. I backpacked Europe for three weeks and concluded that I (living very modestly) spent about $60/day on food, lodging, and very simple entertainment—that is in addition to the airfare and Eurorail pass that I had already purchased.
North America: Road trips are a blast! Why go to the other side of the world when you can experience your backyard? A road trip around America is great because you already speak the language and can drive your own car. If several people ride together you can share gas expenses and visit the United States' great national parks, big cities, and country towns. I've done this for several spring breaks and it's fun. Just choose your road companions carefully—different people have different ideas of what's fun, comfortable, safe, and worthwhile. Trips with people who have different interests can irritate everybody.
Asia (Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc): The new hotspot for hip travelers is Asia. Although the plane ticket out there is pricy (about as much as to Europe), once you are on the continent you can survive on $10/day! Everything is cheap if you stay out of the cities and the culture is incredible, exotic, and charming.
Central America and the Caribbean: A quick Google search will reveal a large number of exotic all-inclusive resorts for $50/day. With the airfare being a bit cheaper than Europe or Asia, and the weather great, going to an island resort may be the perfect break from a stressful semester. Check to see what amenities the resort includes—many will offer not only food, but also activity equipment (boating, scuba diving, surfing, etc) in the price. Search for a great deal within your price range.
If you desire to experience a new culture for an extended amount of time, why not study abroad?! There are colleges all around the world that will provide you with credits that will count towards your degree. You might even decide to complete your entire degree at an international university!
Before you study abroad, it is important to consider several things. Firstly, will my student loans cover the tuition and travel costs? Check with your home college to see if they have study abroad programs that they are associated with. If they do, you should not have a problem.
If you can't find loans, take heart, you may still be able to study abroad. Especially if you want to acquire language credits, going to South America or Asia on your own may be a cheaper move in the long run. Many colleges on both of these continents will cost you far less than studying in the US. If you can afford to pay several thousand a semester for tuition you may be able to go on your own. Make sure you check with your university before going to verify that the credits will transfer back.
Before spending an extended period of time in a far-off place, make sure you consider the social aspects of what you are doing. Culture shock affects everyone to some degree, but some worse than others. Remember that you are leaving behind your family, friends, and favorite foods and brands, potentially even your language. Don't let this scare you off, but make sure that you keep this in consideration.
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Short-Term Mission Trips
If you belong to a church or religious organization, this may be a great way for you to spend a week to a month in a new place sharing the beliefs you are passionate about—essentially for free. I have been to Belize, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and in a roundabout way, India, on these types of trips.
What's great about going as a missionary is that you usually go with a group and there is often a group of similar believers at the location you are going to. Christians often refer to themselves as "brothers" and this is very apparent when going on a mission trip. Both groups learn about the other's culture, giving what they have and know, in a way that is fun, adventurous, and sometimes a little awkward.
Why are these trips basically free? Because you use fundraising to collect the funds. Everyone wants to help those in need. Once you know the church or group that you will be going with, mention it in your local church, send out letters to friends and family, and post a notice about it on your Facebook page. It is very likely that you will be able to raise enough funding to subsidize the majority of the trip.
There are many opportunities to volunteer around the world regardless of what your major might be. Whether you are teaching, building, consulting, caring for children, or protecting the environment, you can find short-term to long-term volunteer opportunities.
I am a business major but spent a year teaching high school social studies and Algebra I in the Marshall Islands. It is not always necessary to have a degree in what you are wanting to do (or a degree at all for that matter). Simply a desire to work hard, care for people, and help out where you can is enough to make you a great volunteer.
When looking for places to volunteer, try to avoid being made to pay large amounts of money. Now, it will probably cost you something (travel to the location, maybe food while you're there), but don't let them charge you to work. Unless it's something you truly want to do or will benefit your future career, look for something that leaves you the way it found you.
I will add more places as I find them, but several great opportunities to seek out volunteer opportunities (at home and abroad) are:
Development Agencies: World Vision, ADRA, and other such organizations are often looking for people to help out with ongoing projects or assist with emergency responses to disasters.
American Red Cross: While this will limit you to the United States. It is a GREAT organization to volunteer with because they treat their volunteers incredibly well. My brother and I responded to the tornadoes in May of 2011 and were provided with a free room to stay in and $30/day for food. The Red Cross will help you leave with the same net worth that you started with. Get involved by finding your local chapter, take classes, and when a disaster strikes you may get called out to assist (if you are trained in areas they need, your airfare will even be taken care of).
Peace Corps: While they require you to have a college degree, you are truly taken care of with the Peace Corps. They will send provide you with a stipend while you are gone and you will receive scholarships and a leaving bonus once your term is completed. The only drawback is that you must commit to just over two years. While it will not hurt your career options, it may hinder your relationships.
Universities: Check with your college to see what opportunities are available to you for volunteering abroad. Many colleges have places where they can send students who want to see and help the world for several months to a year.
When volunteering abroad it is important to remember that your purpose is to be a beneficial volunteer. If you are only volunteering to travel, and have no desire for the mission behind the work that you are doing, then it is not a good idea. You will likely be working hard and maybe long hours—make sure you can handle these pressures.
Find a Job/Internship Abroad
Working abroad is a great way to travel the world. There are many options if you are flexible and willing to try new things. For example, I have run into a variety of hostel workers and hosts who are working for a month or two at the hostel in exchange for a free place to stay and a bit of spending money.
Another great option is to check out WWOOFing. WWOOF.org is a website that lists farms around the world that will be willing to house and feed you in exchange for about 20 hours of work a week. This is a great way to subsidize your travels.
Finally, especially if you have a college degree (and in some places, even if you don't), you can make a handsome amount of spending money teaching or tutoring English. People around the world are looking for a leg up by becoming fluent in English—if you are one of the privileged people who were born in a native English-speaking nation, you can use your skills to teach around the world for anywhere from $200 to $2000/month.
Many sailboat and yacht owners need crews to help them manage their ships while at sea. If you are willing to spend several weeks living in cramped quarters with an elderly couple you may be able to get nearly your entire trip paid for!
In exchange for crewing their boat, many sailors will provide you with food during the trip and sometimes even pay for a return ticket if their end destination is far away.
WWOOF: work in exchange for food and lodging.
Couchsurfing.com: people offering a free room to stay in.
Hostels.com: the best website to find hostels. Hostels are a fun way to travel, meet people, and save money.
ESLJobsWorld: a website that provides teaching opportunities around the world.
Latitude 38: sailing magazine based out of San Francisco