5 Easy Ways to Afford Traveling as a Student

The Glorious Gates of Harvard

As a student, the idea of being thousands of dollars in debt is unfortunately a very realistic possibility. In Canada, yearly tuition is around $6,000, which is steep, but nowhere near the expense of attending university in the US, which can easily cost up to $40,000 a year.

With this sort of money spent on obtaining a degree, it’s no wonder that instant noodles and cheap vodka are considered staples in a student diet.

Unless you are majoring in one of the more “practical” fields such as accounting, engineering or have plans for med school, the current economy isn’t much help either, as job prospects after graduation have been looking a bit gloomy.

This is all pretty ironic because…

– Why are there so many student-catered travel groups and companies?

– Why are people always telling you that the early 20’s is one of the best times to travel?

– Doesn’t it seem like everyone but you is jetting off for the summer to go backpacking?

It was in university when I truly fell in love with traveling, and I made sure I traveled whenever possible – by backpacking, studying abroad, internships, holiday working visas and more.

I always get a lot of e-mails from readers asking, “where do you get the money to travel?”

The truth is, you just have to be resourceful. I come from a suburban middle-class household, similar to the majority of North Americans. I took out student loans, won scholarships, and worked part-time jobs. With my graduation less than a month away, I’m surprised that I’ve traveled as much as I did, and still be on track to pay off my loans before September, where I’ll be moving abroad to Europe debt-free.

My art at an art sale

The best way to afford traveling as a student is simply to save money. I recommend finding a part-time job during the school year, and putting a large percentage of every paycheck into a savings account. While saving money will mean things like eating out less frequently, buying less clothes, buying alcohol from the liquor store rather than at bars, cutting back on these lifestyle choices can save you hundreds of dollars by the end of the year.

Aside from working, as long as you maintain a good academic average, scholarships can really help lower your tuition costs. While studying in Chicago, I received a scholarship that covered more than half of my expenses! Another is to sell stuff. You can sell just about anything. I sold art.

Here’s 5 easy ways to travel affordably as a student:

1. International exchange/study abroad
This is probably the easiest and most popular choice in terms of student travel. Every university has partner universities from around the world, and there are readily info sessions available to learn about these opportunities. You pay your home university’s tuition, and there are always tons of scholarships to apply for. While scholarships applications can be a lot of work, I strongly recommend applying to as many as possible. I remember a professor telling me once that our uni offered a full scholarship to a uni in Germany…one year, only ONE person applied, and he automatically won it by default!

2. Volunteering
Not only does it look nice on your resume, volunteering is a great way of contributing to society in a meaningful and enjoyable way. While many organizations charge a fee, this cost usually includes accommodations and food, which can be well worth the price. Most volunteering opportunities last anywhere from one week to a few months, so it can easily be worked into summer vacations and spring breaks. With so many organizations out there today, you can volunteer doing anything from animal protection, to working with kids.

3. Work as an au pair
If you love kids, this can be a great way of living in another country. In exchange for food and accommodations, you are required to look after the children of your host family for a certain amount of hours a day.

4. Get a holiday working visa
A HWV is a great way of working and traveling in another country. Especially for students or recent grads who may not have the finances saved to travel and backpack for an extended length of time, the HWV allows you to work to subsidize your travels. There are many participating countries in this Working Holiday Visa agreement, and the application is generally straight-forward, fast and easy (my Australian HWV took less than a day to be approved!)

5. Teach English abroad
While this job is better suited for graduating students, teaching English is a great way of making money, traveling, and helping to enrich the lives of others. While Asia is generally the most popular destination, English teachers are needed in many countries around the world. Generally most applications require a Bachelor’s degree, but some of the larger companies may also require a TESOL certification. These jobs may come in the form of one-year contracts, to permanent positions.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be expanding on each of these five sections, through a series of guest posts and interviews. Stay tuned to see what some of my favourite travellers have to say about their experiences abroad, and how they made their dreams a reality!



  1. April 5, 2012 / 4:39 am

    Hey Michelle, I’m hoping to move to Europe as well. These are great tips

    • Michelle
      April 8, 2012 / 4:07 am

      thanks! Europe is the place to be 🙂

  2. April 7, 2012 / 8:43 am

    We think you should book your airline ticket, and take $300 cash anywhere you go. And we suggest booking your hostel in advance for the first night through a site with a lot of selection like hostelsclub.com or hostelworld.

    We’ve been promoting travel to students for over 15 years! Students, you can travel!!!!!

    Your friends at http://www.studentttraveler.com

  3. April 9, 2012 / 5:46 pm

    Great tips. It’s definitely hard trying to save for traveling, especially when all your friends want to party! Let me know if you want any information about the au pair program, although I’m really only an expert on North America 🙂

    • Michelle
      April 10, 2012 / 11:58 pm

      Yea it’s horrible how much going out can cost sometimes (especially for the guys!) and yes, i’ll let you know, thanks!! 🙂

  4. April 12, 2012 / 5:05 pm

    This is great because Laura and I are both college students in the US and always looking for tips to travel cheaper! Thanks for sharing!

    • Michelle
      April 15, 2012 / 2:06 am

      No prob! it’s insane how much tuition costs in the US!

  5. April 13, 2012 / 4:02 am

    Sound advice! Although caution must be urged in regards to number two, especially considering the scrutiny towards many volunteer outfits since the Kony fiasco. Diligence in finding out the exact ways a project effects the local community is the best coarse of action.

    • Michelle
      April 15, 2012 / 2:08 am

      Thanks for the advice! I’ve never heard of the Kony fiasco! I’m reading up on it right now…

  6. April 22, 2013 / 6:49 am

    These are some great suggestions. I’m applying for a Working Holiday Visa for the Netherlands next month, and will be moving there for work (hopefully I can find a job) this summer. Your post reminded me to keep an au pair job in mind as a possibility. Thanks!

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