How to Travel On a Tight Budget

Updated November 4, 2022

Study abroad enables students to immerse themselves in other cultures. Here's how to travel on a budget. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: megaflopp | iStock | Getty Images Plus

Student's Guide to Traveling on a College Budget

Between tuition and other expenses, college students don't have extra money to spend on travel. But fewer responsibilities, scheduled breaks, and college discounts make it a great time to see the world.

Studying abroad enables students to immerse themselves in other cultures. In fact, during the 2015–2016 academic year the number of U.S. students studying abroad for college credit rose 3.8 percent.

If you want to take a few jaunts visiting other countries, this guide focuses on how to spend a break—or a long weekend—learning more about the world. Here's how to travel on a tight budget.

Six Reasons Why All Students Should Travel

Traveling is fun, but that's not the only reason students will benefit from seeing new places. Here are a few reasons why it's worth broadening your horizons:

  • Observing Different Perspectives. “The more you see the world, the more you understand how it works,” says Ninad Sharma, president of the International Volunteer Travel Association. “Otherwise you get too used to how things are in your “universe” until you hit the job scene, get into a serious relationship or just are just forced out of your comfort zone.”
  • Experiencing Other Cultures. We all love the comfortable feeling of the familiar but seeing something new can provide incredible insights and possibilities. From new foods to holiday traditions, traveling provides eye-opening opportunities and the ability to experience a new culture. Watching videos online and reading books is one thing; experiencing it firsthand is quite another.
  • Enhancing Gratitude. Let's face it. Many college students don't realize just how good they've got it. “You learn to appreciate what you might be taking for granted by seeing others who don't. Remember, the fact that you were born in a time and place is (most likely, depending on your religious views) a coincidence,” Sharma says.
  • Creating Unique Memories. Millions of students will remember that crazy thing some kid did at a party or the thrill winning an intramural sports tournament. Far fewer will be able to look back and say they saw a toilet flush “backwards,” experienced New Year's Day almost a full day before the United States or got to eat a food that doesn't exist back at home.
  • Practicing a Foreign Language. For those who are trying to learn a foreign language, no teaching experience is better than spending time in a country where that language is spoken. Total immersion is the best way to learn a new language. This benefit is greater the more time the student spends in that country, such as when spending a full semester or year studying abroad.
  • Professional Development. Extensive traveling can provide a variety of professional development opportunities. Prospective employers love seeing applicants who have spent significant time living in another country. It shows the applicant has an open mind, is willing to step outside the comfort zone and can adapt and overcome challenges. Besides that, travel makes for a well-rounded person. “Go, get some experience under your belt—it will make you more interesting,” Sharma says.
  • Build Self-Confidence and Independence. Figuring things out in a new place can do wonders for creating confidence and building a sense of independence. Learning to navigate a foreign city's subway system or figuring out how to order dinner in another language can help eliminate self-doubt or insecurity a college student might have. Without a travel opportunity, the college student may never get the chance to truly figure things out on their own.

When we travel, we often discover that people are really more alike than they are different even though we come from different backgrounds and cultures. Learning about history and art and food and language in other countries helps us understand our place in the world and how we can be a positive influence on others. Seeing people living differently than we do can help us develop our own values, hopefully in a way that will allow us to make a difference in the future, no matter what vocation we choose.

-Betsy Ball

22 College Travel Discounts, Perks & Hacks for Students

Most student discounts can be found through online booking sites. These sites usually offer a wide range of travel services, from transportation to accommodations to sightseeing arrangements. Some of the more popular online booking sites are listed below, as well as those that focus more on transportation, accommodations or special student discount programs.

Plan in advance—a lot of money is to be saved if you can plan, at least broadly, which places are you going to and where you would go to do the activities that fulfil your purpose. Advance planning will help you save money on hostels, flights and with a bit of searching, also on activities that you can participate in.

-Ninad Sharma

General Travel Discount and Booking Sites

  • CheapOair – Student Travel: One of many online booking sites that provides special travel deals on flights, hotels and cruises. It has sections for student-based deals and even allows users to find vacation packages.
  • EF Ultimate Break: This company focuses more on creating full travel arrangements for students. But in making arrangements on behalf of clients, EF Ultimate Break is able to find the best deals on travel, saving not just time, but money as well.
  • Lookupfare – Student: An online travel booking website with a special discount section tailored for students aged 16 to 25 years of age. One extremely helpful offering on this site is assistance with making visa arrangements.
  • SmartFares – Student Travel Deals: Offers a variety of travel opportunities with airfares, car rentals, hotels and cruises. However, its student discounts focus primarily on airfare deals.
  • STA Travel: One of the largest student travel companies that help in finding affordable travel deals for students and youth, including tours, flights, buses, trains, hotels and hostels. This should be the first stop for anyone looking for college student travel discounts.
  • StudentUniverse: Serves as an online database of some of the best college travel deals, such as flights, hotels and tours. As an added bonus, StudentUniverse gives plenty of travel advice and information through its blogs and guides.
  • Travelation – Student Travel: An online booking site that offers special deals on airfare, hotels and even rental cars. Travelation's deals are so good, they offer a lowest price guarantee.
  • Travelcuts: This is similar to many other online booking service websites. However, it has special deals for full-time students who possess the International Student Identity Card. These cardholders are eligible for discounts as high as 10 percent.

Looking for a tropical vibe on a budget? Definitely opt for a cruise with your group, especially if you live near a port like Galveston, Texas; Tampa, Florida; or New Orleans. From there, you can sail to the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Hawaii or even Alaska. Most cruise lines offer all-you-can drink packages, and on board, you will find bars, nightclubs and casinos. The best part is that at every stop throughout the cruise, you can get off the ship and explore the area—no plane necessary!

-Sara Skirboll

In terms of raising money to travel, it is all a matter of priority. I recommend looking at your budget and making intentional decisions about how you spend your limited funds. If you buy Starbucks twice a week, put that $10 a week in a travel fund and drink coffee from home instead. Ask for money to travel for your birthday, Valentine's Day, Christmas, or other holidays when someone might give you a gift. Work an extra job and start saving. Where there's a will, there's a way and if you want to travel, you can make it happen.

-Betsy Ball


  • Aer Lingus: The flag carrier airline of Ireland offers special rates to American students studying abroad in Ireland. Students are eligible for discounts when flying to or from Ireland at either the Dublin or Shannon airports.
  • Amtrak: Amtrak doesn't provide an official student discount, but it has one exception: students age 13 to 25 can receive 15 percent off their fare on certain New York train routes. These include Adirondack, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express and Maple Leaf trains.
  • A leading carpooling site for those traveling through Europe. This site connects those going to similar destinations and allows them to split the costs of carpooling.
  • Eurail: Anyone wishing to travel through Europe by train will benefit from a Eurail pass; it allows the pass holder to travel through almost every European railway system. The special Youth Pass provides a lower rate for those aged 12 to 27 years.
  • The German airline Lufthansa offers this special flight program for student flyers. It provides the lowest and most flexible ticket prices to US students as well as a host of other benefits.
  • Greyhound: Students get 10 percent off their ticket for just being a student. However, this discount increases to 15 percent if the student also has a Student Advantage Discount Card.
  • IndiGo: Students traveling to or from India can benefit from this airline. Students are eligible for discounts up to six percent off the base price plus an additional baggage allowance.

A significant portion of the overall cost will likely be transportation. For flights, Student Universe can be a great resource, but don't just check there. Also use other search engines including SkyScanner and Google Flights. Check different dates to see if the price is different and put in an email alert with each of these sites so you will be notified when prices change. Being flexible can sometimes help you save hundreds of dollars.

-Betsy Ball

Just because you're tight on a budget doesn't mean you're stuck at home. Two words: Don't fly! Grab some friends and a map and take a road trip. The great thing about driving is that you can stop wherever you want on your own schedule and see cool things along the way.

-Sara Skirboll


  • CouchSurfing: College travelers will love this resource—think of it as a hospitality social networking site. Members create an online profile, find new places to visit and stay with a host for no charge while also meeting new people and learning about the local area.
  • As its name implies, these accommodations booking site deals primarily with hostels. This website also provides other travel tidbits in the form of podcasts, guides and blog posts.
  • HostelWorld: Even though this site focuses on hostels, it also helps find the best deals with hotels and bed and breakfasts. Lots of people have used this and told their tales; it offers tens of millions of reviews spanning over 35,000 properties.
  • HotelPlanner: Their specialty is finding the best hotel rates for customers. But one of their features is arranging group rates for any type of group, including fraternities, sororities and school trips.

Hostels are a great way to have basic lodging at a very reasonable price. Using Hostel Bookers to find your hostel lodging will likely save you some money. Many hostels have kitchen facilities, so you can buy groceries and cook your own meals rather than eating out. This will help you save considerably.

-Betsy Ball

Some of the most memorable experiences are free. Look for them! Search for friends who have relatives in the place—most people are willing to host, if you are nice and act responsibly. Even if that does not work out well, strike up conversations with people you meet, and you might be in for some of the most memorable experiences. Look for local connections of student group chapters, or charity groups.

-Ninad Sharma

Special Student Discount Programs

  • International Student Identity Card (ISIC): The ISIC is available to any full-time student 12 years of age or older. It provides discounts on hundreds of thousands of places in more than 120 countries. Discounts include museums, memorials, tours, rentals and hostels.
  • UNiDAYS: Students can register for free. Once registered, they can receive tons of discounts from many different brands, including travel-based companies. Travel discounts include Lyft, Uber, and Journy.
  • Student Advantage Discount Card: For a small annual fee, students can obtain this discount card and receive exclusive discounts at many retailers and travel providers. This card is similar to the International Student Identity Card, but for domestic discounts.

Find out what your budget is, deciding how much money you want to spend overall on the trip will help determine which location would be best for you. You can live lavishly in Asia for just a few dollars a day, but it won't be possible if you're in Australia. Domestic destinations are also generally cheaper than international destinations, think Vegas or even Miami!

-Sara Skirboll

Go visit your study abroad office early and make a plan using the resources available to you at your university. Some programs are for a week, some for a month, some for a semester and others are for a year. You choose what will help you progress toward your degree. You will develop new insights and perspectives that will impact your career, no matter what field you are studying.

-Betsy Ball

Interested in a college study abroad program? This guide gives you a starting point, providing all the information you need to pick the right study abroad program—and figure out the best way to finance it. study-abroad

Expert Advice for College Students Who Want to Travel

Jeff Mikos is a travel expert who has not only backpacked around the world but owns his own travel business in Chicago.

Q: Why is it so important for students to travel while in college?

A: You're young, able-bodied and able-minded. You have the freedom and flexibility, meaning you aren't beholden to many of the responsibilities you'll have later in life (spouse, rent/mortgage, job, kids, etc...) And it's entirely possible that you haven't made important decisions such as want you want to do after college, where do you want to live or even what your options are. You'll get exposed to folks from all different walks of life and I believe this will help you make better long-term decisions.

Q: What are some of your best tips for making travel much more affordable?

A: Dormitory-style hostels, group tours/trips and cooking in (if possible) are the low-hanging fruit of saving on travel. But make sure you also take care of the financial side. Accessing money and exchange rates can add up quickly and you get absolutely nothing in return. We carried with us credit cards that had no foreign exchange fees and a debit card that reimbursed every ATM surcharge in the world. Not only did this help save us money, but it removed a lot of the stress about making sure you had enough cash at the right time.

Q: What are some myths about traveling during the college years that you'd like to clear up?

A: That travel is dangerous. Sure, it absolutely can be—no doubt about it. But be smart about it. There are plenty of places I wouldn't want to be alone at night here in the U.S. Use that same common sense when traveling abroad. Follow your instincts, if something doesn't feel right, get the heck out of there.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add about college students and travel?

A: Honestly—just do it. Get out of your comfort zone and take the trip of a lifetime. Don't put it off thinking that you'll do it when you're older and more financially secure. You simply don't know what will happen. I talk with folks in their 50s and 60s all the time who have the means to travel long term and do whatever they want—but they have no desire to do so. They're comfortable. But 30 or 40 years ago they claim they would have done it in a heartbeat. So, buy a ticket and get the heck out there.... now

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

See All Posts is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.