Traveling as a college student can be super exciting, but it can also present a lot of new challenges—especially if you’re not used to being the one who plans the vacations. When do you go? How can you afford to travel when you’re eating ramen noodles for dinner every night? How is your phone going to work abroad? We’ve got answers to all those questions and more. Keep scrolling for 23 of our best tips on traveling as a college student.
When to go
Travel when you can. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a trip has to be long to be worth it—weekend trips are a great way to see nearby (and not-so-nearby) places and cities without spending a ton of money or disrupting your schedule too much.
Flexibility and free time are your friends. This is one of the rare periods of your life where you will have a lot of control over your schedule. How you schedule your classes, your work/jobs and summer plans can all help you make more room in your schedule for traveling. It may feel like you don’t have much time to travel, but the truth is you have way more flexibility with a student schedule than with a 9-5 and a set amount of vacation days.
Find ways to travel efficiently. Use your weekends, holidays, school breaks and other free time well. Add a day of traveling onto a long weekend so you can spend the most time traveling without missing much class or work. Traveling during holidays and school breaks is a great way to take longer trips. Take advantage of long breaks like winter and summer vacations while you have them—they won’t exist once you graduate!
Travel during off-season times. Take advantage of college breaks to travel—especially if it’s during an off-peak time for the place you’re going. For example, since everyone tends to head to the beach for spring break, it can be a great time to head to Europe or anywhere cooler (ski trip, anyone?). Off-season destinations have the double advantage of being cheaper than in peak season and less crowded.
Ballin’ on a budget
One of the toughest parts of traveling as a college student is traveling on a student budget. Some things to help with that too—all the student discounts, travel during off-season, etc.
Make a budget—and stick to it before and after your trip! Plan ahead to figure out about how much things will cost, how much you can afford to spend and then stick to what you’ve planned. Need a budget guide? Check out our study abroad budget guide or our ultimate travel budget guide.
Get student discounts. Bring your student ID everywhere: it’ll score you discounts on everything from train tickets to museum passes around the world. And if you’re not sure if a place offers a student discount, just ask! The worst someone can say is no.
Buy tickets in advance when you can. You get your semester calendar in advance so use it well! Figure out when you think you can travel, check it against your class syllabi and buy your tickets asap. (Pro tip: 2-3 months out is usually the sweet spot, no need to purchase tickets a year in advance!)
Be creative with ways to save. You can travel on the cheap without missing out on your dream destinations, you just need to get creative! Traveling with friends and splitting costs is always a good way to save money. Take public transportation when you can. Consider budget destinations or accommodations—working with your budget may mean your trip looks different than you thought it might, but it’s a good chance to stretch yourself and try things you may not have thought of otherwise.
Watch for sales. Airlines, hotels, and etc. do sales all the time—we do too! Don’t pay full price when you don’t have to. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great times to purchase a few plane tickets for the upcoming year if you have trips planned already. If you want to get notified about our sales and upcoming deals all year long, just hop on our email list and we’ll keep you updated.
Double-check on your money. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to check in with your bank before you go. Make sure you’re familiar with any international debit/credit card fees. Plan to take out cash in the local currency when you arrive (or order them in advance from your bank) if you’re going for a long time or if you have high international fees on your cards. Cash will also be useful at local shops and restaurants. You can also have your bank put a travel notice on your account so your purchases aren’t accidentally marked as fraud.
Double-check on your phone. If you’re traveling internationally, your regular phone plan may not work either. International data and roaming charges can add up SUPER fast, so make sure you call your phone company and see what options they have for travels abroad. You can also consider getting a local SIM card for the country you’ll be in if you’re staying for an extended period of time.
Find out the travel requirements for visas and Covid-19, if applicable. Covid-19 travel requirements are still apt to change, but you can find a list of everywhere that’s open to US travelers and requirements for entry on our blog. Don’t forget that ALL travelers (even if you’re a citizen, even if you’re vaccinated) returning to the US from an international destination need to have a negative Covid-19 test taken within 3 days prior to entry. If you need a visa for your destination, be sure to apply well in advance of your trip. Keep in mind that any transit destinations (i.e. places where you have layovers) may require visas and/or Covid-19 testing as well, even if you’re not leaving the airport. Always double check documentation requirements!
Pack smart. When you’re flying, make sure you pack any essentials (medicines, essential toiletries, money, etc.) and a change of clothes or two in your carry-on bags. In the rare and unfortunate situation that your bags get lost or delayed, this will make your life a lot easier. And pack lightly, too. It’ll save your wallet (on baggage fees) and your back.
Do your research. Research the destination you’re traveling to before you actually go. Of course you’ll want to figure out where to go and what to see, but you might also want to learn a bit about the local customs and culture, too. Customs are different around the world, so if you can learn a bit before you can go, it’ll help a lot! Learn a few phrases in the local language, find out about local foods you can try while you’re there and understand some of the local customs and manners.
Finding somewhere to stay
Stay with friends. As a college student, you’ll probably meet people from tons of different places at school. Planning travels to your friends’ hometowns is a great way to see new places, hang out with your friends, and save money all at once!
Give hostels a chance! They’re not as common in the US so they may feel unfamiliar or weird or straight-up sketchy, but in many places, they can be awesome and a great way to save money. If you’re traveling in Europe or Southeast Asia, give hostels a try for sure! If you’re looking for a hotel, check out our student discounts on hotels.
Look at reviews. Whether it’s for Airbnb, hostels, restaurants or pretty much anything—reviews will take your trip from zero to hero really fast. Reading a few reviews will help you find the best places to stay (and eat!). Keep in mind that no matter how amazing the place is, everywhere has *some* bad reviews. Just look for places that have mostly positive reviews—that’s usually a great sign.
The more you know
Take advantage of the chance to study abroad. Arguably the best travel opportunity as a student is studying abroad. When else are you going to have the chance to take several months to just go live, study and explore another country? If there’s a place you’ve always wanted to go, chances are good you can study abroad there. If not, talk to the study abroad office at your school and see what programs are available for your major or what programs are most popular. Australia, Italy and the UK are some of the most popular study abroad destinations, but you can study abroad almost anywhere! Wherever you go, make sure you take the chance to do it!
Stay safe. Traveling is really safe, but it definitely pays off to be prepared! Travel with friends and use the buddy system or, if you’re traveling solo, check in at regular times with friends at home so they’ll know you’re safe. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your phone charged in case you get lost or need it for anything.
Don’t be shy! There are college students and young people around the world, so don’t be afraid to make new friends when you’re traveling. Some of the best friends are the ones you meet during a trip. Some easy ways to meet people while you’re away: stay in hostels where you’ll meet other young travelers, join free walking tours of the city or go on a group tour to explore a new city with new people.
Red eye flights are your friend. Red-eyes will save you money (they’re usually a lot cheaper) and time, since you’ll be traveling when you’d usually just be sleeping anyways. And more money again, since you won’t have to pay for a hotel room when you spend the night on a plane. Triple win.
Early bird gets the ‘gram. The secret to the perfect insta? Early mornings. Get out early if you want to get pics of really instagrammable spots without a ton of crowds in them.
Beat the jetlag. Fight through the jetlag as much as possible so you can explore as much as you can. Resist the urge to nap too much throughout the day, as it’ll only make the jetlag worse. Try to adjust yourself to sleeping and eating in time with your new time zone as soon as you arrive. Even if the first few days are rough, it’ll help in the long run!
Read the fine print when you’re booking travel. Whether it’s flights, hotels, activities or something else, travel purchases usually come with fine print. Make sure you know the details of your travel. Are your flights are refundable or not? Do you have to use your train tickets for a certain time only and are they flexible? Do your reservations have additional fees you’ll have to pay at checkout?