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Traveling as a College Student

I’ve had a lot of requests for a post like this, and I think it’s a good one for the summer, so it’s finally happening! Thank you to everyone who sent me messages and emails requesting this, I really appreciate being able to write something you guys asked for! I hope this helps you figure out what you want to do and where you want to go this summer!

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Somewhere over Greenland…

I get asked all the time how I afford to travel so much, where I find the time and where I stay/get around in whichever city I happen to be visiting. Usually, it’s Los Angeles, but I’ll throw in an East Coast trip every now and then. The simple answer is I stay with friends (thanks to Twitter, I’ve got at least one friend in every city in the US… I’m really not kidding.), and I save paychecks to buy the plane tickets. But there’s more to it than that… I’m going to make a list. Yes, lists always work well. Let’s do that.

  1. Make a travel jar. Go to the store and buy one of those giant mason jars (or use an old one, you can use anything, really. I just like the aesthetic of a mason jar.) and decorate it to your heart’s content. This is your travel jar. A lot of people come up to me and ask how much money I make because it seems like I’m always going somewhere and let me tell you, I don’t make very much at all. I’m a student worker on campus… which means I am definitely not made of money. Here’s how I do it: every time I get a paycheck, which is every other Friday, I put about 60 percent of it into my jar. After about six weeks, sometimes less depending on where I’m going or if I put aside more money, I have enough to get a round trip plane ticket anywhere in the US. Again, LA is typical and that ticket runs me about $300 from Nashville, usually with a stop in Houston. That’s another tip: don’t be scared of the layover! It’ll save you money (sometimes LOTS!) and you may just find your next vacation spot! You’d be surprised how much money will be in your jar after even two paychecks. If you don’t have a job and want to travel… get a job. Scoop ice cream, make coffee, answer the phone at the doctor’s office… do anything, just get a job. Be on the lookout for odd jobs where you live, too. You’d be surprised how many you’ll find and how many of them pay. It’s not much, but it’s more than you had before, so if you find anything you can do, do it. Fill up your travel jar.
  2. When it comes time to buy the plane ticket, do some research. Don’t just grab the first one you see, because odds are, with a little digging, you’re going to find a much better deal. When you search for flights, make sure you’re doing it in an incognito window on your computer or phone, that will allow you to search without cookies, making prices go down. Check websites like JetBlue, Expedia and Kayak (there’s more, but I have the best luck with these three) and compare the prices and layover times for each. Also, sometimes airlines like to send you to Boston from Nashville and then to LA, I would advise you not to choose that flight… unless you want to add over five hours of travel time.
  3. If your trip doesn’t involve a plane, my advice is different. Duh. First up, download Waze on your phone. This GPS has saved my ass so many times, it’ll save yours too. She avoids traffic, she gives you the fastest/shortest routes to wherever you’re going and (my favorite feature) she finds public parking for you. My rule for driving somewhere is this: if I can’t drive straight through by myself without stopping, I’m not driving there. My maximum is usually 10 hours, unless I have someone with me who will split driving time, which is usually the case. I usually don’t fly to the East Coast from where I live (close to Nashville) unless I’m going alone or meeting someone there.
  4. I’ve never taken a train anywhere but that is also an option, and it’s cheaper than buying a plane ticket and faster than driving… it’s  win-win really. I have friends who do this pretty often, so if you have questions about that, send them to me and I will get an answer for you!
  5. Take advantage of public transportation wherever you are. Some places are better about this than others… if you’re in New York or Boston, I would highly recommend buying a 7-Day pass for the subway. It’s way cheaper than cabs and will save your feet so that you can wear the cute shoes. I feel like subway systems have a bad reputation but they really aren’t so bad once you get used to them. And you’ll find some pretty good street performers down there if you’re lucky.
  6. If you’re going to a beach, find somewhere centrally located so you can walk anywhere you need to go. The beach I go to most often is in Georgia on a little island right outside of Savannah. (Tybee Island, anyone?) My family has a time share there, and with that, I can go for a long weekend just about anytime I want for less than $200. If that’s not an option for you, I’d look into Air BnB. Those are all over the place now. Be careful though, I have heard of people being scammed or finding their rooms trashed. Get into contact with your host before and verify everything before you ever leave just in case. Emergency hotel rooms can be done, but you don’t want to have to resort to that.
  7. Eat cheap! I always find a grocery store, wherever I am, and buy foods that I can cook myself and eat on for more than one day. Pasta is usually a good bet. That will save you so much money and it’s better for you than eating out all the time. Set aside a few nights to try local restaurants, but for the most part, I try to make my own meals. Also, beware of the tourist trap. Ask some locals where they like to eat, they won’t send you to Joe’s Crab Shack. I have figured out that the best restaurants are the ones hidden off the main roads that nobody knows about. Look for those.
  8. Don’t pay to do things that should be free. There are a lot of places that will take advantage of your tourist status and try to charge you $30 to do something that should be free. Ask around for things to do that won’t cause you to take out a loan… go hiking, spend all day at the beach, find free museums (they’re all over the place!), find a festival somewhere, your options are endless if you do a little searching. If you do have to pay, ask about student discounts. Always ask about that. Many places offer admission for a cheaper price if you can present a college ID and sometimes there’s special perks that come with it.
  9. Travel with friends so that you can split costs! I feel like that doesn’t need anymore explaining so I’m just leaving it at that.
  10. Finally, don’t be afraid to travel without your parents! I flew alone for the first time at 17. I had been in San Francisco with my uncle (he took me as my high school graduation present) and I flew to LA and then home alone. It was a little scary and overwhelming at first, but it’s so easy and not something that should scare you. Now, I prefer to travel alone or in small groups of friends versus a huge ensemble of people dragging 50 suitcases through a crowded airport. (Oh, another tip for flying: get a hardshell suitcase with four wheels and avoid checking baggage if you can, that saves money and time!)

Those are some of my tips for traveling as a student on a budget. If I didn’t answer your questions, leave a comment and I will be happy to talk to you! My email is always open, too: thelaneonline@gmail.com or you can contact me via social media (Instagram & Twitter: @thelaneonline).

Happy traveling!

-J

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