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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling on a Student Budget

In the weeks leading up to my two-week backpacking trip in Europe, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with pictures and posts and location check-ins of friends all over Europe, eating wonderful foods, seeing the most beautiful sights, and selfie-ing with...well, anything, really. I was getting really antsy, to say the least! 

But I'm back from two amazing, challenging, fulfilling weeks traveling across England, France, Italy, and Denmark, and sitting happily at my desk, ready to tell you all about what I did to prepare (thanks Let's Go!), what I packed, what I learned, and what I recommend. 

First thing's first: How to Budget for Europe on a Student Salary

Let's just say that I had a pretty hard time finding the discipline to limit my spending in the weeks leading up to my trip. After the end of the school year and the start of a summer working 9-5, I was tempted to "treat myself" to a coffee here, a brunch there, or a night out with friends one weekend. Here are some tips and tricks I kept by to budget for two weeks, a month, or even a semester abroad in Europe!

Tip 1/ Limit your pre-departure spending
I kept telling myself, "it'll be worth it. I'll just get a real Italian coffee!" when I was craving my usual Starbucks iced coffee. It turned out to be true--Italian coffees are the real deal, and I was able to treat myself more to new treats and experiences just by saving and splurging somewhere where the splurge was way more worth it. (aka, gelato 3x a day)

Tip 2/ Keep your budget & a list of expenses with you everywhere you go
I also kept a running list of expenses on the Notes app on my iPhone for each day, putting myself on a strict budget of, for example, $20 a day leading up to my flight to London. It helped me know where exactly my money was going and how much money I would have in my bank account. I usually let expenditures fall out of my radar anytime else, but I definitely couldn't afford to do that. Overall, I just had a lot of peace of mind being on top of my financial situation!

Tip 3/ Buy intra-Europe travel prior to departure 
I think it's pretty self explanatory when I recommend that you buy your flights to and from Europe in advance (go for WOWAir--so cheap, and great service!), but booking your trains and buses for travel between cities and countries lets you catch all of the deals and extra fees! 

RyanAir's awesome intra-Europe flight deals took me from Marseille, France to Rome, Italy for just $16, and I saved more than 20 euros on my bus across the English Channel from London, England to Paris, France. Everything's searchable online!

Tip 4/ Early morning travel is so worth it
Okay, a 6:50am train might not sound awesome now, but it's so worth all of the money you'll save (because most people with want to sleep in), the quietness of the train, and all of the daylight hours you get to explore your next destination. 

Tip 5/ Hostels are the way to go
Hostels are designed for budget travelers, often going by the name "Youth Hostels" in all the major cities of the world. You'll get a clean bed with new sheets, a shower, social spaces to meet other fellow travelers, lockers to store your luggage, and the workers are always locals who can give you the best recommendations for where to go to get off the beaten path, all for around ~$30. Book them prior to leaving, 'cause they'll fill up!

When I wasn't in a hostel, I was crashing with fellow friends from Harvard. Luckily, we have an extensive network of students who are everywhere around the world, so call up your long-lost classmate and cross your fingers you can crash on their floor!

Tip 6/ Set a daily budget
I usually gave myself a 100 euro (~$120) budget for spending, including hostel fees. You don't have to be a financial analyst or Economics concentrator to be realistic with yourself and put yourself on a tight budget. You can do it!

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