by Maria Popova
Graphics by the Buzz's Online Design Team
For those who are not burdened with yet another debilitating semester, summer is the perfect time to widen your horizons and fill in the white spots on the map. However, just like any other aspect of student life, traveling overseas is tied to the question of money and budgeting.
Students are challenged with heavy expenses that come hand in hand with low wages and little time to make money while juggling academics and social lives. In turn, traveling becomes a luxury.
One question to consider is if money necessarily has to become the decisive factor in a traveling equation.
The answer is no. As it turns out, a lively group of friends, some diligent planning and a pinch of erudition is a good enough substitute for a Visa Gold credit card. Students who have faced the perks of low-cost traveling shared their experiences with the Buzz.
Planning ahead is imperative to save money, in particular when it comes to booking accommodations and transportation. Fortunately, today’s sophisticated profit maximization formulas play in favor of the customers with flexibility. Every month, travel companies approximate the number of unsold seats and sell them at discounted prices in order to maximize income.
While applicable universally and across different transportation methods, bus companies take it to an extreme level, offering their famous $1 bus tickets around Europe and the United States. This is where planning in advance comes into the equation.
“As our research demonstrates, the probability of finding a $1 bus ticket increases when you search a month in advance, hovering near the 4 percent mark when you search 31 days in advance, and reaches its peak with around the 90 day mark,” according to Busbud, a worldwide travel company “that allows travelers to search, compare and book intercity bus tickets.”
As Busbud explains its functionality, “Whenever a traveler searches on Busbud and gets results offering a $/£/€1 ticket, an alert is triggered in our database. If the same person doesn’t buy the ticket within the next 10 minutes, we automatically announce the availability of the coveted ticket on Twitter via the @DollarBusClub account.”
The platform offers significant saving opportunities to those who do not mind planning in advance. However, there can be a fine line between outlining your trip and making it inflexible to any necessary adjustments.
“When traveling around Europe by rail in 2011, we had our hostels booked so we didn't need to search,” said Luka Stanojević (Questrom ’16), an exchange student from AUD. “Despite this convenience, if I were to redo it I would plan my route less and be a little more adaptive in terms of how long I stay at each place I go. There were some cities where we wanted to stay for longer or shorter but we couldn't move off schedule.”
Similarly, your accommodation choice may be cost effective. According to students, hostels, small guesthouses, Airbnb rooms, a place shared by a group of friends or a night spent outdoors will not only save money, but also enrich your cultural experience abroad.
“Other than the money saved, the advantages include meeting lots of new people and experiencing a more authentic and local aspect of each place,” said Stanojević.
"You mingle more with locals and make interesting friends, even if only for a short while. A hostel atmosphere is very different from a hotel; people are looking to interact and have fun rather than to just be left alone to relax,”
This seems like something a traveler wants to experience when he or she is still young and resilient. Yet, it is important to be aware of the non-monetary price you will have pay for affordability.
“The hostel rooms can be large and while people try to be respectful, it's a noisy atmosphere and people are coming and going all the time. And
music festivals, if done 100 percent low-cost, require camping so you're going to deal with mud, dirt and communal showers and toilets. Be prepared to be filthier than ever,” he said.
However, if you can deal with living in Warren Towers for not so low of a cost, you can surely enjoy yourself in a hostel room full of random companions.
“I am a student, and therefore cost has a bigger significance to me than comfort,” said Philipp Le (Questrom ’17). “I even shared a bed with another person.”
Finally, if you want to invest less money, invest more of your time into researching all the possible alternatives. Do not hesitate to reach out to your perspective hosts and try to bargain.
“I found the place that I really liked for my New York City trip, but the cleaning fee listed on the website seemed unreasonable,” said Stanislava Labetskaya (Questrom/CAS ’18.) "I contacted the host telling her that my friends and I would love to rent the place but it was a little bit too expensive. We ended up negotiating and she lowered the price substantially.”
Along with transportation and accommodations, food is one of the biggest expenses a traveler encounters. It is easy to find yourself wondering where all your money went after a few brunches and dinners in touristy eateries located so conveniently next to all the attractions. However, as a rule, these places are neither outstanding, authentic nor worth the money spent. Instead, try to find some low-key spots, where a tourist’s foot has not walked.
“If staying at hostels, the receptionist will always know a bunch of amazing local restaurants and will gladly label them on a map,” said Stanojević. “You won't eat in the most luxurious setting, but you're guaranteed an authentic experience.”
If you are traveling with a group of friends and staying at one place for more than just a few days, it might also be useful to have an available kitchen so you don’t always have to rely on expensive restaurants.
Finally, make sure you gather a list of suggested activities in advance for each place. While tickets at historical and touristic sights are often expensive, there are a wide variety of special discount passes offered online. Also, some tourist activities have free or inexpensive alternatives travelers are usually not aware of (i.e. the Statue of Liberty boat tours versus the free Staten Island Ferry.)
“Avoid tourist traps and try to get an authentic experience,” said Stanojević. “Decide what you want to do and allocate the highest amount of money to that end and don't spend carelessly on other things.”
In addition to research and planning, do not forget to simply talk to the locals and ask for suggestions from as many people as you can. You might be surprised how willing people are to help and share the most exquisite details about their hometowns.