A Starving Student's Guide to Travel: 8 ways to save for your next big trip

8 Ways to Save for Your Next Big Trip While Being a “Starving” Student

The other day my roommate asked me how I have been able to do as much traveling as I have done while being in school full time. I realized then that I have been fortunate enough to explore the world, on a fixed budget, without ever studying abroad. With that being said: Just because you are a broke college student, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel the world. If I can do it, so can you!

As I see it, I am a responsible student for most of the year, so I DESERVE a break. Work hard, play harder, no? Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, you will just have to learn to make sacrifices on a daily basis. Here are some ways I have been able to maximize my traveling savings while avoiding eating Top Ramen for all of my meals.

1. Skip the weekend trips and travel to places where you know people

Who wouldn’t love to stay in a luxurious suite in an expensive hotel for a lot less than it would normally cost? If you have friends like mine, then you get invited to tons of weekend trips: Las Vegas, Tahoe, Big Bear, etc. Yeah, they will probably be fun. Yeah, you can probably split the gas with someone.  All of your friends are going, so it is something you just CAN’T miss, right?

Wrong. You CAN miss it, and since your dream is to go on a South American adventure this summer, you probably should skip it. Sure that weekend trip might only cost you $200, but you can easily save those $200 and set them aside for your big trip. Trust me, if you skip the small trips it will make saving for the bigger trips a lot easier.

At this point in my life, I have many friends who have moved to other states and also other countries for school, work, and just life. From my experience, people who move far away appreciate when friends go visit them because they may not always be able to go back home to visit.

Take advantage of knowing someone in a place you want to visit! Not only will the person (most likely) let you stay with them, cutting down your room and board costs, they will know the best places to go, so you don’t have to do tons of research. The other advantage of this is you can wait to visit them until the prices for airfare (if you are flying) drop, further cutting down your cost. I have done this many times and have been able to visit places like Chicago, New York, D.C., and Madrid for this reason!

Cindy at sunset at Danube River, Budapest

Watching the sunset on the Danube River in Budapest was one of my favorite moments of my European trip this winter. This trip wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for my friend in this picture: she moved to Spain and told me to visit her, so I did!

2. Cook in bulk

I’m not into extensive meal prepping that requires me to weigh all of my food, but I am also not into eating Top Ramen to save money; instead, I only buy things that I know I will eat during the week. I cook a larger meal on Sunday night, and then pack up my leftovers for lunch during the week. Rice, quinoa, veggies, and chicken (or tofu) are all great ways to make a large meal with substance. Tapatio, Siracha, and salsa verde all help to slightly change the taste of an individual meal. On a good week, I can easily eat (well) all week on $20 or less.

Other ways to save money on food:

  • Shop at discount grocery stores: No one cares if you don’t shop local organic for a month or so while you save the last $200 for your trip.
  • Try the 99cent only store: they often have name brand food there. If you can eat it in a week or so, it may be worth it to buy it.
  • Look at the “Manager’s Special” section at the grocery store: remember that scene in Big Daddy where they throw the cans on the floor to dent them and get a discount? Well, that’s a thing. Often times you find this section in the back of the grocery store. Tortillas for $.75? Cereal for $1.25? Yes, please!
Cindy at waterfall in Costa Rica

Conquering waterfalls in Costa Rica

3. Limit going out

To keep me sane, I live by the motto “Work hard, play harder.” Sometimes it is hard to play hard when you are on a budget. Instead, I like to plan outings with my friends that don’t involve spending a ton of money. I’m talking day hikes, long runs, and other similar activities. I have also found another loophole: hosting. This way, people don’t think you are party pooper who never does anything, and you get to play as hard as you want I love to host BYOB and potluck style get-togethers, so as to decrease the spending by all my friends.

If you drink, stop…even if it’s for a little bit. Sometimes I stop drinking for only a month, and I notice immediately how much money I save. That bottle of wine on a Thursday night to help relieve your stress from midterms can really start to add up. Additionally, your once a weekend night out will too. And when you do drink, pregame as much as possible. Once you are out, buy one drink, tops, at the bar.

**If you don’t drink, try to think of your vice and cut that back!

Cindy in Belgium

Save money on drinking at home, but when in Belgium, drink beer and make friends with the locals!

4. Stop shopping

The next time you think about ordering that $5.99 scarf from Amazon just because it’s cheap and you still have your student Prime account, ask yourself: Do I need it? Most likely, the answer will be no, so don’t buy it. This one can be tough, since most students find shopping online to be so easy and convenient.

If you do need to buy something, try shopping at thrift stores or the local Swapmeet before going out to buy name brand items at retail price. Before my trip to Europe, I needed to buy items to prepare me for a European winter. I went to a swapmeet and was able to buy a pair of leather boots for $2 and a long DKNY coat for $7. Remember, you are still in college, so people don’t expect you to make enough money to buy those really expensive items anyway, so stop!

Other ways to cut down such expenses: clothes swap parties, sewing parties, and garage (or estate) sales shopping.

Cindy at the Washington Monument in D.C.

My friend was living in D.C. a few years ago and one day she said, “Come spend Thanksgiving with me,” so I DID!

5. Buy international editions

The first time I bought new books from the bookstore on campus, I had to take out a private loan just to pay for them! Once you get to a certain point in your educational career, it is often best to buy your textbooks to refer to them in the future. But buying textbooks doesn’t mean you have to shell out a ton of money. Many publishers print international editions of their textbooks, using cheaper materials, which means cheaper prices for you. These editions are a small fraction of the cost of the editions you purchase in the U.S., and they are brand new too (they even come with any accompanying CDs!).

Cindy at Walden Pond with Henry David Thoreau

My first trip in college was to the East Coast, where I was able to visit Walden Pond and gained wisdom from the wonderful Henry David Thoreau himself (what a nerd!).

6. Start saving immediately

If you know you want to go somewhere, start putting money aside as soon as the idea pops into your head. Put money somewhere where you do not think about it, or if you think you may get tempted to use it, put it away in the bank, or give it to someone you trust to hold onto. When your financial aid disbursement comes in, set as much money as you can spare aside, and then make a new budget for yourself without taking that money into account. Even if you can only initially spare $500, do the same for each disbursement, or perhaps when your tax return rolls in. Slowly, your savings will begin to grow until you can actually afford your trip!

Cindy in a tree along the California coast

One of my favorite road trips took me up the coast of California to Portland. The sights were breathtaking!

7. Eliminate unnecessary bills

You probably don’t have time to watch TV, so cancel your service. Your school probably has a gym on campus, or at the very least a track, so you can probably cancel your gym membership. You may also have a friend who has Netflix, so share your subscription. Perhaps you can even live without a data plan on your phone and can manage strictly using messaging apps like Whats App.

If you drive to school, try to find someone to carpool with. Not only will you save money by splitting a parking permit, but you can save a significant amount of money on gas.

If you have to put something on your credit card because you can’t afford it, that’s because YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT, so DON’T buy it! Credit card debt can suck your “extra” funds each month, and they are bills you can easily avoid.

If you have to put something on your credit card because you can’t afford it, that’s because YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT, so DON’T buy it!

Any way you can cut back each month, do it!

Cindy in Mexico on a fake horse

A trip to Mexico isn’t complete without taking pictures on fake horses while wearing a Sombrero.


There are many services out there offering student discounts; you just need to ask for it. I once had a professor ask at a restaurant if they had a teacher discount. The people there told him no one had ever asked, but they were happy to offer him a discount for his meal. In the eyes of the world you are a “starving student,” so don’t be too shy or embarrassed to milk this. Spotify, Amazon Prime, select clothing stores, theaters, car insurances, and even some restaurants offer student discounts. So, if this is something you absolutely need in your life, then take advantage of these possible discounts. To help you save quickly, put the money you save from these expenses straight into your traveling fund. Every penny you save on this stuff is a penny towards your summer trip!

Cindy in Europe in winter

European winters get cold, so bundle up and take it all in!

This is only a start of what you can do to help save for your next trip. There are plenty of other ways you can cut back, make extra cash, and save money on a regular basis; you just have to be creative (I’m thinking homemade Christmas gifts, splitting bulk items from Costco, refurbish furniture and selling it on Craigslist, etc).  The best thing you can do is to do your research early on so you know exactly what your goal is. Once you have an exact amount in mind, you can start budgeting yourself and save a specific amount each month.

Oh, and try to not think about your student loans. You have a long time before you ever have to pay those bad boys off, so just enjoy life without them as much as you can!

Remember, adventure is out there, but it is up to you to find it. Good luck in school, and travel on nerds!

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Cindy EsquiviasSTG Contributor
From LA to the East Bay, Cindy has been a professional college student for nearly 10 years. During this time, she has traveled extensively within the U.S. and abroad. She never travels without her running shoes, and feels that a nice long run is the best way to get to know a place. Her very Mexican mother tells her she needs to “sit down,” but she is just too young and adventurous to do that just yet. She lives by the words of the brilliant Gloria Anzaldúa: ‘I am turtle, wherever I go I carry “home” on my back.’

Follow Cindy on Instagram or at thuperthindyrocks.blogspot.com.