College & Travel: The Student's Guide to Financing a Trip Abroad

College & Travel: The Student’s Guide to Financing a Trip Abroad

A girl struck by wanderlust. How do you finance a dream trip abroad?

When you’re in college, travel seems impossible. You’re out on your own, and for the first time ever, you’re footing most, if not all of your bills. How are you supposed to save up to see the world when you’re stuck living on a shoestring budget at school?

The key to going abroad is saving and the key to saving is cutting your expenses. How much you spend is far more important than how much you make. How much you save will be completely based on your propensity to spend.

From the get-go, your expenses are going to fall into two categories: elective and mandatory. Rent, groceries, and tuition all go in the mandatory category. Chipotle, the iPhone 8, and Burnettes all fall into the elective category.

Spending comes down to decision-making, valuing a product or experience now versus a product or experience in the future. It’s a mindset; the reason some people have great issue with cutting expenses down is that they struggle to adopt it.

When you’re a full-time student who patches the few open holes in your schedule with a part-time job, there’s so much going on at once that it becomes extremely difficult to look towards the future and also keep an eye on your day-to-day decisions at the same time. 

It’s exactly when you’re the most busy and stressed that you’re most likely to succumb to unnecessary expenses.

Money doesn’t ‘do’ hit and runs. It’s sneaky and always innocent at first glance. Your money probably won’t go ‘poof’ after one huge, premeditated expense, but rather after a series of tiny, seemingly harmless purchases that leave you scratching your head afterwards in wonder at where it all went. Bad ideas always come in twos. Once your resolve slips once, you’re much more likely to “make a night out of it” and slip some more.  

The perks of college travel: a backpacker stares in wonder in Thailand.

This is what you’re saving for.

There’s little exaggeration in saying that the millennial generation is one of multi-taskers. We have to navigate a present that is complex and fragmented all while maintaining a finger on the pulse of an uncertain but rapidly approaching future. We’re walking, talking cases of galloping neurosis. Luckily for us, there are some tricks we can take advantage of to help flip the odds in our favor.

First, ALWAYS pay your mandatory expenses  as soon as possible.

Second, never have more money accessible than you really need.

This isn’t just referring to cash in your wallet but also to funds on your debit card – make a savings account that isn’t linked to any of your cards and habitually transfer money left over from mandatory expenses. Once that money’s in the savings account, pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.

Third, use the idea of your future abroad as its own currency and keep it present in your mind. Planning a trip to South East Asia? Perfect. The exchange rate for typical everyday, elective expenses is as follows:

$3 coffee from Starbucks = one night’s stay at a hostel in Cambodia.

$7 burrito from Chipotle =  almost six Pad Thai meals in Thailand, enough food for two days.

$25 night out with friends = cost of renting a motorbike (and gas) for five days of riding around Laos.

$100 shoes = price of entry visa and nearly five day’s worth of mandatory expenses in Vietnam $600 iPhone = one month’s stay in almost any country of your choice.

You’ll find that it becomes much more difficult to justify getting coffee everyday when it equates to a month’s accommodation abroad in your head. 

This ‘future abroad currency’ mindset is a lot like bathing: practice daily for best results.
Saving up for your time abroad is possible while in college – and it doesn’t have to be a painful process of self-deprivation. With the right mindset, it can actually lead to a refreshing shift in priorities.  


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