How I Traveled to 17 Countries During College

I graduated high school with $70 in my bank account and one travel experience.

I graduated college with $200 in my bank account and over a dozen travel experiences.

As you can see, I’m still broke, but at least I’ve had some dope opportunities to frolic around the world! During my four years at a small, liberal arts school in Westchester, NY, I would often get asked, “So, how do you travel so much?” This question was usually followed by a raised eyebrow and an uneasy glance. I’m sure that most of my classmates thought that I was throwin’ it back for some sugar daddy for a payment fee of two Jet Blue flights per transaction. Ugh… I wish it had been that easy.

Although that would’ve been the ideal situation, I had to work, research, and hustle to create the life that I wanted to live. Here are a few tips, for students and recent graduates, who are trying to navigate being an exhausted student and a part-time vagabond or vag-hoe-bond (your choice):

Find Cheap Study Abroad Programs 

Without study abroad, my wanna-be international spice girl self would’ve barely had the opportunity to travel.

I’ll be the first one to say it – the study abroad process is the biggest pain in the booty. Finding a program, applying to this program, funding this program, and the list goes on. On top of that, plenty of these international education companies are jacking students’ money. $20,000 for a semester in France? C’mon… we all know that the cost of living is super modest in France and their public education costs little to nothing. It just doesn’t add up.

My best advice is to cut out third parties and to go study abroad directly with your school. I can write an entire study abroad series, so that’s all I will say for now. *cues crickets*

I focused on finding a centrally-located, direct exchange program at my college. Once I found this program, I brushed up on my language skills and flew across the world. Since my school had a partnership with Montpellier, France, the tuition was dirt cheap. After paying minimal fees, I even had money reimbursed for living expenses (and sangria, of course).

While in France, I was in the center of Europe. If I was longing for a passionate love affair, I’d hop over to Barcelona and let patatas bravas seduce me. Or if I was feeling frosty, I’d hop on over to Sweden for 70 euros. My study abroad experience allowed me to hit up eleven countries without breaking the bank.

Pro Tip: Whether your program is in Europe, Asia, or South America… make sure that you’re in a location that allows you to visit multiple countries. Travel isn’t always about checking countries off of a bucket list, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to maximize your experience!

For students who study at an institution that doesn’t have cheap partnerships, go have a chat with the President and tell them to step their game up! But actually though, we’re livin’ in a globally connected world, so we need to start having more globally connected programs.
After you write a few strongly-worded e-mails and pick up your mornin’ coffee, go check out USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium). They have super affordable programs that can easily be covered by government-funded scholarships. Yep, so barely anything comes out of your pocket! Oh, and don’t forget that student loans can be used to pay for some of your experience. It’s an educational expense, right?

The point is that studying abroad obviously gives you a chance to say “deuces” to your home country, but it might also let you explore other countries while you’re there! 

Reach Out to Your Digital Buddies

One of the most tedious parts of traveling is finding where you’re going to rest your head at night.

Hotels can be too pricey while on a budget. Hostels are great, but sometimes they leave you with 10 snoring choir group members – no shade to hostels, I love them (but I also love personal space when it’s available)!

For this reason, I always see if I have a friend who is living in the place that I am about to visit. Sure, I’m pumped to see my friend, but I am also pumped to not drop extra money on accommodation if I don’t have to!

If you can, reach out to your international friends or join a Facebook group (like our Shut Up and Go group) to make new ones. You just might find your new bestie… the internet works in strange ways!

From my experience, my crew (digital or not) is always glad to host me. If you put some energy into visiting them, not only will you have an official connection, you’ll get to see a new country, and you’ll get a free room for a couple of decades.

Save That Money/Cut Those Spending Habits

Most college students can make the money to travel, but the problem is saving it and not spending it. 

I come from a family where financial responsibility is non-existent like cheap rent in San Francisco (gentrification, whas good?). Between paid internships, a part-time job, and an on-campus job, I was making good money. It just took a bit of extra effort to pocket that extra dough ($$$) at the end of the week instead of spending it. Over time, I learned the basic tips of saving money while in college:

Buying cute vintage clothes at hand-me-down shops (you look chic for cheap) vs. buying designer clothes
Having a girls’ night-in vs. going clubbing
Buying a bottle of Prosecco to pregame vs. buying drinks out
Using meal swipes vs. ordering takeout

The list goes on, but you get my point. Simple gestures like this can easily throw an extra $50- $100 in your pocket each week. That’s between $200 – $400 a month (if we don’t take into account that I spend over $30 a week on coffee… but let’s not get into that). Money in college is all about priorities. Some people truly value stuntin’ in their fresh Jordans, and I much more value leaving an outline of my buttcheeks in the Cuban sand while drinkin’ a way too strong mojito. Both experiences cost the same but to each their own.

Use Those Breaks

College is probably one of the only times when you’ll have 4 months out of the year to do whatever the heck you want. Once you enter (or if you choose to enter) the “real world,” you’ll be lucky to get 18 days off out of the year. In no way is it impossible to travel while working a full-time job, but let’s be honest, there’s more freedom to do so while in school.

The average university student is blessed with a whopping 2 months off during the summer, a few extra weekends during the fall, a whole month in the winter, AND a spring break. Go ahead and get your travel on, boo!

It’s important to strategically use your breaks. Who wants to plan a dense trip during a short weekend or a tiny trip during a long summer? Timing is key. During college, my goal was to maximize my time. During fall breaks, close travel was a must. I’d quickly hit up Montréal, and say “Salut, ouais” to some québecois babes.

For the winter break, I’d always plan a close-yet-far trip – Cuba, I see you. And my summers were always jam-packed with the most lengthy endeavors – a month in Anguilla or two weeks in Costa Rica. Oh, and spring break is a given. 

Once you realize the potential of a break, you sort of just find a way to make it work!

There are never any right answers when it comes to school, traveling, and just doin’ you. Each person has a unique experience in college, and we all have different priorities. I love a good history textbook, but I’m more of a life experience person. So, I’d quickly take a long-weekend and miss my Latin American Social Revolutions course to actually be in Mexico. There are certain things that a class can’t teach you.
Do your best to balance your in-house education with your real life education, because the world ain’t gonna wait for you, hunny!

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