Last week, my partner and I went on a very nice vacation to New York City. As normal as that sounds, it’s something I thought would be impossible only one year ago. After all, my parents weren’t about to pay for a vacation in The Big Apple if they weren’t going. However, there were a few little tricks I discovered which made vacationing on my meager, college tour guide income possible. Follow these five simple tips on traveling cheap and go places you thought you never could afford!
Tip 1: Avoid Hotels!
I initially balked at the idea of vacationing in New York simply because I thought a hotel would be too expensive. As it turns out, I was right. However, we didn’t stay in a hotel and really no college student living on a budget should ever stay in a hotel. Look around for a cheap Airbnb, or try staying at a hostel. After all, you’ll simply be sleeping there. It doesn’t need to be a five star Vegas suite to comfortably rest your eyes for a few nights.
Tip 2: Make sure the place you’re staying at has a kitchen and cook your meals.
I can’t say enough about how much cheaper this one mantra made our trip. Food in big cities is expensive, no matter how cheap you try to make it. If you get a cheap sandwich and a drink, that’s easily a good ten dollars. Multiply that by three meals over five days and you’ve got an uncomfortably high expense of $150 per person. Unfortunately, that estimate is also on the lower end for big cities. By giving up eating out for most meals and buying groceries instead, we spent about $50 on food for a full week. Now that is traveling cheap! If you follow this advice your meals might not be the most glamorous (lunch was a bagel with peanut butter and an apple most days), but hey, you’re here to see the sights. You can get plenty of better, more affordable food back home.
Tip 3: Find out what’s free, and then do it.
Free concert? Add it to the list. Free museum hours? Mark them down also. Free street fair, street performances, or bar trivia without a cover charge? Mark all of them as to-dos. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’ll disappoint. If you play your cards right, you can even weasel your way into some paid activities for free (or at least for cheap). For instance, The Met in New York only has a suggested admission price. Do I feel guilty about only paying ten dollars for two people? A little, but it’s hard to feel anything other than awe when you’re staring a 4,000 year old egyptian mummy in the face, especially when the experience didn’t break the bank.
Tip 4: Budget for your trip, then follow through with it.
Know how much you want to spend and stick to it. Before the trip, try to plan out all anticipated costs in advance. You’ll want to know what’s essential before you start splurging. For instance, if your ticket to see the sights is in the form of a $35 subway pass, you need that more than you need a street kebab. It’s not only essential and worth budgeting for, a subway pass also won’t give you food poisoning. Once you’ve planned out all your important and unavoidable expenses, you can take what’s left over and use it towards feeding your need for instant gratification. Keep in mind unexpected expenses are part of traveling, so be sure to save a little cash to cover unplanned travel needs.
Tip 5: Remember to Have fun
Budgeting is great and all, but your vacation is about having fun. If you get caught up trying to save every dollar possible while traveling cheap, you’re likely going to miss out. It’s important to give yourself some spending money so when an unexpected opportunity arises, you can get out there and have fun. If you can afford to cut loose, then why not splurge a little? After all, life can’t always be about scrimping and saving.
Traveling is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be outside of your reach. While most college students face a tight budget, proper planning and thrifty ideas can make traveling cheap possible. While the thread count of my Airbnb sheets might not have stood up to the expectations of some ritzy New York travelers, we shared the exact same view of the mummies inside the Met.