By Jeffrey Bridgman
Summer is quickly approaching and it’s a convenient time of year to do some traveling if you are a student. On the other hand, students don’t have much money to travel with, so they should avail themselves to every cost saving bit of advice they can find. As you make your plans to hit the road, here are a few ideas adapted from StudentUniverse.com, including some handy tips for cheap travel.
Take a road trip
One of the best ways to keep costs down is to share travel costs with friends. You can drive together and take turns filling the tank with gas. You’d be surprised just how many college students take this alternative route for summer break fun. Grab a group of friends, a reliable ride, a map, and you’re good to go. Best of all with road trips, you can stop and stay with friends or relatives, take detours at the last minute, and pile all your friends into a hostel or a hotel room. Take back roads whenever possible to capture the scenic moments of your trip. Student Universe has a full list of hotels and hostels around the world at competitive prices. Youth hostels are relatively cheap and a good way to get to meet other people from around the globe. Find the good ones at The Hostel Information Database.
Camping is a great idea for the outdoorsy type. It’s a nice alternative for a rustic, down-to-earth time with your friends. Pitch a tent, or for a little more money, rent a log cabin and remember your fishing rods! Many sites have water and an electric hookup. Also, a lot of campsites have planned activities and things for visitors to do. Camping at some state parks can be as low as $7 a night, and primitive camping (without sites or water, even) is often free. However, if you need to charge your iPod, get a campsite with electricity. Bonus: warm showers are often just a short walk away.
Although it is tempting to try to subsist off the dollar menu at McDonald’s to keep food costs low when you vacation, that isn’t healthy (didn’t you ever see Supersize Me?) and the limited selection gets old quick. Try making use of a grocery store instead. With a few dollars you can buy bread, sandwich meat, fresh fruit, and a variety of other good things to eat on-the-go, and cheap, too. Invest in a medium-sized insulated tote that will hold an ice pack, a few drinks and the mayonnaise. After the ice pack thaws, fill up a large cup of ice at self-serve beverage stations at gas stations and dump it in the tote to keep the mayo from going green.
God’s creation is magnificent! Take time to enjoy it. What’s a vacation for, after all? Rather than trying to pack the day with activities that cost $10 a pop, take some time to relax, reflect and spend time with God. It doesn’t hurt to bring along some good company. Spending time around a campfire chatting can be an excellent way to spend the evening. Another way you can save money is finding free things to do. With a little research you might find something really neat off the beaten path and sometimes really good museums are free. Find many of them on Free Attractions.com or try searching “free things to do in____” filling in the blank with the place you’re headed.
Most everyone figures out how much an excursion will cost—even if they are just crude projections. But one thing people often fail to plan well is what to pack, and that can end up costing us money we needed to get home. Making a packing list can prevent forgetting things like socks, towels and sunscreen—things you already have and don’t need to buy again. Take time to research your destination. For spring break, I went to the desert of New Mexico. If I hadn’t done some research, I might have wrongly assumed a desert is a hot place. However, at that time of year, it gets as cool as 30 degrees at night. If I hadn’t properly packed, I could have been out big bucks for new outerwear and even a decent sleeping bag. If you should find yourself in the right place with the wrong gear, head to a local thrift shop before you buy new. A friend of mine went to Colorado last winter and found ski suits at a thrift store for $7.
Visit a big city
It might seem like a rural spot would save more money, but there are a lot more inexpensive things to do than you might think in a city. State websites have lists of local activities and annual events. New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and San Diego are just a few cities with endless sites, both modern and historic, and all have a great nightlife. StudentUniverse.com has a list of all the major cities in the U.S. and around the world with information on what to do, see, eat, shop and party. And all of these major cities offer cheap youth hostel accommodations.
Day Trip It
Finally, if your budget is so tight that even primitive camping is a strain, get to know your locale better. Here are six things to explore in a 100-radius of home: Geocaches; historical markers; natural swimming holes, have a 7-day golf marathon, playing at all the public courses, or day trip to every national, state and local park within a 100-mile radius. Search “find a park in___” (your state) for state parks, and for local parks, open the phone book and take a look at the local map in the center that has all parks mapped.
Money does not have to stand between you and a memorable summer vacation. And just to drive that point home, next month, we’ll look at another great source of summer excitement: volunteering vacations.