Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is not, in any way, to boast about or show off my travel experiences over the past couple of years. I know that traveling is not feasible for everyone for various reasons, but I want to share how it can be possible even on a budget.
Is it just me or does it seem like in the last year or so, traveling has become sort of a trend? With all the different discount websites/apps and opportunities through college and internships, it makes sense. But why? Why, all of a sudden, is everyone rushing to travel the world? Well, for me, taking that plunge to travel to a different country was life-changing. I know, it’s cliché to say your study abroad experience was ‘the experience of your life,’ but it truly was for me. If you have been following my blog since the beginning, you already know this.
Before I studied abroad, some of my friends claimed that, besides the financial component, they did not have the desire to travel, that they feared missing out on a semester on campus. At that point in my college career, which was midway through junior year, I definitely understood; classes were not beating me down, I made some amazing (and life-long) friends, and I finally had someone to drive me around and explore L.A. (thanks, Cynthia!). But I had been dreaming of studying abroad since I went on a spring break art trip to France and Spain in 2009 and my senior trip to Italy in 2012. By 2015, I felt it was my last chance to see what was out there without any obligations in life.
I know some people have been bitten by this travel bug recently, especially with apps like Instagram where people can consistently show off their amazing travel shots. But some people, even with the financial means, see it as something that will be a luxury to them later in life after they have worked a few years. Here is my suggestion to all of you: if you can, TRAVEL NOW. I say ‘now’ because if it is something that has crossed your mind that you have consciously decided to put off for a few years, your experience will be totally different than what you are imagining at this stage in your life.
Like my friends, my family had to suffer through my endless talks about London and other countries I visited. My parents are completely content at this stage in life in not having seen the world, but even my brother never thought much about traveling since having his senior trip in 2010 to Costa Rica. He explored the idea of studying abroad in Japan during college, but ultimately didn’t. Like most people, it was mainly a financial thing, but after I persuaded [re: forced] him to go to London with me last summer before I started my internship abroad, he said it was the best trip of his life. Still, this trip would not have been as great as it was had we not planned as much as we could.
Here are five ways you can make traveling an option sooner than you think:
First, we started doing research a year beforehand, mainly because when you travel abroad, you want to purchase your tickets as early in advance as possible. Depending on where you are traveling though, you can start as late as four to six months with planning. We compared costs of different travel sites and even built different routes for cheaper airfare. For example, instead of flying direct from Dallas, we saved a couple of hundred dollars by flying one airline to Newark, NJ and flying another airline to London using Expedia. However, to save the most amount of money, you have to get in the mindset that you are sacrificing convenience. For a couple of hundred dollars, I didn’t mind wasting 10 hours of my life in the Newark airport.
Secondly, for your first trip to somewhere you have never been, it is good to find out if you know someone who has been there before. Obviously, my brother had me as a guide around London, but still made some first-timer mistakes like converting his pounds to Euros at the tube station, and tossing his Oyster card when it ran out because he didn’t know he could ‘top up,’ or reload it. Whether you are traveling with someone who knows the city or you can meet up with someone who is living or traveling there, you will ultimately save a lot of time and cash letting them help you navigate.
Thirdly, decide what is important to you to splurge on. To enjoy bigger and more expensive attractions for our potential last time to travel for years, we chose to stay farther out at a cheaper Airbnb. Knowing our city had reliable public transportation, we chose to purchase an Oyster card (public transport card) that we could load money onto and walked or took the bus at a cheaper rate when we were not pressed for time. We also bought a couple of our meals from the local convenience stores and sometimes went for the fast food as opposed to going out to a sit-down restaurant for every meal. Again, saving money means sacrificing convenience, but it helped us out in the long run when something unforeseen happened and we absolutely had to rely on using Uber for Cameron’s last couple of days.
Fourth: always have a checklist. So you have figured out ways to get there, what others have advised, and what your top attractions are, but now you need to know what is absolutely VIP before making any purchases. My stay in London was for two months so I didn’t necessarily have to go light on packing, but an extra $50 saved from checking an additional bag and 25+ pounds lighter can go a long way, especially depending on where you are traveling. On that same note, figure out the best modes of transportation in the city you are going to. If you do not like to walk, have a cash stash exclusively for a car/bus/train or just don’t go to that city. You also need to contact your cell service provider to know your options. I recently switched to T-Mobile before my trip and I knew they had perks abroad, but I learned so much more going in-store and actually talking to someone. This is especially important if you have to be contact with people and Wi-Fi is a form of life support to you. Also, as mentioned before with converting money, get to know exchange rates and who offers the best deal for converting currencies. This is a harder one, but at least you can save something as opposed to going in blind.
Fifth and finally, travel with someone who is going to make your trip twice as memorable. My experiences have shown me exactly the type of people I hate and love traveling with. Though my brother and I are not very similar, he is still my brother so I can get annoyed with him and disagree with him without it ruining our trip. You don’t want to travel with someone who has one foot in and one foot out, even if they are your best friend of all time or your significant other. You will ultimately spend most of your trip checking to see if they are enjoying themselves as much as you are and missing out on some experiences because you want to keep the peace. Traveling with people you have never traveled with before is definitely trial and error, but if someone is at least on your level of enthusiasm and shares an overall interest in the city you are in, you will iron out the kinks much quicker and actually enjoy your trip.
Traveling doesn’t always have to be costly or difficult, but it is always worth it. Whether it be three days or two weeks, getting to see another part of the world, even if it is just one state over, can teach you so much and you will have some awesome photos to go with it. I hope that this post gives you more comfort and more of an insight to take the plunge if you have been thinking about it. Your experiences are what you make them and there are so many experiences to be had. 🙂