Summer is the time to kick back and relax. It’s the time to go on vacation, the time to meet a summer fling, and the time to soak up the sun. There’s probably only one thing better than the season itself—and that’s spending summer abroad. Unfortunately, the costs of studying abroad over the summer can add up fast. HC’s tips will help you make the most of your money and have the best summer of your life… without spending your entire bank account.
1. Check for discounts at monuments and museums
Research monuments and museums to determine what you want to see most and which offer discounts to determine which are worth paying for. Some famous sites you just have to see no matter the cost, but for other monuments, it may be better to just take some selfies outside and avoid the high costs of actually going inside.
In any event, always, always, always flash your student ID and ask if there is a student discount, because many museums and monuments offer student discounts even when they don’t advertise them. Your student ID will get you discount entry to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and the Tower of London, to name a few.
For attractions that don’t offer student discounts, there are also some that offer cheaper prices if you brave the stairs instead of taking the elevator—try this when visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Duomo in Milan (you’ll save about 5 euros for each). Just be sure to take it slow and bring a water bottle so you don’t get dehydrated while climbing in the blazing summer heat.
Other attractions offer discounts to the public on certain days or at certain times. For example, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums offer free entrance on the last Sunday of every month before 12:30 p.m., and The Louvre offers free entry on the first Sunday of every month. If you visit the Palace of Versailles after 4 p.m., you’ll pay 6 euros instead of 15.
2. Walk it out
Walking is free (plus, it saves you a trip to the gym!) and there’s no better time than the summer to be outside. Since you’re in a new country, figuring out how to walk places early on will give you a better feel of where you are living. “Whenever [it was] easy and quick, I preferred to walk from place to place, not just to save money but to see more of the cities,” says Julie Schecter, a collegiette from Boston University who studied abroad in Madrid. “Walking from place to place was also great way to see things you normally would not while on public transportation.”
Walking saves you from spending money on transportation passes, which could save you hundreds of pounds a month on a student rail pass in London (depending on the zones you’re traveling in) or 35 euros a month on a transit pass in Madrid.
3. Cook your own meals
It’s no secret that shopping at grocery stores and cooking your own meals is cheaper than eating at restaurants every time, and it still holds true while you are abroad. In the summer it should be fairly easy to get fresh produce from markets or local vendors to cook with. Since you’re in a new country, consider incorporating your country’s traditional foods into your diet and trying to cook the local cuisine.
Jill Hogan, a recent grad of Boston University who studied abroad in London, says how she approached buying food abroad was slightly different than buying food in the US. Because she lived in a homestay that provided her with meals, Julie cooked only when traveling. “I would also make sandwiches for lunch with my purchases from the grocery stores,” she says. “It was easy to make the sandwiches in the morning and then take a quick break in the day to eat.” You can save money when traveling simply by not eating out for breakfast and lunch—and besides, nothing says summer more than a picnic lunch, especially if you are at a beach or a famous park!
Making your own meals and splurging for a few great dinners can be the perfect balance. Michelle Ortega, a student from Boston University who studied abroad in London, watched her budget on most meals, but splurged on occasion. “On each trip… I did go to one nicer and more expensive restaurant to have that experience as well,” she says. “I planned on that expense when planning for each trip.” Using sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp can help you find cheap yet delicious spots to eat.
4. Don’t drink away your bank account
It’s all fun and games until you’ve spent 50 euros on sangria in Barcelona. When you’re abroad, the casual drinks—a mojito on the beach, a sophisticated glass of French wine for dinner, and a Guinness at a pub—can cause major damage to your bank account when repeated multiple times a week throughout the summer. To cut down on costs, avoid buying a few drinks throughout the day just because. “Some nights a pint will do it, and at any rate, you don't want to be hungover all weekend when there is so much to explore and so little time,” advises Jill. She suggests that the best way to save money is by looking for local places that offer deals. “Stay away from the tourist hubs, like Picadilly Circus [in London], as much as possible. We found better deals and cooler people in local areas,” she says. “Some places have college nights with deals; some clubs have promotions.”
Often, going out on off nights like Mondays and Tuesdays can score you the cheapest deals. Off nights may be busier in the summer than during the regular school year because more people are traveling, relaxing, and simply trying to have a good time, so you and your friends won’t be the only ones in the bar having a great time! In Madrid, on many Wednesdays Gabana and Orange Café offer free admission and drinks early in the night, yet can cost well over 10 euros on other nights. Similarly, Madrid’s seven-floor mega club Kapital can regularly charge a 15-euro cover, so it’s best to go on Thursdays before 1:30 a.m. and find a promoter (they swarm the streets around Kapital and are likely find you before you find them) who will give you a coupon to get in for free. You can often find these promotions on club websites, Facebook events or simply by asking around. “Learning where to go when for the best deals is sort of trial and error. Get recommendations from your local friends or people you meet out and about,” says Jill.
5. Book travel tickets in advance
It’s important to plan trips in advance because prices tend to spike the closer it gets to the departure date. Michelle planned ahead and booked her trips around ticket prices, which allowed her to pick the cheapest deals. “I was able to find cheap train tickets and flights on major airlines so long as I was flexible with when I wanted to visit cities,” says Michelle. When planning a trip, it’s important to research prices for every mode of transportation in order to find the best deals. You may be surprised to find cheaper flights than buses! Here are a few tips for getting the most bang for your buck out of each travel option:
Airplanes: If you’re traveling in Europe, chances are you’ll get to know the infamous Ryanair, a budget airline that often offers roundtrip flights for as low as 10 euros. But don’t forget to compare Ryanair’s prices with easyJet, another budget airline. “I used easyJet and Ryanair,” says Jill. “The flights are noisy and crowded, but they're relatively short. Expect some delays and show up early because some of them are first-come, first-served with seating.” Just be careful to triple check that your carry-on baggage is compatible with their strict size restrictions by checking the guidelines online, or else you’ll be slammed with extra fees at the gate (40 euros for easyJet and a whopping 60 euros for Ryanair).
Additionally, budget airlines usually fly into airports that are located outside city centers, which might actually make it more expensive to fly into them once you add in the cost of transportation from the airport to the city you are going to and then back again (beware of London Stansted Airport and the Paris Beauvais-Tillé Airport!). This is why it’s important not to overlook standard airlines—they can occasionally offer deals that can be just as cheap as flights on budget airlines. To easily compare prices of multiple airlines, use sites like eDreams, KAYAK and Skyscanner.
Trains: High-speed trains can be just as expensive as airplanes, so look into buying a country, or even multi-country, train pass. These are better deals than buying multiple tickets individually, but aren’t worth it if you are not doing a lot of traveling, so make sure you predetermine how much traveling you plan to do in order to get what best fits your needs. The types of pass and prices offered vary greatly from country to country, so it’s a good start to search train options online; click for passes in France, Italy and Spain.
Buses: If you’re just traveling for a weekend, spending eight hours on a cheap bus ride may seem like a waste of the little time you have. However, the grueling journey won’t seem so bad if you find an overnight bus because you can sleep the entire trip, and you’ll save even more because you won’t have to spend money on a place to sleep that night. Two great budget bus lines are Eurolines and Busabout. Eurolines’s best deal is a 30-day pass for 385 euros in July-August that offers unlimited rides between 51 cities. Busabout has similar multi-route deals but is slightly less flexible because it requires you to travel along predetermined loops.
6. Choose cheaper lodging
Hostels can be a budget lifesaver because they provide travelers with cheap lodging accommodations. Somewhat of a cross between a hotel and a dorm, hostels provide the bare necessities you’ll need for a night at a backpacker’s price. You can use sites like Hostelworld and HostelBookers to find the cheapest lodging options for your destination. Look for a multiple occupancy room (a single room that strangers share that has multiple beds) because they tend to be the cheapest, and be sure to research what each hostel offers in advance. Some hostels include free breakfast or free dinner with the price of your room, which can help you cut back on food costs as well.
When perusing Hostelworld and HostelBookers, check out the hotels listed as well. Sometimes hotels are actually cheaper than hostels because hostels are priced per person, while hotels are priced per room. If you are traveling with four friends, it may seem like 25 euros per person per night is a great deal for a hostel, but there are usually lower-end hotels you can find for less than 100 euros per night that could offer nicer amenities than a hostel.
You can also try Couchsurfing. With Couchsurfing, you can stay with hosts in any country in the world for free. Just be sure to make sure the person has good ratings and never couchsurf alone.
7. Make a list of priority purchases
In the end, make a budget and decide what you want to spend your money on. Do you want to spend your money on souvenirs, cute foreign clothes, eating out, going out, or traveling? You can’t buy it all (although you may try), so you should decide ahead of time what expenses matter most to you in order to determine where to cut back in your spending.
“I was scared about spending money in the beginning, especially with the conversion rate being so terrible right now,” Jill says. “I allocated money to the things that were most important.” It may be difficult, but avoid little costs like buying an iced coffee or gelato every day. Besides, cutting the calories will help you look just that much cuter in your new bathing suit on a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to the Canary Islands!
With a little planning and a lot of sunscreen, you can easily have a great summer abroad even on a tight budget. Bon voyage, collegiettes!