Young, Broke, and Abroad
By Renee Cottrell
As young people, we have all been told by reminiscing relatives at family gatherings to “see the world” and to “not get tied down” while living out our late teens through early twenties so as not to waste our wild years. As consumers, social media shows us an endless stream of travel bloggers and influencers, all making it seem easy enough to pick up and go. As students and early graduates though, our bank accounts show us we can maybe afford Cancun in three months if we save hard enough—oh and we would have to bike there, by the way. All of this can leave us screaming into the void: Is traveling in college utterly impossible? Must we confine ourselves to four years of dorm rooms and cold fries in the dining hall? Move back in with *shudder* our parents to afford it? NO! Just because the world is big, doesn’t mean all of it is expensive to see.
As an eighteen-year-old freshman by day, and waitress by night; one who was paying for rent, tuition, and everything that comes in the “Welcome to Adulthood” package, I actually had a pretty good life. I spent three before traveling with my Canadian family in our blue Dodge Grand caravan (yes, we are as crazy as we sound) across the U.S before deciding to settle in Texas for my college career. Between then and now, I have picked up some very important travel hacks that have both satisfied my wanderlust AND my humble savings account.
1. Get a Job
I’ll start with the one that nobody wants to hear. Get a job. A hustle. An income. Anything (within the confinements of the law) that allows you to semi-easily stack up some numbers in your bank account. If you’re still living at home, even better; as by working and living under a roof that is so blessedly paid for you will save up a shocking amount of money provided you don’t splurge too much. So many kids balk at the prospect of working and attending college, when really it’s all about balance. Sure—if you’re in Kappa Kappa, taking 25 hours, and pulling all-nighters just to get by, a job may seem out of the question. You’re also probably tired, semi-broke, and sick of school. I started by taking AP classes in high school to get my credits rolling, then went into university with a moderate 9-12 hour course load, and working just below full time at 30 hours a week. I didn’t kill myself off the bat just to finish a degree, instead opting for summer courses to continue steadily picking away. But I made close friends at my job, found balance, felt purposeful, and most of all MADE MONEY.
2. Start Small
One of the things many people get wrong about travel is that it needs to be some grand gesture, a flight across the world or a five star experience. In fact, some of my most rewarding travel I have done has been close to home, staycation-type vibes that don’t break the bank. Living in America, although politically terrifying, there is a diverse range of landscapes and diversity right across the next state line. We are surrounded by so many terrains that we often forget about. Feeling like a trip to the desert? Arizona has stunning sunsets. Mountains? Montana’s got you. The beach? Florida’s all about it. Craving potatoes? Drive to Idaho! At this stage in our lives, most of us don’t have many people who are able to respond to your “Come to Bali this week w/ me girl!” texts, but I personally don’t know a college student who isn’t down for a weekend road trip to the nearest lake or coast. By starting small you can still get out and make some seriously awesome memories, not to mention snap some sneaky good pictures for your feed that will leave people wondering if you spent spring break in Sarasota or Spain.
3. Buddy Up
The people you meet at this stage in your life are critical. Negative ones will drag you down, and the positive ones will make your life oh so much sweeter and give a seriously great toast at your future wedding about the wild times you had together. A good friend group can also be key to reducing the cost of travel, while amping up the experience factor. Splitting Airbnbs, food, and gas can go a long way. Carpooling is also a wallet saver. For my first car, I purposefully went in on a big, old, and very lime green Ford SUV because I knew that I wanted to be able to take as many people with me on my adventures as possible (plus the salesman gave me a student discount). It quickly became the “squadmobile” and many a night was spent driving around with the sunroof down, screaming our favorite songs into the warm Texas nights. Not to mention, the back seats folded down into a seriously awesome drive-in movie bed. These memories I created with my friends stood out more than any of the more exotic vacations I had been on by myself, because it didn’t matter where we were, but who we were with.
4. Camp it out
Let’s face it, hotels are overrated. The built in continental breakfasts, the super soft pillows, the fact that someone cleans up after you whenever you leave...yeah, okay, maybe not so overrated. But for sure over budget. Lodging during travel is always the biggest expense, one that can’t easily be split unless all six of you are into sharing two double beds and one bathroom (dorm life, amiright?). A solution I found to this is one that has stood the test of time; grab a tent, put it up, sleep in it. Now before you start thinking about snakes, bugs, and outhouses, may I remind you that modern camping these days can actually be fairly amicable. Just choose a site where the facilities are up to date, and close to amenities. After all, rates for camping can run as low as $10 a night, and who doesn’t love a good campfire? My favorite so far has been on the beach, falling asleep to the lapping of waves and cooking eggs over the fire in the morning. If you have a group, cabins are also a slightly more pricey option, but still considerably less than a hotel, with considerably more rustic charm.
5. Choose Experience
It’s easy to be sucked into the college routine of grinding away at work and school, only to make it to Friday and crawl to the club/bar to suck life back into your soul through the straw of a vodka tonic. A lot of people don’t realize how much outings like this set you back on a weekly basis, and unless you’re somehow getting all your drinks for free (you lucky, probably very attractive, duck) you can find yourself out $60-$100 on cover charges and drinks alone. Putting aside savings for travel is crucial, and I’m not saying don’t treat yourself because let’s face it, some fun, social self care is a necessity to avoid crying off your face mask alone every night. However, choosing the experience of going somewhere new over buying something new will always pay off. I prefer to “gift experiences” too, like a day at a state park or a food tour of the city instead of adding to my friends dusty collection of unused movie gift cards. A cheap and unique way to save, choosing experience opens up connections, creates great opportunities, and brings you closer to the world as well as those with you.
6. Accept Invitations
Let’s face it, at one point we all had to pay for a prerequisite business class to sit and learn about the finer points of networking, and did a fair amount of Netflixing instead. Yet, we subconsciously network all the time IRL, whether it is meeting new people or finding a new opportunity on social media. Through my own personal experience, I’ve got to meet a whole bunch of amazingly diverse people, consequently leading to friendships all over the world. From Toronto, to Istanbul, to sunny San Juan, I found that people will always open their hearts, and their homes to a friend. These friends will also constantly invite you to stay with them, or visit them in their native cities. In one case, I got a whole trip to Disney World paid for by close family friends in exchange for looking after their son, and in another, a free stay at a highrise apartment in Barcelona to “house sit.” By making these connections and accepting invitations, you can go farther, and at less cost, than most think. Not to mention connecting with new lifelong friends along the way.
So yeah, Aunt Becky was right when she told you to get out there, even if she asked you why you were “still single” right after. Your youth is your power, your life is your gift, and the people you share it with are your support system. So be wise, spend wise, and who knows? Catch you in Bali girlfriend, happy trails!
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