How to budget when traveling as a college student

by Skye Donaldson
Print Content Editor

You stand in the middle of the town square. You are hungry and several vendors are situated around the square: a braut stand, a fry shop, an apothecary, a bakery, a pub, and a sit-down sandwich shop.

As far as choices for dinner, these are some great options, but, they are not great choices for your wallet--especially if you are traveling on a budget.

When you see locals forking over coins and bills, you remember that the money you have in your pocket is for the tour you’re taking later in the day. You don’t have enough money for both. So, it comes down to a game of choices, which do you want more? What will be more worthwhile?

The choice, whatever it is, could have been “both” if you had followed a few simple steps.


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Researching an area might seem like common sense, but many young travelers don’t take this step, which can really lead to trouble. Stephanie Morris, a senior urban ministry major who traveled to the United Kingdom last year, says she knows all too well the task of budgeting.

“The big thing is knowing what your expenses will be. That was something I totally had not planned for,” Morris said.

Most newbies will be so caught up in everything that is new and breathtaking, they will forget to plan. “It was super hard because you wanted to be able to spend money on everything,” Morris said.

She recommends research to help when deciding on purchases. Ask yourself, “Where am I going?” “What do I want to see?” “What do I want out of my experience?” These are all important questions to ask yourself before you depart for your destination.

Creating a Budget

This is possibly the most important step of traveling successfully on a college student budget. If money is tight, you have to consider how much you can spend and how much you want to spend.

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Senior ministry major John Hogan said his time on the 2016 GEO Vienna trip included a few mistakes and mishaps before he finally figured out his budget.

“I would call my ‘budget’ much more of a target range of cost than anything. Once you make mistakes a few times eventually you begin to estimate what you'll need and how much money you'll have for other things,” he said.

Hogan said food was a large part of his budget. “I learned how to eat cheaply for most of the week. I was disciplined in my spending, and food was about the only aspect of the trip I was willing to spend more on. I loved European food, so that was where I used excess cash on when I was on trips in London or Prague,” Hogan said.

Seek out tips

Another easy way to save money is finding out tips and tricks specific to your location. RC alum Hannah Brackney said she looked for free activities when she traveled. “There is always a lot to do for free,” she said, “Looking for free museums and city activities can really be worth it.”

For travelers who have money saved up, Vivian Turner, assistant professor of science and mathematics and an RC faculty sponsor of several study abroad trips, said the trick was to find a credit or debit card that didn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.

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“Having the ‘no foreign transaction fees’ really saved some money because without that, we would have had to pay a certain percentage of every charge or withdrawal we made while in Europe,” Turner said. 

She also stressed how valuable it is to get outside opinions. “Talk to people that have [traveled] before. Ask them about their favorite places, advice about traveling, and maybe even places not to go. Read about the places you are going. Just a brief study of that country's or city's history really made a difference for us in appreciating what we were seeing.”


After researching and creating a budget, enjoy your research and planning. Stick to your planning, but Hogan recommends that you also try something you hadn’t intended to do. “if you have extra money, spend it,” he said. “I would’ve loved to have gone to an opera or a sporting event, but the expense didn't seem worth it at the time.” You have budgeted the money you want to spend on your trip, spend that money! It will afford you experiences you can’t find in any other place.