Category Archives: Budget

How to Travel Europe on a Graduate Student Budget

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$1500 flights, $150 hotel rooms, $50 day trips…cha ching! At a first glance, traveling throughout Europe seems impossible for someone on a graduate student budget. Historically, travel has been perceived as luxurious, reserved for the upper class. I’m here to tell you that your first glance and historical perceptions are now false. It is absolutely possible, now more than ever, to travel throughout Europe with limited funds!

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Source: brokeinlondon.com

Here are some tips for you as you plan your journey in a financially saavy fashion:

  • Consider your flight destination! While you may plan to travel in France, for example, it may be cheaper to fly into another country, such as Belgium, and then take a train to France. Use a map and think of creative ways to travel to your desired destination. Certain airlines also offer better deals, such as RyanAir for intra-Europe travel.
  • Seek alternative lodging arrangements. Hotels are no longer your only option. I’m a big fan of AirBnB, which offers cheap lodging and also an opportunity to learn about the local culture by meeting a local host. My friends have also tried CouchSurfers, which is popular in Europe.
  • Brush up your cooking skills and buy groceries! Restaurants are often the most expensive part of travel. You can be financially smart by buying groceries, making food at home, and packing snacks with you so you aren’t persuaded by the costly tourist concession stands as you wait in long lines for tourist attractions.
  • Research free tour options in your destination. I am a huge fan of free walking tours, such as Sandemann’s, which give you a great overview of cities throughout Europe and tell you interesting facts that you wouldn’t otherwise know by just walking through the city.
  • Avoid taxis – taxis love tourists and the possibility to upcharge you. Instead, use Uber, public transportation, or better yet, walk! By walking, you can people watch, become more aware of your surroundings, and enjoy some fresh air while you are traveling. Another popular ride sharing option in Europe is bla bla car, which I have yet to try, but have heard great things about its convenience and cheap prices!
  • Bring a first-aid kit with common cold medications and other toiletries you often use at home. Medicine, first-aid supplies, and toilettries in some European countries can be more expensive than other countries throughout the world. You will also save time by not having to go to the pharmacy while you are abroad!
  • Don’t buy souvenirs from tourist shops – prices are often increased for the guilty “gotta-have-it-before-I-leave-Rome” buyers. Instead, check out the stores on side streets or find out where the locals go. You are guaranteed to find better deals and something that more genuinely reflects your destination. On top of that, how many “I ❤ …” keychains and t-shirts do you really need?
  • Take advantage of WiFi. Be sure to turn data roaming off your smartphone, and use WiFi to contact local friends and family at home. My favorite Internet-based calling and texting applications are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
  • Check tourist attractions for student discounts or age-related discounts. I have been reaping the benefit of mostly free museums because I am under age 26 (many European museums are free for those between age 18-25) and am a student! There are also special discounts if you have an EU visa, are a teacher, or work in public service. Tourist attraction websites usually outline these special discounts!

Other travelers on a budget, what advice do you have? I want everyone to have the opportunity to travel Europe and throughout the world. For those of you approaching age 26, be sure to travel to Europe before it is too late to experience great deals while enjoying the most beautiful continent (maybe I’m a little biased) in the world!

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What can you buy for only €1.40 in Paris?

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It’s a Friday afternoon in Paris and you find yourself with €1.40 left in your wallet. What can you buy with only €1.40 (equivalent to around $1.80) in Paris? Nothing, right? Well, most would think that, but I was determined to continue to explore Paris after class today without having to go back to my apartment for more euros.

How did I end up with only €1.40? Totally out of character for me since I always have at least the value of $20 wherever I go, along with a credit card. We all face traveler’s dilemmas, and today was my day of malchance. I  was low on cash given my past couple days of cash-only expenses (side note to prospective European travelers: despite the modern world of credit cards, always have cash on you!). I went to lunch at EIX between classes and noticed that my credit card was declined. My first thought was that this was a security warning which often happens when traveling. I knew that I was well below my credit limit. I tried to call my bank but realized my new SIM card only calls French phone numbers (and my bank is in the United States). My friend recommended that I call the bank through Google Hangout. After Internet struggles, I finally got a hold of the bank through Google Hangout and they told me that there were no security holds on my account. I explained my situation and while the bank gave me a hard time, they finally realized that my card was dysfunctional, so they would need to send me a new card. Without a functioning credit card and only coins in my wallet, I felt doomed for afternoon exploration. But I really wanted to visit Sacre Coeur since it was only a 1-mile walk from where my school is located in L’Opera district.

My adventurous side prevailed and I began the journey to Sacre Coeur. I walked through cobble stone streets that slowly started to elevate as I reached Montmarte. In the distance was the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica, which was breathtaking at this time of day (the sun was shining perfectly on it). I walked passed cafes and boutiques, busy with those arriving to Paris for the weekend. I walked up several flights of stone stairs, every so often turning around to see all of Paris around me. With each step came a higher and more beautiful view of the city.

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I was slightly frightened by very aggressive vendors who were trying to put string bracelets on me or have me sign petitions. I had to say “no” very forcefully in order for them to go away (side note to prospective European travelers: never stop to sign petitions! They are a sneaky way for people to pickpocket you or force you to pay them for the “cause” they are pretending to represent). Once I made it all the way to the top, though, I was separated from the vendors. I paused for a moment to enjoy the spectacular views and reflect. I felt so lucky to be standing there in that moment!

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I decided to walk into the Sacre Coeur Basilica. As with the Notre Dame Cathedral, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. I looked at the beautifully painted ceiling with religious figures, specks of gold, and pews with hundreds of people praying. I sat for a moment to pray for my loved ones. I walked around, viewing statues and luminaries. I stopped by the St. Pierre statue and touched his foot, a common Catholic custom. Sadly, I was not allowed to take photos inside, but I encourage you to visit regardless of your religious interests. It was one of the most fascinating cathedrals I have seen, and I enjoyed seeing it even more the second my time (I first visited it with my mom in 2011).

Departing the cathedral, I decided to wander around the artsy corners of Montmarte. Every store was either an art gallery or a cafe. Artists lined the streets, drawing pictures of the scenery and portraits of tourists (little did I know this would be significant to me a half hour later). Mon petit-ami called me via WhatsApp and we had a great conversation discussing my day in Paris, how beautiful it is in Montmarte, and his exciting new internship with the Attorney General in South Carolina. Sadly, our conversation was short-lived because my phone died. More malchance. At this point, I was without a phone or a credit card, and had only €1.40.

I must have looked helpless when an artist, Sylvie Alan approached me and said he would like to draw a picture of me. I told him “no, merci” politely “parce que ne j’ai pas argent.” He refused to let me walk away and started drawing my portrait. He said “if you don’t like it, don’t worry, I’ll take it back.” He was a fantastic artist and made me look way better than I think I actually look. He described how he lives in Montmarte and enjoys sketching pictures of the backs of women and portraits of tourists. I explained my crazy story of malchance to him and how I was studying in Paris for 3 months. A few minutes later, he finished the sketch and said in French, “normally I sell this for 45 euros, but you can pay whatever you’d like.” Little did he know that I was being honest that I had no money except for the coins in my wallet. He said “don’t worry about it, come back and buy me a glass of rose wine.” I knew that I would go back to Montmarte to pay him and visit again, as it quickly became my favorite destination in Paris.

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With all that I did not have (no phone, cash or credit card), at least I had a new portrait of myself. I luckily found a cafe that would let me charge my phone. I explained my story in broken French, and didn’t even have enough money to buy coffee. I will have to go back with un cadeau for the cafe owner’s generous help.

I walked around on my way back from Montmarte desperately looking for something to drink that cost less than 2 euros. I found it funny that almost nothing to eat was that cheap, but I could buy a painting or post card for 1 euro!

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I finally stumbled upon a tourist cafe that sold espresso for exactly €1.40! Finally some bonne chance, and clearly a sign to help me get home with enough energy. A half-hour on the metro later, I am happy to say that I made it home. Now for a relaxing evening, dinner with my host family at 9pm, and a fabulous weekend ahead exploring the Parisian museums. Starting tomorrow, I will always have more than €1.40 in my wallet.

From Explorer to Settler

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InspirNational readers: We all love to explore and travel, but how do we decide where to settle? Thank you to Hunter Reams for writing this guest post with some great insights about choosing where to settle.


There are countless blogs and advice columns on traveling and exploring the world. While we all love being an explorer, at the end of the day, or at the end of a great vacation, we need a place to call home. Deciding where you want to settle down can be one of the most difficult decisions. From affordability to an awesome job market, many variables impact your decision on that place that you can call home. I have narrowed down my top criteria in making the all-important decision of where to plant your roots.

Job Opportunities
Job opportunities vary from state to state and region to region, and this is a very important variable as it is the foundation upon which you will prosper. I believe that the best place to start your “quest to settle” is to analyze the job market. If you work in investment banking, New York City will be much more likely to have opportunities than Gary, Indiana. Or if you are interested in supply chain management for oil, Texas and North Dakota may have the best opportunities. Network with friends, network online, network some more, and search for the employment opportunities that will make you happy. Once you have located either specific jobs or areas that have a demand for your expertise, narrow your search area to those places. This way, you will be much more likely to be financially stable, and derive the most enjoyment out of your new location!

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Family and Friends
If family and friends play a major role in your life, you may not want to locate far away from them. While social media and communications technology have made it much easier to stay connected over long distances, it is nonetheless very difficult to live far from your closest circle. Personally, this is a particularly difficult criterion as my parents relocated to a remote Appalachian city, while my friends and extended family are in Michigan/Ohio…When analyzing this variable; keep in mind the age/health of your family and friends, as well as the possibilities of them relocating. If you are looking to settle away from friends and family, consider living in areas that are near airports or other forms of public transportation to help you stay connected.

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Climate and Geography
If you love the beach, should you focus on living beachside? If you want to ski every day, should you narrow your search to mountainous regions? Do you want to live right by the Detroit Tigers’ stadium so you can get season tickets to the games? Both the climate and geographic region play a huge role in determining your hobbies, behaviors, and activities. A good way to analyze this variable is to write down all of the hobbies and activities that make you happy, and determine if each geographic location can cater to them. If you absolutely cannot go a week without playing golf, then living in Maine would not be a great idea. If you love the snow and four seasons, then maybe Florida is not the right place for you. This variable should not be overlooked because you can find employment, affordable housing, good education systems, and culture all throughout the country. But certain geographic locations have characteristics that others do not possess. (i.e oceans, warm weather, sports teams). Choose wisely when determining what geographic locations can best satisfy your needs.

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Population and Culture
I grouped population and culture together because I have traveled to many large American cities and have yet to find one that does not offer plenty of culture. On the other hand, the majority of small cities do not possess as many offerings of cultural stimulation. If you crave the variety of cultural foods, music, atmosphere, ambience, etc. then living in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami would be a great fit. Those cities are full of vibrant offerings that will keep any cultural sommelier happy. If cultural diversity is not as important to you, then a small town or suburb will likely be a good match.

Population is also an important factor because life in a small town is much different than living in a suburb, which is much different than living in a large city. Having lived in all three, I will share my opinions per population size:

If you enjoy seeing neighbors at the local grocery store and enjoy being a bigger fish in a small pond, then the small town life may be for you. Living in a small town provides a sense of community – you feel like you truly are part of the town. There are also fewer worries about crime, traffic, other annoyances, and the ability to frequently see friends and family at the local restaurants, churches, and stores. Additionally, it is typically much more affordable and land is abundant. The biggest disadvantages to small town life are the lack of amenities, culture, and job opportunities. In the town I lived in for 6 months, there was very little to do, not much shopping/entertainment, and lack of cultural exposure among many of the people. The town did not have any major corporation and held very few job opportunities for a young college graduate. I believe that living in a small town is best suited for those that want a slower pace of life, close-knit community, and more privacy. Families, retirees, and those who love the outdoors are best suited for the small town.

Growing up in a suburb provided a great mix of the small town and bigger city. While I could travel into Detroit for sports games and concerts, I also could retreat back to the safety and privacy that the suburb provided. There were great job opportunities in the suburb itself and in the surrounding cities. I feel that the biggest disadvantage to suburban life is that there is not the abundance of culture/entertainment that one finds in a big city, and it also lacks the land and community involvement compared to a small town. Some may find that suburbs are unsatisfyingly mediocre. I believe that suburbs are the most ideal location for families and those that want a comfortable lifestyle.

Life in the big city has the advantages of all the amenities you can ask for; lots of entertainment and culture, and tons of employment opportunities. Cities often have public transits systems that eliminate the need for a car and a short bike ride or walk can get you to where you need to be. I feel that the biggest drawbacks to living in a larger city are the lack of nature, expenses, small fish in a big pond, crime, and annoyances such as traffic and higher taxes. I believe that the big city is best suited for young professionals and those that want to experience a fast paced lifestyle with tons of culture and diversity.

Overall, small towns, suburbs, and larger cities all have pros and cons. It is important to discover what makes you happy, and find a place that works for you!

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Longevity
My final variable in making the decision to settle down is longevity. It is important to grasp an understanding on long-term variables that will be important to you. Education systems, healthcare, governmental benefits and taxes, real estate markets – these things are easy to overlook when you are 25 and excited to start your career in a new place. But in a few short years when all of your friends and colleagues are starting families, these variables can become extremely important, if not determinative. So when making your decision on where to settle down, keep in mind that your priorities will likely change. To help analyze this factor, reaching out to family members or friends who are at a later stage in life may be of help. Ask them what they look for when relocating, and the best ways of ascertaining that information. This way, you are not only preparing for the present, but also for the future.

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Final Word
Overall, there is no right decision and that is a beautiful thing! You cannot make a wrong choice, only choose a different path. Do your diligences, discover what makes you happy, and then go for it!

My First Airbnb Experience

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Airbnb is an accommodation option where you stay at a local’s home during your travels. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I first learned about Airbnb in the fall and couldn’t be happier that I did. I have stayed in hostels and homestays while studying abroad, but have never experienced booking a reservation in someone’s home during my regular travels. Over the weekend, my boyfriend and I planned an impromptu trip to Charleston, South Carolina and decided to book our first Airbnb experience. For those of you who are looking to book a trip on a budget and experience your destination like a local, I recommend that you try Airbnb. I have answered questions below about my first Airbnb experience.

Airbnb in West Ashley, a neighborhood near downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Airbnb in West Ashley, a neighborhood near downtown Charleston, South Carolina

1. How does Airbnb work? First, you will need to download the Airbnb app on your smart phone or create an account online. You will need to create a profile with basic details about yourself, including a photo. Then, you can search Airbnb lodging options in your travel destination. You can filter your search by price range, number of guests, arrival date, and listing type (private room, shared room, or entire home). Most lodging options include photos and a profile of the host. You can see reviews of the lodging option and the host, and verify the host’s credibility through links to other credible sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Once you find the option that meets your needs, you can either instant book the reservation or message the host with any questions. The Airbnb app disguises all personal information and has a chat function enabling you to keep in touch with your host and book your travel virtually. Once you book your reservation, you will arrange your arrival time with your host and he/she will greet you, explain house rules, and share insights about your travel destination. I’m sure that the host experience varies per host and per location, but my experience was wonderful to learn more about the whereabouts of Charleston.

2. How safe did you feel during your Airbnb experience? Given the identity verification required by the Airbnb app, I felt very comfortable with my host. There is an element of mutual trust, as your host can be equally worried about you as a guest. Since the app included reviews of both the host and the host location (and the host could see reviews of me), I felt secure that I would be safe. The private room also had a lock for additional security.

3. How often do you see the Airbnb host? My understanding is that this varies from host to host and from location to location. During my experience, the host was there to greet us when we arrived. She gave us a tour of her apartment and spent time sharing her recommendations for restaurants and sightseeing around Charleston. In the morning, she offered a continental breakfast and was even willing to make grits. I was intrigued by the Quaker grits she had in her kitchen (I know I looked like a typical Yankee as I have never had Quaker instant grits, and only had grits in general at Southern restaurants). She was very welcoming and chatted with us about life in Charleston. She even invited us to stay a second night if we wanted to extend our visit to Charleston.

4. What do you wish you would have known before booking your Airbnb reservation? I wish I knew that the Airbnb is truly a homestay and includes amenities as if you were a guest staying at your friend’s home, unlike a hostel. For example, my Airbnb home included shampoo and conditioner, towels, bedding, and breakfast. Most Airbnb options list the amenities that are included, so be sure to check what is offered and available before you pack your bags!

Our Airbnb host had several inspirational quotes throughout her apartment. I loved this one: "Attract the life you want. You get what you expect and ask for."

Our Airbnb host had several inspirational quotes throughout her apartment. I loved this one: “Attract the life you want. You get what you expect and ask for.”

I hope that these insights help you as you consider creating an Airbnb profile and booking your next trip! Feel free to comment here or on Facebook with any questions.

Top Tips for Exploring Europe on a Budget

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Eager to learn Top Tips for Exploring Europe on a Budget? Check out my first post on One World 365, a directory of meaningful volunteer and travel opportunities worldwide:

Exploring Europe is very common on travel bucket lists, but so many people think that they need to wait to travel until they are older, established, and have enough money to splurge on a luxurious trip. Over the past several years, I have wanted to “defy the odds” and travel as a young adult. I was convinced that it had to be possible, especially after seeing peers study abroad or work abroad and travel in Europe. While an undergraduate student, I had my first taste of studying abroad in Europe (at the University of Salamanca, Spain), and learned that travel is possible on a budget. I convinced myself that I would be able to continue to travel, whether studying or working as a young adult. I proved myself right when I booked a post-graduation trip to Holland, Belgium and Germany. Below I have outlined some of the top tips I have learned from first-hand experience in order to travel to Europe on a budget.

Consider your initial flight destination.

While you may dream to start your trip in a specific location, your initial flight destination may influence flight prices. For example, when I wanted to tour Holland, Belgium, and Germany, my first instinct was to book a flight to Amsterdam or Frankfurt (since they are two of the largest airports in Europe). It turned out that flying to Brussels, Belgium ended up being the best deal. When planning your itinerary, first consider how flight prices vary in each of the locations you plan to visit. Then you can rearrange your itinerary so that you are able to travel to and from this location. Speaking of itineraries, also plan your itinerary so that you can reduce travel distance and time (and therefore travel costs) between destinations.

Evaluate all accommodation options.

Hostels are not necessarily the most inexpensive! While touring Europe, I often found that hotels ended up having better deals than hostels (especially for private rooms). I have also heard great things about Couchsurfing and airbnb, where you can stay at someone’s home. This might give you more of a “local” experience, rather than a commercial experience from a hotel that you can have anywhere!

Plan ahead.

This is not to say that you should not be spontaneous at times, but at least plan the logistics in order to reduce stress and costs. Read about your travel destination’s history, cultural norms, transportation options, best sites to visit, and best restaurants. Also review a map of the city, where your hotel is, and how you will navigate the city. Consider booking tours ahead of time to avoid “day of” fees and long lines. Having the background information upfront will help you be efficient when you travel. You’ll also know how to prioritize your time and budget.

I planned a Rhine River Cruise ahead of time in Cologne, Germany

I planned a Rhine River Cruise ahead of time in Cologne, Germany.

Use public transportation.

For some places, this could mean a subway, bus, bicycles, or walking paths. Speaking from a United States perspective, Americans’ first instinct is often to either use a taxi or rent a car. Taxis are costly and renting a car involves learning the local driving laws (which may be very different from what you are used to). Public transportation is often the most affordable, is more sustainable, and gives you a taste of the local lifestyle.

hile studying in Salamanca, Spain, I walked everywhere—to and from class for 45 minutes, to and from the night life 30 minutes, etc.—which felt so healthy!

While studying in Salamanca, Spain, I walked everywhere—to and from class for 45 minutes, to and from the night life 30 minutes, etc.—which felt so healthy!

Go on free walking tours.

Instead of doing a formal tour where you are required to visit certain museums or venues, a walking tour gives you an overview of the city. You get to be outside to soak in every site, smell, and feel that the city offers. With a local guide, you will learn about all the highlights of the city and hear more personalized stories. Then you can determine where to focus your time and dive deeper at certain museums or venues. Sandeman’s offers free tours in 18 cities across Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S. I went on the Sandeman’s tour of Amsterdam, which was a 3 hour tour with an excellent guide who was an Amsterdam local. Not only did I get an overview of Amsterdam, I was able to determine where I wanted to spend more time, such as the Van Gogh museum and the Heineken Experience museum.

Shop for food at local markets.

This will help you experience the life of the locals, trying the food that people eat on a daily basis. You will be able to purchase the exact amount and type of food that you want, instead of too much food that you likely won’t be able to save (unless you are close to your accommodation and have a refrigerator). You will also avoid dining fees at restaurants.

Shopping at a local market in Amsterdam

Shopping at a local market in Amsterdam

Every time I travel, I learn something new about how to be budget-conscious and still explore new places. What other tips do you have to share?

Click here to see my original post on One World 365.