How I Travel So Much on a Graduate Student’s Budget

We’re 14 weeks into 2015, and I’ve already gone to 2 countries (3 if you count a layover) for a total of $745, and have made plans to see at least 3 more countries before the year is up, only for an extra $680. So how have I managed to travel so much and for so cheap while living in NYC on a broke graduate student’s budget?

1. Prioritize travel over other luxury expenses

As a young, childless, unmarried woman, I don’t have too many necessary expenses. There’s rent, utilities, transportation, tithes and offerings, and food. I’m blessed to be in school for free and have no student loans, so the extra money I had used to be used for clothes and shoes, regular nail salon visits, and Amazon orders of random kitchen gadgets or storage solutions. Last summer, I reflected on my name’s meaning – Safe Journey – and decided I’d see the world. I’ve now placed travel over clothes, mani/pedis, and even studio decor to become my number 1 luxury spending priority.

2. Have your finances together

If you want to travel without abandon, you have to get your money right. I don’t book travel – heck I don’t do anything – unless I have the cash for it on hand. I’ve only ever had an American Express charge card which is paid in full each month, so I’m not accustomed to buying things with the hope of paying for them later. Travel IS a luxury, so don’t use money you don’t have to go somewhere you don’t need to be. It completely defeats the purpose of vacation if you’re worrying the whole time about how your rent or car payment is going to come together the following month.

3. Know where to look

Let me tell you a secret – all of my international travels for 2015 were booked based on findings by TheFlightDeal.com. I tell someone about this site every week, and still people forget to write it down and save it in their phones until I update them about another trip! So go, do it now. Subscribe to their RSS feed, get their Twitter notifications, have a trusty friend on speed dial, whatever you gotta do to make sure you get updates. My mom subscribes via email and I will say, I often know about deals before her so I don’t know if I’d recommend that route.

4. Be slightly impulsive

Now that you know where to look, you have to be ready to act quickly on a deal that you see. Super cheap deals – like the $250+ flight to Abu Dhabi everybody took and the $400 flight to South Africa I got – do not last long because they’re usually accidents. The second I saw that deal, I got on my computer to book – which delayed our family Christmas breakfast – because I had experienced the heartbreak of missing a great deal once before. One night in November I was up at 3am for no reason and saw a $250 flight to India. I spent so much time googling what to do and where to stay that 45 minutes later when I selected a flight and added it to my cart, the price went up to $890! I learned my lesson then and now book as soon as I know the destination is safe, accommodation is reasonable (more on this later) and I know who I’m traveling with.

5. Be open minded about your destination

Traveling to Curaçao by myself was the best way I could’ve started off my last semester of classes in my PhD program. However, I had never heard of Curaçao before I saw the deal. I booked it before knowing the island was known for its scuba-diving spots, but who cares? It was a beautiful island with rich history that I never would’ve experienced if I had been caught up on the fact that it wasn’t Barbados. Wanna go to Morocco but you see a $500 flight deal to Spain? Get your butt on that plane and hop over to Morocco while you’re there! I don’t particularly have a list of places I’m dying to go, but as long as the price is right and it’s safe, I’m down to be there.

6. Save on accommodation

Even if you’re saving money by scoring a cheaper flight to a cool destination, you’re still spending money so you have to think of other ways you can cut down. The first way is to travel in groups – large groups if possible. Accommodation is nearly always priced by room rather than by person, so group getaways can help keep those costs down. Secondly, utilize hostels, Air BnB, or budget hotels while you’re traveling. AirBnB is the second site I visit once I see a travel deal, so I can have an idea of how much cost of living is in that country, to know if the trip is a good value overall. And when thinking about what you really need in accommodation, don’t be so fussy. You can be slightly outside the city center, or in a place without AC. Or, split your time between mid-priced hotels and budget sleeping situations to cut down your costs at least part of the way.

Those are my tips to being able to afford world travel while on a student’s (or tight) budget! What tips do you have to share?

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Comments

  1. Honestly, I stumbled upon your blog while looking up ways to save money and travel after graduating from FIT and I am so happy that I did! People are always telling me that I am INSANE for wanting to travel instead of using my money for typical adulthood things. People fail to realize that my major was International Trade and Marketing for Fashion Industries, so all that my heart beats for is fashion and travel. Luckily my mom let me live back at home, rent-free and just asks to help around the house, since I am the first in my family to graduate college. On top of that, my fashion corporate job is just an hour away from home via Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan.

    Please keep up with your posts, and if you ever hosts any mixers or events, please do post something on your site for details. Would love to meet you one day! Thanks for the tips! Also, I am super happy to have found a black blogger, which is so hard to find these days, especially within travel. Thanks again.

    Sincerely,

    FIT Grad, Necia

    1. Thanks so much for saying hi and sharing your story! I’ll definitely let you know the next time I do an event in NYC. And my friends don’t get it either, but they like all my travel pics so I’m not bothered lol!

  2. You are speaking my heart’s language, Ijeoma! I love that site and i swear i check their RSS at least 3 times a day. Sometimes my husband is talking to me and I just impulsively jump for my phone because i just remembered i hadn’t checked their feed in a minute LOL

    I scored (and lost) a $500 ticket to Kenya earlier this month (long story) so yeah, i totally feel you on being ready to buy haha anyway just had to leave a comment because this post resonated with me and coincidentally, my last blog post was about traveling too.

    heck i think i’m adding it to my RSS even 🙂 keep up the awesome work

    1. I know exactly what Kenya trip you’re referring to! I bought it and then my bf was like no we can’t make it work. I was so sad! Checking out your blog now 😀

      1. omgggg im dying of laughter. that was EXACTLY my situation too bahahaha i was so melodramatic about it too like ‘noooooooo, i wasn’t even readyyyy. that was the best deal everrrr waaahhhh” Loll

  3. Thanks for the tips ijeoma.I live in Canada too, but I can leave from buffalo. I sign up for airfare watch dog. Ill go sign up for a Twitter alert..

  4. Such an amazing article. I quickly went to the website. I realized it’s for US only, is there one for Canada? I live in Calgary Alberta

  5. As someone with a mortgage, a child( special needs and therapy is expensive) and student loans I still find time and money to travel. My daughter and I recently returned after a week in Paris so don’t let any of that stuff make you think it can’t be done. I love hearing about women hitting the roads and experiencing life in different countries. Best college ever! PS, you should also look into early booking with companies that allow you to make payments. That way you can treat it like an electric bill or gas bill,but it’s no credit card bill or lack of spending money when you arrive to your destination. But that could be the parent in me 🙂

    1. That’s a really good idea – I always assume booking with travel agents isn’t as cheap as flash deal sites, but I guess if there’s somewhere I REALLY need to go and can’t find a deal, paying in installments is the next best thing

  6. AWESOME POST!!! Yes to every tip. I remember as a child reading an article in USA Today about a woman living in a small “shoe Box” apartment and having no car just so she could spend her money traveling. I will never forget that story. Yes if you have very little fixed expenses traveling is a great and better way to spend your cash. I’m all about that life. Smart woman you are.

  7. When you have the desire to travel, you’ll make it happen. I’ve always been a hard-core traveler. A few nights staying at home on Friday night instead of blowing $60 going to the club and after-hours eating spot and you have money to fly across the country and have some REAL fun! I stayed broke in my 20s but I was traveling and enjoy life.

    1. With fellowships, my master’s program was supposed to be free, but the second year, they didn’t have all of them available and that’s when I got into debt for the degree.

      1. That’s the worst when they change your funding mid program but it happens too often. It’s why you have to have a backup plan and funding not connected to your school! More on that next week

  8. This is a very informative blog…Definitely motivates me to travel more and to conquer my fears about traveling alone….You are thoughtful risk taker although impulsive. it def works for your lifestyle.. So thanks for sharing..I will start my adventures, hopefully real soon….

    1. Haha I’m actually the most calculating, think everything out person so it’s funny you said I’m impulsive. I’m learning to let go and trust God so I’m a lot less anxious these days!

  9. Maaan. Discovering you has been a blessing from the Lord. Without going off on a tangent- I so appreciate you, Ije, because in you’ve found someone that I aspire to be like AND that I identify with. We value a lot a lot of the same things and have a lot in common. Although I came from Nigeria, I don’t have a lot of Nigerian friends and for a long time struggled with how to balance being a Nigerian with being an American. You do it well and it makes me feel free to be myself too. We have really similar facial features and seeing someone who looks like me and looks beautiful gave me courage to want to stop trying to change my features to match other people’s. We also have have very similar hair texture and you have inspired me SO much- so much so that I just big chopped for the second time (got a fade) 2 weeks ago! I can go on forever.

    Anyways- back to this particular blog post. YES. I too prioritize travel over other luxuries. I visited Guatemala for a week over spring break on a super inexpensive and (sorta haha) impulse by from Spirit Airlines and it was so amazing. My friends look at me all crazy when I refuse to spend extra money on a Spotify Premium Account or Netflix or going to even the movies. All of those things have FREE alternatives- for what reason should I be paying?? haha My monthly expenses are identical to yours. Lots of times people have good information like this but aren’t willing to share. Anyway, thanks for being honest and willing to share. We all appreciate it. Happy travels!

    Also- do you have any scholarship recommendations? I’m on my senior year in college and plan to enter graduate school after that. I want to get my Masters as a Nurse Practioner so I can practice in Public Health. How do you go to school for free?

    1. I forgot to reply to your post even though it inspired another one! It’ll be posted next week, about how to go to grad school for free.

      As for all the other stuff, I’m glad I could be an inspiration! It’s such a blessing that we live in this digital age where our communities aren’t bounded by physical location and we can be connected to folks who we’ve never met. Good for you for making your own decisions and going after what you want!

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