From picking up coins off the ground to sleeping in train stations, here are some funny things every budget traveler can relate to.
With all my old study abroad travels popping up, I’ve been reminiscing about the fun times and how much my travel habits have changed since I’ve grown up a little. Mainly how much I budgeted as a student. I’m very lucky that my parents were supportive of my travels but also smart enough to not just hand me a big check to run off with.
I traveled three times as a student. Once in high school to Italy & Greece for 10 days, the summer after my freshman year to Seoul, and the fall semester of my junior year to Madrid. My parents and I always had a deal: they paid half and I paid half. I worked a bunch of parttime jobs from lifeguarding to tutoring to retail in between my studies.
Anyhow, I was always on a budget. And I used to be super cheap, so I really budgeted my travels. I never wanted to ask my parents for more money than they were offering. Nowadays, I obviously have a regular job and income, and I can afford to relax a lot more when it comes to getting hotels I really want or eating out at nice places.
But, ah, it’s pretty funny to reflect on the good, ole days of being a student traveler! Here are some things I think any of us who have been there can relate to!
10 Things Every Budget Traveler Can Relate To
1. Getting entirely too happy at finding the equivalent of a $1 on the street.
I remember towards the end of my semester in Spain, I got way too excited at finding a euro coin on my way to class…
2. Roughing it out at some public area while you’re waiting for your train or bus.
Because taxis are too expensive and the next shuttle bus doesn’t come until 2 am.
I had to sit outside Victoria Station in London for quite a few hours in the night October rain while waiting for my shuttle bus to Stansted Airport. Nothing was open, and it wasn’t really a thing to get a SIM card of WiFi egg then, so I literally just sat there waiting.
I should also note I grossly underestimated how cold London was in October and did not pack properly. When I look back at photos, I can see the slow progression of me getting sicker and sicker. I remember I was so delirious getting back to Madrid that I thought the plane was delayed in Stanstead when really we had been flying the whole time.
3. Flying into the most random airports to save money.
Listen, flying RyanAir and EasyJet sound like a dream come true with those prices but the airports they fly into are often in Timbuktu (see #2). Thank goodness all the airports are in Barajas in Madrid, so you don’t have to go all over the place!
4. Mastering the art of carry-on packing to avoid extra fees.
I used to fit all my weekend travel outfits in one carry-on tote that doubled as my purse. I refused to carry a backpack in Europe for some reason! It was quite a skill that I’m not so good at doing now.
5. Taking advantage of friends abroad and crowding into their room to sleep for free.
When I went to England, I stayed for five days I think. Getting a hostel in London just seemed so expensive at the time, so I instead stayed with friends of friends at their university dorms. I think in one tiny room there wound up being 4 of us. My friend and I shared a trundle bed, the guy we were staying with had his bed, and then the poor 4th guy slept on the ground. And no, there weren’t enough blankets or space for that many people.
6. Learning the differences between McDonald’s in every country.
Listen, I’m sure every foodie just gagged, but when you’re on a budget, McDonald’s is more often than not the best option. Not only can you get things cheap, they normally have WiFi for free!
7. Having low, cheap standards for your accommodation.
See #5. I remember thinking I found a deal if I could get a dorm room that had bathrooms and showers per room instead of all shared.
8. Ducktaping your shoes on a trip because you don’t have money to buy new ones.
This is a real photo of me on my last big weekend trip during my semester. I was visiting a friend in Ireland and only brought these cheap boots I got at a Chino shop in Madrid. I LOVED them but they did not hold up to rainy Galway Bay in December. At some point, while we were walking around Inishmore in a light drizzle, I felt a sudden wetness at the bottom of my socks. My boot soles had finally eroded. When we reached the main dock area I bought a pair of thick socks and asked if they had ducktape I could use on my shoes. They kindly, and bemusedly, offered me some.
I had to wear those shoes all the way back to my friend’s place in Cork and then all the way back Madrid because I couldn’t afford another pair of shoes!
9. Opting to try your luck with some over-the-counter medicine to avoid the emergency room bill.
So, during a weekend trip in Lisbon when I was already sick from London, I discovered I had developed an allergy to bees. While taking photos at one of the vista points, I suddenly felt a sharp sting on my side. A few minutes later I couldn’t stop scratching. I remember we went to lunch, and I kept scratching my scalp and even went to the bathroom just so I could scratch my whole body without looking obscene.
One of our friends was Brazilian, so she helped me go to the hospital and translate. They told us an emergency visit was 200 euros. I definitely didn’t have that kind of money, so we then went to a pharmacy. They gave me some medicine and cream, but even the pharmacists told me I should really go to the ER. Luckily the medicine and cream worked!
10. Learning the art of washing your things in a bathroom (and subsequently knowing drying times of some clothes…)
I can tell you a bra and underwear can dry overnight. Smaller socks too. If you can get bralettes and lacy underwear because they dry even faster. I use to always wash things in the bathroom (okay, I still do) with some soap. Why pay anything when you can just quickly wash it yourself?
Ah, I can’t say I’m too sad to leave my budget traveling days behind me. I could probably be savvier with my spending nowadays. However, I don’t think I could ever return to cramming into a room or risk not visiting a hospital!
What are some of your funny budget travel memories?
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