Traveling on a Grad Student Budget
By Sara Andrews, GSC Vice President, and Nick Brown, GSC President
Although the idea of spending three months on a warm sandy beach as far from the lab as humanly possible is undoubtedly appealing at the end of a long school year, graduate student schedules and budgets aren’t usually very accommodating. Luckily, there are many ways to sneak some fun and adventure into a break without derailing your writing schedule or breaking the bank. In the spirit of summer, here are some suggestions for enjoying a little time off (advisor-advised or otherwise).
The conference circuit
Although it is a bit late to take advantage of this year’s round of summer conferences, consider using conferences as an opportunity to travel. Be sure to look at your university’s policies before booking flights and rooms, but you can often add a couple of days before or after the conference to explore without jeopardizing reimbursements or other funding. Also look at smaller specialty meetings in your area of interest. Not only will you add a line to your CV, but you’ll also have a chance to check out destinations you might not have the opportunity to visit otherwise.
Embrace student status
There are a number of discounts available online and in person for sporting events, entertainment, and travel for students. Some companies, like STA Travel and StudentUniverse, specialize in finding great rates for students on flights, lodging, and even travel insurance.
60 Awesome Student Discounts: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/60-awesome-student-discounts-on-clothes-tech-travel-and-more/
STA Travel: http://www.statravel.com
Get a rewards credit card
If you are in the market for a credit card, look for one offering frequent flyer miles and sign up when there is a bonus offer. For example, some credit cards offer a certain number of miles (e.g., 50,000 miles) after you reach a threshold for purchases for a certain number of months. Put all of your normal purchases on the card, but be sure to pay them off with every billing cycle. Some cards come with an annual fee (waived for the first year), so be careful when your card anniversary rolls around.
Traveling in the summer can be expensive, particularly if you flying. Travel on off days, look into offbeat locations, and maybe even consider a cruise. Flexible with your vacation plans? If you are flying, use Kayak (www.kayak.com) to compare the cost of your ticket if you leave and return on different days. Don’t mind having an itinerary with a few stops? Your patience will likely be rewarded in the form of a cheaper ticket. (Your GSC President – Nick – booked an itinerary with 3 legs to Japan and saved several hundred dollars.) If you live in an area serviced by buses or trains, you can travel a relatively far distance for cheap, too. Don’t be afraid to be a little impulsive when you have the chance – last minute travel deals and vacation packages are a great way to save money on an adventure.
Even with discounts, hotel or motel stays can be costly. Booking your stay at hostels, AirBnB, or travel exchanges is a smart and unique alternative. Hostels can be a great opportunity to connect with other travelers from all around the world, too. If you have friends in your destination city, don’t be shy to ask if you can crash on their couch for a few nights. You get a place to stay, and you get to hang out with your friend – a two for one!
Eating out on the road gets expensive quickly. Pack a cooler with food on your road trip, bring snacks on flights and in your day pack, stop at a local grocery store for food and drinks, and stay somewhere that you can cook (another reason why AirBnB is a great alternative). If you do eat out, consider going for lunch instead of dinner to save money.
Wherever you’re headed, go in a group. Carpool, pitch in on groceries, and take advantage of group discount rates. Don’t see any group rates posted? Just ask! Whether it’s a mountain cabin, kayaking on the lake, skydiving, sushi-rolling lessons, or a day at the zoo, many attractions offer discounted rates for bigger groups. With a little bit of organization and easy person-to-person repay methods like Paypal, Venmo, Square, and others popping up, a bunch of people can take advantage of a lower rate even if they break off into smaller groups once things get underway.
Sites like Groupon.com, TravelZoo, and LivingSocial.com offer discounts to local attractions, events, and travel packages, and you can often get even lower costs when you share the deal with friends who sign up.
If you need to be in a place where not even the best mobile network or WiFi can find you for a while, the great outdoors might be your best bet for a recharge.
Look for bike-in or hike-in campsites because they are often cheaper than drive-up campsites and—bonus!—don’t usually require advanced reservations. You can also camp for free in US National Parks (look up “dispersed camping” to learn more).
US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us
Touring Cylists: https://www.warmshowers.org
If you want to get started with camping (or other outdoor activities) but don’t own the gear, borrow from friends, or rent! You can rent everything from tents and sleeping bags to bags and cooking equipment online or from outdoor outfitters like REI, or even your campus recreation center.
3 Ways to Rent Camping Gear: http://www.theactivetimes.com/3-ways-rent-camping-gear
Keep it local
It’s easy to miss fun and interesting local attractions when you’ve been in an area for a while. Whether you are in a big city or a more rural area, make the most of your location. Day trips to explore hiking trails, historical sites, tours, museums, breweries, farms, annual festivals and other nearby attractions can provide a much-needed change of pace from the day-to-day.
One perk of being a grad student in the summer is that we usually have a little more flexibility in our schedules, so off-day (read: cheap/free/uncrowded) visits to local museums and other places are possible.
And when all else fails…take the show on the road
Although it’s important to take time away from work, it’s not always practical. If that’s the case, consider gathering a couple of like-minded friends and head out of town by car, train, or bus. It takes a little creativity, but with some planning, taking turns driving so others can type, and a few strategic WiFi stops at cafes, tap rooms, or other major fast food chain (e.g., McDonalds, Starbucks, Panera), you can get out and about without falling behind.
I hope these suggestions gets you on track for some relaxation and fun this summer. Traveling on a graduate student budget is doable with a little planning and research. Luckily, graduate students tend to be pretty good at both of those things. For more ideas, check out these suggestions from blogger and PhD student Ijeoma Eboh: http://klassykinks.com/travel/how-i-travel-so-much-on-a-graduate-students-budget/.
If you have any further affordable travel suggestions, please share them on SPSP Connect!