Travelling on a shoestring: a how-to guide

By Jesse Smith

Jesse Smith is a third year Geography student here at LU. When he is not studying, he likes to pursue his passive interests in hitchhiking, learning Spanish, pretending he can cook, and most important of all: travelling far and wide. He has a special interest in pushing cheap travel budgets to the extreme – otherwise he would never be able leave Sudbury! This article is the first of segment of articles, developed to provide university students like you insight on how-to travel on a university budget.

Planning to take a trip abroad can be a very intimidating task for a university student, filled to the brim with anxiety thanks to the usual suspects: we’re up against a wall of student loans, work, and maintaining a social life, and it never seems to look too good for us in terms of disposable income.

There’s so much to even consider before all is said and done and a budget is necessary on even the most basic level; airfare, ground transportation, accommodation, dining, souvenirs, activities, travel insurance… There are so many components that all have to line up properly.

Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom if you’re dreaming of exploring the world.

I believe that you can travel on pretty close to an average student cost-of-living.

I’ve travelled abroad every 4-5 months for years now, and I have no intent on stopping any time soon.

My adventures so far have taken me all over the world, from India to Nicaragua to Germany, sometimes for periods of several months at a time.

I travel without special circumstances – I work 15 hours a week at near minimum wage, I receive OSAP to study, and I live at home in a single parent household.

In my experience, affordable travel boils down to a strong awareness of the available resources around you.

Airfare is probably the single most expensive aspect of travel, and what stops people from going forward with their dream trips.

I like to treat airfare as the most important factor to eliminate before I hit the road.

For starters, timing is everything: travelling at off-peak seasons will save you incredible amounts on airfare.

If you want to visit Europe, book one and a half to two months before you leave, and travel in the winter or spring rather than summer, when fares are as much as 40-50% cheaper. The weather may be less comfortable, but popular cities are void of tourists and businesses drop rates on most everything.

Likewise, visit Asia or Latin America when you finish school in the late spring or summer.

You will find all the best-cost benefits flying during off-seasons.

Play around with different dates and airports on as many different airline web sites and aggregate search engines as you can possibly fathom. The more time you spend looking, the better the fares you’re going to find. Never just buy the first ticket you can digest the cost of.

What’s more is that in Canada, high airport and airspace taxes skew our perception of how much flights should cost, but elsewhere flying may easily be cheaper than bus or train travel.

Europe is a dream for competitive and cheap airlines such as Easyjet or Ryanair. You can fly hundreds of kilometers intercity for around $30 if you book in advance. You can also use this an advantage to get in to Europe from Canada.

For example, if you’re trying to get a flight from Toronto to Berlin, Germany, using search engines like Kayak or Hipmunk may find you a fare one way of something like $600.

However, you might also find a fare from Toronto to Lisbon, Portugal, at the Western fringes of Europe, for something like $300.
By flying in to Lisbon and hopping on a cheap flight to Berlin through a low-cost carrier you may easily save a few hundred dollars.
Thinking creatively is the key to you getting around on the cheap.

Jesse Smith travelling abroad. Photo supplied.
Jesse Smith travelling abroad. Photo supplied.