If you're a student, you might want to travel for spring break, fly home during reading week or go on a summer holiday. But you may not know how you'll afford it.
Although travel can seem like luxury, it's also an important part of a rounded education. It's amazing what you can do with a solid budget and a plan, so consider this your masterclass in budgeting and learning how to save money for travel.
Making a budget for vacation might seem like homework, but it's totally worth it. Your budget will show you how much you can save and help guide your spending decisions. It's way more difficult to reach a goal without a plan, so consider this your first step of many on the way to the airport.
Hopefully you already have budgeting experience from preparing your student budget, but if not, that's your first assignment. Once you have concrete information on how much money you have coming in and how much you need for expenses, you can create a specific budget for your travel.
Figuring out how much a trip will cost is a challenge because so many factors come into play. A European backpacking trip is far different from a short drive across the province to stay with friends. So where do you begin? Start with this checklist of typical travel costs.
- Flights (or bus or train fares, or the cost of gas)
- Local transportation
- Attraction or event tickets
These will be your top expenses so starting your estimate here makes sense. If you're looking at international travel, pay attention to the billing currency. Learn to use a currency converter to understand true costs and consider downloading an app so you can stay on top of your spending on the go.
Next, account for less obvious travel costs, like travel insurance, baggage fees, and foreign transaction fees for using an ATM or your credit card.
If you keep your travel budget in a spreadsheet, you can update it as your travel plans take shape.
Now that you have a budget goal, you can begin saving for travel. Here are a few ways to get prepared.
Hitting your savings goal will be easier if you have the right bank accounts to keep your savings separate from your everyday money. Ideally, student chequing and savings accounts should offer unlimited transactions plus rewards or bonuses with no account fees, like Scotiabank's Student Advantage Plan®.
Invest your travel savings into a high-interest savings account (HISA) to take advantage of higher interest rates so your money will grow. If you have a longer timeline to save, consider a guaranteed investment certificate (GIC), where you deposit money for a certain time period and in return receive your principal plus a guaranteed interest rate back at maturity.
When you first prepared your student budget, you accounted for the costs associated with student life, like tuition and living expenses, plus money for clothing, restaurant meals and takeout, and entertainment. Now that you have a savings goal in mind, take a second look to see if there are any non-essential areas where you can save. A budgeting tool like Scotia Smart Money can help guide you.
You don't want to cut into mandatory expenses, but you might decide it's worth giving up your streaming services for a few months to hit your target. This calculator will help you figure out what you can save.
Even if you don't have a regular paycheque (side-hustlers, raise your hands), you'll get top marks for getting into the habit of putting away a percentage of your income for savings. Even 10% of whatever you bring in will add up over time. If you have trouble keeping track, consider setting up direct deposits so the money goes into your savings automatically.
Between books, supplies, and socializing, you're going to spend money, so it makes sense to get a return on those investments. When you use a travel credit card (responsibly, of course), you get points or cash back, plus travel-related benefits.
The Scotiabank SCENE+ Visa Card, for example, lets you earn Scene+ points which you can redeem for all sorts of perks, including flights, hotels, and car rentals. As a bonus, it also has no annual fee.
Once you start making your travel bookings, there are plenty of ways to keep your costs to a minimum. These travel hacks can help you keep a little extra cash in your pocket:
- If you plan to fly, take the time to research which airlines offer student fares. If you're flexible about when and where you land, you can save big, but pay attention to transfer fees. You don't want to spend what you saved on transport from the airport. If you're a travel rewards collector, flights are generally a good place to redeem them. For example, you can apply Scene+ points to travel expenditures charged to your card for up to one year, and at a rate of 100 points per $1.
- For a more budget-friendly option, consider road-tripping, taking the bus, or a staycation. You could also split transportation costs by driving with friends or using a rideshare. If you're renting a car, check to see if there are student deals or a discount through your credit card.
- Accommodations will be one of your biggest expenses but you can keep costs down by sleeping at student hostels and homestays, or even negotiating a room in exchange for work. If you book a hotel, choose one that includes money-saving perks like free WiFi and breakfast. If you rent a flat with a kitchen, you can save on food. This works especially well if you're travelling with friends because you can find deals on entire apartments that are less expensive than hotels.
- In general, the more flexible you are, the more you can save. This even applies to your destination. For example, in Paris you'll pay handsomely for even the most modest flat, but accommodations tend to be very affordable in Central America. However, you might be able to find flight deals to Europe that balance out the difference. As with any project, research is the first step.
- Trying new food is one of the joys of travel but at three meals per day, this can turn into a significant expense. Get an affordable taste of the regional flavours at street food kiosks or markets. Consider using a meal-sharing platform like EatWith,1 which lets travellers enjoy a home-cooked meal at a resident's home for a small fee. Local grocery stores aren't only a place to buy affordable snacks — they're a cultural experience in their own right. Picnic supplies like bread and cheese travel well, and you'll have a great time checking out the unfamiliar goods. Pro-tip: Pack a collapsible cooler bag to keep your leftovers fresh.
- If you don't have existing travel insurance through a credit card or other service, you'll need to buy it separately. Some providers offer student rates, so shop around.
- Make sure you pack your student card. In addition to discounts at places like museums and other attractions, students can get save on food, transportation and even accommodations in many international locations. If you're not sure that there's a student rate, it doesn't hurt to ask.
- Use public transportation instead of tour buses. This is a wilder way of seeing a place, including off-the-beaten-track areas, and the fares are inexpensive.
- Book attractions ahead of time, and check for specials and discounts. Many offer deals on advance bookings. Look for free attractions and events, especially in larger cities.
- Pack light. They say to take half the stuff and double the money. This might seem counter-intuitive for a budget traveller but carrying around a lot of luggage can get expensive when you consider baggage and locker fees. Unless you have special equipment to consider, you should be able to travel with just a carry-on.
Just because you're a student doesn't mean you can't afford to travel. With some careful budgeting and a solid savings strategy, you can add “traveller" to your list of credentials.
Check out our student hub for more student-related information, tips and updates, whether it's relating to general student life, advice on landing your dream internship or job, or tools that will help you better manage your finances.
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