So you want to know how to travel the world as a student? Curious how I managed to visit 17 countries in my final year of university?
I don’t blame you for being curious or even straight-up suspicious. Only a few years ago I would have assumed any student travelling the world either had very rich parents or never went to class and eventually failed all their exams.
It turns out that’s not always the case. I managed to graduate with a degree in political science from one of the top ranking universities in the world and explore the world despite not being an heiress (or having a sugar daddy).
Today I’m going to tell you exactly how to travel the world as a student – from money-saving tips and student travel deals to amazing study programmes you may never have heard of before.
I did my degree in London so some of my suggestions will be slightly UK-centric, but most are internationally applicable – I’ve especially made sure to include great tips for all you American students out there!
…or does it? Well, of course it does – but not as much as you might think. Travel doesn’t always have to be expensive and as a student you can easily turn your wanderlust into reality. Here’s how you can save on travel (and for travel)…
Student discount cards
As a student you’re in a very unique position because this is the one time in your life when people are keen to shower you with discounts and great deals.
Your university-issued student ID grants you free or discounted access to thousands of museums and landmarks around the world. I’ve used it all around the world, from Yonghe Lama temple in Beijing to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
You can also get great discounts with an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), including money off guided tours and lots of hotel and hostel accommodation. It’s the only internationally-recognised student discount card which makes it perfect for travellers.
If you’re in the UK, consider getting a National Union of Students (NUS) extra card which offers handy discounts like 25% off National Express bus journeys. The card costs £12 or £14.99 in conjunction with ISIC.
In the US, you can also get the Student Advantage Card for access to thousands of discounts on everyday things like clothes and food, as well as Greyhound buses or Lyft.
Student discount websites
If you’d prefer not to pay for a card (although I assure you that they’re well worth the price of three Starbucks coffees), there are other options out there. The simplest way to find student travel deals is subscribing to a website that offers lots of student discounts.
Student travel websites
STA Travel offer special travel deals for students and travellers under 26. I’ve never actually used their services, but have heard great things. Similarly, Student Universe seem to have great travel discounts for students.
Skimp on nights out
The biggest drain on my money as a student were all the nights out. Student nights are normally cheap, but when you live in London and have as much (or as little) self-restraint as I do after a few drinks you will soon find yourself crying over your bank statements.
So pre-drink at home before going out, set a budget for a night out and only bring cash. If £20 is all you have, £20 is all you will spend.
If you really want the extra security take your card but don’t touch it unless it’s an emergency (not a tequila-related emergency). If you don’t you’ll only regret it the next morning – especially when you realise that those last three cocktails cost as much as a week in a hostel in Bangkok.
Get a part time job
Being at university can feel like a crazy balancing act. Let’s keep it real though – students have plenty of free time on their hands, many of us are just too disorganised to make the most of it.
As an arts student in the UK I had all the free time in the world. With only a few hours of lectures every day (and often none on Wednesdays) I probably could have worked 30-hour weeks if I was that determined.
Alas, I wasn’t. But I did have a call centre job – and it wasn’t even as bad as it sounds. The call centre was a part of my university so I called up alumni asking for donations and often ended up having a lovely chat. I even spoke to Richard Dimbleby once, although sadly not Ricky Gervais or anyone from Coldplay.
It’s usually easy to find a part-time job directly where you’re studying. Some more fun jobs include working at the students union or coffee shop, but you could also do things independently – babysitting, housecleaning, dog-walking…
Tutoring is also an excellent way to make money and definitely one of the highest earning student jobs out there. I taught English while living in Russia and it was a nice addition to my budget!
…but it can be done from anywhere in the world. Your university and its location are not as limiting as you might think. Curious how you can travel while studying? Here are my top tips on how to travel as a student…
Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity to explore a new country, learn its language and customs and make a tonne of international friends.
Now, you could really go for it and do your degree in a foreign country. But if you’re trying to figure out how to travel the world as a student, I imagine you’re already enrolled in a university somewhere at home and want to combine your studies with more journeys abroad.
I always overdo things which is why I decided to do both. I did my degree in the UK and spent a year abroad in Russia.
Most European universities are part of the Erasmus programme (now called Erasmus+) and it’s always worth checking whether you’re eligible for a year or even just semester abroad.
If your degree involves languages – like mine included Russian – doing a year abroad is a no-brainer. But I have friends who did more technical degrees and got to spend a year abroad at places like Colombia University in New York or Sorbonne in France. So just ask!
Semester at Sea
What is Semester at Sea, you ask? It’s possibly the coolest way to study ever invented! It’s a study abroad programme run on a cruise ship, circumnavigating the globe in approximately a hundred days.
There can be up to 720 undergraduates travelling from North America and heading either across the Atlantic or the Pacific. During your semester you get to visit around ten countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, before ending the voyage in another North American port. What a trip!
To apply you must be enrolled in a full-time degree at an accredited college/university (US-based or international), have at least a 2.75 cumulative GPA and provide a 300-500 word essay as indicated on the application – you can click here for more details.
To get a first-hand account of what it’s like, check out this awesome review of Semester at Sea. Jessica travelled to the Bahamas, Barcelona, Rome, Naples, Dubrovnik, Athens, Paros, Istanbul, Casablanca, Marrakech and Lisbon one summer and says it was a completely life-changing experience!
Study China is an amazing programme organised by the University of Manchester and funded by the British Government. It gives you the opportunity to spend three weeks studying at a leading Chinese university, meeting locals and learning Mandarin.
To be eligible you must be a full-time student in the UK, 18 years old or over and hold a valid EU/EEA passport.
I participated in the Study China programme two years ago and it was an incredible experience. I chose Beijing Normal University which meant I saw a lot of the Chinese capital, a place I’ve been dying to return to ever since.
I also made new friends, learnt the basics of a new language and had a few hilariously unforgettable (and unforgettably hilarious) nights out. We worked hard and partied even harder.
The application process is quite lengthy and the programme competitive, but if you do get in go for it! The Mandarin course is super intense and getting a proper glimpse into life in China fascinating. The only thing you have to pay for are flights and visas, so it’s a great deal.
The Study India programme is very similar to Study China. Accommodation, food, airport pickup (within designated times), tuition and activities are covered during this three-week adventure – you only pay for flights and visas. It’s open to all full-time students in the UK, 18 years old or over, who hold a valid EU/EEA passport.
There are no language classes, only workshops to show you the Indian culture, way of life, people, arts, politics and economy. There is also a one-week work placement or internship with an Indian company during your visit.
I applied and got in last summer, but decided not to go and dedicate more time to growing my blog. While I don’t regret that decision I do think the programme sounds wonderful and very worthwhile!
Time off matters…
…because it’s the best time to explore. Most students get several months off every year – that’s a huge number of days to travel. Here’s how to make the most of your holidays as a student…
Volunteering is a wonderful thing to do no matter where you are, but did you ever think that it could be a way to do good and explore the world as a student at the same time?
There are literally thousands of places around the world that could use a helping hand. Many are willing to provide you with food and accommodation in exchange for your services, although often you’ll have to pay a small amount of money to be able to stay.
Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, for example, charges 12,000 baht ($330/£226) for a 7 day volunteering stay, including accommodation and three delicious meals per day.
Please make sure you’re choosing a reputable organisation and that the work you’re doing is actually beneficial to the local community though. You can read about some of the issues associated with voluntourism here, here and here.
Camp America is a cultural exchange programme that gives you the chance to spend your summer living and working on a summer camp in the USA. You’ll meet people from all over the world, have fun and once the camp is finished you can travel around America for a further 30 days!
If you’re applying from the UK it should cost £599, if you’re in Europe the price is €798 – including return flights and medical insurance. Not a bad deal.
Get a Working Holiday Visa
A working holiday visa gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore another country without draining your bank account. You get the right not only to travel around, but also to work while visiting. Working holiday visas are especially popular in Australia and New Zealand.
Many countries are part of this agreement, but do check that you’re eligible. For example, as a Czech passport holder I cannot apply for a working holiday visa in Australia but I can apply in New Zealand.
Not sure what jobs are out there? Check out ‘Around the World in 80 Jobs‘ for anything from working as a rice farmer and ghost extra to making traditional balsamic vinegar.
Are you from the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or another English-speaking country I’ve thoughtlessly left out? If so, you’re in luck.
As a native English speaker you’re in demand all over the world and you might not even know it – teaching English could be your winning ticket to see the world! And no, you don’t necessarily need to be a native speaker if your English is up to par.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is particularly big in Asia, with South Korea and China being among the most popular. You will sometimes need a university degree to apply, but not always.
Work as an au pair
Working as an au pair is the perfect way to explore a new country, improve your language skills and make a little cash. I know many people from abroad use it to practice their English in the UK or US, but it works both ways – there will always be families in France or Germany in need of the same services.
So what does it entail? Taking care of a few kids and potentially doing a bit of light housework. If you’d like to find out more about about how you can get this job, check out this guide to becoming an au pair by fellow blogger Ashley Abroad.
Working behind the bar, teaching English or babysitting are far from the only options out there. If you like getting dirty and a little physical I’ve got the perfect job for you. No, it’s not what it sounds like.
WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ and offers farming work in a range of different countries, often providing food, accommodation and modest stipends in exchange for help with harvesting.
Never heard of Jailbreak? It’s basically every parent’s worst nightmare. The objective of this hitchhiking challenge is to travel as far away from your university as you possibly can in 36 hours… without spending any money on travel.
I love Jailbreak and although I’ve only done it once it’s one of my fondest, funniest travel memories. You will also be raising money for charity, so it’s an amazing way to give back while having the time of your life.
Do you want to see a bit of the world and go on a crazy adventure (no, seriously – you should read about how I hitchhiked to France for free with a pimp and a Mexican), give it a try!
In case you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, it’s a website that allows you to crash on a stranger’s sofa (or in their spare bed) for free saving you lots of money on accommodation.
Now, I know it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen but each host a section with reviews which should help you weed out all the weirdos. Having said that, please always use caution when using Couchsurfing – especially if you’re a solo female traveller (check out this guide).
House-sitting is couchsurfing’s fancy cousin. It’s a service that matches up house owners and people who are willing to take care of their home while they’re out of the country.
Now, house-sitting is not usually aimed at students (everyone’s scared we’d wreck their houses) but you can definitely give it a try if you’re responsible and don’t plan on converting your temporary pad into a crazy night club.
If you’d like to join a reputable house-sitting site, check out Trusted Housesitters – you can get 20% off membership if you buy via this link!
Make international friends
But there is one way of travelling the world as a student that is vastly superior to all the ones I’ve just described… It’s free and it’s really fun. The secret? Make international friends!
Nowadays most universities have an extremely diverse student body, which makes it extremely easy to get to know people from all over the world. I studied in the heart of London and you’d be shocked by how few of my friends are actually British.
So join different clubs and societies, do some new sports and talk to the people who sit next to you in lectures. You never know – your new friend from Algebra 101 (is that even a university class?) might just have family in Hawaii or a sweet mountain cottage in the Swiss Alps.
Get out there and be open-minded – it’s definitely possible to travel as a student, oftentimes for free or very little money.
Did I answer your questions on how to travel the world as a student? Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know in the comments below. Do you have any other tips to add?