Grad students, like other young people, often have a desire to travel, whether it is to visit far-flung family and friends, to experience new adventures, or to immerse themselves in other cultures. While some grad students have a great amount of time flexibility to travel if they want to, they usually don’t have a lot of money to spare for this purpose. Fortunately, there are many low-cost or even free ways for graduate students to indulge their wanderlust.
Plan Combined Trips
One of the least expensive ways to vacate is to add a side activity to an already planned trip.
Grad students should attend at least a few conferences while they pursue their degrees, and these trips are often partially or fully paid from research grants, departmental funds, or conference scholarships. You can ask your advisor for the flexibility to extend your trip to more fully experience the city or country that the conference is in; in this case, you would likely only have to pay for the additional lodging, food, and entertainment costs as the transit itself is already paid for. You can employ the same strategy for other research-related travel you might need to do, such as visiting collaborators or accessing remote resources.
Even if you are paying for a trip yourself, look for ways that you can get the best value out of your stay. You may not be able to choose your destination for obligation travel, such as to weddings, but you can make the most of the trip by planning extra activities in the city you are visiting or traveling to a nearby attraction.
Spend Less on Transit
Getting to and from your destination is sometimes the largest cost when booking travel, but flexibility can help you reduce the price quite a bit. Slower forms of transit are usually less expensive than faster ones, so if you can take extra time away from work or work remotely you may be able to reduce your overall trip cost enormously. Look for carpooling options when your destination is within driving distance to avoid paying for individual seats. You can consider discount companies such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines; just be sure you calibrate your expectations for the lack of amenities and unusual fee structure.
Transit is also usually cheaper off of peak times, so consider weekday, holiday, and overnight travel. When you book your travel also can affect the price you pay. Booking well in advance (but not too far!) usually gets you a better price, and Tuesdays or Wednesdays are often rumored to be the cheapest days to book flights. Companies like MegaBus offer heavily discounted fares for the first people to book when a trip is listed.
Spend Less on Lodging
Once you arrive at your destination, you will have to find somewhere to lay your head. Crashing with friends or family is a great option if they are willing to host you as it is generally free and you get quality time with enjoyable company. Couchsurfing with strangers is also a free option, often facilitated by hospitality websites, but comes with risk. If you have to pay for lodging, look to lower-cost alternatives like hostels, camping, and individual renters like AirBnB or VRBO. If you want to stay in a hotel, book early and shop around for the best price. Booking hotels judiciously may help you spend less money in other areas of your trip, such as food (complimentary breakfasts) and local transportation (airport and nearby shuttles).
Play the Rewards Game
If you are a frequent traveler, especially one who is brand-loyal, there is no harm in signing up for the rewards programs associated with the airlines or hotel chains that you use. You can build up rewards over time and ultimately score a free flight or free night’s stay.
If you are a responsible credit card user and have good credit, you may consider using travel rewards credit cards. There are general cards that give travel benefits of many types and also branded cards available for specific airline networks or hotel chains. Using these types of credit cards for travel purchases and sometimes everyday purchases helps you accumulate points or miles that you can redeem for free flights or lodging. Maximizing your rewards while minimizing your costs can be very time-consuming and tricky, requiring a lot of research and careful planning, but it becomes like a hobby for many enthusiasts. The rewards potential is there, even for graduate students who are often low spenders, but recognize the downsides of the time investment necessary and the potential for messing up.
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