While a summer abroad can be a great way for college-age kids to learn crucial lessons about self-reliance, responsibility and foreign cultures, let’s face it: Often those lessons cost a lot more than you’d want them to. Yes, the dollar is up more than 10% in value against the euro since last summer. But it’s still a threat to a student’s (and his whole family’s) finances to be on a different continent without a parent’s financial guidance.
That being said, I have a few tips learned from my own recent summer in France for keeping costs low while still having a fun and fulfilling time.
One is easy: If a family member is heading out of the country with a credit card, make the (relatively) strong dollar even stronger by having the plastic be a Capital One card. Unlike other card issuers, the firm doesn’t tack on fees for foreign-currency transactions. Some other cheaper-travel pointers for students who want to be careful with money, whether it’s their own or Mom & Dad’s:
- Beware the roaming charges in Rome. Cut telephone costs by downloading a Skype calling app onto your mobile phone; Skype-to-Skype calls are free if you’re within a WiFi hotspot. If you’re calling back to your home in the US or a parent’s app-less cell, you’ll be paying only 2 or 7 cents a minute, respectively. No smartphone? Buy a prepaid local SIM card when you land. These will run you about 15 to 30 euros, but most include a few minutes of talk time in the price. Just be sure your phone is “unlocked” — a simple and fairly quick process once you explain your travel plans to your provider — and is also classified as tri-band or quad-band. People with SIM-less carriers (Verizon or Sprint) should consider purchasing a cheap international-use cell phone such as one offered by STA Travel. As a last resort, purchase a local calling card for phoning home.
- Don’t be scared by hostels. Unless you plan on spending the majority of your time sleeping instead of exploring, stay in a hostel, not a hotel. Albeit less private than conventional lodging, this budget housing is sometimes nicer than some of the local hotels. Hostels are great places to meet other youths and young adults from around the world. Most will also provide a free simple breakfast each day of your stay. Hostels.com is a good place for fee-free booking in almost any city imaginable.
- Be flighty. If you want to visit multiple countries and are pretty flexible about which ones they might be, take a look at the fares offered by ultra-budget airlines easyJet.com and Ryanair. Even though when I first took Ryanair I had to pay 10 euros for a bus to take me to a small airport 45 minutes outside of Paris, the inconvenience was worth the trouble: I was able to fly to Stockholm for about 55 euros each way! Be forewarned: Check-in lines can be a lot longer than those for traditional airlines; this isn’t the ideal choice for those who can’t travel light.
Regardless of how many tips you follow, however, nothing beats adequate preparation. Make sure you research your destinations enough so that you don’t have any expensive surprises after you touch down. And don’t forget your camera!
Got different money-saving tricks up your sleeve for international travel? Tell us about them in the Comments section.
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