How to travel as a student for FREE (or nearly free)
Many students don’t travel because they can’t afford to. With rising tuition and textbook fees, it is nearly impossible to travel on a student budget…
or is it?!
In this blog post, I will teach you how to travel as a student for FREE (or nearly free).
Plot twist: My university years have been some of my most travelled! During the 4 years of doing my PhD program, I travelled to 21 countries!
Related | My 2016 and 2017 Travel Round-ups
Through my 10 years of post-secondary education, I have learned that there are SO many opportunities to get funding to travel internationally as a student! I want you to take advantage of them so I’ve compiled this resource, on how to travel as a student for free.
How to travel as a student for free (or nearly free)
1. Participate in an Exchange program
An exchange program is the perfect option for those who may be considering traveling or leaving home for the first time! I went to Melbourne, Australia during my undergraduate degree back in 2009 and it was the experience that started my wanderlust!
Most universities and colleges offer exchange programs with international universities they have partnered with. Through participating in these programs, you can study for a semester or an entire year abroad while a foreign exchange student comes to your school in your place.
As an exchange student, you are not considered an international student, so your tuition remains the same. In my experience, I continued paying tuition to my own university as normal despite living and studying in Australia.
Many schools feel that international exchange programs are an excellent way to develop young global citizens, therefore they often provide funding to assist with travel and living costs. For example, you may receive a scholarship from your school’s international studies department to help pay for your flight, and the receiving school may put you up in a dorm or shared housing.
Look to your faculty and your student body representatives for information on scholarships; check for bursaries (loans you do not have to pay back) from the student finances office or from your student union. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors; eventually something will turn up!
In my experience, I got a scholarship which helped pay for my travel expenses and my tuition remained the same. There were 3 other students from my program going and we all lived in the same house together, splitting costs. In exchange, 4 Australian students came to Canada to study at my university.
2. Study Abroad
For a more long-term experience, you could apply to study at a university abroad as an international student. In attempts to build a diverse student body, most educational institutions have a set number of international students they must accept. Unfortunately, tuition is typically higher for international students but there are often hefty scholarships and housing assistance to offset these costs, particularly if your grades are academically competitive.
There may be scholarships available by your government as well, or through specific partnerships or initiatives. For example, for Canadian students there are scholarships on the Federal government’s website for international study. For example, the Canadian government has a list of international scholarship for Canadian students.
3. Apply for an Internship
Internships abroad are a great way to travel while gaining relevant work experience. For new grads, the job market has become more competitive, so having an international internship on the resume is a leg up on your competitors. Having completed an internship abroad demonstrates initiative, a willingness to learn and grow as a person, and an open attitude to try new things.
Most universities have internship opportunities with their affiliates or partners overseas in various areas of study. There is typically no payment, however, often housing and travel costs are reimbursed by either your school or the program.
I interned in Tanzania in 2016 through my university. As a PhD student, I was able to secure a $7000 scholarship for the internship as it directly related to my thesis research. As a result, my costs to travel to/from and live in East-Africa for 3 months were completely covered.
4. Complete clinical or practical hours abroad
Some programs require students to complete placements with a mentor to gain a set number of hours in a clinical or practical setting. For example, students in health care programs (i.e. nursing, medical, allied health), must complete hands-on, supervised hours of relevant work in the field. Medical students can even get their hours by volunteering in a hospital abroad.
Most Universities attempt to expand their reach with collaborative partners for research and academic purposes, which means that they will likely support students in their pursuits of international placements because it positively reflects their institution and helps to solidify organizational bonds.
When I was in university for my Masters in Occupational Therapy, I completed one of my clinical placements in a psychiatric facility in England! I worked Monday-Friday in the unit and had weekends and national holidays off to explore. I was even able to receive some funds from my faculty to cover my travel costs to England.
5. Attend a conference
This one usually applies to graduate students (Masters/ PhD), or undergrads keen on applying to a Masters or Medical program. Conference travel is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: not only do you get to travel to a new place, but also you are actively engaged in a learning environment that positively contributes to your resume and academic CV!
Conferences often require you to register online and the registration fee can be pricey (depending on the prestige of the organization). However, your educational institution often has a pool of funds for graduate students to attend conferences at least once per year. Depending on your academic supervisor’s funding, he/she may be able to support your request to attend the conference by reimbursing your registration fee.
Further, your faculty typically has a travel fund designated to support scholars attending and presenting at conferences. This is a great way to access funds to pay for your flight or ground transportation. Once you get to the conference, food and beverages are usually provided free of charge and often accommodation is discounted.
I presented at a conference in South Africa this year and received faculty travel funding which covered my flight and hotels.
6. Volunteer Abroad
Most students typically have the summer semester off (aside from some graduate programs which go straight through the summer). This block of time off serves as a great opportunity to volunteer abroad!
Many programs and organizations out there offer varying levels of financial support for their volunteers in exchange for their time. Most often, your accommodation and meals are provided to for free as payment for your skills and time, meaning you can essentially live for free while donating your time.
What typically is not provided, is your transportation, visa and immunization costs. However, depending on where you are from, you can deduct the time you spent volunteering as a charitable donation on your income tax return. Keep all your receipts/e-tickets/boarding passes and check the rules of your national income tax! You can find volunteer opportunities through Worldpackers or Give a Day Global.
If you are still contemplating whether volunteering is right for you, you can read about other traveler’s experiences volunteering as a family in Borneo and experiencing the real Cancun.
7. Work Abroad
Very similar to the volunteering abroad, there are many work abroad programs which provide your accommodation and food in exchange for your work. Work Away and Go Abroad are a great one-stop resource for this!
Some other ideas for working during a summer abroad include:
- Teach English abroad
- Working holiday in Australia
- Become an au pair
- Work on a farm with WWOOF
8. House and Petsitting Abroad
House and petsitting is an opportunity to get a free place to stay abroad in exchange for providing animal care. Basically, you stay in other people’s homes while they are away to watch their pets. I first tried this in 2019 and got to housesit in medieval village in Switzerland for 2 months.
From 2021 to present, I am almost exclusively house and petsitting because I quickly realized I could bypass paying rent all together, jumping form house sit to house sit. I have saved thousands of dollars by doing this so it is well worth the 100% annual fee on Trusted Housesitters.
Get 25% off Trusted Housesitters with my coupon!
9. Start a Blog
Note: Starting a blog is a ton of work and can definitely be a challenge to maintain while doing school. It’s definitely not a “get rich quick” scheme, but with some dedication it can yield travel opportunities over time. For example, I started this blog in March 2016 during my first year as a PhD student and never in a million years thought it would turn into what it has 6 years later. Yet, it helped me pay my way through school and got me complimentary hotels, tours, and even entire trips!
If you are passionate about travel, writing or photography and love to connect with other people, I would say go for it!
If you are interested, be sure to check out my entire post on how to start a blog.
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