7 Ways to Travel While in College

College is an interesting stage of life–you have much more time than money, and more freedom to make your own choices than ever before. With that freedom, many students want to travel. After all, college is when you start to find out who you are as an Adult Person and discover what you really want to do in life. Travel can help!

However, with having more free time and less money than you likely will in the future, being able to travel in college can be tricky. I’m finishing up my fourth year, and I’d say I’ve done more than my fair share of traveling during my time in school. Some may say I was just lucky, but I like to believe that I’ve just been aware of my travel opportunities, and taken all of them that I could. Here are seven ways you can do the same, and afford to travel while attending college!

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Me at Tower Bridge in London

1. Study Abroad

So, this one’s obvious–probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think “travel in college” is study abroad. However, it’s worth mentioning because studying abroad for a semester or a year is an amazing experience that will help you grow as a person, learn about the broader world, and enhance your résumé! But if you’re like me, you may not be able to commit a whole semester to studying abroad, whether because of financial, time, curriculum, or personal reasons. Luckily there are still ways you can study abroad for shorter periods of time. For example, I went on a two-week study abroad in Europe (earning one photography credit–okay, so it was a lot more “abroad” than “study”) and this summer I will be spending a month studying in Cuba. This program will be a much more intensive study abroad, as it involves four hours of Spanish classes every weekday for four weeks. If you can’t commit a whole semester, check out summer, winter break, or spring break trips that your university may offer–most will have a study abroad website and a study abroad fair to showcase your options. One of the best parts about studying abroad is that it can be really affordable–the tuition may be cheaper than at your university, and you can use financial aid (scholarships, grants, student loans) to help cover the costs!

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Me in Bolivia for an EWB clean water project

2. Humanitarian/Service-Learning Trips

Another form of studying abroad is service-learning or humanitarian trips. These are a great way to be able to travel while also honing the skills you’ve acquired in college and making the world a better place. I was able to have an amazing experience in Bolivia through my university’s Engineers Without Borders chapter while helping with a clean water project for a rural community there. These humanitarian or service-learning trips are often cheaper than a regular study abroad for a number of reasons: they are generally shorter, these trips may be somewhat subsidized by your university or charitable donations, developing countries are cheaper destinations, and the food and accommodations cost less (no five star hotels or Michelin star restaurants on these trips!). Humanitarian organizations can be a really great way to see the world off the tourist path for cheap!

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Road trip with some sorority sisters (the middle one just finished her marathon!)

3. Road Trips

Road trips are another way to travel that is closely associated with college, and for good reason–it can be one of the most affordable and fun ways to travel at this point in your life. How do so many college students afford to fly down to South Padre for spring break? Yeah, I don’t know either. What Ido know is that for less than the price of a plane ticket, you can stick four or five college students in a car and have a really affordable, fun trip! Splitting gas costs makes travel cheaper, and sometimes you can even stay with a relative or friend of one of your travel companions, saving even more money on lodging. For example, one of my sorority sisters (above) ran a marathon in Minneapolis, so a bunch of us traveled with her to cheer her on. We stayed with her aunt and uncle (who also made us an amazing lasagna dinner one night) and hit up Valley Fair and the Mall of America while we were there too, so we got to have a lot of fun for next to nothing! College students I know have taken really cheap road trips to places as varied as Winnipeg and the Grand Canyon while in college, and so can you. If you’re attending college far from home, a short road trip can be an awesome way to explore some great new territory near your university, too.

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On the IEEE Industry Tour in Fort Collins, CO

4. Conferences

Attending conferences is a great way that you can travel for cheap while learning more about your profession (and a tip you can remember for when you’re in the workforce too). Since beginning college, I have traveled to the Twin Cities in MN and Fort Collins, CO through IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) industry tours and to Madison, WI and Houghton, MI for SWE (Society of Women Engineers) regional conferences. All of these trips have been extremely affordable for me; I think the most expensive one was the IEEE industry tour to Colorado, which I paid $50 to attend. These trips are great for your professional development and you can often have the costs fully or partially covered if you’re a member of the organization or you talk to your department at school. Most colleges will have some amount of funding set aside for this, and sometimes all you need to do is ask!

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Me with a boy named Luis on a Casas por Cristo trip

5. Short-Term Mission Trips

There’s no doubt that this can be an awesome way to travel while in college. I’ve been on five home-building mission trips to Mexico with Casas por Cristo since starting college, and I’ve loved every one of them. We spend the whole time with the families, getting to know them while building a house for them, and often they’ll even cook homemade meals for us–tamales, pozole, tacos, empanadas, soup and more! Our travel to Mexico certainly isn’t glamorous–we drive to save costs (which means spending four days in the van for a three-day build in Mexico), we pack most of our food and bring it into Mexico, and we sleep on the floor or pews of churches along the way. But hey, it’s supposed to be an adventure, right? And it sure is cheap–I think the most I’ve ever paid for one of these trips is $500, often less. Not bad for an international trip, and it includes helping cover the costs for the house materials. Even if you’re not religious, a mission trip is a cheap way to travel while in college that does good for people in less-privileged areas of the world.

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80’s Night at Arrowwood Resort (conference during my internship)

6. Internships

Internships are highly recommended while you’re in college, because they help you grow professionally and gain experience in your field. If you’ve got the travel bug, why not grow your professional skills in another state or even country? I have friends who have done internships and coops throughout the US, and even one who spent a summer working for an engineering firm in Chile! My internships thus far have never taken me farther than a city about an hour from my home, but I was able to attend a work retreat at a resort in Alexandria, MN for one of my internships–we did fun team-building activities like Minute-To-Win-It, played ping pong and mini-golfed, swam and kayaked at the lake for free, and there was an open bar each evening. Not to mention it’s a multinational company, so I was able to meet people from around the world and even practice my Spanish! Next time you’re torn between working or traveling in the summer, why not apply for an internship in a place you’ve always wanted to visit?

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Volunteering as a junior counselor near beautiful Three Lakes, Wisconsin

7. Take Advantage of Summer!

Unless you plan to work in education, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have 3-4 months off of work/school yearly ever again. Make the most of your summers (and also winter and spring breaks) in college while you can. This can mean studying abroad, road trips, or internships, or maybe volunteering! I spent two weeks of my summer after graduating high school volunteering as a junior counselor at an amazing camp in northern Wisconsin. I got to play soccer, capture-the-flag, and other games, kayak, shoot archery, swim, hike, sleep in a treehouse, sing, cook over a campfire, and work with awesome kids in a really beautiful area for free! Don’t overlook volunteer opportunities over the summer while you’re in college, as they’re a great way to travel and gain experience working with a wide variety of people or even developing skill sets you need for your degree.


College puts you in a really unique situation that you’ll never be in again in your life–you’re figuring out who you are and what you want to do, and you have lots of free time but little money to spend on traveling. While it would be awesome to take off and travel the world for a few years instead, a college education is an extremely valuable asset. You can still travel while in college without going broke by using the seven ways mentioned above. Another added perk is that a lot of these will also look awesome to your future employers when it’s time to enter the “real world” beyond college. Happy travels!


How about you? Were you able to travel while in college? Got any great tips that I missed? Comment below!

7 Ways to Afford Travel while in College

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