Grace Lower | Jan 6, 2022
There’s an old adage that’s often thrown around in conversations about travel: when you’re young, you have time and energy, but no money; when you get older, you have money and energy, but no time; and later when you finally have time and money, you have no energy.
Of course, you’ll want to take that saying with a grain of salt, since literally any stage in life can be an ideal time to travel. But if you’re young and want to get around the whole “no money” issue, there are plenty of budget-friendly destinations for student travelers. Admittedly, transportation to these destinations isn’t always cheap. But if you can incorporate these destinations into your study abroad plans or find a great deal on flights, you’ll be able to live like royalty—even if you’re “ballin’ on a budget.”
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is internationally adored for its balance of beauty and affordability. “The City of a Hundred Spires” isn’t the hidden gem it once was, but despite its growing popularity, Prague has remained remarkably inexpensive. For around 80 Czech Crowns (that’s about $4 USD), you can order a hearty bowl of goulash and a pint of beer at any decent restaurant. Beyond that, student hostels start as low as $13 USD per night. The city is super pedestrian-friendly, too—saving you the money you’d otherwise spend on public transportation and giving you the freedom to explore.
2. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok has gained popularity in recent years, thanks to the city’s exhilarating blend of old and new. As Bangkok continues to grow, so too do its skyscrapers and mega-malls…right alongside centuries-old temples and palaces. For student travelers, a visit to Bangkok makes for an extraordinary adventure. Need a place for inexpensive souvenirs? Try Chatuchak Weekend Market. Looking for cheap eats? The city is teeming with street vendors and affordable restaurants where you can order everything from stewed chicken feet to a traditional bowl of Pad Thai. When you’re not exploring Bangkok’s famous Floating Markets or admiring the city’s architecture, you can kick back in the scenic Lumpini Park, free of charge.
3. San Juan, Puerto Rico
With pristine beaches, pastel-painted houses, and a thriving culinary scene, Puerto Rico has all the allure of a tropical destination for a fraction of the cost. As a student, you’ll find that accommodations are reasonably priced—whether you opt for an Airbnb, a hostel, or a traditional hotel. Plus, with so much beauty concentrated in one destination, you don’t have to go far (or spend much money) to experience what Puerto Rico can offer. Join a free walking tour of Old San Juan to learn about the city’s past—and if you’re really on a history kick, $5 USD will get you access to Puerto Rico’s famous fortresses, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal. After a long day of exploration, there’s nothing better than unwinding at one of Puerto Rico’s many gorgeous beaches. The sunshine will come at no extra cost to you!
4. Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnam has had a complicated past, and the country is still gaining momentum after a tumultuous few decades. But if you’re in Southeast Asia, the Vietnamese city of Hanoi is an affordable destination, rich with natural beauty and diversity. As a student, you can stay at a decent hostel for as little as $3 USD per night; with those savings, you’re free to explore the city with abandon. You can take in the scenery at the picturesque Hoan Keim Lake or tour the Vietnamese Women’s Museum or the Temple of Literature for a mere $1.32 USD and $0.50 USD, respectively. When you’re not admiring the city’s history and culture, you can spend your downtime doing what any respectable person does in Vietnam: stuffing yourself silly with incredible food and the world’s greatest coffee (sorry, Starbucks). If you’re a foodie, you’ll learn that Vietnam’s colonial history brought a heavy French influence into Vietnam’s cuisine. Today, Vietnamese dishes pho and banh mi offer the best of both cultures’ culinary traditions—spiciness and fresh ingredients married with delicate sauces and flaky breads. And with most vendors charging less than $2 USD per plate, you can sample a little bit of everything, no matter your budget.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
One of my biggest study abroad regrets was not making it out to Portugal. The capital city, Lisbon, has all of the history of more popular Iberian cities like Madrid, but with added benefit of gorgeous coastlines and fewer crowds. For just $3.27 USD, you can take one of the city’s famous trams to the cobblestone-lined Alfama neighborhood for an afternoon of sightseeing. You’ll also want to make sure to visit the iconic Torre de Belem—a surprisingly gorgeous military fort with free admission on Sunday mornings. If you’re looking for nightlife, go no further than the Bairro Alto and Principe Real neighborhoods. The bars are eclectic, and the drinks are affordable compared to most European destinations (I’m looking at you, London).
There’s a big world out there, and your budget shouldn’t keep you from getting out and exploring it. As with any trip, you’ll want to do your research before diving into any low-cost travel endeavors. But with a bit of creativity, some careful math, and a sense of adventure, you can visit these destinations—and many more—without breaking the bank.