Tag Archives: money

Independent Travel vs. Study Abroad

Going abroad as a young adult is an integral part in becoming a more well-rounded, open-minded global citizen.  The first time leaving home for an extended period of time can be uncomfortable and nerve-racking at first, but with time, the first abroad experience will be something remembered forever.  Seasoned travelers can all recollect with great detail that first trip: stepping off the plane, getting lost, trying new foods and meeting other world wanderers.

Every young adult that has the means absolutely should go abroad.  Whether the funds come from parents, relatives or saved money, every penny spent on a trip is well worth it.  But, when the proposed trip looms as the very first time away from home, deciding how, where and with whom to travel can be difficult.

For university students there are two main choices for the first-time-abroad experience: study-abroad and independent travel.  Each option has its pros and cons, but in the end, a trip is a trip, and both choices offer the opportunity to begin explorations of the world.  The costs, benefits and draw-backs of study abroad and independent travel should be weighed carefully before making a decision.

So, what exactly is study abroad?  Study abroad is an opportunity to travel, live and study in another country through one’s university or college.  Students get to spend a term or more at another university, most likely studying the local language and taking other general courses.  The great thing about study abroad is that participants gain academic credit for their time living in a foreign country.  The trip kills multiple birds with one stone: knock out some academic credits, live in a foreign locale, travel around the region and mingle with other people of a similar age.

Study abroad can be a great way for a college student to begin their world travels because the programs and locales are safe and itineraries are often fully planned.  These sorts of programs can act as a channel to begin further independent travels.  The major drawback to study abroad programs is the price.  At many major U.S. universities, fees for study abroad are exorbitant to the point that many students go in debt (sometimes even further) to travel abroad.  It is true that this money also goes towards paying for academic credits, but spending $20,000 for a term in Spain may not be the right fit for every young person who has the travel bug.

This brings us to the next option: independent travel.  Independent travel is exactly what it sounds like: traveling around by yourself on a trip that you planned by yourself.  Independent travelers don’t go abroad through a company or program… they just go.  The benefit of independent traveling is absolute freedom to go wherever you wish, whenever you wish.  Feel like going to Ho Chi Minh City today? Done.  Feel like going to Cambodia tomorrow? Sure!

Three months of independent travel can also cost drastically less than three months of study abroad (depending where you go and your travel standards).  Independent travelers are usually very budget oriented, staying at cheap hostels, eating street food and taking overnight buses.  If you were to dedicate one term’s worth of study abroad funds to independent travel, the money could be stretched much further, leading to a longer trip.

Although independent travel equates to freedom and is very cheap, it’s not for everyone.  The drawback of independent travel is that you must be very comfortable being alone, fending for yourself and doing your own planning.  When something goes wrong for an independent traveler, there is no study abroad coordinator to make it better.  No one plans your insurance plan or your plane tickets.  This can be an extra hurdle, but it also can make the trip more fun and more personalized.  Independent travel is, of course, different in every country.  For students and young adults not ready to jump head-first into independent travel in, say, India or Africa, somewhere like Australia or Western Europe might be a good choice.

Both study abroad programs and independent travel are good choices for young adults who are vying to experience what the world has to offer.  Although study abroad costs more, the fees also pay for academic credits.  Students who participate will enjoy first time travel with the comfort of knowing that there are people associated with the program there to help in emergencies (parents will probably appreciate this too).  Independent travel can be dirt cheap, but is probably not the best choice for young adults who aren’t too sure about planning a trip alone and being alone for extended periods of time.  Each choice as pros and cons, but both are great options in taking that first step to become a global citizen and a global mind.

Study Abroad:

Pros: Planned out through university, get to be with other students, free-time to travel around region, lots of opportunities to make friends, knock some academic credits out of the way.

Cons: Can be crazy expensive, some people study abroad with friends from home and don’t branch out, can be too planned for some people.

Independent Travel:

Pros: Can be dirt cheap, can spread money out for longer (meaning longer travel), complete freedom to do whatever, meet more people not associated with the university setting, builds independence and self-reliance.

Cons: Might not be right for those nervous about traveling abroad/alone for the first time, no one to fall back on in emergency situations, requires careful planning pre-trip.

Four Money-Saving Travel Tips

Although the open road may beckon us, there are often road blocks between the dream of backpacking around Asia and living at home.  One of those road blocks is most often money.  Traveling around the world can be expensive, but it can also be very cheap depending on your living standards and your money-spending habits. The following are four techniques you can use while traveling to stretch your dollar, euro, rupee, or whatever, as far as possible, because every dollar saved means more time living your dreams on the road in Asia.

Tip #1: Eat Street Food!

Omlette vendor in Vietnam There’s a great deal of misconception about eating street food in Asia.  Depending on who you ask, what guide book you’re reading, or what travel doctor you see before your trip, they might give you one major piece of advice: “Don’t eat the street food!”  They’ll probably tell you horrible stories about food poisoning from eating street meat in Bangkok or fish in Vietnam.  But, don’t let these horror stories deter you, because this advice is absolutely false.  If you adhere to those misguided words or wisdom in Asia, you’ll be missing out on some of the most INCREDIBLE meals of your life, not to mention some of the most important local food culture.

The other major perk of eating street food in Asia is the price. Good, incredible, spectacular food is cheap. For example, a bowl of steaming hot pho in Vietnam ranges anywhere from $0.25 to $1.50. A few thick, chewy roti prata made in front of your eyes on the streets of Malaysia will run you about $1.00.  Eating street food will save you loads of money compared to if you were to eat all your meals in sit down restaurants and, honestly, street food is often better than restaurant food.  In some parts of Asia, like Thailand, street food is a major part of the culture.  To not eat street food in Bangkok would be about as sacrilege as going to Siem Reap, Cambodia and missing out on Angkor Wat.

Delicious and fresh papaya salad for about $1.

Some people are concerned about health issues and sanitation of street food vendors. But, not to worry.  You won’t have a problem with most street food carts, just make sure you keep your eyes peels and if the food doesn’t look very cleanly, don’t worry, another street food cart is likely only a block away.  The glory of the street food cart is that you can watch your food being made right in front of your eyes, while at a restaurant, the food is made behind closed doors.  Just remember that if you stomach does become upset from eating something, don’t blame it on street food in general!  Remember that it’s one isolated incident that shouldn’t be applying to the street food category as a whole.

Tip #2: Be Mindful of Your Books

Books from a used bookstore in Thailand

Used books are your best friend!

Long travel stints often mean a lot of free time: waiting at bus stations, nights along in hostels, 24 hour train trips.  What better way to fill your free time than with a thick, worn-and-torn book?  When you’re traveling, this often means you are looking at and thinking about the world in totally new ways and reading new material can make this fresh experience even better.  And let’s face it, on those nights when you just can’t stand the thought of going out for beers again, sitting on the roof of your hostel with a book is probably the most delightful alternative.  Whether it be classic novel, a historical narrative or a non-fiction work, books are a traveler’s best friend.  So, what’s the problem?  Although books are one of the most necessary travel accessories, the problem is that books can be very expensive while traveling.  There are several solutions to this problem of expensive books.

The first solution is to trade books with other travelers looking for some new material.  This is one of the best approaches because it is completely free.  It’s also fun to read books that dozens of other people have read, made notes in, folded the pages of and loved.  Add you own little note (maybe your email?) at the end of the book and see what comes of it!  The other good thing about trading with fellow travelers is that you get to talk about other recommendations for similar books.

The next solution is to go to a used bookstore where you can often find some stellar deals.  Many of the used bookstores in Asia also sell some new books, so if you’re craving some brand spankin’ new pages, you can get them there.  The benefit of going to used bookstore is that they will often buy your finished book for about half the price they’ll sell it for and you can use that money as a credit for your next book.  This ends up being a pretty good deal if you’re swapping out books at used book stores.  Some regions have a sparser selection of used book stores, but in places like Thailand and Malaysia, used bookstores abound.  The draw back of too many used bookstores is that you’ll be tempted to buy too many books and then end up carrying around 10 extra pounds in your pack.

**Travel Tip: Some of the best places for English-language used books stores in Asia include Chiang Mai (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

Tip #3: Stop Spending So Much Money on Your Room

Simple hostel bed

Nothing wrong with this simple hostel room for only a few dollars.

Because really?  How much time do you spend in your room when you are traveling anyway?  A comfortable room is always nice, but is the TV, in-room bathroom and sink, air-con and refrigerator really necessary?  Probably not.  One of the best ways to shave money off your travel expenditures is to settle for no-frills, basic rooms.  You can find a room in Asia for anywhere between $1,500 (and beyond) and $0.50.  Spending $2-$3 on a room means you’ll probably just get a bed and a closet-like room.  This is fine if you’re planning on spending the majority of your time out-and-about (which you probably are).  For a few bucks more, you can get a room with air-con, which is always nice if you’re in a place like Bangkok where the heat can be sweltering.

What you’ll get with a very cheap room:

1) A bed.  It won’t necessarily be comfortable but it will most likely be clean and sleepable.

2) A pillow.  It won’t necessarily be soft, but it’s still a pillow.

3) A shared bathroom.  Some travelers steer clear of the shared bathroom, but it’s really not so bad.  You share one bathroom and shower, sometimes more, with other travelers.  People generally keep this communal area clean.  In larger hostels, each floor may be equipped with as many as 5 shared bathrooms for easier access.

Tip #4: Walk!!!!!!

Walk! Walk! Walk!

One of the best ways to save money is to forget the taxis, the rickshaws, the tuk-tuks and even the buses.  Walk!  It’s free, fun, good exercise and is probably the best way to intimately get to know a place.  Taking the occasional taxi for long journeys is ok, but getting in the habit of hailing a cab every time you need to get somewhere will surely put a damper on your travel budget.  The best perk of walking is that you see exponentially more things, details, people and events than you would see while in a moving vehicle.  The best way to get to know a new place is to get lost on foot and then find your way back to your hostel or a major landmark.  It is essential that this be done on foot.  Make sure you take comfortable walking shoes with you on your travels!  This tip will help your wallet, will increase your knowledge of a place and will help you stay fit while on the road!

Still nervous about street food? Click below for some great advice from bad ass and traveler extraordinaire, Anthony Bourdain: