I will be the first to tell you that travelling is expensive. Add in fancy dinners, Airbnbs, last-minute flights, and studying abroad sounds more like a huge financial burden than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Or maybe it sounds exactly like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you’ll only be able to afford it once in your life. In all honesty, I would never have been able to afford this external program without the generous scholarships I received from Temple. However, even with the majority of my experience covered, I still constantly worry about how much I’m spending. The conversation around money is often one of discomfort and shame. Thus, in an attempt to destigmatize the topic, I want to be as transparent as possible about how I’ve been budgeting my trip, external trips, essentials, and splurges. I want to do this without shame about what I can’t afford, without shame about the things I can afford, without shame about what I pay for on my own, and without shame for what my parents help me pay for.
For starters, we’ll talk about budgeting my trip to and from France. One of the most expensive aspects of international travel is airfare. As I was able to cover the whopping $17,000-plus-program-costs with scholarships, my dad offered to pay for my round-trip flight. That isn’t to say, however, that I flew first class. In order to find the most cost-effective flight, I used a site called StudentUniverse that offers student discounts for international and domestic travel. If you are planning on studying abroad, transportation will likely compose the majority of your budget, with international flights averaging around $500-$800. When finalizing plans to study in France, I also began to consider weekend trips and fall break trips. This was made a little difficult by the slow release of our academic calendar upon arrival in Nantes. That being said, if you receive your academic calendar in advance, book your desired trips as soon as possible. If you do not have that option, as I did not, use sites like SkyScanner that offer a comprehensive breakdown of the cheapest, quickest, and best flights to your destination.
Planning these trips with friends, while worth it, definitely makes the financial breakdown a little tougher. As much as I’d love to jet set to every major city in Europe, I’ve had to decline invitations to certain destinations because they didn’t fit into my budget. While an $80 round trip is very appealing, you also have to consider the cost of food when you arrive at your location, the cost of public transportation in order to get around the city, and the cost of an Airbnb, hostel, or hotel. For the most part, I have paid for my own flights/train rides and lodging expenses for the external trips I have planned. However, my stepdad and mom very graciously offered to pay for my Airbnb in Munich, Germany, and my flight to Amsterdam, Netherlands later in the semester. All in all, my parents’ money and mine combined, I have spent around $3,000 on external travel. As I said before, travelling is expensive, and I am incredibly lucky to have such generous parents who are willing to invest in my explorations.
As I also said before, I am by no means flying first class. An important aspect of planning travel on a budget is accepting discomfort. Rather than taking a short two-hour flight to Munich, my friends and I opted for a fourteen-hour combination of train and bus rides, each of which just happened to have a crying baby. What we lost in comfort, however, we gained in cost-efficiency. Being cost-efficient is vital to travelling, but it is also crucial for day-to-day life. While eating out and discovering new restaurants is fun, the costs add up. I’ve had to become very conscious of accepting dinner invitations as it tends to cost a little more to dine out here, not to mention that my card gets an extra charge due to the currency exchange every time I use it. Rather, I buy a set amount of groceries for the week, typically under 30 euros, to make myself lunches for the week. Thankfully, through my program, breakfast and dinner is provided by our host families.
I don’t write this post to flaunt what I can afford or draw pity for what I cannot. Rather, I hope to help anyone going through the planning processes of studying abroad. I have personally found it very difficult to spend as much money as I have. However, I have worked very hard in order to get to a place where I know I have the money to spend. I recognize that not everyone’s parents have the same capacity to give and I am nervous that I will come off as someone who is spoiled and spoon-fed. But I am willing to take that risk in order to give an honest portrayal of what it costs to study abroad. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve noticed that the conversation around money is a lot less scary. While every student doesn’t necessarily have the same budget, we all feel comfortable saying “I can’t afford that” or “Let’s go somewhere less expensive.” I’ve learned to become a lot firmer when declining a dinner or after-class activity. It’s not always easy to stick to a budget, especially when in a new, enticing city, but for many it’s not a choice. I get anxious every time I take over twenty euros out or drop 250 euros on a flight, but when I look at where I am, how much I’ve learned, and how France has slowly become a second home to me, I know every cent has been worth it.