Today’s young adults are faced with many pressures that make the transition between important life stages overwhelming. From juggling a packed schedule of classes, sports and extracurricular activities in high school to graduating college with unmanageable debt and an uncertain job market, it’s no wonder more students than ever are taking a break to travel, explore and recharge during what’s called a “gap year.”
Taking a year off between high school and college or college and a first job to travel has become increasingly popular with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 young adults doing so these days, according to the American Gap Association. If you or your child are considering a gap year during this back-to-school season, follow these financial tips to make this dream a reasonable reality.
1. Budget wisely.
Before you figure out how you’re going to fund your gap year, you need a plan and a rough budget to determine how much money you will actually need. Take into consideration living expenses, transportation, food and entertainment when working up your expenses. If your parents decided to chip in, find out how much they are willing to give toward your trip and factor this into your estimate.
2. Select a destination thoughtfully.
Certain destinations offer incredible value for young travelers on a budget, whereas others can be extremely costly and limit a student’s time away. In Thailand, for instance, you can expect to pay as little as $5 per day on food, while one meal in Australia alone will cost anywhere from $15 to $20. Details like these are incredibly important when planning your gap year and estimated budget! For more help, review PriceofTravel.com for a list of the world’s cheapest cities along with exchange rates to find a destination that fits your needs and budget.
3. Apply for a scholarship.
Most people don’t realize that financial aid opportunities are available for students looking to take some time off from school and the real world. The American Gap Association provides a list of available scholarships and grants, some of which require college credit to qualify. Even though a gap year is intended as a break from your academic track, getting some extra credit while traveling ensures you graduate on time and get the funds you need for the trip of a lifetime! You’re not limited to only one scholarship, so apply for as many as you can and begin your research early.
Think outside the box and consider making money by fundraising. For those who are planning to volunteer during their gap year, use VolunteerForever.com to launch a fundraising campaign to share your mission and collect donations for your trip. You can also use sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, or go the old-fashion route by calling organizations in your area for support. Gap Year also has a great list of creative fundraising ideas.
5. Stash away cash gifts.
Once you begin thinking about taking a gap year, it’s important to start saving. Open a separate account where you can stash away cash gifts you receive for birthdays, holidays and graduation. When loved ones ask you what you want as a gift for a celebratory occasion, be honest about your desire to travel and that you’d appreciate support towards your gap year. At Tendr.com, you can create a cash registry for your trip as an alternative to a graduation or birthday gift wish list and share it with loved ones eager to help make your dream a reality.
6. Pick up a part-time gig.
If funds are low, picking up a part-time gig is one of the best ways to ensure you have enough money for your time off. Beef up your savings by working on the weekends or evenings after school. You can find babysitting gigs through BabySitterExchange.com, dog sitting and walking jobs through Rover.com, or help people run various errands like grocery shopping at TaskRabbit.com. Otherwise, scope out jobs at a nearby retail shop, grocery store or bakery where you can pick up a few shifts per week.
7. Book early.
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is airfare and timing is everything when it comes to saving money on flights. Start tracking flight prices through Yapta and check SkyScanner.com, which specializes in finding the cheapest flight anywhere in the world. Also, websites like CouponSherpa.com offer great deals on travel expenses including discounts on hotels, airfare and travel agencies. For example, you can currently score a flight as cheap as $496 from Boston to Barcelona through Vayama, an online travel agency.
8. Think outside the box for lodging.
After airfare, finding a place to live will be your second biggest expense. Luckily, lodging alternatives like couch surfing, bedroom rentals and home swapping services make it more affordable. Use CouchSurfing.com to connect with a host and score free digs! This is a great way to experience a true cultural exchange and learn about a way of life unlike your own while making friends along the way. You can also swap your apartment or home with one in your desired destination through HomeExchange.com to live like a local and save big bucks.
9. Seek out student discounts.
Whether you’re graduating high school or just finished college, your student status can help you save money when traveling. Keep your I.D. handy and always ask if there are any student discounts available before you pay. Consider picking up an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for student discounts in over 133 countries on travel, restaurants, and attractions worldwide. Use the ISIC global app to find and view thousands of benefits worldwide plus those nearby or at a location of your choice. Even if you’re not a student but under the age of 30, pick up a Youth Travel Card for similar benefits and discounts.
10. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Credit cards will become an important financial tool when you’re traveling, but beware of foreign transaction fees. Around 90% of credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee for purchases made outside the U.S. and these fees can add up quickly. Capital One and Discover have eliminated foreign transaction fees and they offer more levels of fraud protection, so this would be a great alternative to help you overseas.
Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. Check out Andrea’s demo reel or visit her website at AndreaWoroch.com. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook for daily money tips.