Many international students have already seen parts of the world and the insides of airports in locations that many American college students can only dream about. So, semester breaks provide the perfect chance for international students to do some local exploration.
During my first Christmas break as a student abroad, I had almost three weeks of free days to fill up. Some of that time was spent enjoying the freedom of a schedule without homework. But after the novelty of sleeping in wore off, I was itching to see something new.
Dreaming big with my husband, who was also a student, we decided to spend the New Year's holiday at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
[Get advice on how to fight holiday homesickness.]
By following a few travel tips, I was able to plan an adventure for less than the price of an academic credit.
1. Travel on less desirable days: Everyone generally gets the same breaks, but putting plans on pause until after Christmas or a later weekday will help to save money. We used the online auction site eBay to gauge the price of tickets.
On Dec. 22, we found a family's vacation up for bid that included two admissions passes for five days. If we could pull the holiday together on short notice, their scheduling conflict would let us enjoy Disney for less than half the retail price.
2. Check out the online options for booking your travel: We didn't buy the tickets right away because sometimes the expense of travel and board is more than the destination and we wanted to do some research and budgeting to see if it would work.
A bus fare found on Megabus.com took us from Detroit to Pittsburgh, Pa., for less than the cost of one tank of gas. We caught another bus from there and, with a little patience and time to think, we found a route to Florida that rang in under $100 per person.
[Learn the best ways for students to plan a trip home.]
The success of getting there and the excitement at the end of the line motivated us to find a bed for the flawless getaway. AirBnB.com was the perfect fit. The website's literal legitimization of couch-surfing puts you in contact with people who rent out spare bedrooms or apartments for any period of time you request.
Each place is rated like a hotel by the previous occupants and creates a community of travel enthusiasts that international students can really benefit from. We found a room with a fellow who offered to pick us up from the bus drop-off.
[Check out ways to save money as an international student.]
3. Plan your travel around a local event: Each of the tricks to traveling cheap work on the smaller scale, too. In fact, staying within state lines is sometimes the best way to get a unique taste of the local culture. Our adventures in Michigan even took us to places that locals sometimes miss out on.
In addition to the student discounts offered by many transportation companies and destinations, making your plans around a larger promoted event will help you secure more discounts and more concrete experiences as you travel. This was the case this past October when we participated in the Great Turtle Run on Mackinaw Island, Mich.
Participating in a fundraiser got us discounts on the ferry and a recommended list of hostels and campgrounds that supported the event by lowering prices for participants. We also got to enjoy the benefits of other local event sponsors while exploring the natural beauty of the state park.
To get the most out of your study experience, I recommend using your student status to visit locations local to your school. You're here and might as well see some of what your new community looks like, so get out there and see a bit of your brand new world.
Don't let your farewell from home be your last bon voyage as an international student. Traveling on the cheap comes easy for students if you know where to look for discounts and deals.
Katelyn Ruiz, from Canada, is pursuing an interdisciplinary master's degree in communication and English from Andrews University.