I very recently returned from a study abroad program in Ireland (so you can definitely expect a couple more travel-related blog posts in the coming weeks!) and it was pretty much my first time traveling to another country, so of course there were some things that were completely new to me. Let’s be blunt here. Studying abroad is EXPENSIVE. there are program fees to pay, tuition, application fees, and after you get accepted to the program you have to buy travel essentials and convert currency. One thing you have to be sure of is that you’ll have enough money to last you the entire duration of the trip. And this is where you might start to worry….
You’ll feel like you need to have EVERYTHING in the shops; you need to buy gifts for your friends, parents, and siblings, and don’t you even dare return home without picking something up for your mom’s cousin’s daughter — you’ll never hear the end of it if you do. Not to mention the fact that you’ll have to pay for daily meals and anything else that comes up. Here’s how I managed my spending while abroad while still making room to treat myself (and my family and friends).
1. Pack the medications you use on the regular so you don’t have to purchase them abroad.
This is more of a pre-departure preparation but it can save you some cash. If you know you use Tylenol when you get headaches, pick up a travel pack of it before leaving home. If you’re prone to catching colds, make sure you bring some cough drops and some of your cold medicine. It can be costly to have to run out and purchase these things while abroad. And, depending on where you travel to, it can be difficult to find a pharmacy to purchase these things. It’s much safer to just come prepared with these items. I also have a post on everything you should pack for study abroad, if you’re interested.
2. Don’t go out drinking every night.
Chances are, the drinking age abroad is lower than the one you’re used to in your country. In the U.S., the drinking age is 21 but in Ireland the drinking age is 18. It can be tempting to go out and have some legal fun and not be carded at every pub or bar you enter, but don’t let the fun go to your head. One drink may be just five dollars, euros, pounds, or whatever, but all those drinks will add up fast, and before you know it you’ll barely have money left for souvenirs.
3. Bring a refillable water bottle.
Continuously buying bottles of water at the store can get pricey. On day one, I bought a bottle of water from the vending machine and it cost two euros, which I thought was pretty expensive. Having a refillable bottle handy will allow you to quench your thirst wherever and whenever. And I promise I’m not trying to sell you water bottles, but that’s just how useful they really are.
4. Make sure you love it, not just like it.
High quality items can be extremely expensive, so make sure you’re dropping the big bills on something you actually really, genuinely love. Sometimes when you see something eye-catching you just can’t get it out of your head and you feel like it was made for you. That’s when you snatch it up.It can be difficult to convince yourself that you don’t need every single keychain in the store. I didn’t purchase too many things for myself because even though I saw so many pretty things, I knew that there were some things that I wouldn’t feel bad about not buying and I was right.
5. Splurge on authentic rather than tourist target.
There will definitely be some items that you see in basically every single gift shop, and often times the prices of these items vary and can get quite high. After a couple of days in Ireland, I made a list of things that I will NOT purchase at tourist gift shops: jewelry; woolens; hats; chocolate; tea. There are specific shops that sell these items in AMAZING quality and while they may be a bit more expensive, I knew that I’d be purchasing the very best for someone I care about. It’s much better to dish out the extra dough on something authentic rather than picking up the lower quality stuff at tourist traps, in my opinion.
6. Look into purchasing city passes.
City passes basically allow you to visit certain attractions and use certain transportation for free while you’re in a specific city. Of course, you do pay a fixed fee for the city pass so everything isn’t exactly free but it does save you money. Why go in your pocket to pay the bus fare every time you want to go somewhere when you can just flash your pass and be on your way? Be aware that city passes are not universal and therefore not every city offers them. If you aren’t sure, visit the tourist center where you’re staying and you’ll have all the information you need.
7. Ask your professor for the dish on the best places to eat and find some items.
The professor who supervised our study abroad program was extremely knowledgable about where to get certain things for the best price, best quality, where to get the best dishes, where the grocery stores were, what closed at what time, and all that other important stuff that we usually don’t think about before heading out. Simply asking questions can be key to saving yourself money. And if you’re on an exchange program and don’t have a supervising professor, don’t be afraid to ask some locals for their opinions!
8. Use Trip Advisor.
This is another alternative to asking your professor. Trip Advisor is pretty trustworthy and can help you find what you’re looking for. Read what people have to say about certain restaurants so you know if the food is good for the price before you spend money. Get a consensus on attractions before you pay admission. This can definitely save you a couple of bucks.
9. Limit the laundry.
If your program is just a couple of weeks long like mine was, aim to do laundry just once or twice in large loads. Laundry wasn’t easily accessible everywhere I went and some places were very pricey. I grabbed a couple of other students in the program and we put our laundry together to form one big load because none of us wanted to pay a lot of money just to wash underwear and a couple of sweaters. We split the costs and I paid less than three euros to do my laundry. To limit the laundry, make sure you pack enough clothes for the trip and only pack what you’ll actually wear so that unnecessary pieces of clothing don’t take up space in your suitcase.
Another great thing that really helped me out was packing a Tide-to-go pen. When I was eating dinner one night, I got a splash of soup on the sleeve of one of my prettiest sweaters and it was only my first time wearing it. I didn’t want to just throw it to wash because it was really early in the trip and I didn’t have enough clothing to wash. So I just used my Tide to go pen and it took care of the stain so I could still wear the sweater until I was ready to wash clothes.
10. Keep your money safe.
This is one of the most important ways to be money smart wherever you are. Keep an eye on your cash as well as any credit or debit cards that you bring. Know exactly how much you have at all times so you’ll know if you’ve lost money. Don’t leave your wristlet on the table at dinner and walk away, even if a friend is watching your stuff. There’s not much they can do if someone swiftly walks by, swipes your purse off the table, and is out the door before your friend can even blink. When walking in crowded areas, keep your bag or purse in front of you and close to your body.
11. Get a tax card and also ask for tax receipts every time you make a purchase.
We received Horizon cards on day one and were told to present the card whenever we made a non-food or beverage purchase. The prices on the items already included tax and because we were just tourists, we’d be able to get that money back upon leaving the country. DON’T forget to ask the cashier if the store scans Horizon cards. If you’ve been buying up a ton of gifts for family and friends, you will lose quite a bit of money if you forget. I definitely forgot to use my card for a lot of purchases, and it’s too late now. Check to make sure that the country you’re in can give you some kind of tax card. Stores that don’t scan tax cards will usually give you a tax receipt that you can fill out.
What are your tips for being money smart while abroad?