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How I Saved $11,000 for Travel While In College

In Blog, Travel Tips by Kay10 Comments

I let out an exasperated sigh. This could only mean one thing – time to check my bank account again to make sure I had enough money for textbooks and food. Welcome to the life of a broke college student!

Some people think that travel is a right reserved for the rich. Others think that the only way for students to travel is to have their parents pay for it. I’m here to tell you that these notions are both *wrong.*

I spent my first two years of college living from paycheck to paycheck and scrounging around for free food and t-shirts on campus. In fact, there were times when I only had double (or even single…)-digits in my checking account…and there was still tuition to pay. Needless to say, the college years are some of the most difficult times to earn and save money. With classes, extracurriculars, and job applications, full-time work is out of the question and it can be hard to find time to make money at all.

After catching the travel bug numerous times, I knew that after graduation, I wanted to explore. Not only did I want to travel, but I wanted to go to places I’d always dreamed of visiting. So, I set my mind to saving up for my graduation trip, which will take me to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, and finally Iceland, where I’ve been dying to go since high school.

And, through hard work and compromise, in the past eight months, I was able to pull together over $11,000 to take this graduation trip of my dreams. It was hard work, and it took a lot of sacrifice, but I kept travel in my mind throughout all of the obstacles. To help other students (and potential travelers) like you save up for the trips of your dreams, I’ve compiled a list of the rules I lived by to save up this money. Read on to find out exactly how I did it!

A Little Bit of Mythbusting

When I began saving money for my dream graduation trip, I was basically starting from $0. I had just spent six months in Brazil, which is a fairly expensive place to live. In achieving my financial goals, I told myself that I would avoid the following things:

1. Accepting money from my parents for my trip savings

2. Letting my grades/GPA suffer for the sake of working and making money

3. Working so much that I get burnt out and lose all desire to study or travel

As you can see, I started off just like you might be right now – a typical, broke college student with a subpar resume and a desire to travel. During my saving period, I was still able to have fun and enjoy myself, sleep enough, and eat well. It’s all about prioritizing, working hard, and remembering why you’re doing this in the first place.

How I Made Money:

Summer Internship

My summer internship was how I made the bulk of my savings. No, I didn’t get it through connections or because I got lucky. I applied to over 50 different positions in order to secure this one internship offer. I spent countless hours practicing my interview skills, polishing my resume, and networking. It was hard work, and there were a few all-nighters involved. I was constantly on-the-go for recruiting events, meetings, and interviews. I sacrificed a summer of travel (as you saw, because The Kay Days was dead silent last summer). But, in the end, it all paid off and I secured a great job that paid decently and enabled me to put over $8,000 in savings.

Part-Time Jobs

During the school year, I work two part-time jobs to help me save even more money. My first job is an on-campus administrative job with the Alumni Travel program, and the other is a tutoring job with a locally-owned tutoring company. Depending on the time of year, I am able to earn anywhere from $200-$350 each week across both jobs. Though my expenses during school are high (I took out $10,000 in loans and, on top of that, paid thousands of dollars out of pocket for tuition and books), I usually work 20+ hours a week to contribute to my savings and pay for incidental things that come up. On top of classes and extracurriculars, I’m usually on the go from 7:30 AM to 10 PM. My schedule stays busy and, with homework and studying to do, I sometimes don’t get a lot of sleep. But staying busy also means never getting bored!


On top of my jobs, classes, and extracurriculars, I also do a good amount of freelance writing to contribute additional income to my savings. Finding these assignments involves a lot of networking and relationship building, as well as proactively searching for jobs. Caroline has a great list of writing opportunities that she posts each month. Facebook groups tailored to blogging have also helped me get writing gigs in various online publications.

This section doesn’t exclusively have to do with blogging, however. It can involve babysitting on the side, or playing musical gigs for restaurants. You can sell artwork or photograph events. The opportunities are endless, but in the case of freelancing, you need to take the initiative to make and find opportunities for yourself.


How I Saved Money:

For me, there was really no point in spending so much time making money unless I actually saved some of it. Even though I was able to make enough to sustain myself, I had to change a lot of things in order to save money and live lighter.

Living In A Cheap Place

While most shared apartments in Houston run at around $800-900 monthly for a single bedroom, I opted for an option a little bit farther away from work and school that cost only $650 per month. I tried my best to keep expenses low by unplugging my devices when I wasn’t using them (especially phone chargers) and turning off lights and AC when I wasn’t home. My complex also offered free parking, which in the city, is a BIG advantage.

Also, Houston and Texas as a whole is much cheaper than living in a city like New York, Boston, or Chicago. Sure, it might not be as glamorous, but if you’re looking to save money for bigger and better things, who cares? Texas has a booming job market and is growing at lightning speed, so if travel is your ultimate goal, Texas is a great place to call your home base. Plus, on top of its cheap prices, there’s also no state income tax here, so you get to keep more of the money you earn. Although I’d love to eventually move elsewhere, Houston has been a blessing when it comes to saving money for travel.

Cooking Meals

Over the summer, during my internship, I tried to avoid eating out unless work was paying for it. I bought cheap food (Trader Joe’s is the best!) and tried not to overeat. Produce can actually be fairly inexpensive to buy and can last for days – plus, I learned the valuable lesson of cooking for the future. Instead of buying meals each day at work, I packed lunch four days a week and treated myself to lunch on Fridays in the cafeteria. I bought food items like yogurt, rice, and eggs in bulk to save money.

In the end, I came to realize that I loved cooking more than I liked eating out, and I actually ended up looking forward to coming home in the evening and cooking meals. I felt that in addition to saving money, I was also eating much healthier and lighter than I would have been otherwise.

cooking to save money

Cooking can help you save tons of money…and it’s fun!


To save money, I sold many things I didn’t need. I had an old iPad 2 sitting around from a Black Friday sale that I got rid of, and I made over $200. I sold my DSLR and bought a smaller, more portable, less expensive Sony NEX-6. Though a couple hundred dollars here and there seems trivial, it adds up and can help you save a few thousand dollars in the long run.

This summer, I needed a car to get to and from work, but in the past I have sold my car to travel. If you have a car that you can afford to get rid of, then this can be a great way to put money into your travel fund!

On top of that, I love to shop, especially for work clothes and exercise gear. Instead of taking expensive yoga classes, I canceled my subscription and bought a yoga block for my home. Instead of buying pricey professional clothes from brand name stores, I looked through my closet to see what I could wear to work, then used accessories to differentiate my outfits. Instead of relaxing at home in the evenings after work, I tutored students on the side to make additional income that I could add to savings. No matter what I did this summer, I kept my goal of traveling in the back of my mind, and my priorities quickly shifted.


A photo from the time I sold my car to travel around the Philippines…and didn’t once look back.

How You Can Make It Happen:

So, you’re probably wondering how you can put these ideas to work. You see, it’s not as much about the specifics of what I’ve done to save money. In fact, I could have made and saved money in loads of different ways. It was about working hard to find jobs, doing well in those jobs, and of course, finding ways to keep that money in my bank account. Whether you like to invest your money, or you like to teach swim lessons, or you’d rather make money by working at a grocery store, the options are endless.

After a summer of working full-time, I was able to save over $8,000 for my travels. The rest came from working part-time throughout the school year and drastically cutting my expenses. If you are committed to travel, then you, too, can find jobs and make lifestyle changes that help you save up to live your dreams.

At the end of the day, if a broke college student can do it, you can too. Write down a list of places you want to go, decide the things that are most important to you, and forget the rest. Take the opportunity to travel while you’re young and limitless, and live the life you’ve alway wanted.

Do you think this advice is useful? How do you save money for travel? Share your tips for other travelers in the comments 🙂

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  1. This is so impressive, Kay! I rarely get tempted by cloths and other expensive toys, but I always struggle with not spending money on food: I’m chronically late in the morning so I don’t have the time fix a lunch and it’s just so much more social to go to lunch with the co-workers… and oh, my horrible post-lunch coffee habit — well, I definitely know what I could change. And you’re absolutely right: It’s all about priorities! Great tips!

    1. Author

      Thanks Julika! Yeah, the shopping thing was a big one for me, so it’s fortunate that you don’t have that problem 🙂 As for food, I usually cook something the night before and put it in a tupperware so it’s ready to go in the morning!

  2. It all goes to show that a little planning and dedication go a long way to achieving goals! Putting off short term desires is hard work, but makes the travelling all that more enjoyable!

  3. Dear kay..
    I had dream trip like you, i had many list of my dream trip that i want to visit. I am college student too. And i will go one by one of my dream trip the next year
    Thanks for ur writing! I proud of you! Nice to meet you

  4. Awesome post! I am doing a lot of the same— trying to save a ton of money for travel as a college student. In 3.5 months last year I was able to save up $4,500 (while being a full time student) and this semester part time jobs are looking to get me about $7,000. People think they can’t make enough money to do anything significant to save money while in college- WRONG, it is very much possible

  5. Back when I was considering a trip to visit my Parents in Botswana. I kept saying I wasn’t sure when I’d go as I couldn’t afford it. A wise friend said just plan it anyway, set a date and make it happen. She was right and it did! Often times it’s that determination that makes all the difference. Glad you succeeded and good luck in Huston.

  6. Hi Kay, I think this is amazing. But i would have burnt out, I do not believe all this, i find this all unbelievable.

  7. Awesome ideas on how to save money, for whatever in life you may want. I will give you some advice though…take it or leave it. Pay off your debt as you go or you’ll be left with a huge debt at the end which will have you working far more than you should and traveling less often because you have to pay off that debt. Been there, done that. If you banked half the money you saved for travel and then payed off a chunk of your loan, you’ll be saving many thousands of dollars in the long run.
    The thing I like best about your post is that anything you want is possible, if you set your mind to achieve it and work towards the goals. Keep traveling!! Life changing doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  8. This post is definitely helpful and really inspiring! I’m a rising sophomore trying to save money over the next year to pay for a study abroad program in Spain for the fall of my junior year. It’s been tough so far, but I’m determined to make it happen. Thanks for the motivation!

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