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Study Abroad: The Best Way to do Spring Break on a Budget

March 29, 2016

ISEP student Virginia B. is a part of ISEP Voices Spring 2016. She is a political science major from Hamline University, and is currently studying abroad at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco.

One of the perks of studying abroad during the spring semester is, of course, you get to have a spring break abroad! As a farm girl going to college in Minnesota, the only real option to have a fun, warm exotic Spring Break is to either catch a flight or drive to a warmer place (warmness being several states away from my frozen tundra of a home). As a student, even one who works two jobs, I’ve never had the kind of money to travel very far on my break week. However, from my place here in Morocco, getting to see exotic locales suddenly became much more accessible.

So for those of you who, like me, don’t have inexhaustible funds to go traveling during your week off, fret not! Here are some tips from my personal experience for maximizing the potential of your trip without breaking the bank.

Step 1: Be Flexible

If you are studying abroad in the European or North African region, you could have some incredible opportunities to catch a flight somewhere for an absolute bargain.

Joe, Annie and I at the Fez airport.
Joe, Annie and I at the Fez airport.

Airlines like Ryanair offer deals almost every day to different locations that are so low; it’s sometimes cheaper than taking the train!

Our Plan: We decided to go from Madrid via train to Barcelona, then over to Milan and to do a haphazard tour of Italian cities. However, when my friend and I sat down to buy tickets from Madrid to Barcelona, it ended up being about $100 per person for a ticket just to travel within the country of Spain. We had to change our plan and it ended up being cheaper just to take a flight from Madrid to Rome the next day. We ended up just spending five days in Rome, then taking a trip to Pisa via train so we could catch our flight back to Fez.

Step 2: Find the Free Things

Ending my trip in Pisa
Ending my trip in Pisa

It may seem remarkable, but a lot of the things that you might categorize as “must-see” are often free, to a point.

During our trip to Rome, I wanted to see the Colosseum, but in order to see the inside you have to pay 12 euro and wait in a cramped line. Now Virginia, you might be saying, 12 euro isn’t that much to pay to see the inside of the Colosseum! For some, perhaps that might be true, but for a claustrophobic person like me, I’d much rather use that money to buy a good bottle of wine or plate of delicious gnocchetti.

Not free to go in, but free to admire from the outside!
Not free to go in, but free to admire from the outside!

Not free to go in, but free to admire from the outside! Another free thing to do — WALK. Seriously, you can save a lot of money in the long run simply by walking places instead of paying for transportation. Many of the major sites, like the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and various gorgeous churches (all of them free to see!) are within walking distance of one another, and you can stumble into many wonderful gelato places to reward yourself along the way!

Gelato for 2 Euro. One of many bowls.
Gelato for 2 Euro. One of many bowls.

Step 3: Know When to Spend

Of course, not everything you are going to want to see will be free, and some things are not worth cutting costs. For example, when I went to Italy, I allotted much of my money to be spent on food, because I would rather enjoy a week of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten than only somewhat enjoy my meals but have a lot of money left over.

The best meal I ate in Italy. Homemade gnocchi with wine made by monks.
The best meal I ate in Italy. Homemade gnocchi with wine made by monks.

The best meal I ate in Italy. Homemade gnocchi with wine made by monks. The same rule applied to souvenirs; I’d rather have higher quality souvenirs that my family and I could enjoy for many years to come than some cheap key chain that no one would use or would break after three months. You have to sort out where your priorities are and work on your budget from there. If you are on a budget, figure out where you want your money going and what kind of experiences you want to have.

Tiramisu. Need I say more?
Tiramisu. Need I say more?

Step 4: Have FUN!

This might seem obvious, but it is something you need to keep in mind. Don’t be so focused on an itinerary that you lose out on the experience. The best part of my spring break was walking the streets with my good friend, reveling in the incredible opportunity we had been given to see the world. Adventure is out there, so get exploring!

Outside St. Peter’s Basilica. A magical moment.
Outside St. Peter’s Basilica. A magical moment.

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