Budget Travel Basics
There's no time like the present to practice the fine art of cheap travel.
In some ways, there's no better time to travel than right after graduation. You're free of academic deadlines, and you haven't yet acquired the kinds of responsibilities that will keep you from travel later in your life. The disadvantage, of course, is that money is tight. You're in luck - a lot of student travel discounts also apply to anyone 26 or under. In order to travel cheaply, though, you'll probably have to make some sacrifices. Discount rates may require you to be very flexible on dates and accommodations. You're unlikely to travel in luxury this way, but at least you'll come back with good stories.
Youth Travel Cards
Recent graduates under the age of 25 are eligible for the International Youth Travel Card. With an IYTC, you'll be eligible for discount airfares as well as discount rates at more than 80,000 hotels, restaurants and stores worldwide. You can apply for one of these cards at most major travel agencies, as well as online. Try Student Universe or Council Travel.
If you're under 26 and planning to travel extensively in Europe or Asia, you should check out the International Student Exchange card, which entitles you to discount rates at museums, theaters, travel offices and recreational facilities. If you run into trouble, an ISE representative will even help you with passports and travel papers, as well as sending you emergency cash if you need it. ISE cards are valid for one year, cost $25 and can be ordered online at the ISE Web site: www.isecard.com.
The Net is a good place to score discount plane tickets. A few budget travel Web sites are resellers. They purchase tickets or tour packages in bulk and then resell them to the consumer. They can offer great deals, but, again, your options might be limited. Student Universe negotiates exclusive international fares just for students. Other good bets are Travelocity.com and Lowestfare.com. Certain alternative airlines offer better food, more legroom, and pleasant flight attendants for a cheaper price, courier services will drastically cut your fare if you agree to accompany packages for them, and you can also fly standby on a number of airlines. Go to xfares.com, or check with a specific airline.
One of the biggest discounts available to travelers under the age of 26 is the Eurail Youthpass, which allows travelers complete railway access to 17 countries, including Italy, Ireland, Spain and Greece. Passes start at just less than $400 for 15 consecutive travel days, and longer passes are a better value. The Youthpass only allows you second-class travel, but depending on the length of your pass, you can save up to $500. People serious about budget travel have been known to sleep on trains while traveling on Eurail passes, thereby saving on hotel expenses. You must purchase the pass while in the United States, though, as they're rarely available in Europe. One of the major drawbacks of travel by Eurail Youthpass is that not all European countries are members of Eurail. Go to eurail.com for more information.
Places to Stay
For between $5 and $15, you can spend a night in a youth hostel. Hostels are more than a cheap place to stay; they are reflective of a certain attitude toward traveling. Hostelling creates a feeling of camaraderie among fellow guests that enhances the whole experience of being abroad. Nearly all hostels are sparse, shared facilities. Rooms are dormitory style with bunk beds, with common bathrooms. For more information on hostels, try hostels.com or Hostelling International.
When outside the city, backpacking and camping are still common throughout the world. Camping can be tricky near urban areas, but most places in rural Europe are quite accepting of young people who set up a tent for a night and then move on.
When traveling, you should ask around for youth discounts even if you weren't able to arrange for them in advance. Some hotels, airlines, cultural attractions and train lines offer them but don't advertise, and many places offer discounts if you have an International Student Exchange card or an International Youth Travel Card.
The keys to discount travel are flexibility and persistence. You'll have better luck finding discounts if you're willing to compromise on schedule, privacy, luxury, or all three. With a little bit of planning, though, you should be able to have a wonderful trip without spending too much money. And wherever you go, you might want to consider heading off the beaten track and roughing it a bit; it's the best way to fully appreciate all a country as to offer.
For updated information on travel conditions, tourist advisories or health concerns, visit the U.S. State Department online.
Also of interest: Courier Travel, Budget Travel Basics, Alternative Airlines, Surfing Safari.