Backpacking on a budget: Tips for affordable summer travel

Spending the summer abroad — it’s a familiar rite of passage in American culture, as closely identified with college life as football rivalry games and all-night study sessions. The idea certainly has romantic appeal: picture yourself finishing your final exams, stopping off for a quick visit with the family, and then packing your bags for parts unknown.

Who could resist? Furthermore, why should you? Traveling overseas can be one of the most rewarding parts of your education.

Of course, traveling isn’t free. The expense of such a trip might keep many students from embarking on their dream adventure, while others may overspend and end up with uncomfortable debt burdens once they’re back on domestic soil. But there are things you can do to avoid either of these unhappy outcomes.

While you probably won’t be backpacking across Europe this year, it’s a good idea to start planning for such a trip ahead of time. Here are some tips to help get you there and back again with your bank account in good shape.

1) Take advantage of hostel hospitality. While the thought of sharing a room with a group of strangers may seem unappealing, hostels cost much less than hotels and are often just as nice. Furthermore, that group of strangers will most likely hail from all parts of the globe, giving you a chance to make friends from around the world. (And these contacts can even come in handy should you ever travel to your newfound friends’ home countries.) Check out Hostels.com to find and book lodging in most cities of the world.

2) London calling: Look for the best deals on phoning home. In today’s technological world, lots of options exist to help you keep down your phone bills while you’re away. If you have a smart phone, software applications such as Skype allow you to call other Skype users for free, and to call other phones for low rates. You can also buy prepaid SIM cards in your destination countries (although you’ll need to get your phone “unlocked” by your provider first) or purchase inexpensive international-use cell phones from several different providers.

3) Opt for affordable fare over fine dining. Much like hotels, restaurants aimed at tourists often charge exorbitant prices, taking advantage of a basic bit of human psychology: If something is more expensive, people will think it’s a superior product. But you can eat just as well by finding restaurants frequented by locals (rather than tourists), or by picking up food at a grocery store and making your own picnic.

4) Chill out in Chile or peruse Peru. If your budget can’t bear the expense of the more popular tourist traps, look for more affordable — but no less adventuresome — destinations. When the time comes for you to bid our shores bon voyage, do some research on exotic locations with favorable currency exchange rates. You may have as memorable a trip to Southeast Asia, Central or South America, or Eastern Europe as more traditional countries, without paying premium prices.