The College Backpacker

Author: Austin Hagwood

The College Backpacker"
Austin Hagwood

To make the most of your study abroad experience, don’t just sightsee  — explore. While the words “backpack Europe” conjure images of overpriced restaurants and dismal exchange rates, finding adventure and saving money are complementary aims. For students trying to see the world and still eat, here are twelve tips to do more and spend less.

How to Stay

» Buy a tent. Or a hammock. Every night you sleep outside is a night you don’t pay for a room. Carrying a bed on your back offers unparalleled mobility and allows you to access landscapes from Spanish mountains to secluded seashores. Was I chased by wild boars? Yes. Did it beat a hotel? Yes. 

Alternatively, ENO hammocks sleep two and fit into a bag the size of your fist. (

» Consider Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a community of passionate travelers who share spare rooms, couches and food in exchange for a story and a smile. Hosts receive reviews and verification so you don’t end up as the next human centipede or newspaper headline, and you receive the benefit of learning a new place with the locals who know it best. From watching Finnish theatre with Tapsi to playing music in Paris with Rainbow Tom, Couchsurfing offers unorthodox and unforgettable friendships at no cost. (

» Camp in a garden. As its name implies, features hospitable horticulturists from Norway to Australia with room to host campers in private gardens. ( 


» Hit up a hostel. For those in need of a bed and regular showers, hostels offer low-cost alternatives to hotels and create funkadelic communities of college-aged backpackers. Many include free meals, pub-crawls, sports and guided trips. (

» Phone a friend. Remember that French exchange student you know on Facebook? That former Fulbright Scholar from Egypt? A friend from ND studying in Spain? They’d love to hear from you. 

How to Go

»  Find cheap flights on SkyScanner. SkyScanner is an independent flight comparison site that identifies the cheapest seats on dozens of airlines. Simply enter your departure dates and destination and watch as prices plummet. Not only will you save money on airfare, you’ll save the time required to compare each airline individually or wade through the sea of fees and add-ons associated with travel companies. (

»  Or go by land. For just £30, students in the UK can buy a 16-25 Railcard and save 30 percent on train travel across Britain. Sleeper trains in Egypt feature bunk beds and meals for the price of an average restaurant. Buses provide a place to sleep, see the countryside, and roll towards new frontiers all in one. Depending on how long you plan to stay, renting a car can actually be cheaper than buying multiple train tickets and carries the added thrill of risking death by going the wrong direction, misreading “Llanllwchaearn” or driving across a piazza and scattering pigeons into the cappuccinos of scandalized Italians. 

»  Hitch a ride. Technique varies by country, but when all else fails, the tradition of thumbing a ride remains alive and well. Recommended for groups of more than one, hitchhiking is a great way to make friends quickly, escape a downpour, and learn more than you could ever want to know about Scottish rugby. 

Live Where You Work

»  Sing for your supper. A farm in the Bahamas? Teaching English in Senegal? Sled-dogs in Sweden? Check out Workaway, a site designed for flexible travelers interested in swapping labor for free food and housing. With hosts on six continents and opportunities lasting a few weeks to over a year, Workaway provides opportunities to visit dream destinations without the worry of living expenses. (

»  Spend Midnight in Paris. For bibliophiles and Francophiles alike, the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore maintains four or five “tumbleweed” volunteers and houses them in its historic upstairs with a view of Notre Dame Cathedral. Duties include shelving books for two hours each day and sleeping on a mattress in the Poetry section in addition to wandering Paris and drinking in its river and romantic rain-slicked streets. 

How to Save Even More

»  Find a market. Whether you find yourself in Mexico or Morocco, locating the nearest street market remains the best way to eat fresh produce, discover local specialties and save money over restaurants and grocery stores. Grab a bag of apples, slip a baguette into your backpack, keep salami on hand and lose yourself in any city or village in search of a scenic picnic spot.


»  Be a student. And keep your university ID with you. Many museums, hostels, transports and eateries offer added discounts for college-aged travelers. Students can also obtain international student credit cards with low rates and bonus rewards geared toward helping you launch your next adventure.