It has been estimated that on average a college student will spend between $1,050 and $1,800 on transportation costs. Additionally, it has been recommended that college students plan to spend at least $1,000 per year on travel and transportation. (This obviously does not include studying abroad as those expenses are an entirely different budget category). With these figures in mind, it is easy to think that travel costs are not something to be too worried about if you are a student. Actually, this is not the case at all. It is important to keep in mind that travel and transportation are technically two different budget line items to consider when budgeting for college.
Transportation is something to consider while you are on campus living the college student life. This would include things like public transit passes and costs. It would also include the costs of having a car on campus including parking fees, gas for your vehicle, and regular maintenance that your vehicle may need while you are at school. Additionally, it is important to consider these costs in connection with your lifestyle.
For example, if you are commuting to and from school from off-campus housing or employment, or if your school campus is so large that you need to travel to different buildings by car or public transportation, these are costs that need to be assessed accordingly. When you are first getting used to the transition into college life or even just a new semester, you will begin to have a better idea of the actual costs, however, thinking ahead of time how your budget will be affected by these is crucial.
Travel, in this particular article, pertains to how to budget for traveling home and for vacations (think, Spring Break). This is an expense that is significantly higher than gas prices and basic transportation costs that you are considering while at college. The thing to remember here is that travel expenses for college students are not as easy to calculate as, say, your textbooks or your tuition at a particular college. Travel is going to be as individual as you are.
For example, students who can jump on a train or in their car and visit home within a few hours will have significantly less travel expenses to budget for than someone living in Florida who is going to school in Seattle. The cost of such travel is going to be a huge part of your college budget, especially if you are planning on coming home more frequently than just school breaks.
How can I budget for travel, then?
Generally, most colleges and universities plan student breaks for each season and it usually winds up being about 4 breaks that will make up several days. Students can take a look at the academic calendar for their potential school to get an idea of what and when these breaks will be. By checking this information out ahead of time, you will at least have an idea of how many times you may want to and plan to head home. If you are thinking that you may only go home for 1 or 2 of the breaks, then you can save a lot in this budget category.
It is important to at least have some idea of how frequently you are heading home to visit. Either way, by knowing ahead of time what the plan will be, you will be able to calculate approximately what the round-trip cost home will be regardless of whether you are flying, driving, taking a train or bussing it. Regardless of how often you plan on coming home to visit or whether you are going away for long weekends to visit friends at other colleges or researching Spring Break deals, there are several things to consider in order to keep costs lower and budget accordingly.
Plan your flights ahead of time. Whether you are coming home to visit for the holidays or are soaking up the sun on a Spring Break retreat, it is important to book flights at least 8 weeks before you plan to leave. Waiting until the last minute because you are hoping to score an amazing flight deal is not the best way to budget as a college student.
Be flexible and frugal. In addition to actually booking your flight a couple of months before your trip, try to be a flexible flyer. Ideally, you may not want a layover flight or you prefer an early morning flight, however, you may save a significant amount of money if you bring a good book and a snack and plan for the layover. Be adaptable in terms of flight times to ensure the best price.
Use the buddy system. Another way to save on traveling home for holidays, weekends, or special occasions, is to carpool with someone who lives on the way or close to you. You can split gas costs, download some amazing tunes and call it a road trip while bonding with a new buddy. Either way, carpooling not only helps in terms of savings and the Earth will thank you for lightening your carbon footprint.
Unwind wisely. When considering traveling for vacations while you are in college, take the time to plan ahead. If you are going to use a travel agent, you may save some money on package deals that you didn’t even know existed. If you want to be your own travel agent, consider taking the appropriate amount of time to research and plan for your vacations carefully. Consider smaller Airbnb rentals instead of 4 or 5-star resort hotels during peak seasons. Split the costs with a group of friends and bring along that old camping air mattress so more of you can crash for less (as long as you abide by the rules and respect the maximum number of guests policies, of course). Bring snacks and plan to cook for a couple of the nights you are away or research Groupon deals for cheap group meals ahead of time. Take advantage of your student discount if you plan to frequent touristy places. These are all ways you can get away from college and relax on a vacation while still keeping your wallet from cringing.
Keep your vehicle in tiptop shape. If most of your traveling is going to be done by personal transportation, consider vehicle costs for traveling as part of your travel budget. This can include any regular maintenance you may need to have done, including tune-ups, oil changes, tire replacements, etc. Also, consider the full cost of gas and tolls for regular traveling. Considering these costs up front will help avoid some stress and an unexpected financial crisis down the line.
Remember that a traveling budget will be different from a transportation budget. Planning your travel budget well will help you focus on more important things, and help you be more mindful of your moments...like enjoying that well-planned and certainly well-earned vacation or spending some quality time with family and friends during the holidays.
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