Abroad on a Budget

I have always been aware of how much money I am spending. At school, I have a general idea of what things cost and what I buy daily to weekly. Going abroad for 10 weeks, however, was going to be a whole different ball game. If the exchange rate alone didn’t get me, I knew the lack of a meal plan or desire to see everything would. Below are 7 things I learned over the course of budgeting my experience abroad.

  1. Do your Research.

I found that a lot of attractions in Madrid have “free times”. Many art museums are free after a certain time; cathedrals might be free on Sundays; other places could be free for two hours once a week. In order to see everything you want, without breaking the bank, it is important to research when these free entry times are. The catch is big tourist attractionslike The Prado or Reina Sofia become very crowded during free entry times- you might not have enough time to see everything once you wait in line to enter (I normally have to wait about 30 minutes) and have to navigate through massive crowds of people. Sometimes, it could be worth paying the money, or finding alternative discounts.

  1. Utilize Student Discounts.

Places that don’t have free entry for the general public might have free or reduced prices for students. You will need your student ID. The Prado has free entry all day for students aged 18-26, but you need your student ID and a second form of identification. Other places have reduced prices for students- El Alcázar of Segovia (a big castle located in a city about an hour outside of Madrid) normally costs 5.50euros to enter and 2.5euros to go up into the tower; at the student rate, you can do the castle and the tower for 6euros total! Almost every place I have been in Spain (and Europe for that matter) offers student discounts- don’t be afraid to ask!

  1. Planning is Key.

I recommend deciding the places you really want to see at the beginning of your trip and start planning ASAP. I probably could have saved almost $300 by planning my trips further in advance. Cheap and reputable hostels are normally the first to sell out, and bus, train, and plane tickets can get expensive fast. Even if you need to cancel down the line, a lot of hostels and Airbnbs offer full refund, and transportation tickets can be changed for little to no charge.

  1. Food can be VERY Affordable

Definitely eat out- try new places, indulge in the local cuisine, however, eating out every single meal can add up fast! My rule of thumb is to spend 10euros or less a day on food. Somedays I spend way more, and some days I don’t spend any money, I try to balance an expensive dinner with home cooked meals and fewer snacks for the rest of the week. Additionally, I pack my lunch for work almost every day. On nights I eat out, I look for inexpensive tapas places (a couple of restaurants I have found have enough food to fill me for about 4euros). By packing lunches, making dinner at home, and opting for cheaper restaurants during the week, I save enough money that I don’t worry about splurging on fancy and unique dinners every now and then.

  1. You Might Need to Make Sacrifices

Maybe you drink Tinto instead of Sangria because you know you are going to want to get a couple of beers during the Real Madrid match the next day. Maybe you cook dinner because you know you’re getting lunch with your coworkers the next day. Maybe you take the bus to Barcelona instead of the train that is faster but 40euro more expensive. Maybe you decided to stay in and around Madrid for the weekend instead of taking a trip to London (because how much of the city can you really see in a day and a half). In order to stick to a budget, you will need to make sacrifices.

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask if a place has a student discount. Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers for recommendations. One of my coworkers informed me that I could get to Toledo for free with my youth metro card. Another coworker let me borrow a beach towel, so I wouldn’t have to buy one. My supervisor gave me tons of restaurant recommendations in the neighborhood I was living in that are extremely affordable. Even still, coworkers told me when to go to places for free and when and where there were good rebajas. In my experience, people love to help others, most times they are unware that they could help you until you reach out!

  1. Everything is Fine in Moderation

The important thing to remember about building your budget, is that it is okay to indulge every now and then. Go out on the weeks you’re not traveling, eat a nice dinner every week, snag a pastry for breakfast, buy a new top, get some gelato on a hot day- just don’t go so overboard that your budget starts taking a major hit.

Experience life abroad! Do not stress about your budget so much that you miss out on a once in a life time experience. Seriously, when else are you going to live abroad for such an extended (yet, relatively short) period of time? The important thing is that you are cognizant of how much you are spending and what your money is being spent on. Life can be very expensive if you let it, but by using your common sense, traveling can be very affordable!

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