How I Travel on a Graduate Student Budget

by Joanna E
Traveling While in Grad School + How I Travel on a Graduate Student Budget

It’s the second week of my second semester of graduate school and it is TOTALLY different than last semester. I’m taking more classes which means more readings, discussions, projects, peer evaluations and very limited time for a social life. I haven’t shared much about my Graduate school journey on the blog, but I have on Instagram and the newsletter. When people find out I’m a Graduate student, they usually ask how it has impacted my frequent travels. I can honestly say it really hasn’t. Since starting mid-January I’ve gone on vacation at least four times which is typical for me given my past travels. If you’re wondering how it’s possible to still be able to travel on a graduate student budget, keep on reading.

How I Became an Information Design Graduate Student

After working in the financial industry almost 10 years ago, I thought of getting an MBA in Tech Management but never followed through because I didn’t think I’d be accepted anyway. Out of frustration and wanting a change, last summer I applied to an Information Design & Technology program that essentially combines my Full time job and blog/influencer business. Forgetting I even applied, I received a reminder email stating I needed two letters of recommendation and a portfolio to complete my application. Somewhat still doubting myself, but not wanting to waste the money spent on the application, I sent the reference forms to two sources and the link to my blog as my portfolio. 24 HOURS and 2 MIN LATER, I received a confirmation of acceptance. Clearly it was a sign that it was for me all along.

To my surprise, the first semester actually helped me apply principles and practices working with developers and designers. I never thought something that incorporated both my “worlds” existed and I love it! It has also made me much more confident in the career and life paths I’ve taken.

Traveling while in Graduate School - Iceland Golden Circle Tour

Traveling while in Graduate School Visiting Iceland – March 2019

How to Travel while in Grad School

With my busy lifestyle of being a full-time employee, student, and content creator, I can get burned out easily.  I worked two, sometimes three jobs in undergrad and wanted to go away, but never had the time. After finding a career that gives me the ability to balance travel and all my other interests, I make travel a need more than a want. Even if it is for a short period of time, I’ve learned to just take a break to recharge. If you’re in Graduate School or thinking about enrolling in a Graduate School program and want to still travel, here’s how I am able to travel while in grad school.

Be Enrolled in an Online Graduate Program

One of the biggest factors of me being and to travel while in graduate school is being enrolled in an online program. Similarly to my full-time job, as long as I have internet connectivity (along with a secure VPN), I can essentially work anywhere.  I don’t like to travel with too many items so I just submit my work early, but having the ability to submit a project poolside is pretty cool.

Go on Extended Weekend Trips

The visits to Iceland and Jamaica were both for extended weekends. After our weekly check-ins, I notified the professor of my travel plans and submit my work before leaving. Jamaica didn’t interfere with any project submission deadlines so I was able to enjoy the weekend stress-free. If your class schedule permits you to be off on specific days, consider an extended weekend getaway.

Traveling while in Graduate School - Sunset in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Traveling while in Graduate School Birthday trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica – April 2019

Take Day Trips and Staycations

Living in NYC a staycation isn’t bad because there’s SO much to do here. When my head wasn’t in front of the computer creating instruction manuals and flow-charts in Illustrator I was enjoying NYC with friends. Mini road trips are fun too! Rent a car or take a bus ride to the next town or state over for the day.

Travel During School Breaks

If you aren’t able to take a day trip, do a staycation or extended weekend trip, travel during school breaks. Schools are usually out during Spring break, Winter break and other holidays so try to plan a vacation around them. That can easily be at least two trips if you save your money and plan accordingly.

Traveling While in Graduate School - Fort George Trinidad

Traveling on Summer Break at Fort George, Trinidad & Tobago

How to Travel on a Graduate Student Budget

I also get questioned on how I can afford to travel so much on a Graduate school budget. I don’t have student loans, tuition reimbursement, or receive financial assistance, but my tuition is paid via a Time Payment Plan. This method was how I paid my tuition in undergrad. Instead of paying it all at once, the total bill is split into monthly payments.  A benefit of the payment plan is not having to pay any interest as I would if I took out a student loan. This summer, I also cut a lot of unnecessary debt, owing as little as possible so I can use the extra money for tuition, investments, savings, and of course vacations. Here are some ways I travel on a Graduate Student Budget and other ways to travel as a grad student.

Be Open to Destinations

I am not really picky about the destinations I travel to. If the price is right, I have time off available for work, and it doesn’t interfere with school work, I’m pretty much going. To get the best flight deals, I joined a WhatsApp group sharing flights to destinations in and out of the US. I also visit sites like Skyscanner or Google flights when I’m bored or looking for a quick getaway.

Make Travel Related to Your Research

Are you a research student? You can make travel related to your research depending on the topic.

Use Frequent Flyer Miles

Ever heard of Travel Hacking? Well, it is basically utilizing services to gain points from airlines, credit cards, and hotels, and redeeming them for free travel. Saving miles played a big part in being able to travel on a graduate student budget. As a frequent flyer of Delta and their partners, I signed up for a Gold Delta SkyMiles card which came with 65000 bonus miles after spending $3k in the first 3 months. Delta SkyMiles don’t expire so those 65000 miles added to existing miles collected from trips to Miami, Thailand, and other destinations through the years, I was able to use miles to pay for my trip to Jamaica and a recent trip to Savannah. The Gold Delta SkyMiles card has also been generous to give me a lower-than-average interest rate for being a great customer and paying my card off every month.

Research Graduate Programs Abroad

If you ever thought about going to school outside the US, look up international graduate school programs. There are some countries that even offer Graduate studies for free.

Traveling While in Graduate School - Montego Bay Port

Traveling While in Graduate School – Montego Bay Port

So those are my tips for traveling while in Graduate School and on a limited grad school budget. People think being in school or working remotely is a piece of cake, but it is easy to get distracted. Prioritizing is also key; I’ve skipped out on many trips because school came first. If you’re not disciplined enough to do readings and assignments at home, there’s no way you can be outside your city or country. If you don’t think you’re disciplined enough, wait until the semester is done or until you graduate.

Are you a grad student that travels often? What tips do you have?

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