Balancing a Budget While Abroad

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Allison Derrick
April 22, 2024

A common thread among many study abroad students, including all of my roommates, friends, and myself, is wondering how to manage your money while traveling, experiencing new things, and living in a new place. Many times this semester, we have bravely logged into our bank accounts and been shocked by how fast it disappears! I have some experiences to share, as well as some advice for anyone who's thinking about how to stretch their summer savings over four months somewhere new. 

I worked all last summer with the idea of saving for abroad, so I was fortunate enough to have some still set aside when I left in January. That being said, between groceries and plane tickets and other random expenses, it can be really challenging to figure out how much to spend and how much to save. I knew I wanted to make it go as far as I could to travel and experience as much of this semester as possible, but I had to keep my limits in mind. Everyone is in a different situation of course, and no one’s abroad experiences are going to be identical. With that being said, I put together some pieces of advice here relating to money and how I would recommend going about it if you’re about to study abroad. 

Here is my advice for spending: 

1) It’s almost always worth it. As someone who has had a hard time spending money my whole life, I have learned while being here in Rome that you just have to accept it and enjoy the experience that you get on the other side of it. Initially, I hesitated a lot, because I had no idea what the semester would look like, and planning it out without knowing our trips or even where I wanted to go was tricky. I learned to let go of the fear of it disappearing, because putting it towards the experiences we’ve had has been so incredible and so worth every penny (or euro). So my first piece of advice is don’t let the idea of spending hold you back from what you might get to do. 

2) Learn to embrace it! As a student staying in a different country, there will be so many new things around you that you should experience, if you’re able to. I decided to invest in some local experiences, such as tickets for museum tours, day trips, and meals at new restaurants. It was important to me that I used my savings for what I intended to originally spend it on– Rome! I just had to get out of my head a bit and enjoy it and see how many new things it allowed me to do. 

I have advice for saving as well: 

1) Keep yourself organized! Some of my roommates made a budget spreadsheet on Google, with categories such as food, travel, accommodations, gifts, shopping, etc. You can track this throughout the semester and stay up to date with your spending and figure out how much you need per week. Honestly, I quickly stopped updating my budget sheet as the semester picked up, but it would definitely be something I recommend in order to keep in mind what you have left to work with.

2) Take advantage of public transportation. Researching this ahead of your arrival might really help you out. Trains are usually our preferred way of traveling, as it is reliable, efficient, cheaper and so scenic! Recently I learned that you can buy a train pass that allows essentially unlimited train travel. A bit late in the semester for me to get one but definitely would have been a great decision had I known about it. Once you get a sense for how often you’ll use the bus or the metro, investing in a monthly pass can also help you save here and there. 

3) Get a sim card for your location. This likely is different for everyone, but my roommate and I bought sim cards for our phones once we got to Rome and swapped them for our normal ones for the whole semester. Each month, we refill it in person at the Vodafone store and it has saved us a few hundred dollars from what our international plan would have cost! It provides plenty of data for the month, works in other countries, and even makes making Italian phone calls easier sometimes. I will post another blog with Rome-specific advice where I can go more into detail. 

4) Book in advance if you know your plans. Not only can this save you stress, but it can save you a lot of money. The second you’re sure of your plans, I recommend booking your travel and place to stay before the prices hike up. 

5) Take advantage of what’s free in your city! My friends and I absolutely love walking around and seeing the sights of Rome, whether it’s through the many markets or our quiet neighborhood or past the famous monuments. Many attractions are free to experience, and many of those places have been my favorite memories so far, as well as favorites of the visitors I’ve had here. I’ll post a separate blog about what to do in Rome that is free, so stay tuned for that! 

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Allison Derrick

Hi, I'm Allison! I’m from Maine and a big fan of iced chai lattes, taking pictures with my 2011 digital camera, some good throwback music, and falling asleep on the beach. I'm in search of finding the very best pasta and gelato in Italy, so join me!

2024 Spring
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Lafayette College
Environmental Studies
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