How I Pay For It

  1. Financial Aid.
    Because I travel through my University, all of my financial aid applies as normal.  I’m getting regular credits, so the travel part is really an extra.
  2. Scholarships.
    NU gave me enough money that it would cost me about the same to go there as to UMass (without full scholarship tuition.)  I’ve also been looking into the additional, overlooked scholarships both at NU and elsewhere, and I’ve been coming up with some serious dough.  A thousand here and there doesn’t sound like much, but for me $1,000 is round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and at least two weeks of accommodations and food.  If your travel is for legitimate, educational purposes, you can find a lot of people/institutions willing to fund it.
  3. Loans.
    Luckily, my loans are all some sort of less-scary student loan.  But I will have debt when I graduate, so that will limit my options a bit.  While I know I can live on $100 a week in some random place, I still need to make enough to pay off my loans.
  4. My parents. 
    Because my travel is educational and embedded in my college costs, and my parents are helping me pay for college, they’re also helping pay the cost of travel.  As an aside, I honestly have no idea how much they are or are not helping, which is part of why there’s no dollar-for-dollar breakdown.
  5. I go to cheap places.
    I love the developing world for oh so many reasons, but that one I always jokingly tell people is that it’s cheap.  A three-course lunch with a beer for $1?  Isn’t Cuba sounding nice?  You can also make some places cheaper by staying in hostels, going to the local market and being careful about when you splurge.  I definitely had a couple amazing expensive nights in Egypt, but in the end they cost like 50 bucks each for a pretty five-star evening.  In downtown Boston, 50 bucks won’t get you very far.  In some places, thats the cover and a couple of drinks.
  6. I work and save.
    NU has the coop program, which means I alternate six months of work for six months of class.  I have made it a priority to only take paying jobs, which is sometimes rather difficult in my major.  But this is a necessity for me, and I’ve still been able to have interesting, fulfilling work in my field, though some people (usually those who do not get the paying jobs) claim that is impossible.  I also work during the semesters when I’m in class.  Most importantly, I’m frugal.  I didn’t pick up my paychecks for my current job until 3-4 months in.  I only spend money on the weekends.  My downfalls? Concerts, clothing, and you guessed it: travel.
  7. Northeastern is Awesome About Travel.
    A lot of the programs I do have been great bargains.  I recently calculated that I spent $11,000 less than I would have if I had been on NU’s campus the whole time.  In Cuba, we paid a stud abroad fee on top of tuition (under $4,000) but that included flights, 2 meals a day, 4 side-trips, museums and the Cuban license.  If I had been at NU, a meal plan and on-campus housing would have been significantly more, with much less pizzaz.  For Egypt and Benin, I paid regular summer tuition (remember, NU students go to school year-round!) and in exchange got the credits, airfare, occasional meals, cultural activities and lodging.  In Egypt there were even more extras, like swanky hotels with floating swimming pools and all-you-can-eat buffets.  Again, housing and a meal plan of some sort would have cost me much more, and even if I just bought my own groceries and cooked it would have cost more than what I spent in Egypt, which was less than $100/week on top of tuition.  And that $100/week is not just food–it was booze, gifts, camel rides, and Nile cruises.

The moral of the story is that even if you ignore the value of the extras attached to my travels, I still saved money.  Make sure you investigate all of your school’s opportunities for travel and additional money.  Look at Fullbrights if you’re graduated, or free travel based on your profession, like the Boston Public School Teacher opportunity.

Travel is like anything else: if you want it bad enough, you will make it happen.  And it was certainly easier for me than it would be to buy a car or something.  Travel isn’t for the wealthy–it just depends on length of stay (longer is better), area of the world (developing and non-resort is better) and your priorities.  If it isn’t a priority for your savings, it will always be too expensive.

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