OPINION BY ASHA SWANN
Last weekend, the Toronto Reference Library hosted the Go Global Expo – a day where dozens of vendors come together and speak about why you should travel abroad with their business, whether it’s for school, volunteering, or just a vacation. As someone who has always wanted to travel, I went to the expo to see how a student such as myself could explore the world on a budget.
The short version: you can’t.
Unless you have a few thousand dollars saved up, it’s nearly impossible for a student to travel internationally. Studying abroad for an academic year costs on average $17,000, according to the Institute of International Education. Of course, this can vary slightly based on where you go. In Paris, the average tuition costs around $10,200 per semester.
And those super short trips that students can take during spring break aren’t much better. One company offers a one-week vacation to Costa Rica, where a group of students will get to explore the country, but it costs more than $2,000, not including airfare and the required travel insurance.
For students wanting to travel with their school, some companies offer scholarships. But they are often few and far between, making them highly competitive. In some cases just to be considered for a scholarship, you must be looking for a career in national security, be fluent in multiple rare languages, and be looking to study abroad for at least six months.
When I asked vendors at the expo how their trip could be made affordable to college or gap year students looking to travel, they all had the exact same pieces of advice: crowdfunding, asking friends or family, save, or if applicable, apply for a scholarship.
Crowdfunding (raising money through donations by a large group of people, typically on the internet) is increasingly popular. With over $34 billion raised by platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter in 2015, it’s easy to see why so many people are turning to this method of asking for money. However, if you take a closer look at the numbers, less than half of crowdfunding is successful. Just under 44 per cent of Kickstarter campaigns are fully funded, meaning that full refunds are issued. The success rate of IndieGoGo campaigns are even smaller, at 34 per cent. So if a student were trying to fund their trip this way, they’re more likely to fail.
For most people on a budget, volunteering abroad seems to be the best way to go. Most are short trips that involve helping a struggling community. However, volunteering abroad can be filled with thousands of dollars of hidden fees, making it cost around the same as a week-long vacation, even for nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.
“The fee covers primarily covers housing and the transportation to and from the build,” said Karla Bonilla, the Habitat for Humanity representative at the expo.
For a 10-day trip to Poland, volunteers would be paying $2,300, plus airfare and any visa they may need.
So if you’re looking to travel on a budget it’s best to keep with short vacations in a small group.
Booking airline tickets far in advance during dead-zones such as January or October can save you hundreds of dollars. And when you finally get there, try using public transportation like subways or buses. This can also help you explore different parts of the city at a fraction of the cost. If you’re travelling in a small group, try staying in a lower-priced hostel instead of a hotel. That way, you can connect with other travellers and experience culture with the locals.