Planning A Trip on a College Budget: Tips + Tricks!

Expanding your horizons past your hometown or college campus may seem impossible right now, but, with the right amount of planning ahead, it could be more doable than you think.

First.. here’s a story:

I have a ridiculous ‘need’ to travel (more of a want, but in my heart it’s a need). My entire life i’ve gotten such a thrill out of trips, and even planning trips. I think it’s so important to immerse yourself in other cultures and see as much as you can in your life.

So far, I think I’m doing an okay job. I know I’ve seen more then some people have seen in their entire lives (which makes me incredibly sad).

I have a few trips stored away until I’m done with college: Europe, Asia and various islands. I don’t even want to think about planning those trips until I have the money to see what I want to see and do what I want to do FULLY. I’m not going to fly 13 hours to half-ass it.

But, while I was thinking up all these foreign trips, I realized that there was so much I still haven’t seen in my own country.. THE USA. Despite all the racist, homophobic and politically effed-up stuff happening in America in the moment, it’s a gorgeous country.. and I’ve only seen a very small chunk of it.

My boyfriend and I have decided to travel at the end of May, when school is out, and to make it achievable in terms of budget and planning.

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We are planning a road trip from Chicago –> Toronto –> Niagra Falls –> Upstate New York  –> Bar Harbor, Maine –> Portland, Maine –> Boston –> New York City –> Washington D.C.

That’s 8 locations in around 12-14 days. We at first thought this was insane and impossible to do with the amount of money we have..

Here’s how we planned and made it doable..


Tips + Tricks for Planning a Trip on a College Budget:

*Disclaimer: No trip is ever going to be THAT cheap. You have to spend a little money to have a nice time, this is just how to keep your costs down.

  • Be Realistic: Before even starting to plan, know how much money you can put toward the trip (all people involved). Save that money! If you have to, open a savings account at your bank. If you trust yourself, throw the money in jar and put it in your closet. Another thing you need to be realistic about, if you can’t afford a trip to the outback of Australia (unless you’re in Australia), don’t even make it an option. Don’t choose places that are unachievable; you’ll get there one day!
  • Planes, Trains or Automobiles: Transportation is one of the biggest parts about planning a trip.. I mean you do have to GET THERE after all..

 If you are planning to go to one central location, I would 100% recommend taking a plane; it’s mostly painless and gets you where you wanna go quickly. For airfare, I suggest checking TONS of sites and playing around with dates as much as you can to find the BEST deal (www.cheapoair.com has some good deals).

If you want to go to several locations, as long as they’re in your country, a road trip may be the best option. There are some real downsides to this option, unfortunately. If you are under the age of 25, renting a car is possible.. but ridiculously expensive. If you take that price plus the price of all the gas you’re going to use, it’s not a smart option. If you have a car or someone has a car you can use, use it. Be sure to plan for the gas you will use the whole trip. There is an awesome site for people planning a road trip.. roadtrippers.com allows you to completely map out your trip (and includes attractions and places to see along the way) and calculates your gas expenses depending on where you want to stop. I’ve been using it and it’s awesome.

– The train is also a perfectly good option. Amtrak hits a ton of major cities all over the  country. This is great if you have a fear of flying, and even if you don’t you can sometimes find better deals on train tickets versus plane tickets. Of course, there are some bad things about this option. It will take you WAAAAY longer to get where you’re going. Usually, the prices aren’t that much better than flying.. especially if you find a great flight.

  • Lodging: Hotels can be crazy expensive; I’m talking upwards of $200 a night in major cities. If you are on a college budget, this is a big no-no! But, that doesn’t mean you have no options of places to stay:

– AirBNB: I cannot hype up AirBNB enough. It’s an online site, and app, that allows you to book either a whole home or private room in people’s private residences (sounds creepy, but it’s a big thing now). You can find some insanely great prices. I, for example, found places for around $30 a night for my trip. Some of the places do require a minimum night stay (usually 2 nights, if they do).. which could be a problem for some people. Most of these places are really, really nice too! Check out their website: www.airbnb.com

– Hostels: I’m not totally sure about the quality or safety of these places, cause some of them can be kind of grimey, but, if you need a cheap place to stay these will definitely do.

– Camping: Nothing wrong with roughing it. If your location makes camping doable, go for it! There are tons of campsites that only charge like $20 a night (so cheap).

  • Other Costs: 

– Food isn’t free: There are cheap ways to do it. Eat in your hotel, bring snacks, find a place with free breakfast to stay at, but at the end of the day.. you’re going to have to eat. Food is a big part of some cities, so make sure to try it all out. Think out how much you want to allow yourself each day for food (realistically) and then add up the meals per day and how many days you’re there.

– Things to do: If you are a great tourist, like me, you probably want to do some interesting things the town/city has to offer. Allow yourself some extra cash for some stuff to do. You don’t have to go crazy, but some fun is needed.


Planning a trip can be tedious and hard, but if you give yourself enough time, anything is possible.

Start now!

-Emily

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I WENT GHOST HUNTING?? (and life update)

LIFE UPDATE:

It has been a kind of insane month. I say that as calmly as I can, but there were certainly points that were SCREAM worthy. It started with trying to move to the city for school, spending weeks searching and still ending up with nothing in the end. This adds an obvious level of stress to my life with having to commute to the city 3+ days a week. The other things (which are just a little too personal to share right now) all roll into one big stress tortilla.

On a positive note, I just received some official word that I will be a writer for Her Campus! If you don’t know what this is, don’t worry, I’ll tell you! It’s an online publication for college age women (I know, awesome, right?) and Columbia College now has their own branch on the site. So, this is a pretty big thing for me and I can’t wait to work on some great stuff with some great, powerful gals. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

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So I went ghost hunting. That’s right. It’s as weird as it sounds.

Let me give you a little back story real quick:

My parents have been super into going on ghost tours and doing some searching adventures for the past year. Last October, I decided to join them on a late-night tour through Downtown Naperville, IL. I was not scared at all going in because, honestly, I thought it was all dumb, but since it was near Halloween I went for something spooky to do. Within the first 20 minutes I was so terrified I had to opt out of the tour and run to the nearest Barnes and Noble for some brightly-lit salvation. That’s right, I CANNOT HANDLE PARANORMAL STUFF.

So fast forward to yesterday,

I was with my wonderful boyfriend Thomas and he had been pushing me to go with him for a few weeks. He saw the pictures of what my parents had captured on their phones and just NEEDED to see it for himself. i get the creeps even thinking about going, but I decided to push my fear aside and go with him (we went during daylight so I was fine). We walked around the historic Downtown Naperville for about an hour. It was actually a lovely walk because the weather felt very fall-like. I brought my DSLR and he used his phone; we snapped random pictures during the entire duration of the walk.

tumblr_ntlkyaLrzs1qesa1ho2_400I was freaking out during the entire thing. But, we left, went home and put the SD card into the computer. My heart rate was still way too high, anticipating what we might see. And, guess what? We found some really, really creepy stuff! Enough to make Tom, his mom, and me fall backwards.

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I’ll insert some pictures and you can look & find for yourselves (it will require some serious zooming). But, if you’re looking for something ridiculously weird to do, I suggest giving it a go. I probably wouldn’t do it again, and certainly not at night, but it was a cool one-and-a-half time experience.

HERE THEY ARE:

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I promise I’m not as weird as this post is.

HAVE A GREAT DAY EVERYONE.

Week in Boulder Junction, WI

So it was time that I, Emily, the city-dweller (and surrounding suburbs) venture out and expand my horizons to THE WILDERNESS OF AMERICA. Okay.. fine.. I wasn’t completely off-the-grid, but I did find myself all the way at the top of Wisconsin in the North Woods region with my boyfriend for a week.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive going in. I have a hard time with all living bugs and insects.. specifically bees, wasps, spiders, mosquitos, ticks and everything else. I knew that these things were going to be there in SWARMS but I toughened up, packed my suitcase and hit the road.

Six hours later we arrived at a small, adorable cabin in Boulder Junction, WI that we rented which luckily ended up looking better then the pictures. It was right on a beautiful lake. I am still dealing with the separation anxiety of my sweet second home. Here’s a picture of the living area inside:

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I had my first-time fishing adventure and ended up catching several fish on my pink sparkly pole. We spent our nights out on the water and would boat around until the sunset.

I was hit with a bit of a culture shock when we started going to the restaurants in town. I had been out of town several times before and nothing was like here. The walls were covered in taxidermy animals (and for my animal activist self this was very hard to see) and the decor was like a 1970s grandma basement. Basically, there was no glitz or glamour but each place did have some charm and the views made up for what they lacked in style. As for the food, I was not overly impressed when dinner time came. When it comes to meat I only eat chicken and these places were only into cooking fish and red meat. However I SURVIVED just not happily.

On our third day, we drove into a nearby town called Minoqua for some shopping but on our way I noticed a small cabin coffee shop and demanded that we stop on our way back. I have to admit this was the best decision we made the whole trip. Little Creek Coffee Company in Arbor Vitae, WI deserves all the awards. Not only do they offer tons of coffee drinks and teas BUT THEY HAVE A BREAKFAST AND LUNCH MENU. We came here three total times during our 6 day stay. WE WERE OBSESSED. Their iced chai tea latte was to die for and I can’t stop thinking about their turkey and avocado sandwich and homemade soups HELP ME. We enjoyed sitting on their outdoor tables overlooking the lake and we even spotted some baby deers running around. It was magical. Bambi had come to life. The pics below are us hanging out there:

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There is no way I can go through this post without mentioning the most amazing ice cream place ever.. Mad Dog Jakes in Boulder Junction is super great. We went twice during our trip (WE ARE REPEATERS IF WE LIKE YOU). The first time I got the best super chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had and the second time I got blueberry cheesecake and wow it was out of bounds. FLAVOR TOWN LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. If you are ever in these parts you better stop there and get a scoop.. maybe even two.

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Halfway through our trip on a kind of gloomy day (or so we thought) we took a day-trip to Hayward, Wisconsin to the Wilderness Walk. This essentially was a mix between the coolest petting zoo ever and an exotic animal zoo. The 2-Hour drive was worth it even though it was painful after already driving 6 hours just a few days before.  I normally hate zoos but these animals were all saved from injury and could have died without their help. The admission fee was a little steep but once we walked in we knew it was worth it. The first thing I saw was a GIANT LOP BUNNY free to pet and love. I was obsessed with him. This is when I knew this place was great.

We continued on through the day petting various animals and letting them eat corn-filled ice cream cones.. even a giant camel. My favorites were the baby goats that were roaming free throughout the Walk and the baby fawns that stole my heart. It was amazing and I 10/10 recommend. Here we are having fun below:

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A few days later we went to a lumberjack show and watched some ripped guys chop wood.. it was torture I could barely watch wink wink wink wink. Tom kept thinking i was into them and I totally wasn’t. It was actually super interesting though and we witnessed them climb up a 60-ft tree stump and try to not die. I have to give some credit to the 40 year old male in the denim jacket who was in the audience for his hilarious commentary during the entire show. Also, some credit is due to the ENTIRE JOHNSON FAMILY REUNION for creating several obstacles in parking and getting into the show.. but your matching shirts were cool.

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After the show we went out to Eagle River, Wisconsin to visit Tremblay’s Sweet Shop for some delicious fudge because I am an addict to anything chocolate. 45-Minutes later we arrived to the rude employees of the shop who barely spoke 2 words to us and didn’t even respond to our simple hello. Despite their awful service we got some delicious fudge, pretzels and cashew clusters. We also adventured around the town for a few minutes and checked out some shops.

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The next few days were our last and we were filling up our time as much as we could. We decided a fun thing to do for our last day would be to rent some mountain bikes and go for a nice long ride. We embarked on our 3 mile ride to a nearby lake where we stayed and layed on the beach for a few hours. It was beautiful and peaceful. Somehow Tom didn’t burn even though he’s paler than paper. I went in the water but was quickly freaked out by crawfish swimming on the bottom on the lake. I don’t do well with bugs or bug-like things (i know its a fish or something shh). It was a little bit difficult to get ourselves back on the bikes after hours of being lazy but we did and battled the uphill trail all the way back to town.

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I had a great trip and this is just the highlights of what we did. There was so much more to remember and it was an amazing time for Tom and I. I would love to go back again sometime and explore other places as well. My travel bug has been fulfilled for now.