A lot of people ask me how I manage to travel so much in medical school. My answer to anything medical school related: planning is everything. I have learned how to budget both my money and time that I get off. Some people study for boards on breaks, some people catch up on sleep; but I personally like to use the small breaks that we get to catch up on my passions and remind myself how amazing it is to be alive. Beyond that, you definitely don’t have to spend big bucks on traveling. If you look hard enough, you can find deals on cheap flights, places to stay, food, free things to do, etc. The biggest cost is definitely the flights. But don’t worry, I got you covered! Read on to find out how you can find cheap flights to almost anywhere.
There are a couple of tricks to getting cheap flights. First, you have to be persistent about searching. Second, it will be a lot easier if you are not picky about dates or places. For most of us, we have to be relatively picky about dates because time off doesn’t come easy or often. But, don’t fret! Learn how to use the tricks of the following websites and you can get the flights you want for the dates you need.
Companies to Use:
Skyscanner – I start with Skyscanner… but I don’t necessarily purchase my tickets through Skyscanner. This website has a really unique search tool. If you are just looking to travel, and are flexible(ish) about where you want to go, you can search from starting country to destination country (as opposed to city specific) to find where the flights are cheapest. You can even search flights from your country to ‘everywhere.’ They also have the option to search ‘by month’ to show you which departure dates are cheapest in that month. Skyscanner also gives you the option to set price alerts to keep track of when prices are increasing or decreasing to the places you want to go. I will admit though, I don’t find the cheapest flights through Skyscanner. I use it as a tool to generally see where flights are relatively cheap… and then I move on to another resource.
STA Travel – This flight website helps you narrow down what dates will give you the cheapest flights. Enter your departure and destination cities and the dates you are looking to go. When you search, check the ‘flexible date’ box and click search. Your search will come up as a grid showing you what the prices look like if you were to change your departure and return dates by a few days. It will highlight the cheapest flights so you know what days you should leave and return. They also have set deals a month or so in advanced you can check out. A lot of the times, STA travel can be your final stop to purchasing tickets. They have deals for students and youngins’ under the age of 26.
Student Universe – Student Universe has a similar search engine that helps you find good deals. I always check here in addition to the other sites. They also have special deals for hotels and tours.
Find the Best Airline and Date
Google Flights – After narrowing down departure cities and dates, I have found Google Flights does the best with getting the cheapest price possible. You have to know where you want to go and the general dates you need. However, their tool makes it easy to jump around dates to see what would be the cheapest. Sometimes round-trip ticket prices can jump drastically by just a few days. Once you find a flight that is in your price range, you can also look at the price history to see if prices are increasing or decreasing. Sometimes it really is a gamble to wait and see if the prices drop, but you can get a better idea with their price history tool.
Don’t limit yourself to the airport closest to you
A lot of the times, tickets to Europe are cheapest out of New York, Boston, or even Florida. If you are looking to go to South America, check Fort Lauderdale. Sometimes flights will be significantly cheaper out of these cities. Then you can search for a flight from your city to the cheaper city, or you can drive. For example, I got a round-trip flight from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Peru for $200. Then I drove from Alabama to Fort Lauderdale. It was an 8 hour drive, but the cost in gas was far less than a flight to Peru out of any Alabama city.
Another example: Right now I am looking to go to somewhere this summer after I finish boards. I can find round trip flights from NYC to Edinburgh for just around $300 (HOW CRAZY IS THAT?!). Then I can get a round trip flight from Atlanta to NYC for $100. If I were to fly from Atlanta to Europe, it would be around $1,000 or more. If you want to travel cheap, you have to put in the detective work.
Update: I booked my flight for this summer! Stay tuned to see where ;)
If you travel a lot, it might be advantageous to always book through one airline and rack up miles. I would suggest using Skyscanner and STA travel to find the destination and dates that are generally the cheapest, and then go to the airline you want to use and book through them. Your specific flight might not be as cheap as what STA travel is offering, but over time you will gain miles to get free flights; this might be cheaper in the long-run for you.
Check Specific Airline Company Deals
A lot of airline companies will have specific deals going on. They might advertise, $99 flights to Iceland or $200 flights to Europe. There usually is a catch, but sometimes these deals might be your best bet!
Overall, my advice would be to use multiple different sites and utilize the different tools that they offer. Other than that, you have to be persistent and check every day. When I went to Rome the summer in between my first and second year of medical school, I had pretty flexible dates. I knew that I wanted to go to Europe, but didn’t have much preference as to where. I kept checking different websites every day… and ended up getting round-trip flights for $400.. and during high season. There definitely were cheaper flights to South America, but I couldn’t pass up $400 round trip to Rome, Italy.
Traveling really does not have to cost you that much money! Yes, $400 is a lot… but definitely cheaper than what flights normally are to Rome are ($2,000+). I can definitely cut back on little things every month to save up for a $400.00 round-trip ticket to Europe. After that, you just have to budget out your trip day-to-day. Staying at cheap hostels, utilizing the free breakfast, looking for the free museums, and researching restaurants ahead of time can make your stay extremely cost-effective! (More posts about traveling on a student budget to come). Comment down below if you have any specific questions!