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  • Writer's pictureJanice K. Lee

How You can Travel (Domestic AND International) for Free as a Student | Part 1

No- I'm not joking.

Saying Cheese- "Sphere Within a Sphere" statue located in the Visitors' Plaza of the United Nations Headquarters

Here's the short answer: for college students, enter business competitions. For high schoolers, join a FBLA/ JSA/Model UN & Congress Organization.

If you want to know how to enter these competitions and where to fine them, keep reading.

For University Students:

This year I had the opportunity to travel three times without paying a penny for two of them. Here's where I went, and how much I would have spent, and how much I actually spent. Keep scrolling to see other ways to travel at the bottom.

San Francisco, CA- $132

How much I would have paid: $575

How much I actually paid: $132

I paid $132 for the entire trip (minus food costs). For covering airplane tickets (~$200), Startup Grind Global Conference ticket fees ($255), to hotel fees (~$120), this is peanuts. With all the original costs it would have totaled to $575 for the entire trip! The reason I went to California was because I am a part of a freshman cohort called the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Living-Learning Community at Rutgers University. We flew to the sunny state mainly to attend the Startup Grind Global Conference, a two-day event hosted to bring together the largest community of startups, founders, investors, and creators! The business school and the department that put the program together covered most of the fees.

Bottom Line: This is the only place I didn't go for a business competition. So consider joining organizations that do yearly trips since the school will most likely help cover for some of it.

Monterrey, Mexico- $0

How much I would have paid: ~$520

How much I actually paid: $0

This one is a little sad considering that trip to Mexico never happened due to COVID-19. However, it's important to note that even if the breakout didn't happen, I still wouldn't have paid a single penny (it was cancelled at the very last minute and we had all the accommodations planned out). So how is this possible? Through a business competition!

My team competed in the Hult Prize Competition, which is an annual global pitch competition. After placing 3rd at the Campus Competition, my team was able to compete in the Regional Rounds in Monterrey, Mexico. In fact, the other competing teams also were sent to Regionals, and would have gone to Toronto and Santo Domingo. The good part is that the Business School was going to cover all of our air fares and accommodation costs through reimbursements! My team organized a meeting with the Business School Dean, explained our business idea and why we're competing, and how much we would need. Afterwards, the Hult Prize Organization at our university helped us with logistics and planning. The competition ended up being virtual but it was still a great learning experience and I know many other teams who have competed in the Hult Prize Competition in the past and traveled for free, at no cost.

Bottom Line: Join business competitions (especially global ones)! Allows you to travel with covered costs while getting academic value from the experience.

My team at the OnCampus Competition

Massachusetts- $0

How much I would have paid: $150

How much I actually paid: $0

This trip also never happened since the semi-finals were in early April, and I know Massachusetts isn't the most exciting place you can think of. But hey, I love any opportunity that allows me to meet new people and go outside of NJ. For my opportunity to visit Boston, I entered the Draper Competition, a pitch competition for female undergrad students to present their personal business ventures to a panel of judges. After making it to semi-finals, I was excited to find out that the two-day semi-finals & finals would take place in Massachusetts. The competition (Smith College) would pay for out-of-state fares, and the business school would again, cover other travel and accommodation related expenses. Although the competition was cancelled entirely, they resumed virtual semi-finals & finals in August (that I'm preparing for as I write).

Bottom Line: Even if its a state next door, apply for business competition opportunities that you know the school (and even the competition hosts) will help fund.

Other ideas to help you get funded travel opportunities:

  • For my non-business majors: enter hackathons or stem-related competitions and reach out to department directors for funding opportunities! this is especially useful if you're applying as a club or organization. Universities always want to put their students on the grid through competitions so they're willing to support more often than not.

  • If you're looking to travel for vacation, check out hidden gem resources like Secret Flying for cheap airlines, get airbnbs instead of hotels, and look for free tours in cities (there are surprisingly many).

That's it for now but I will be writing a Part 2 for high school students soon. I hope this article helped give an idea of how you can travel for cheap while getting academic value from travelling. If you have had any other travelling experiences funded by universities or in general feel free to reach out to me (shoot me an email at so I can improve the list!

#student #travel #funding #business #collegestudent


About the Author

Janice Lee is a Sophomore studying Marketing, Accounting, and Entrepreneurship at Rutgers Business School. When she's not looking at business plans, she's most likely on her Oculus Go, experimenting to brew the best iced coffee, or writing about it.

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