How to Budget Your Money While Studying Abroad

Studying abroad, in my biased opinion, is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. That being said, it is an investment that involves large sums of money. Before you leave, you will have your visa, plane ticket(s), tuition, and accommodation paid. However, you will be paying your living expenses as you go, which can be a daunting task. I am here to show you exactly how I managed my money while abroad so you can have an inside look at what your expenses may resemble.

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Have a place for your budget

The first step in managing any budget well is making a spreadsheet. This can be written on paper or saved on a computer. I used the Numbers application that comes on my Mac to create a spreadsheet and saved it onto my desktop for easy access. I have an example of a spread sheet using Microsoft Excel below.

Categorize

Something I did that made seeing and handling my budget super easy was breaking my expenses into categories. I had my budget broken down into:

  • Groceries and Supplies – This was for necessities such as food from the grocery store to toilet paper to my Wi-Fi plan
  • Trips – This accounted for all travel plans I made for my time abroad such as my trips to Rottnest Island and Thailand. This was not set in stone prior to arriving, but a growing list of all the trips I scheduled along the way.
  • Travel – This included all my public transport such as riding the bus and train, which was essential in Perth. You can also include Uber/Lyft and taxi expenses here.
  • Extras – This category was for all the “extras” that were of-the-moment entertainment decisions such as the Justin Bieber concert and music festival I attended, or even just going out to eat.
  • Pre-Paid Card – This is very unique to my circumstance, as AIFS provided me with a debit card that was reloaded with $250 U.S. every month to help offset costs. I kept track of my spending on my own and would compare that to the transactions listed on the card’s website to make sure everything added up.
  • Cash – While abroad, I mostly used card to pay for things. However, I did come over with some cash, and I kept track of my losses when I spent and gains when people repaid me with cash. I do think it is essential to say that most people come with hundreds of dollars of cash, so bring what you feel is necessary. I luckily only needed to use an ATM once when I made a last-minute decision at the end of the trip.

Of course, there are plenty of ways you can break down your budget. Hopefully this guide can help you start that process.

Know Your Budget

The most crucial thing to managing a budget is knowing how much you have to spend. At the top of each category, I wrote a number that I tried not to pass by the end of the trip. If I needed more money for one category, I borrowed from another. Of course, how much you can dedicate to each category is your personal decision. My advice, however, is to give a few hundred dollars to the extras and necessities categories.

Stay Dedicated

 A very important thing to sticking to your budget is to write every single thing you spend money on down, even if it is just a cup of coffee. Be sure to update your budget sheet at least every two days, or you may forget some of your purchases. Also, have it in a visible area so you are forced to remember to update it.

Below is an example of what your budget sheet will look like with the categories, respective budgets and expenses.

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After reading this, I hope you feel a bit relieved and confident to manage your budget while abroad. Remember: stay on top of your budget sheet so you know where your money is going!

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How to Buy Gifts for Others While Abroad

It is the season of giving, and if you are abroad or beginning your journey soon, something that may cross your mind is how you will go about buying presents for friends and family. It is easy to get lost in a maze of tourist-aimed souvenir shops and feel at a loss when it comes to making a gift decision. Here is a quick guide to help your gift-buying thought process.

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Make a List

Before you decide what presents to get, you need to know for whom you are shopping. Making a list of friends and family you want to purchase gifts for will give your direction and organization during your present search, which will take some of the stress away. Of course, you can add people on as you go, but it is always efficient to start with a general outline.

Know Your Budget

Knowing how much money you have to spend is vital. Give yourself an overall budget, and then break it down by the money you have to spend on each person. For instance, you may set aside $20 for your mother and maybe $10 for your cousin. Of course, this is all up to you.

Think of the Gift

When it came time to buy presents for people, I knew for whom I wanted to get special items and whom I planned to give general souvenirs. For instance, I had a group of friends I bought a pack of Perth shot glasses for, but there were a few closer friends I wanted to give personalized gifts. Here are a few tips when it comes to buying gifts.

  • Personalize: Getting presents for friends and family is a nice gesture, and of course is not expected. However, if you are purchasing presents, it is better if the person can really use it. I gave shot glasses to my young adult friends who I know could put them to good use. I bought my mom a wine holder with aboriginal design because she loves wine. I got my friend a stone elephant from Thailand because elephants are her favorite animal. I also try getting something that is meaningful to the spot I was in: I bought the elephant from a sanctuary at which I volunteered, for instance.
  • Size: Think about the size of the presents you are buying because you need to fit them all in your suitcase, unless you are willing to send them home separately. When I was in Rome, I brought home tiny bottles of Limoncello for my friends and family to try. I also bought hand-painted bottle stoppers from Tuscany. These were meaningful and useful, and also tiny gifts. Presents do not need to be great in size to be great to give!
  • Durability: Remember that your presents are most likely coming home with you. Get items that can go through some bumps! If you are bringing something fragile home, make sure it is well wrapped and placed in soft items in your suitcase.
  • Customs: There are many restrictions when it comes to bringing items from country to country. For instance, if you are bringing a plant-based product such as a grass fan or wood carving from Fiji to Australia, it needs to have a stamp that says it is treated to be legally transported into the country. Make sure you are aware of these regulations so you do not end up having to throw out your souvenirs or pay a fine.

Keep this list in mind and you will be a pro gift buyer in no time. Happy shopping!

21 Gifts for Someone Studying Abroad

If someone you know is studying abroad and you want to get him or her the perfect present, look no further. Here are some useful and budget-friendly items that your departing friend will love.

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  1. Passport holder – I love mine!
  2. Travel size toiletries – this is useful for long flights or weekend getaways
  3. Travel size refillable bottles – for extra conditioner, shampoo, etc.
  4. City guide book – for those who have not completely switched over to the internet
  5. Space bags – these will come in handy when they are trying to stuff everything in his or her suitcase!
  6. Portable phone charger – an absolute must for long days spent exploring
  7. Power adapter/converter – there are cheap packs that come with several types for a worldly traveler
  8. Journal – so your friend can write about his or her experiences
  9. Neck pillow – to assure comfort on long flights
  10. Luggage tag – so your friend knows which bag to grab!
  11. Toiletry bag – help your friend stay organized in the bathroom while abroad
  12. Phone camera lens – there are lenses you can attach to your cell phone to increase the quality of photos. Some are expensive, though!
  13. Earbuds – something that will come in use on long flights or road trips
  14. Microfiber travel towel – these are quick-drying, lightweight and do not take up much room at all
  15. Stain removing stick – something small that will come in handy when your friend least expects it
  16. Travel money – there are many pre-paid cards that work overseas
  17. Translation tool – whether it be a digital lesson or book, having a guide to the country’s language is always useful
  18. Money necklace – there are different types of wallets that can fit under clothes that are useful for traveling abroad and keeping money and passports safe and out of sight
  19. Card protector wallet – these wallets keep credit and debit cards protected from scanners that crooks use to see through normal wallets and steal information
  20. “Open when…” cards – these will not take up much room and are the perfect idea for when your friend is feeling unsure, missing home or just might need some motivation
  21. Something sentimental – there are so many gifts to remind your friend of home, from a keychain with his or her state or a necklace with sand from his or her favorite beach

Keeping up with AIFS

My travels have subsided, but my aspirations to see the world have not. I have been fairly quiet this November, mainly because this semester is a Merry-Go-Round of finishing assignments just to get on another ride. However, I have also been busy working with AIFS, the company through which I studied abroad.

As a way to keep in touch with my travels, I applied to, interviewed for and attended a

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A photo from training with AIFS

three-day training session in Stamford, Connecticut for the AIFS Alumni Ambassadors program this past summer. Some may assume this is just a way for AIFS to capitalize on its students. However, what I love about AIFS, besides the program in which I participated, is that it is not going to be offended if someone does not choose to travel abroad with the company. Instead, our managers tell us that we are here to promote study abroad on campus, and not just AIFS.

The agenda of each ambassador differs and depends on what his or her home institution’s study abroad office will allow. For example, some study abroad offices will let AIFS Alumni Ambassadors present to Greek life and resident halls, while others will not. I have spent much of my semester assisting with open house study abroad sessions and completely revamping Hofstra’s study abroad Facebook page. It has felt surreal speaking to students about the beginning stages of their abroad journeys and being able to reflect from my own experience to help them.

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Tabling with another club at my school

The best thing about the AIFS Alumni Ambassadors Program, though, is that it cares about the ambassadors. The program requires a mid-year resume and LinkedIn critique during which each ambassador receives a one-hour phone call. On top of that, each ambassador is required to create an online portfolio with an area to explain how study abroad impacted him or her. Additionally, at training, the ambassadors were given tips on how to relate their study abroad experiences to applicable traits in the work force. I think this is an awesome edge to have over competitors.

I have no idea what kind of experience I would have had during and post-trip if I had studied with another company. As I said in a previous post, keeping in contact with my abroad experiences has really helped me navigate my return to home life. I am quite pleased with my after-abroad experience I have gained through AIFS and I am excited to help others realize their study abroad dreams.

 

 

Lake George: Good Eats

The only thing that motivated me through the whirlwind of September was my weekend getaway to Lake George at the end of the month. It was an extra special trip because my mom and step-dad let me come along with them and helped me surprise my grandparents and aunt. The astonishment on their faces when I arrived was priceless and the consistent “I can’t believe you’re here,” statements made the four-and-a-half-hour drive to and from well worth it. While my only full day there was overcast and rainy, the weekend’s redeeming quality—besides being with my family on a trip for the first time—was the food.

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The Silo

Between its history and mouth-watering food, The Silo is aesthetically appealing by sight and taste. The original silo of the restaurant was used to house corn and then was repurposed alongside two local 19th century farms which were combined and made into The Silo Country store in 1982. At first, the breakfast and lunch area was small, but business began to boom and several changes were made to expand the eatery into what it is today. The Silo is bombarded every morning with hungry guests and long wait times can form. I suggest getting there by eight in the morning to avoid long lines.

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Stuffed French toast

The Silo offers everything from buttermilk biscuits and gravy and giant pancakes so large that they only serve two to cheese quesadillas and crab cakes. I can personally vouch for its stuffed French toast which is filled with cream cheese and berries and finished off with whipped cream. The warm, thick, cinnamon coated bread was complimented beautifully by the sweet cream cheese and berries. I barely used syrup, which is unusual for me, because it tasted so nice without it.

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Silo’s cider doughnuts 

If there is a long wait and you are too hangry (hungry and angry) to wait for food any longer, try The Silo’s delicious cider doughnuts from the country store. They have a delicate taste that would be paired perfectly with some warm apple cider. The best part is they are only one dollar each, $5.50 for six or $8.50 for 12 donuts.

Adirondack Pub and Brewery

 The Adirondack Pub and Brewery began as response to the high quality European beers John Carr experienced during a backpacking trip. He decided to brew his own after being unable to find something in America that competed with anything he tasted in his travels. People became interested in his brewing, which led him to start his own brewery in the center of Lake George Village in 1999. To this day, people can visit for quality ales and comfort food.

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Pretending to taste the beers..

The pub’s selling point is its tasting option that comes with six beers that the staff chooses each day. If you find one you cannot live without, they sell huge jugs of their ales and lagers to take home. The Adirondack Pub and Brewery prides itself in using fresh, local ingredients to produce beer that can be comfortably drank any day of the year. This is an experience that beer fanatics do not want to miss. And if someone is not into beer, the pub’s food is exceptionally tasty as well.

Ambrosia Diner

Is the wait too long at The Silo? You can’t decide what you want to eat? Ambrosia is a classic American diner offering a range of foods from paninis, soups, steaks, and fish to eggs and pancakes. I enjoyed the Anastasia Pancakes which were slathered with Nutella and sprinkled with banana slices that sent my mouth into a sweet, chocolate-filled bonanza. The rest of my family was also satisfied with their delicious and large portions. The family who opened a diner in 1984 still owns and operates its now three locations, so I am confident the rest of the food at Ambrosia will taste like it was right out of their own kitchen.

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Anastasia Pancakes

If I had more time, I am sure I could have sunk my teeth into more delicious food, but I guess that will have to wait until my next adventure!

 

Opportunities are Meant for Taking

When I wrote the article, “How to Plan a Study Abroad Trip,” for my first internship last year, I had never actually been on a study abroad trip. I wrote it with the advice of others who have planned trips abroad, common sense and with a hope that I too would one day get to travel abroad for my studies. That time is less than a month away.

I have always been ready to go wherever, whenever. I recall playing at my friend’s house in elementary school, who then invited me on a trip to Maryland with her family the next day. I went in a heartbeat. My first time traveling outside America was also in elementary school when I flew to Jamaica for a family vacation. blog1My first time traveling to Europe was with my Pop Pop, when he took me to Paris in sixth grade (How was that almost ten years ago?). I did not find out until recently that apparently I begged him to take me to the City of Love for years. I’m pretty sure I got the travel bug from him, and I am sure glad that it bit me.

Some people don’t have the opportunity to travel abroad, while some don’t see a good reason to. There are some people who enjoy a relaxing beach vacation (me) and others who appreciate a fast-paced and heavy itinerary  (also me). My point in all of this is that I try to take advantage of every opportunity I can and to live life to the fullest. I have been so fortunate with my life experiences thus far, and I hope to be able to expand my horizons through travel throughout my life.

No matter what it is, as long as it is legal, I encourage all people to find something they enjoy and to pursue it. Whether it is seeing concerts, trading cards, singing karaoke, or anything else, it is important to have something that makes one’s soul lively. Taking advantage of every opportunity I can is my way of helping my soul stay lively.

“To travel is to live.”

I saw this quote by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. I do have multiple other things that make me “live,” but traveling is definitely one of them. This resonates with the feelings that exploring new places gives me.

I cannot wait to see where my travels take me whether it’s through a study abroad program or by own endeavors, and I would love for you to come along for the ride.