Here’s how to do a little budgeting so you can do some major site-seeing. Want to spend a semester volunteering but wondering how to pay for a semester abroad? We’ve got fundraising tips and discounts to help you out.
You won’t have to worry about paying for a lot on your ILP semester (your program fee includes things like housing, meals, culture classes, your airfare, and more!) but there are still things you’ll want to buy in country; things like souvenirs, snacks, treats (we love things like gelato and ice-cream filled churros) that you’ll need spending money for … including vacations!
How Much Spending Money Should I Bring?
It depends. Obviously, you could spend a whole lot … some volunteers spend more than $3,000+ on their ILP semester, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Those volunteers are typically taking more expensive vacations, doing lots of shopping, visiting other cities and countries on the weekends, and spending money eating out.
We have a breakdown of how much spending money you should bring, but in a nutshell, around $1,500 - $2,000 is a good average.
What If I Don’t Have That Much?
How much you spend on your semester is really up to you. You don’t need to buy lots of souvenirs, go shopping at the local mall, or eat out (remember, your meals are covered when you’re not on vacation). There are always free things to do in your city, so you can save your cash for vacation time, and tour free parks, museums, and beaches to help you save.
The trickiest part will be vacations, because you'll need to travel with 2 other people in your ILP group, so it would be helpful to find people in your group with a similar budget, or who want to visit less expensive countries (and take a bus to get there, rather than a pricey flight).
How Can I Still Go On Vacation?
If you’re careful, you can probably make it happen! These tips can help make it possible:
Pick Your Country/Vacation Spot Wisely
Living in China for a semester is going to be cheaper than if you spend a semester volunteering in Europe - China is just less expensive than Europe.
If you’re not officially assigned (or want to switch countries), China, Thailand, Nicaragua and Mexico are going to be better options just because life, food, transportation, hostels, etc. in these countries is less expensive than in other countries.
If you’ll be living in Europe with ILP, you can still save. Countries in Eastern Europe are a lot more affordable than countries in Western Europe, so opt to take a vacation soaking in hotsprings in Budapest rather than spending money in countries like Switzerland and Sweden.
Opt Out Of Certain Things
Take pictures instead of buying local artwork as a souvenir, opt to bring home free souvenirs (like city maps and business cards) instead of buying postcards. It’ll take some budgeting but it’s do-able.
Choose One Vacation
We have had some volunteers in the past who have had enough spending money for one vacation, which leaves tons of time to explore and create a bucket list for your own city instead on your other vacation days. If that’s you, you can talk to your ILP group and see what everyone else’s vacation plans are and the projected costs, and see which vacation you’d love to join.
Seriously, the experience of actually living in a foreign country is going to be worth more than the little things you could be buying. It’s worth it to save where you can if that means seeing more of a certain city or another country. There were members of my ILP group who couldn’t afford to see the Terracotta Warriors because they spend their money on Starbucks and the local H&M. Don’t let that be you!
If you want to save money, we have way more tips for travelers on the ILP blog. And if you’re into finding out how you can save even more money, you should check out how to fundraise for your trip. You can also talk to your ILP representative about discounts you might be eligible for!