Planning the Budget for Your Study Abroad Trip

To advertise the study abroad trip you plan to lead you will need to know how much to charge the students. Deciding the appropriate trip fee is one of the most challenging aspects of planning your trip, as you will have to charge enough to ensure you cover expenses in the trip’s budget, but you don’t yet have your hotel reservations or transportation booked during the budget planning process so you don’t know exactly what to charge. Here are some of the expenses you will need to include in your budget. These costs need to be covered by the trip fee the students pay, so you don’t want to promise more than your budget can deliver!

Step 1 – Estimate your airfare.

The single biggest expense is likely to be airfare, and you don’t know what that will be until your travel agent starts looking for your particular dates. Airfare is likely to be more than you expect, and more than you would pay if you were traveling alone. I know you have heard about “group airfare rates” but they are seldom as good as you could do on your own using a search engine. Go online and see sample airfares to and from your destination(s) for the time of year you are planning on traveling. A few points:

  • It isn’t always significantly cheaper to fly into and out of the same city in Europe. For example, if your trip begins with a flight to Paris but you travel to one or more other countries, it may not cost more to leave from Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, or Rome for your return home. When you consider the additional time and cost of ground transportation to get back to Paris, it will likely be cheaper and more convenient to book your return trip from a different city. So choose a search engine that lets you price ‘multi-city’ as opposed to ‘round trip’ if you are traveling around the continent.
  • Be sure you are looking at the airfare price including taxes and fees. Taxes and fees may cost almost as much as the base price of the ticket itself! Also avoid taking the bait for a ‘special’ rate you aren’t going to get for your group or an inconvenient route with an overnight, 10-hour layover in Reykjavik. Unless you think that would be a good way to squeeze in a day visiting Reykjavik.
  • Faculty chaperone airfare is typically included in the trip fee paid by the students. So, unless your university pays your way, you will need to add your airfare (and that of any faculty who co-lead the trip) to the airfare budget.
  • Now, add at least 20%. Your don’t have the same flexibility with a group as you do when booking for yourself. The travel agent you will be working with will get a fee, prices will rise, you may be traveling on a high-volume day of the week, and it is better to be safe than sorry. If the airfare winds up being lower than your estimate then you’ll have more money to spent on students’ meals, admissions, and unexpected expenses that arise.

Step 2 – Estimate ground transportation expenses

  • Train – Go online to the railway site of the country you will be traveling from and see the cost of tickets for your planned travel between destinations. Often there are tickets or passes at reduced prices for tourists, students, groups, and/or “youth” under age 25. Some countries have helpful customer services for their railway system that can be contacted by email. If so, be specific about the likely size of your group and age range (ie. “under age 25”), your planned travel dates and times, origination, and destination, and ask about the cost of second class train fare as well as if a group pass or “under-25 youth rate” is available at lower cost. With a large group on popular routes it is a good idea to book in advance. You will likely want to save money by buying second class tickets, however on some crowded routes first class may be worth additional expense if your budget allows.
  • Bus – With a group of 15 or more it may cost effective to book a charter bus than to buy individual train tickets, and you also have the convenience of a pickup and drop off at the airport or hotel. Your travel agent may be helpful here but more likely you will need to search online to find a company that services the region where you will be traveling. Tell them about your travel needs and ask them to make an offer. Contact several bus companies and hope to hear back from one or two. Check your spam box in case their reply winds up there.
  • Metro/tram – If you are staying in a medium to larger city you will likely need to investigate the cost of the subway, metro, tram, or city bus system. Ideally purchasing a pass for each student to use during your stay in a city is best if there will be regular trips on public transportation. Figure on about $10 per student per day for a simple metro or tram pass.

Don’t forget transfers from the airport to your hotel, both inbound and outbound. This will vary greatly depending on the distance from the airport and your transportation mode.

Step 3 – Estimate lodging expenses.

Here costs can vary widely. Cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, and New York have very high lodging costs. Smaller cities and towns can be a bargain, are easier to navigate, and often have friendly people and historic charm. While smaller cities may lack the cultural amenities of the larger cities, and may not be as big a “draw” for your student audience, these oft-overlooked burgs may have resources that relate to the study of psychology, particularly if they are a university town.

Check out the youth hostels, especially in expensive cities. Hostelling International is a nonprofit federation of hostel organizations. Hostel accommodations today can range from private rooms with private bathrooms to shared dorm-style rooms with shared bathroom and shower. Compare hostel prices and amenities with what you find on search engines such as to see what will meet your needs and the cost. As a general estimate, if you are going “hostel” you can expect to pay between $28 – $45 per person per night. Hostels generally include breakfast, linens, and a youth-friendly atmosphere where students may meet fellow travelers from around the world.

One and two star value-priced hotels can be a good deal as well, but do check to make sure that each room has an ‘en suite’ private bathroom. If you are booking into a ‘value priced’ one or two star hotel in most of Europe you can expect to pay between $45 and $80 per person per night.

Some value-priced hotels have rooms that can accommodate 3, 4, or even 5 per room. It can cut lodging cost significantly to have more than 2 persons per room when possible. It is often worthwhile to email a hotel directly, tell them the dates, number of nights, number of persons, and desire for breakfast and a ‘group rate’. They may make you a better offer than you would get on the booking site and you can book the whole group at once. (Booking sites may only allow you to book up to 6 persons at one time). Always try to get refundable bookings whenever possible.

Universities may have residence hall rooms available for tourists or groups visiting the university. These may or may not be a bargain, but it may be worth checking to see if on-campus lodging options exist.

Try to get breakfast included in the cost of lodging, if not it is worth paying extra, typically about $10 per night per person. However unless your students have breakfast “included” they will skip it and very likely be irritable and distracted by midmorning.

Do note that the prices on hotel booking websites may be listed in local currency, in which case you will either want to click a link to get the currency display to your liking or check the rates using a currency calculator like Don’t forget that unless your university is paying your lodging expense separately, the cost of faculty leaders’ room(s) must be included in the budget.

One way to save significant money on a study abroad trip is to arrange to have your students stay with local “host” families or students in their residences, instead of a hotel or hostel. If your trip involves visiting a foreign university this may be possible. There may be some need for oversight to help ensure student safety. Your university may require that names, addresses, and contact information be supplied for all hosts and/or have other requirements. This option requires additional planning but has many benefits. Not only does this reduce expenses significantly, it allows the students to have a richer experience, learn more about the culture and the people of the host nation, and vice versa.

Step 4 – Estimate cost of admissions to museums, events, cultural sites, etc

This information can usually be obtained online. Note there are often group rates, youth rates, and/or educational group rates that can save money. Don’t forget to include your own admissions.

Step 5 – Estimate cost of meals.

We’ve talked about breakfast in the section on lodging…hopefully you are already budgeting for that in the trip fee. Depending on how you design your trip you may wish to budget for lunch and dinner as well, either every day or on specific days. Meals can be paid for as a group where the faculty member pays the bill using the trip budget, or students can receive ‘cash disbursements’ from the faculty member to cover a quick meal at a stand or take-out shop, or students can be responsible for paying for their own meals. Or you can do a combination of the above.

Building in a few group dinners is a nice way to ensure the students are getting a proper meal, allows the students to bond as a group, and is a way for students to learn about cultural norms, interpreting menus, and dining etiquette in a foreign country. If you are on an excursion and dining options are limited, lunch at the only restaurant in the village square might be a necessity. If you are doing a sit down restaurant for lunch a budget of $20-25 is suggested, at a sit-down restaurant for dinner a budget of $20-$50 per person is suggested. This is assuming that you haven’t chosen a Michelin-starred restaurant and are not paying for alcohol. If you are giving the students a cash disbursement to go buy something from the local ‘fast food’ equivalents (falafel shop, pizza, bakery) figure about $8-10 per student.

At a sit-down restaurant be prepared that students may consider this an opportunity to order three courses, many will want to order the steak, even at lunch, and you may wind up busting your budget in short order. One way to have some cost controls is to give the students a budget they can spend and asking them to pay for any cost overrides.

For example, “You can spend up to 25 euros on food and non-alcoholic beverages, and anything beyond that you will be expected to leave cash on the table to pay for. You will need to leave cash to pay for any alcoholic beverages. Keep track of what you will have to pay as the restaurant will not provide separate checks.”

This would not work well in the U.S. where tax and tip increase the restaurant bill significantly. In European countries where tax is already included in pricing and smaller tips are the norm it is easier to know what the cost of a meal will be, basically the price on the menu is what you owe. I suggest to the students that they round up or add 10% toward the tip when leaving their payment to cover the difference between their allotment and what they spend.

The alcohol payment statement is needed as your university or state may have policies against reimbursing for alcoholic beverages. When you submit that receipt those expenses may be denied. Do be certain you understand the policy regarding reimbursement for meal receipts when alcohol is included or you may wind up paying a big bill out of your own pocket for students who order alcohol at meals.

Another idea for controlling costs while paying for meals is to get cash from an ATM and give each student a cash disbursement of the amount that you wish to provide. Of course you will want to have each student sign a receipt so you can account for this money. Then the students can order what they want and pay the bill.

If you are not receiving a per diem from your university for meal expenses, note that the cost of your meals will need to be figured into the trip budget.

Step 6 – Estimate costs of other expenses.

  • You will want to consider the cost of cell phone use overseas. You will likely use your smart phone for voice calls, texting, and data downloads. It makes sense to look at your carrier’s international plans for the time you are overseas. Estimate about $100 for a package with international voice, text, and data. Then there may be additional charges, as this package likely provides for reduced, not free, phone calls and texts. Also if you exceed the data allotment there will be a charge. Suggest about $150 for phone expenses. If you are buying a SIM card and paying for voice/text/data you will probably wind up spending about the same amount. Also, while you will likely use email to communicate during trip planning, you may need to make a few international phone calls from your home country. You might want to have something in the budget to handle this expense.
  • Money exchange is an oft-overlooked part of the budget. Credit cards generally charge a 3% currency exchange fee, and ATMS now charge about 3% currency exchange fee plus a transaction charge of $3-6. Once you determine the portion of the budget that will be paid for in a foreign currency, you will want to add 3% plus additional money for ATM transaction charges. If you have a credit card that does not charge a currency exchange fee then you will only need to add the 3% to ATM withdrawals. See the information on this website regarding “Money Matters” to look at this topic in depth.
  • Budget for a small gift or honorarium for contacts, volunteer guides, faculty in the country you are visiting who assist you and your students, co-teach a class, or provide educational programming. This could be in the range of $15-$100 per recipient, depending on the amount of involvement and assistance they provide.
  • Tips for charter bus drivers, tour guides, taxi drivers, and perhaps housekeeping and hotel staff should be anticipated. You will likely need to obtain receipts to be reimbursed for these expenses.
  • There are various insurance companies that provide short-term health insurance for the days a student is abroad. Cost is generally quite reasonable. If you are buying this for your students factor in the cost, generally only about dollar per day per student.

Important: Many of the estimates in this document will vary based on the exchange rate and the costs you experience may be higher or lower. Also, the cities you are visiting, time of year, and other factors will play a role in your actual expenses. This document should be useful in planning your expenses however you may need to adjust the amounts based on your particular trip.

Worksheets that can be used to calculate the Total Trip Expense Per Student to set your Trip Fee can be found here.

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