When I was a college student, I spent a semester studying in England. I had a negative bank balance and no job, so when my aunt sent over a check for $250 as an early graduation present, I knew I had to spend it wisely. It was my first time in Europe, so I decided to use the money on a trip to Paris, traveling as cheaply as possible.
This involved taking a night bus to Paris. It was long, uncomfortable, and not at all conducive to a good night's sleep, but it was cheap and saved me the cost of a room. Upon arrival in Paris, I made my way to a hostel where I had booked a bed in a multibunk room (read: dirt cheap) for one night. I splurged on tickets to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, but focused on free activities, like walking along the Seine, touring the Père Lachaise Cemetery in search of Oscar Wilde's tomb, and reading a book in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I ate crêpes and frites, spent one night in the hostel, and, on Day Two, traveled back to London via yet another night bus. I was delirious without sleep, but I'd seen Paris and had stuck to my shoestring budget.
That was traveling like a student. Now, I travel like a grown-ass woman. I take the Eurostar and splurge on Champagne. I've upgraded from hostels to hotels and Airbnbs. I carry little maps on which I've marked local restaurants with the best reviews. I've treated myself to cooking classes in Madrid and safaris in Botswana. I have frequent-flyer miles. And I do all this without spending exorbitant sums of money on every trip.
Achieving ruby status and getting priority seating may not be as thrilling as, say, slinging back beers with the Portuguese dreamboat you've befriended at the hostel, but there's a lot to be said for crisscrossing the globe on your own terms and with an extra dash of comfort. Here are some tips on upgrading your adventures without blowing your budget.