Interview season is one of the most exciting and stressful parts to the application process! You’ve spent months, if not years, preparing yourself and putting together a competitive application and a school has decided they want to know more about you. As exciting as it is when you get that email or phone call inviting you to interview, that excitement can quickly dissipate when you start to look up the cost of flights! The application process is very expensive, adding in travel expenses can add up quickly. In this post, I’ll share with you a few of my travel secrets to traveling on a budget!
Everyone knows that last minute flights can get pretty pricey, and most schools only give between 2-4 weeks notice for an interview, which means last minute flights are your only option. I started my flight search on a search engine (usually Kayak, but that’s just my preference). From there, I get an approximation of what a round trip ticket costs to that particular location. Then, I widened the search parameters to other airports nearby. For example, I had an interview in West Palm Beach, Florida. The West Palm Beach airport is a smaller, regional airport which is fairly expensive to fly into. Whereas, the Fort Lauderdale Airport is a larger, international airport. Fort Lauderdale is only a 45 minute drive away and it was approximately $200 cheaper of a plane ticket than West Palm.
Once I found my desired location, I looked to see where most airlines were stopping and having connections. A common layover between Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale was Dallas, Texas. The average roundtrip ticket from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale was $400. I looked to see the price of a round trip ticket from Phoenix to Dallas (a common layover location) and it was $98. I then looked the price of a round trip ticket from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale and it was $108. So by booking the two flights separately, I was able to save about $200 which is like HALF the cost of booking the same flights, Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale with a layover in Dallas. So by cheating the system a little bit you can save a lot! One thing I would caution you about doing this, is that if you book 2 separate flights like I did, and if one is delayed, and you miss the next one, the airline will NOT be as forgiving with helping you get on another flight. Whereas if you book a flight to your final destination and your connecting flight causes delays, they will do everything in their power to assist you to getting to your final destination. So its a gamble; you can potentially save a lot of money by booking 2 separate flights, but keep in mind you may be out of luck if delays occur.
So you’ve got your flight booked, now where will you stay? Airbnb is a great option when traveling for interviews. Not only will staying at an Airbnb save you money on the room, but it also offers certain amenities that are appealing to a solo traveler. Many Airbnbs have ensuite style kitchens or kitchenettes. The Airbnb I stayed at in Florida had a fridge and oven which was very useful for saving money on meals. I was able to cook all my meals myself, except for one lunch I stopped at a sandwich shop on the beach. The Airbnb I stayed in was near a grocery store so I was able to walk to get groceries and did not have to take a cab or an Uber.
Hotels that are near the school can be very tempting because they are so close and you can just walk there or take a few dollar Uber ride. But, be aware! Hotels that are in close proximity to schools know when interview season is! They bump up their prices making it more expensive for the lowly college student just trying to make it into grad school. I’m not saying that Airbnbs could not do this as well, but I have more noticed the trend in hotels. Also, hotels close to the campus tend to generally be more expensive than hotels a few miles out.
Another advantage to Airbnb is that most have later check out times than hotels, and some even offer the option to check out at any time. Most hotels require check out by 11 AM, or you can pay for delayed check out till around 2pm. I loved this late check out option for a few reasons. One, I didn’t have to bring my luggage with me to my interview. Most interview days last anywhere from 8 AM to 2PM (some earlier, some later). But, more than likely, your hotel checkout time will be during your interview. Some hotels offer to hold your luggage even after check out, but not all. I enjoyed my late check out because it allowed me to unwind and explore the city I would potentially moving to for the next 2 years after my interview. My interview was over around noon; I went back to my Airbnb and grabbed my swimsuit and hit the beach! I lounged around the beach and explored downtown for a few hours before returning to my Airbnb where I was able to shower and wash all the sand off from the beach, and then change into my comfy clothes for my flight.
One aspect of traveling under the age of 25 is the whole rental car debacle. Technically, you can rent a car at 21 but who wants to pay the ridiculous fees associated with that! So I Ubered everywhere, unless it was close enough for me to walk. During your planning, figure out exactly how many miles you are going to be traveling from the airport, around town, and to and from your interview. Determine for yourself, whether it would be smarter to pay the fee and rent a car, or just Uber everywhere. Even with my 45 minute drive to and from the Fort Lauderdale airport into West Palm, it was still less expensive for me to use Uber and Lyft to get around, rather than rent a car. Also, use any coupon code for these driving services you can! I used Lyft for the first time during this trip because they offered a $20 coupon code for first time riders. Send you Uber code to friends in the weeks proceeding your trip so you can get more free rides yourself while you’re traveling. Every dollar counts man!
Hopefully, by utilizing some of these secrets to traveling cheaper, you will be financially able to travel to all the interview invites you receive, and you will not have to pick and choose which to accept!