Exchange on a shoe-string: helpful budgeting tips

Tom Hedditch
Exchange to Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Semester 2, 2015

This topic I have had to consider very much over the past few weeks – and I feel that I could help people going on exchange next year to not make the errors that I have made this trip. This is my first big trip overseas by myself where I have had to be financially independent. When I left Australia I was convinced I had more money than I would ever need for seven and a half months in Europe. I have come to the point in my trip where I am surviving off 10 euro days so that I can see my trip out.


One of the biggest errors I made was to plan way too far ahead. I booked a return flight home a long time before I even left for Europe on a flexi-flight deal. This has proven to be the wrong decision. I had to alter my plans for the date that I came home for reasons out of my control. With my flexi-flight I was under the impression I could re-route my flight any way I wanted – this was not the case. I wanted to have some time with some friends in South-East Asia before I had to go back to Australia and reality. I have had to cancel my return flight home at a loss of $1000. So moral of the story, never book return flights home*. I can currently find return flights home for $900 cheaper than what I paid nearly a year ago – a lesson definitely learnt.

*(ACU International Note: depending on the country, you may need to book return flights home when you are applying for your student visa.  Always confirm with your host country’s visa office.)


When I first made my budget I made very conservative estimates on what I would spend. I had a discussion about this with a friend last week where we discussed that we would happily save 3-4 euro on a hostel but when we go out for dinner or drinks we never think about money in this way – and this has been a massive lesson for me. It is so hard to budget for 8 months at the beginning of your trip when you look at your bank account with so much money in it! I began my trip in Turkey which appears to be a cheap country and meals can be found for $4 however, I overspent and wasn’t budget conscious which I truly regret now. If I was to do a similar trip again I would have my parents drip feed me money which would allow me to apply my budget more strictly.


Currently, me and my housemate have about 5 pasta dinners a week and are super strict on the money we spend per week. It is so important to accept the value of money and look at small things like exchange rates, deals with bank cards and small fees here and there. I am on a NAB Travel Card and my experience with fellow Australians is that the Citibank card is an excellent option as it has the best exchange rate deals. A feature of the Citibank card is no transaction fees for countries not on the euro. I visited many countries not on the euro and each time I transacted I was charged a fee for this transaction.


Although I am nearly broke and can barely afford to eat but surprisingly I am enjoying the challenge of really tightening the shoe strings. It will be an interesting few weeks before we finish up in Milan however, I will appreciate a nice home-cooked meal when I come home.


I have attached some photos of my recent travels to lighten the mood of this blog a little!!

Naples Rome Turin