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6 Ways to Save on Travel During College Breaks

Farran Powell

Every couple of months, Kelly Smith makes the 450-mile drive from Tampa to Atlanta to visit her father during one of her school breaks.

The University of Tampa senior says she cuts down on her travel spending using a fuel perk points program at Winn-Dixie, a regional grocery store chain.

"I buy all my groceries there and every $50, I get five cents off per gallon. So I rack those up and make sure to use them while I'm driving up there," the 22-year-old writing major says.

While most students stay close to home, 42 percent chose a college that is more than 100 miles away, a Niche study found. That number, according to the study, drops to 11 percent for students attending a college more than 500 miles away.

Students, whether they live close to home or farther away, can look for ways to save on travel through different strategies or deals that offer student discounts, experts say.

College financial planners say that travel is an indirect college expense and often an afterthought following the cost of tuition, books and living expenses.

For students who plan to study a longer distance from home, it's a good idea to check the school's proximity to an airport, says Peg Keough, founder and college financial planner at Way to the Quad, a Seattle-based firm that advises families on paying for college.

"Something to look at is how expensive it is to get to the airport and how easy it is because that can add up over four years," Keough says.

[Learn how to estimate living expenses to determine college affordability.]

For prospective students planning a college budget or students interested in saving on travel-related expenses, here are several strategies to consider.

1. Hitch a ride with other students: "Ride share is the most obvious one. So if the student lives close to or near their hometown, they can get with a couple friends and split gas," says Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors, an educational consulting company based in California.

Smith, the University of Tampa student, says that when she was at Florida State University for her freshman and sophomore year, many students posted ride share requests on Facebook.

"A lot of people will put up a Facebook status like: 'Is anyone driving to Tampa?'"

There are also ride-matching services, such as Ridebuzz and College Carpool, that have college-ride programs on many campuses across the country.

2. Don't go home: College financial planners say that one option for students who study far away from home is to limit their number of trips.

[Find out where students pay the most for room and board.]

"Sometimes you make good friends, and they just bring you home for the weekend," Keough says.

Okun, who also works with Discover Student Loans, says it's easier for students with their own apartments to stay since they don't need to worry about dorm closures.

"Freshman year, they come every chance they get. But as sophomore year goes on and junior year goes on, they seem to create at new set of traditions," she says. "It's less home as they get older."

3. Take advantage of school shuttles: Colleges within driving distance of a major city or airport often have low-cost shuttle buses. These shuttles are operated by either the school or an outside company, which often offer discounts to local students.

Students at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, for example, receive a discount on shuttle buses that travel from UW--Madison's campus to O'Hare Airport or Midway Airport in Chicago.

4. Look for cheap flights: "A lot of my students use StudentUniverse, whether it's for hotels or cheap flights, and they go on at specific times to look for student discounts," Okun says.

Emily Wood, a student at Salt Lake Community College, who tries to travels to Europe whenever she can to practice her language skills in Russian and German, says she looks to low-budget airlines for cheap tickets.

[Explore 10 ways that incoming freshmen can save for college.]

"One of the best things I started doing was buy tickets from Norwegian.com," the 23-year-old Utah native says, who boasts that those fares are lower than most commercial airlines. "Norwegian.com let's you exclude the checked bag and $45 meal, which lowers the price even more."

Wood says, even though Norwegian doesn't have any direct flights near her, she takes a seven-hour Greyhound bus ride from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas to take advantage of the cheaper fare.

5. Consider taking a bus or a train: While low fares can be found no-frills bus lines, such as MegaBus or BoltBus, students can also take advantage of special deals with Greyhound and Amtrak.

Bus company Greyhound offers students a 10 percent discount with the Student Advantage Discount Card, which costs $20 annually. For those students near an Amtrak train station, the U.S. passenger railroad line offers fare reductions to students with a valid ID between ages 13 and 25.

6. Use your student ID everywhere: "I also ask for student discounts everywhere I go -- even if they're not advertised," Smith says. "Some people really understand the struggle of being in school and trying to enjoy life."

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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