How to Pay For Your Meaningful Travel Experiences

While it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of planning a meaningful travel experience across the country, funding your dream can be a little more complicated. Travel isn’t known for being cheap – it takes a lot of planning and consideration about what kind of trip is suitable for your budget.

Thankfully there are plenty of ways to get the ball rolling regarding financial success in an endeavor such as meaningful travel. Plenty of programs are available that make it much more affordable, and scholarships are created just for students traveling, so monetary magic can happen with some planning. The price of many programs is directly associated with the level of support you receive during the program, so ask yourself how independent you want to be when considering different options.

Our best piece of advice? Do your research well in advance, compare options, submit any necessary applications, and save your money sooner rather than later. You’ll want to build a budget to understand the costs and see how much you’ll need to make your trip a reality.

A Destination Work Program

Destination work programs are a perfect choice for someone new to the world of meaningful travel who needs to make it more affordable. Why? They provide the perfect mixture of structure, financial allowance for your adventures, and professional experience that sets you up for success afterward. It also provides stability in your housing, income, and work expectations.

Programs like AdventureEXP are often free or have minimal cost, plus you’re earning money in the new destination. It allows you to work, get paid for it, and be supported with housing. Food and travel costs are typically your responsibility but are afforded through the money you earn during your experience. Thankfully, AdventureEXP has budgeting integrated with the program application process, so you can decide what program is perfect for you before you take off.

Beyond those primary benefits, you can gain real, professional experience. This benefit is arguably the most distinct part of a destination work program from other opportunities because it’s something tangible you can take with you beyond the program. It’ll help you land better opportunities down the line. Through this complete immersion in a destination work program, you ultimately connect with the local community at a deeper level than other options.


Similar to a destination work program, volunteering can be a more affordable approach to traveling near and far. Many programs offer housing, food, and more. It comes down to the program’s resources and history of working with volunteers.

On the flip side, limited resources can mean that your experience may not be as organized as a destination work experience like AdventureEXP. Volunteering is often better suited for those with some travel experience and who are mentally prepared for the working and living conditions you might encounter.

Another great perk, similar to a destination work program, is that you can take an entire year and commit to multiple locations. Volunteer organizations are often very flexible on the length of your stay. Some as little as a week or two, or three months if you prefer. The organization is usually just happy to have volunteers’ support in improving the local community.

Fundraising In Your Community

We associate fundraising with Girl Scout cookies and sports teams, but in today’s world, fundraising can apply to any meaningful experience for someone. Family and friends love supporting someone doing something impactful, and purpose-driven travel is no exception.

There are several ways to fundraise in your community. The first is by simply sharing your plans with your social circle. Ask for their financial or emotional support to help you get the ball rolling. They might know of additional resources that you hadn’t thought of too.

You can ask for small donations, especially when they know it will better your professional career. On a larger scale, it’s not uncommon to set up a GoFundMe or something similar to allow people to contribute to your adventure.

Another option is to host an actual fundraiser and invite your community to join. You can sell drinks and food or try using your skills to sell a piece of art, for instance. It could be fun, like a cookout with friends and family and selling tickets to join, always making sure they know the funds are going to something impactful like a travel experience.

If you opt for the volunteering route, you can showcase that the money your community donates will help you create an impact in another community. People love to support a cause, so give them one to support.


Many think of scholarships as being directly for academics only, but there are a handful of scholarships designed for meaningful travel experiences. Many of these organizations are rooted in supporting travel that impacts a local community or advances a student in their educational development.

Their requirements vary, but typically you’ll need to submit an application and explain your travel purpose through a short paper or something similar. Applying for scholarships can expose you to varied opportunities through the organization, find more support, and force you to think about the purpose of your trip and which opportunity is the perfect fit for you.

Some common scholarships for student travel are:

Plan Ahead

Saving money in advance is a hard lesson to learn, especially when we aren’t taught it in the early stages of our lives or through school, but it’s essential to preparing for a big trip. What it comes down to is shifting your mentality entirely. It’s easy for us to get caught up with local plans with friends, spending money as quickly as it comes in.

However, once you’ve traveled, you understand how much more meaningful it can be, and your perspective changes. Now you say no to eating out at the trendy restaurant because you know your upcoming trip to Aspen will be much more rewarding than a single night at a place you’ve been before.

Some ways to plan ahead:

  • Choose to stay in a few nights a month and put that money in a separate travel savings fund
  • Break down the expected costs of your travel experience so you can get on track to save
  • Skip the Starbucks coffee every day and put that money towards your trip
  • Find small jobs to work before your departure
  • Stay focused on your travel plans and remind yourself daily to build excitement

Let Your Budget Guide You

Part of planning ahead is thinking about your experience, goals, and the cost of all the options available to you. Of course, you want to maximize the benefits of our experience, but let your budget be the guiding force in what can otherwise be a very emotionally charged decision process. It will help you land on the right program and location.

Some locations are going to allow for greater affordability. For example, a program in Peru has a lower cost of living than a program in Australia. However, maybe you’d prefer to be in a more culturally similar location to the U.S., so Australia could end up being an overall better option.

In the same vein, when budgeting, add up the additional benefits of a program like a free ski pass, free transportation, or discounted meals. The length of your program can also help make it more affordable. You learn the costs of a location better with time and can find ways to cut costs instead of hopping from place to place and relearning it all.

Essential questions to ask yourself:

  • How important is the location to you?
  • Would you be willing to go to a different location to make it more affordable?
  • Are you there primarily for a cultural experience?
  • Are you looking more for professional growth?
  • Is money the primary concern you have?
  • What would you be willing to sacrifice for greater affordability?
  • How long do you want to stay in one location?

You Make It Happen

You’ll be set up for success with all the aforementioned ways to fund a meaningful travel experience. Take time to do your research well in advance, submit applications for programs and scholarships, and start saving now to ensure you get the most out of your future travel plans. Most importantly, build out a budget, and spend time thinking about what you’re trying to get out of your experience away from home.

Think outside of the box when looking for resources and ask friends or family that have had similar experiences – they can point you in the right direction. Ultimately it comes down to you to make your travel become a reality, but there is plenty of support if you take the time to seek it out.

Wanderlust Blog

Seasonal Adventures Await in the US & Abroad