I was a student some time ago, but the below still apply. There are more and more opportunities for cheap travel, and I hope more students (especially in my home country) will want to experience it. Here is my advice to a young traveler/student:
Yes, this is the most obvious one. You need the money to travel, you earn it by working. Being a student is not a full-time thing, you have lots of flexibility and energy to engage in other activities. I can understand a student pursuing an academic track to be spending all his/her free time in the library. But this doesn’t apply to the majority of students.
The first summer as a student, I worked for a small company, as an assistant, part time. Very boring. But this allowed me to save money for my coming exchange semester in Gran Canaria. With the saved money, I planned a tour of Spain. Another summer I worked as a tour guide. I practiced my public speaking, I traveled to many nice places in Romania for free and talked to foreigners from all over the world. And I saved some money for my coming year in Israel.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be a great paying job, any job would do. You just need to be creative. You can promote a new product or company on the streets or social media, work as a waiter or give free city tours.
This is more difficult to get, as it depends on how good you are at whatever you are studying. And scholarships are very competitive, the well-known ones. But, as with everything, there are other less known scholarships, summer schools, and projects. If you are willing to spend more time doing research and improving your writing (adding strong motivation and reasoning to your applications), it should work out.
I had yearly scholarships for my good results, a full scholarship for my Erasmus semester and other small scholarships for specific projects/activities. Over the time, I filled in hundreds of applications, and I was constantly checking websites and groups.
Here I would add tutoring and selling your skills/ knowledge among students. I did both, but not constantly, it was more for fun than money.
Volunteer your time
I discovered volunteering very late, while a student. I wish I had volunteered more as a teenager, and I think it’s a great activity for personal development. The earliest, the better.
With volunteering, you dedicate your time and effort to a cause/project. Some ask for thousands of pounds in fees, like some projects in Africa I’ve seen. I find those outrageous. I’ve been to Kenya on my own and found without problems a volunteer host, where I would pay around £50 a week (in 2015), which included a bed and breakfast. Half of the money paid was considered as a donation to the school I would volunteer to. My advice is to always aim for the local NGOs and organizations, contact them directly.
There are many volunteer opportunities, from the super expensive ones to cheap ones. Depending on the project budget/sponsorship, some cover accommodation and food for the volunteers. Fewer will cover all expenses.
I volunteered at an archaeological site in northern Israel, for 1 month. It was hard work for lazy me, but very interesting experience, I made international friends and I went on trips during weekends. I also went to a nice workshop about volunteering in Crimea, Ukraine, with all expenses covered. But I was a bit more experienced at that time.
Join a student organization
Maybe you are aware of your student organizations at uni, more for the parties or events they organize. But, joining them gets you lots of benefits. You meet new people, learn about how an organization works and participate in all types of events and collaborations. For example, the most active members get to go to international events paying fewer fees or none.
During my student times, I was a member in AEGEE (European Students’ Network) and LSRS (League of Romanian Students Abroad). I went to student events in my home country, in Turkey, Spain, and Latvia, where I met lots of international students and it was great fun.
I call it like this because I didn’t know about couchsurfing back then. Many times, I relied on my international friends offering accommodation and travel advice. I also offered accommodation and showing around my home city, and I still do it.
If you get engaged in international activities and events, there will be other people (of course). If you become a good host yourself, you will find other like-minded individuals, and it’s inevitable that you will meet other good hosts. Not only you learn more about another culture, but you get the local experience, all for free. And we all know that locals know the best places to eat and have fun in their towns!
I’m sure there are other ways as well, but these are the ones I’ve experienced and they made my student life so beautiful. I was lucky enough to live with my parents while a student, so I didn’t have to worry about accommodation and food while at home. I am also super lucky education is (still) free in Romania. For a long time I took these for granted, but later on, I started to appreciate it more. So my only focus as a student was to study and find opportunities to travel abroad.
It was not always easy, but I know many have it harder. No complaints here. What it helped most was that I was always trying (despite failing a lot), doing lots of research, not saying no to extra work and always thinking everything I do will eventually lead to something good.