Every year, thousands of British students break up for the summer and have ambitions to travel somewhere. For a lot of us, North America is an exciting and enticing destination, our shared language and ‘special relationship’ has turned the continent and its people into a mythic presence within the British psyche. And so, as the days grow longer, we frantically eye what opportunities are available to us on our paltry loan-leftovers (if we are so lucky) or the earnings from a summer job.
Many will choose to enrol with Camp America; the 10+ week program for students to lead and babysit American kids and teenagers at one of hundreds of summer camps that are a staple of the American summer. It’s a big commitment: over two months of almost non-stop work, with a paygrade that only just covers your expenses getting there in the first place. For some, the experience will be worth it, but I can’t say that spending 10 weeks in a cabin with other Brits looking after some bratty American children ever appealed to me.
Which is why I chose not to do Camp America. There are better ways to make and spend money. Here’s how to spend two weeks in the USA for less than £800, all in.
Step 1: get a summer job. Stop complaining about you paltry your student loan is and do something productive with your time. Let’s face it: if you don’t, you’re gonna spend the majority of your summer doing absolutely nothing. Which, you know, might be nice for a week but any longer and it’s just stupid. So apply for those jobs and earn a couple of grand – this can be your treat money for when you’re at university, too.
Step 2: When I say step 2, I really mean step -30. This needs to start when you’re in full university mode, because it’s key and what your entire trip rests on. You gotta make friends with ALL the American students on their study-abroad programs at your university. As soon as you hear an American accent anywhere…make contact. Ask them where they’re from. Just talk to them until they can’t not be friends with you. Invite them round yours during the long holidays – they’ll be stuck on campus otherwise with no-one to see and nowhere to be.
Step 3: become the best flight-finder you know. Finding the best deals for transatlantic flights take time; it’s one of the most competitive markets that exist. But there are ways and means. Keep your dates flexible and do multidate searches. Use skyscanner, Sta, and any other sites you can find. Walk into your travel agents in the high street and ask them what their best deals are. This year, I booked my flights to Philadelphia from Heathrow via Sta Travel for £372 – and that’s with Virgin Atlantic AND in high season. Anything sub £400 is good, sub £350 and you’re onto a winner.
Step 4: Guilt-trip your American friends into letting you stay with them. And if you’re a really good person, they’ll even want to spend time with you. If you’re really lucky (as I was), they’ll even have friends in other cities – New York, for example – that you can crash at. Save that dollar anywhere you can – even if it is a little bit shameless!
Step 5: Enjoy yourself. You’re not on holiday if you’re not enjoying yourself, and you’re not enjoying yourself if you’re counting every penny. Know roughly how much you can spend each day, but be okay with spending more. In other words, have a buffer of cash that you don’t mind spending. Know, however, that it’s unlikely you’ll need that buffer. I’ve always spent less than planned. On both my gap year and this summer I got away with a budget of £50/day – including accommodation for the former.
Step 6: Reciprocate. You’ve shamelessly abused all your American contacts, so when they want to travel to the UK and Europe, be gracious and welcome them to stay with you. Basically, be a good friend. And yes, that includes offering to pay for a meal or two or gas when you’re staying with them for free.