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Lawyering & Living for Less: Post-Bar Adventure on a Budget

As a recent survivor of the bar exam, I know what it is like to spend two gorgeous summer months inside, sitting at your desk, surrounded by books and outlines and notecards, under some of the most intense stress of your life.  It’s not fun, to say the least.  And seeing all of your friends’ facebook updates and photos of their summer adventures is just salt in an already painful wound.

Now that the bar exam is over, it’s time to take back your summer and have that grand adventure you’ve been dreaming about for months.  Whether you are about to start a job or go back to school, or are still planning your next move, here are a few tips on how to take a post-bar trip without breaking the bank.

Although heading out on the adventure of a lifetime may be more fun if done spontaneously, you’ll need to do some planning.  Make a budget that is as specific as possible, determining how much you can spend on travel, food, accommodations, etc.  Do some research and choose your destination based on what you can afford.  As you travel, keep track of what you spend, and compare budgeted and actual expenses every morning as you’re planning what you’ll do that day.

When you’ve selected your destination, the first step is getting there.  If you’re flying, check cheap tickets sites like Orbitz or Travelocity (remember that Southwest and some other airlines don’t list fares on such sites).  Sign up for airline emails to get the latest last-minute deals, especially if your travel plans are flexible.  And when comparing airline prices, don’t forget to account for hidden costs, such as those for checking bags and the like.

If you’re planning a road trip, make sure your car is at its peak for maximum gas mileage: change your oil, inflate your tires, and take all those law books that you’ve been meaning to sell out of your trunk.  And if you want to see the country but don’t really want to drive, consider the train: Amtrak is a cost-effective (and fun!) alternative.

Next, decide where you’re going to stay.  Obviously, the cheapest option is staying with a friend or relative (with the added bonus of an instant tour guide who will likely know how to get around their city for less money).  If you’ll be in a hotel, check hotels.com for good deals, and be ready to switch hotels at the last minute if a deal pops up at a different hotel (just know the original hotel’s cancellation policy).  And sign up for each hotel’s rewards program: even if you don’t accumulate much in the way of free hotel stays, you may be able to convert points earned into frequent-flyer miles for your next trip

Once you have the details figured out, it’s time to plan your fun: what to eat, how to get around, what to see.  To eat on the cheap, subscribe to the destination city’s Groupon emails a few months before your trip, research the deals, and buy a few.  Check websites such as Thrifty Hipster for happy hour specials, and bring along granola bars and fruit to avoid expensive breakfasts out.

To avoid spending your entire budget on getting from place to place, look for a hotel in a central location, which will allow you to walk instead of taking a taxi or renting a car.  Not only will this save money, but you will also see parts of the city you might not otherwise see, and you won’t have to worry about hitting the hotel gym!  If walking isn’t an option, try public transportation.  It may be confusing at first, but taking a train or bus in the absolute wrong direction will only add to the adventure!

Research will be key in planning your daily activities.  Many museums and similar attractions have set days on which admission is discounted or even free.  If you’re looking for concert or play tickets, check out the local Craigslist for last-minute savings, or consider student rush or similar ticket deals.

The three things to remember when planning your trip are to do your research and track your budget, be creative in finding savings, and be flexible in your daily activities.  But most importantly, have fun!

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