It’s one of my most commonly asked questions, and nobody ever seems satisfied with the answer, “how can you afford to travel so much?”
Most of the articles I see on saving money for travel leave people unsatisfied. They usually offer solutions so small that they seem insignificant (cut out your morning Starbucks run) or so huge that people balk (sell your car).
I personally have done both of those things and offered them up as suggestions only to be met with harsh blowback- you can read the comments on my How I Saved 20,000 in 2 Years post to see what a spoiled brat people think I am.
What it comes down to is that no two people’s situations are the same, and what works for you may not work for anybody else. Whether you’re saving for a vacation or trying to quit your job, it all comes down to spending less than you make, and it’s up to you to figure out how to get there.
That said, here is my advice on how to save money for travel, along with some resources from other bloggers.
A lot of travel articles talk about the small sacrifices you can make, and yes they do add up. But you know what adds up faster? Big lifestyle changes.
For me, the real bottom line comes down to “what are the things you are willing to live without.” In America, we have a real obsession with living above our means, but if you can figure out how to live below your means, you will have so much more money to spend on things you love like saving money for travel.
Which isn’t to say you need to become a minimalist monk who never has fun. Just figure out one big sacrifice you can live with. A car? Cable tv? New clothes?
In the past, this meant moving in with my Mom to save money on rent. I realize not everybody can do this but it was one really easy way for me to save a ton of money in a short amount of time.
A more recent example: Mike and I don’t own a car. We both sold our cars before we went long-term traveling. Now that we are back living in the US, we want to continue to lead a car-free lifestyle as long as possible. We live centrally and use public transport and services like Lyft, Zipcar and Car2Go to get around town.
This choice saves us literally thousands of dollars a year that we can put towards travel. This means paying slightly more in rent to live centrally, but the savings on gas, insurance, maintenance and car payments more than make up for it. We were also able to trade the parking spot that came with our apartment for a free bed and free couch, saving us even more money.
Would it be nice to have a car? Yes. Would we rather use that money on other things? Definitely.
Make the Commitment
I’ve mentioned this before: it’s so much easier to save money when you are focused on something tangible and not just the vague idea of “someday travel.”
Know what you are saving money for. Pick a date, pick a destination, buy a plane ticket if you can afford it and you will find yourself highly motivated to save that money as fast as you can. Put reminders everywhere, including a beautiful photo next to your computer so you can remind yourself that you are saving money for travel the next time you are tempted to blow $75 online shopping.
Bring Down the Cost of Travel
Another hurdle that often cripples potential travelers is overestimating how much money they need to save. If your goal is impossibly high, then that impossibility will subtly convince you that it can’t be done.
That’s why a major part of being able to afford to travel, is finding ways to make travel affordable.
Know how much travel actually costs. Price the costs for airfare, accommodations, activities and then find ways to bring those costs even lower. Can you travel in the offseason? Buy a ticket with miles? Stay at an apartment rental and self-cater instead of hotels and fancy restaurants?
If you’re not too picky about where you’re headed, scope out where the deals are, or see if you can visit friends. Leverage a business trip into something more. Consider working or volunteering abroad to subsidize costs.
Whatever you do, know that going on an imperfect trip is light years better than not going anywhere.
Don’t Throw Money Away
I used to waste so much money. I still am not sure where it all went, but now that I have to work my butt off for every penny via self-employment, I’m definitely a lot more conscious of it. This point isn’t necessarily even about making sacrifices so much as just accounting for your hard-earned pay.
Go over your bank statements each month and figure out where your money is actually going.
For starters, cancel any online subscriptions you don’t use, or don’t use enough- anything from hulu+ to amazon prime to that course you never actually say down and took. While you’re at it, are you using your gym membership to the fullest? What about your cell phone plan? Cable?
Consolidate any credit card debt and start paying it down immediately before you do anything else. If you can, negotiate a better repayment plan. Every dollar of interest you pay to the credit card company is 100% a waste of money and stops you from saving money for travel.
Conserve on electricity costs by wearing a sweater instead of turning up the heat.
Lifestyle changes fall in here too. Limit yourself to one or two drinks when you go out instead of dropping $100 on drinks and snacks at the bar. Pack your damn lunch even if it’s soo boring and annoying to do.
Finally, sign up for a good air miles program and use it. It took me years to do this and I shudder to think of all the free miles I lost just for being lazy.
Sadly, there is no secret to finding and saving money for travel. I wish there was! The only consolation is that all the hard work and sacrifice makes that first drink in a new city infinitely more satisfying.
Here are more articles on saving money for travel from around the web:
How I Save $11,000 For My Dream Trip While in College– The Kay Days
How to Travel with Student Loans– Frugal Frolicker
How I Saved $13,000 for Travel in Just Seven Months– Adventurous Kate
How I Saved $10,000 to Travel the World- Nick’s Travel Bug
How I Afford to Travel the World– Heart My Backpack
How I Make Travel a Reality– CulturalXplorer
Ultimate Money and Budget Travel Tips– LLWorld Tour
10 Tips On How to Save for Travel– Ordinary Traveler
How to Live Rent Free with AirBNB– Desk to Dirt Bag
Top 10 Practical Travel Jobs– Two Monkeys Travel
10 Ways to Pay & Save Money by Using a Credit Card for Travel– Calculated Traveller
How I Can Afford to Live Now and Still Travel– LLWorldTour