Dreaming up a bucket-list trip or two? You don’t have to earn a six-figure salary to travel. Not only does travel take many forms, some less expensive than others, it doesn’t expire, or go out of fashion. You have time and with a little know-how, you can save up for your travel odyssey sooner than you think. Here is my take on how to save money for travel.
When I started out travelling, I only took one international trip every 2-5 years and a few small domestic trips/weekenders a year. Over time, my salary grew and my financial literacy improved. I was able to save more money, more frequently. Now my husband and I travel for roughly 3 months every year, total (not all in one trip). It’s a long way from where I started and you can get there to.
Disclosure: I may earn compensation from the purchase of any product or service linked on this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products I use and love, therefore feel comfortable recommending.
Goal Setting and budgeting
First, sit down with all your financial information and look at it in detail—your bank statements are your friend. Write down all your expenses and income—a simple spreadsheet is the simplest way. How does it look? Are you earning more than you spend? Hopefully, yes and you are already saving at least a little money.
Next, figure out where you want to go, how you want to travel and roughly how much that will cost you. I include in my trip budget, all the ongoing expenses at home while I’m away like gym memberships I can’t put on hold, rent etc. Many regular expenses don’t vaporise just because you’re gallivanting on the other side of the country/world.
Also, think about how soon you want to travel. At your current rate of saving can you travel next month? Next year…? If you want to travel sooner, you’re going to have to supercharge your savings.
Supercharge your savings
Let’s say you are saving a little already but at this rate it will be five years before you can take your dream trip—so you really want to speed things up. Here’s some areas to look at:
- Revise your bills and do some research. Do you really need all that data on your phone plan? Is there are cheaper internet or utility provider you could switch to? Are you using that gym membership or what? Insurance company put your premium up AGAIN? Check out their competitors, get 3 quotes, find a better deal.
- Many of us are paying too many bank fees and interest. See if your bank (or another) offers a fee-free credit card or a higher interest rate savings account. Better still work those cashback credits.
- Borrow books and magazines from the library instead of buying them.
- Meal plan, write a shopping list, cook often.
- Do your own manicures, pedicures and facials.
- Cut back the number of tv or magazine subscriptions you are signed up to.
- Choose a lower maintenance hairstyle (I gave up dying my hair altogether, saving me a bundle on maintaining up with regrowth and as it turns out, I actually like my natural colour).
- Carry a water bottle. Seriously! For many years when I wasn’t earning much, I never bought a drink. I carried a water bottle everywhere and only ordered water at restaurants. I must have saved hundreds!
- Give up your car, if you can—they’re a huge money suck. Think about it, petrol, insurance, servicing, registration, parking AND the vehicle itself is losing value by the hour. Walking is great incidental exercise (bye, bye gym membership) and public transport is a money/environment saver.
- Thrift shopping is a great way to save. When I need clothing or smaller items, I shop at my local thrift store first, before I buy anything brand new.
- Secondhand is another great option if you need to make a bigger purchase. Craigslist, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace and other local classifieds can be great sources of affordable stuff from furniture to sporting equipment.
- Alternatively, if you need or want to buy something new, do your research. We never make a major purchase without researching what is available that will fulfil our needs, what will last the long term (quality and warranty) and where we can get the best deals.
- Borrow! A lot of products are so cheap now we often buy things we are only going to use once or twice (including once-off clothing and accessories for travel). Borrow from a friend instead. We used to borrow a drill from our neighbour on the rare occasion we needed one (usually to hang a new piece of travel art). He barely used it, so had no problem with us putting it to work here and there.
- Get creative socially. Invite friends over for homemade pizzas and Netflix, rather than a night out on the town. Host a pot luck dinner party or organize a soccer game in the local park. Go hiking or explore an art museum on a free-entry day. There are lots of budget alternatives to your usual social calendar.
Combat temptation and avoid deprivation
Some of these savings come down to pure discipline, which I find so much easier with the right motivation. When I want to go to Carnival in Rio more than I want that latte, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I also don’t deprive myself completely. Maybe I buy 2-3 coffees each week, just not every day. I will allow enough money to go out to dinner with friends once a week, and then cook all my own meals for the rest. You don’t have to give up everything.
Really think about your priorities. I’ve always been a good saver but I don’t mind splashing out on the things I really want. For me, there is way more joy (and value) in spending $100 on a dress that I will wear again and again, than a craft cocktail that will be gone in half-an-hour. My husband, on the other hand, spends almost nothing on clothing but will drop $50 at a bar on Friday night after work without flinching, because that social time is important to him.
Decide what is important to you and make that the priority. For most people travel is intermittent, maybe a couple of times a year or even once every few years if it’s a really big/long/expensive trip. The time in between needs to be fun too!
Another way I remove temptation is by setting a strict but realistic budget including a little wriggle room for unexpected expenses and irregular purchases such as birthday gifts. I have two bank accounts, a “spendings” and a “savings”. The day my pay hits my spending account, I have automatic payments set up to transfer out my rent and move everything above and beyond my allotted budget to my savings account. Whatever is left in my “spendings” account is what I have to use until next payday. I don’t even see the money that moves across to my savings, it’s like it was never there, so there’s no temptation to spend it.
By doing this I can also predict how long it will take me to save for a particular trip. I know if I want to go sooner, I have to trim more expenses or work more hours.
Should you travel if you’re in debt?
This is a common question in travel groups and forums. My personal opinion is that it depends on the type of debt. If it’s a credit card debt, I say no. Pay it first, then save for travel. I could never relax while I was travelling the world knowing I was digging myself a deeper hole. Plus, there’s no sense wasting money on interest when it could be the savings for your trip.
However, I would and do feel comfortable travelling with something like a mortgage or student debt that is designed to be paid off over a longer period, as long as it would not cause me to fall behind on regular repayments. I’m not going to wait 40 years until my home loan is gone to go see the world – hell, I might not live that long, you never know.
In saying that, whatever debt I have is be factored into my budget for the trip, so I could ensure I’m covering those repayments and not getting further behind.
More tips for saving money to travel
Here are a few more things to consider on how to save money for travel:
- If you pay off a debt, add the value of your previous repayments to your savings each month. You never had the money before, so you probably won’t miss it.
- Geek out over your tax return. I know, believe me, I KNOW! As an expat who has to do her taxes twice a year for two different countries, I get just how complicated and laborious taxes can be. A tax return can be a nice boost to your savings and debt is a setback – you need to know where you stand and how you can improve your situation for next year. So, get down and dirty with your accounting.
- Start a side hustle. If you’ve got a special talent or interest, think about how you can monetise it around your day job to increase your income. Bake, tutor, coach, babysit, walk dogs, drive Uber (if you still have a car)… whatever works for you.
- Sell some stuff. You probably have something of value lying around that you don’t really use and could earn you some $$$. Even clothing in good condition can make you money through platforms like Thredup.
- If you find yourself wavering, dangle a bigger carrot. Research your trip, set out an itinerary, dream. The more you invest mentally in that goal, the easier it will be to stick it out.
Whatever wonderful destinations you’re dreaming of seeing and experiencing, they are within reach. Set yourself a goal and have at it! If you need more ideas on how to save money for travel, just drop me a comment below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,