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Realistic Advice on Saving Money for Travel

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 your 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 free up the money to travel, along with some resources from other bloggers.

Prioritize

ZipCar is my favorite

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.

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

Get Inspired.

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 the next time you are tempted to blow $75 online shopping.

Bring Down the Cost of Travel

Absurdly cheap street food in China

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 off season? 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.

Here’s an entire article on how various people afford their travels.

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 your 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.

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 the money to 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.

More articles on saving 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 Gree 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

27 Responses to Realistic Advice on Saving Money for Travel

  1. Andrea January 20, 2015 at 12:01 PM #

    I love this. I’m sorry people reacted badly to your tips in your other post (I personally enjoyed it).

    I’m saving for a trip to Iceland and France in a few months and have put myself on a strict budget for extras. It’s hard, so I love the idea of having pictures around for motivation!

    Thanks for the tips.

  2. mywonderbox January 20, 2015 at 1:55 PM #

    Really great tips! I’m currently saving for a trip to Australia so I’ll definitely be trying these out, thanks!

  3. Rebecca January 20, 2015 at 5:26 PM #

    These posts make me laugh and cry. When I think about all I do to save money for travel and it never seems to be enough (I pretty much do everything on this list except get rid of my car and cable), I can’t even image how much the typical American overspends on so. much. crap.

    • Steph January 20, 2015 at 7:05 PM #

      I know! I get that feeling a lot too…

  4. zascha January 20, 2015 at 7:17 PM #

    It’s nice to read something that I can totally relate to!
    Currently in the process of saving up money myself for my travels this summer, and it’s definitely not a walk in the park, but with enough commitment, I’ll get there.
    Great post 🙂

  5. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer January 20, 2015 at 9:09 PM #

    Thanks for including me in this list 😀 Great tips also for saving money!

  6. daniellemlloyd23 January 20, 2015 at 11:06 PM #

    Great tips! When I started saving, I picked up two more jobs- One of them doing commissioned paintings and found a new life-long hobby 🙂 Also using a budgeting app like Trail Wallet helped me keep track of everything.

  7. Sky Fisher (@skyvsworld) January 20, 2015 at 11:39 PM #

    Love this! I think lifestyle changes are so important. Also, earning extra income if possible is another great way to save more faster!

  8. theworldonmynecklace January 20, 2015 at 11:41 PM #

    I’ve been living a relatively frugal life for the past 7 years while saving to travel and to be honest – once you get into a routine of packing your lunch, not spending obscene amounts when at a bar and not buying coffee every day – you get used to it and it doesn’t even feel like you are missing out anymore. I work in an Admin position in Sydney and will have saved $20,000 after working for 1 year for travel and that is on top of multiple trips that I am taking before my big trip including a month in South Africa and Singapore, 9 days in Fiji, long weekends in Melbourne, Kangaroo Island, Cairns and Great Barrier Reef and Auckland. All the little things add up. Once you get in a rhythm and your new frugal life becomes the norm, it is easy.

  9. Adrienne January 21, 2015 at 12:26 AM #

    Great tips! “Don’t Throw Money Away” is a big one – it’s crazy how “quick” trips to the department store can completely eat into your travel budget. Thanks for sharing! (o:

  10. Sabine January 21, 2015 at 2:39 AM #

    As you say, no one situation is the same. You are so right to mention prioritise, when going shopping, one should think, do I really need this or shall I add this to my upcoming travels, etc. The list for money saving is long and different for everyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it and listing other articles related to it 🙂 It’s all a good advice!

  11. Kach Mu January 21, 2015 at 8:44 AM #

    I love this advice! Sharing it!

  12. Jenia from HTL January 21, 2015 at 2:08 PM #

    Nice list! We’ve done all of this. Plus we have another great way that allows us to travel. We bought a house! I know counterintuitive. But, we live in a really great rental market, and our monthly mortgage was much lower than the house’s monthly rental value. So we were able to rent out our house, and have an income coming in every month from that. I realize not everyone is in a position to do this, but it may be worth it for some!

    • Steph January 21, 2015 at 2:35 PM #

      I love this! I’ve been trying to convince Mike this is a good idea.

  13. Erin Southerland January 21, 2015 at 2:20 PM #

    Excellent article. You underline all the key points that lead us to do things like the tips in your other article (sell your car, pack lunch). I have a goals binder for my writing and travel. In it I keep a chart of how much money I’m saving. I have a goal for each month and color in the chart as I get closer. It’s way easier to skip the coffee out or buying lunch at work with a goal in mind.

  14. Andrew January 23, 2015 at 8:55 PM #

    All great tips, but the true travel hack is to pick up a monetisable digital skill when on the road so you can keep going until you get sick of it…! 🙂

  15. Sigurdur Bjorgvinsson @theRedHeadExplorer January 25, 2015 at 6:16 AM #

    When I finally realized what I wanted then I was able to save enough for my travels, It is like you say all about prioritize.

    I don’t need things like alcohol, new clothes, new gadgets or things that are less important then to travel the world. I would rather stay one week in Vietnam than buying a new phone.

    We just have to make decisions, to sacrifice some things we might think are important, in order to gain what we really want.

  16. Bob January 25, 2015 at 8:40 AM #

    Great advice. It’s like anything else If you want it bad enough you will always find a way. Whether it is saving so you can afford it or accepting work overseas to make it easier, there is always a way.

  17. Uptourist January 26, 2015 at 12:35 AM #

    I have to agree. Too many people spend lavishly on their travels that they fail to enjoy the place. You did not travel to be comfortable. You travel to explore the world.

  18. Nadine January 26, 2015 at 3:19 AM #

    Really great article, you got to the point of it. Our No. 1 advice when traveling is always: stick to the budget. Write your budget down and stick to it. If something is more expensive than you thought, try to compensate it with something else. If you have trouble with sticking to the budget, make a sport out of it. Be proud of yourself if you are able to stay even bellow your budget!

  19. Damon and Jo January 28, 2015 at 11:45 AM #

    Make sure to take advantage of countries where your currency is strong and your dollar (or euro, etc.) can be stretched. The euro is the lowest its been in 13 years compared to the American dollar, so our advice would be to get your booty on over to Europe before it’s too late!

    • Steph January 28, 2015 at 6:29 PM #

      Very true! I’m planning a trip to Europe this spring for that exact reason.

  20. Mary Calculated Traveller January 28, 2015 at 12:59 PM #

    Thanks so much for including our post in amongst this great list! Not throwing money away is an easy way of saving. I was a victim of buying magazines at the airport etc just to pass the time – a total waste of money when you think that all you are doing is flipping through the ads!

    • Steph January 28, 2015 at 6:29 PM #

      I used to buy magazines all the time and now I never ever do and I don’t even miss them!

  21. athenasev February 3, 2015 at 10:05 PM #

    The last one has my name written all over it! It’s heartbreaking having to put those shoes back down, but the idea of being able to afford for my trip to Southeast Asia is worth it.

  22. Olga February 5, 2015 at 3:11 PM #

    Working on your budgeting skills is very important, but being persistent is even more essential! Every so often we want slip off the tight budget because we’re just tired of limiting the every day life all the time… It’s difficult to adjust to the new lifestyle and break the old habits, definitely. But it’s worth it in the end!

  23. Lisa Lubin | LLWorldTour February 19, 2015 at 10:33 AM #

    Great advice and thanks for including me! It’s almost always just a mindset shift…and then it all seems so doable!

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