People often tell me they wish they could travel like I do, but that they just can’t afford to do it. They don’t have the time, and they don’t have the money. As far as the time goes, it’s a matter of making travel a priority in any time you do have.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I work full time. I’m also about as obsessed with travel as one can be, and take any and every opportunity to go on adventures. I’m not particularly wealthy, so in many ways I’m probably similar to many of you. I would like to share with you a few tips that I use to fund my travels.
I would like to preface this with a note that not everybody can afford to travel. If you’re struggling just to feed your kids and keep a roof over your head, I understand that it might be difficult for you. Travel is a privilege and those of us who are able to do it should be extremely grateful. That being said, most people who live in modern, prosperous societies CAN afford to travel. Here’s how:
Set a goal for yourself
Do you have a dream destination? I know I do! (I have many). Do yourself a favor: write down what that trip looks like to you. How long will your visit be? What kind of accommodation do you plan on staying in? Will you be renting a car? Going out for fancy dinners? Write down everything you will be doing on this trip. Then, do some research. Find out how much flights typically cost during the time you would like to go. Find out how much a hotel in that area typically costs per night. Budget out how much money you would like to spend on food and activities. Find out how much any tours you would like to take cost, and how much a rental car is in the area. Plan out all the details and find out what it costs. Sure, prices do fluctuate. However, you now have a specific goal to aim for. Your mission now is to start saving for that goal, and don’t stop until you get there.
Set up a separate savings account for travel.
This is key to paying for travel. If you want to be able to afford your dream trip, you’re going to need to make travel a priority. In my opinion, the best way to do this is to set up a separate savings account for travel. Put money into the account regularly and don’t touch the money for any reason except for travel (unless you have a major medical emergency, or something…but otherwise, hands off!). Don’t worry if you aren’t able to sock away hundreds of dollars a month into the account. If you can, great! However, if you can only deposit $5 per pay period, then deposit $5 per pay period. Over time, it will add up. The key is consistency. Always deposit what you can into the account on your designated deposit days. Mine is payday.
On payday, deposit whatever you can spare in your travel fund.
To add to the above note, take a look at your finances on payday. What upcoming bills do you have? Do you anticipate any upcoming expenses? Life happens, and your spending power will fluctuate month to month. If you’re depositing $50 into your travel fund every payday, but you look at your account one payday and realize that your rent has already been paid for the month, and you don’t anticipate any big expenses coming up, go ahead and put in a little more.
Use direct deposit and rewards cards to your advantage.
If you’re the type of person who has trouble with consistency, think about signing up for a direct deposit to your travel fund. Many banks have features where you can set up an automatic transfer on the day(s) of your choice in the amount of your choice. If you set it up to automatically deposit $20 into your travel fund once a week, that will add up over time. Another thing you can do is sign up for any rewards programs your bank or credit card company might have. My bank-issued credit card has a rewards program where every dollar spent gives me one point. When I get to 2500 points, it automatically deposits $25 straight into my travel savings account. I use my credit card for all purchases and then just pay it off right away, but I get a lot of points over time by doing regular things like grocery shopping, gassing up the car, etc. Some banks, like Bank of America, have a “keep the change” program, where if you spend $2.75 on a coffee, it will round to the next dollar and deposit 25 cents into your savings account. Check with your financial institution to see what kinds of programs they might have that you can take advantage of.
Sign up for a frequent flyer program.
If you have a particular airline you fly on often, it’s a no-brainer to sign up for their frequent flyer program. However, it is advantageous to sign up for one of these programs even if you don’t fly all the time. Most frequent flyer programs have alternative ways for you to earn miles or points, which can include signing up for a credit card that earns you miles on everyday purchases. You can usually also earn points through hotel stays and purchases through companies they are partnered with. Again, consistency is key. If you join one of these programs and use it to your advantage doing the things you would normally do anyway, this can add up to great travel benefits over time.
If you get extra cash, put it in the travel fund.
Sometimes you get a little extra cash. Maybe some birthday money from grandma (yes, I’m in my 30’s and still get birthday money from grandma, and I’m thankful). Maybe you got a bonus at work, or a tax refund. That’s money that can go straight into the travel fund.
Take on a little freelance work.
Do you have a skill that might be useful to somebody else? I’m a professional graphic designer and even though I work full time at a regular job, I sometimes take on a little freelance work on the side making somebody’s business card or designing a logo for a new start-up. When I do, that money goes straight into the travel fund. I consider it “extra income”. I’ve budgeted my everyday life to work with my regular salary, so extra money is always travel money. If you’re in a profession like mine, freelance work might be a little easier to come by, but even if you’re not, there are many opportunities to get a little extra work. Check sites like Craigslist to see if there are any gigs in your area. Do you have a truck? Somebody might be willing to give you some cash to help them move a couch. Maybe the little old lady next door needs help mowing the lawn or walking the dog. Look for opportunities to make extra cash, and take those opportunities when you can.
How important is it for you to travel? For me, it’s extremely important. While many of my peers are driving super fancy cars, buying new clothes, and spending a lot of money on nice dinners on the weekend; I’m driving a less expensive used car (that I still love and still gets me everywhere I want to go), wearing out my clothes and then shopping at cheap stores for new ones, and eating either at home or less expensive restaurants. What are you willing to give up in order to make travel your goal? Are there any areas in your life you’re wasting money (like a gym membership for a gym you never go to, or a cable subscription that you could replace with a cheaper option like Netflix)? Take a look at where your money goes. Decide what you can and can’t live without, and cut the fat from your expenses. That extra money can now go into your travel fund.
Look for deals.
So…you’ve saved up and reached your goal and now you’re looking into booking your trip. Now is the time to start looking for deals. Find out what times of year are “off season” for your destination. A lot of times, hotels and flights can be cheaper during off season times. Are you willing to deal with less than perfect weather? You’ll probably save some money. Check the social media sites for large airline, hotel, and rental car chains. Are they running any specials? If you are able to book your trip for less money than you had originally anticipated, that frees up some of that money to start you on saving for the NEXT trip!
Stay with family or friends.
Last but not least, don’t underestimate the awesomeness of a trip to visit family or friends. On a recent trip to Tennessee, I stayed with relatives in Chattanooga and Nashville. In Chattanooga, I toured Civil War Battle sites and beautiful lookout points, went on some awesome hikes, ate some amazing barbecue, and went on an epic white water rafting excursion. In Nashville, I went to the Johnny Cash museum and the Ryman auditorium, explored downtown, enjoyed live music while walking down the main drag, and had a great night bowling with my aunt at a cool hipster bowling alley. She also took me to try some of Nashville’s famous hot chicken, and we had awesome bonfires at her house at night. This trip was all made possible because I saw an incredible deal when Southwest Airlines was having a sale on flights. My husband and I flew round trip from Los Angeles to Atlanta for less than $500 total. We rented a car in Atlanta and drove to Chattanooga, then to Nashville. The whole trip cost less than $1000 for over a week of fun. Do you know any family or friends that live in a cool place? It might be time to think about a visit.