I’ve often heard people state affordability as a major factor in why they don’t travel. I’ve gone on some pretty expensive, far-flung trips in my time, and I’m certainly not rich. How do I do it? It comes down to simple prioritization and budgeting. I’ve talked about this a lot in my blog, so I won’t get too far into the why’s or how’s or anything like that. (If that’s what you’re looking for though, you can check out this post: Think You Can’t Afford to Travel? Read This.)
This post is about actually taking the steps to make it happen for yourself. I understand that sometimes hearing things like “cut spending” and “prepare a budget” can be great advice, but can still be pretty overwhelming to somebody who hasn’t necessarily done that before. Further, if you’re looking at a high-profile trip total cost, those numbers can sometimes be pretty staggering and disheartening. Wait. It’s going to cost me HOW MUCH to go on this trip??!! I get it. I’ve been there. That’s why I’ve created this step by step list for you to assist you in taking your travel dreams and turning them into travel realities.
Step 1: The Dream.
At this stage, I want you to start with a dream. Where in the world do you want to go? What do you want to do while you’re there? Don’t think about money at this point. Don’t worry about how much it will cost or what is “reasonable” for you to do. We’re in the dream stage and at this stage, nothing is off limits. Have you always wanted to go on a safari in Kenya? Have you always wanted to go on a cruise to Antarctica? Maybe you’ve been dying to sleep in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti. At the dream phase, the sky is the limit. Write it down. Write everything down that this dream trip of yours entails.
Step 2: The Reality Check.
Now that you’ve got a solid idea of what it is that you want to do, it’s time to bring our expectations back down to Earth. At this stage, you need to get online and do some research and get an idea of exactly how much this trip is going to cost. You need to make a list of all the expenses you anticipate having for this trip. Also keep in mind what you are willing to scrimp on and what you need to splurge on. For instance, if the over-water bungalow is a must, but you’re willing to spend less money on your daily activities, plan accordingly.
Make sure to research and calculate all of the following, taking into consideration the time of year you would like to travel (prices can fluctuate during the on and off seasons):
- Cost of flights to and from your destination
- The cost of transport to and from the airport (if applicable).
- Cost of accommodations in your destination for the duration of your trip.
- Cost of transportation in your destination (including rental car if applicable, train or bus passes, fuel costs, etc.)
- Cost of any and all activities you would like to participate in.
- If a visa is required for your destination, the cost of that.
- If you don’t already have a passport, the cost of getting a passport (if applicable for your destination).
- Daily expenses such as food, coffee, drinks, etc. Plan if you will be mostly dining out or shopping for groceries.
- The cost of souvenirs and gifts you plan to bring home.
- Any travel insurance you would like to purchase (which I recommend).
- Always add a buffer for unexpected expenses. This will vary depending on your destination and the length of your trip. Determine what is reasonable for you. I usually like to have $40 per person per day extra in reserve.
Once you have calculated these costs, you’ll have a pretty good idea what it is going to cost you to go on your trip. Keep in mind that prices fluctuate all the time and it’s possible you’ll find some deals. It’s also possible prices could go up. However, once you’ve taken these steps you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much money you need to save in order to make your travel dreams a reality. Don’t be deterred by the sticker shock of it all, but it is important to know what you’re dealing with in order to make it happen.
Step 3: The Plan.
Now that you know how much money you need to save, it’s time to start the hard work. In order to save up for your trip, you can do one of two things.
1: You can determine when you want to go, then divide the amount of money you need to save by the number of months left until your trip. That amount is how much you need to save per month. Personally, this option rarely works for me because I want to go on my trip NOW and the money is usually quite a bit.
2. My personal favorite option is to set aside a certain amount of money per month. This amount is whatever I can afford at the time. I have a special savings account for travel only and the travel funds go into that account. Every payday, I carve off whatever I can spare into the account. Sometimes that number fluctuates based on whatever is going on in my life at the time, but I always put something into it. If I happen to get a bit of unexpected extra money such as a gift, a bonus at work, or some freelance work, I put that money into the travel fund as well. I monitor the account and determine the date of my trip based on when I’m finally able to afford it. Sometimes it takes a couple years for my bigger travel goals, but I diligently save and most importantly DO NOT TOUCH the travel fund for any reason.
If you’re like me and a big trip every two years just won’t cut it, plan some smaller trips to fill the gaps in time. Camping, visiting friends and family, and other inexpensive trips can make the long wait between adventures more bearable.
Step 4: Book it.
When you have the money ready, it’s time to book your trip! Now is the time to look for deals to see if you can make your trip a little less costly than originally anticipated. If so, awesome! Now you have more money you can put towards little splurges on your trip. If you don’t find deals, at least you were prepared.
Step 4: Time to go!
Congratulations, you made your dream a reality! Bon Voyage and have a great time! Make sure you don’t go over budget while you’re on your trip. Sometimes unexpected expenses do pop up, but that’s why you (hopefully) built in a buffer to your budget.
Step 5: When it costs more than you anticipated.
Sometimes even with the best planning you can go over-budget on a trip. This can be for any number of reasons. Perhaps you had an emergency while away. Perhaps you just decided at the last minute that you just had to go on an excursion you didn’t know existed until you saw it. I get it. It happens, and it’s not the end of the world if you do need to put a little bit of your trip on your credit card. The key is to make paying off any trip debt you incur your #1 priority upon your return. Do this by employing the same tactics that you used to save up for the trip: funnel any and all extra money you can spare into paying that card off.
Step 6: Back to step 1!
Now that you’re home and your trip is fully paid for, it’s time to start planning your next adventure!