Every time I hear the words “it must be nice to be able to travel all the time.” I simply roll my eyes. Yeah, it IS nice. And you know how I save money for travel? I make it a priority. For me, getting out and exploring is just as important as my annual dental visits (but much more exciting).
It is a part of my annual budget and I make it a point to make it happen. Does it require sacrifice? Sure, but honestly, anything that’s truly worth it in this life takes some effort.
How Much Can You Really Save a Year?
Look, I’m a full-time freelance writer. My income is crazy unpredictable, but I still manage to take a trip after trip each year. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have skills for budgeting for travel.
I saved for travel as a student and I’ve been utilizing these money-saving methods to save nearly $10,000 a year since I was about 18 years old. Not to date myself, but that was back before Facebook was a thing and people had blogs dedicated the subject.
No, I didn’t make 10k in savings when I was still in school, but I was able to scrounge together a couple thousands extra dollars each year and get the heck out of Dodge. Today, I rely on this savings to travel while building a business, and even put aside money towards retirement.
Building a solid savings habit will not only help you save money for travel, but it will also enable you to tackle more adult topics such as saving for retirement, paying off student loans, and more.
How to Save Money for Travel When Your Broke
When I was a student, I really didn’t have that much cash on hand. Most of my money went towards food, books, and partying (I’m not going to lie there). But I still managed to put away money when I could. I also took advantage of free trips, utilizing school programs to send me overseas or to other states.
Let’s not forget, travel is a privilege. If you’re truly broke, you may not be able to save anything. However if you can manage to even save $20 a month, you can take a really cool camping trip without breaking the bank. You’ll need to be creative, and travel may not be your dream luxury getaway, but camping, hiking, and scenic drives only cost the gasoline it takes to get there.
Pay Off Big Interest Debt
I’m going to be frank here, if you’ve got credit card debt, don’t travel. Things such as car payments, student loans, and a mortgage are all standard these days. You can still travel if you have debt, but if you’re going to be loading up credit cards to make your dream trip a reality, don’t do it, especially if you’re already running credit card debt.
If you’re in this position, then you should utilize these savings methods for travel to first pay off your credit card debt, starting with the highest balance first. Although it may mean you’ll have to spend more time saving for your big trip, the good news is you’ll already have solid savings habits by the time your debt is paid off.
Start Building a Money Savings Habit for Travel
I’ve always been a penny hoarder. When I was a kid my parents told me that if I wanted a dog I needed to save. Much to their surprise, I managed to save several hundred dollars to afford everything for my new friend. I learned an important lesson that year, save and it will come.
But I get that saving money isn’t that intuitive to everyone. It’s tempting to want to push the easy button, have the latest thing, and live a life of “comfort.” So I’ll say this; if you really want travel to be a part of your life and you aren’t made of money, you’re going to have to let go of comfort. Your priorities need to switch and that takes time.
If you try to tackle all of these savings tips at one time, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. So pick one way to save money for travel this month. Pick one item and execute it like a champ. The next month, add another savings method to the list and build from there.
Be Selective About Where You Go
Travel doesn’t need to be expensive. I traveled to Nepal for three weeks and spent just under $2,000, including my flight and guide – and that was a mid-range experience. If budget is a huge concern, maybe skip the trekking trip across the Alps and visit a country where your dollar goes further (hint: Nepal). Yes, you pay more to fly far away, but when you only need to spend $20 a day for everything you need (including lodging), the cost savings are immense.
Related: The Complete Guide to Visiting Nepal
Alternatively, consider traveling right at the edge of the tourist season. Every area has a season where the cost of visiting is a bit cheaper. Usually, this happens during times of bad weather, so you need to be a bit careful.
However, most places experience a price hike during the same week, simply book your trip the week before. You gamble a little with the weather, but you can take advantage of cheaper prices. For example, we saved 25% off of our van rental when we road-tripped through New Zealand because we went just a week earlier. Also, how many people can say they canoed through the flooded waters of the Amazon or experienced a snowstorm in the Himalaya? I’ve had both from traveling just before or after the busy season. Not only did I save a ton of mulah, but I also had some pretty fantastic adventures.
25 Easy-to-Implement Ways to Save Money for Travel Today
In order to save money for travel, you’re going to have to cut back on a lot of frivolous spending. Even things you may consider a necessity actually aren’t. Here’s an in-depth look at how to save money for travel.
Stop Drinking, or Cut Down Substantially
This is huge – and takes dedication. If you’re the kind of person who says yes to every happy hour, goes to bars on the weekends, or has a taste for fine wines – you’re likely never going to save enough to travel. If you’re serious about travel, that kind of spending disappears (and you can indulge a little while you’re on your travels, making it even more special).
Limit yourself to one happy hour a month, or cut out alcohol entirely. I’ve been alcohol-free for nearly two years and I save on average over $500 a year by cutting out alcohol.
What to do instead:
- Host a BYOB happy hour at your house instead of going out
- Go out, but don’t drink, just hang and sip on seltzer, tea, or water
- Do something active instead
Total Annual Savings: $500
Cook for Yourself
Did you know the average American eats out five times a week? FIVE TIMES! That’s just INSANE to me. I eat out once a week, and it’s usually cheap eats (think takeout or hole-in-the-wall dining). Let’s say the average meal is around $18 per person (sometimes you may have a drink or sometimes it’s a quick lunch on the go). Multiply 18 by 4 (days you’d be eating out) and you’re saving $72 a week (a whopping $3,744 per year! Helloooooo vacay!). By cutting back how often you eat out, you can literally pay for an incredible vacation every year.
Start by eliminating going out for lunch. Instead, cook your meals at home and bring in leftovers. This is super easy for couples and singles to manage since most food at the grocery store is sold to make 4 meals.
Total Annual Savings: $3,700
Do Your Own Home Maintenance
I’m a homeowner which is pretty fantastic. However, when you own a house you also own a crap ton of maintenance that comes with it. I’ve got to be honest with you, contractors are notorious for ripping people off, I would know, I am also a licensed architect and worked in construction for 6 years.
Most basic home maintenance isn’t that difficult and can be easily done by yourself. Blow out your own sprinklers, paint your own walls, landscape yourself and learn to snake your own drains.
It’s really quite simple and YouTube makes all of this super easy peasy. Yes, there are things that you should hire a professional for (roofing, structural issues, electrical problems), but you’ll save tons by taking the time to do it yourself. And hey, you’ll even learn a thing or two in the process.
Estimated Total Savings: $500 minimum depending on projets.
Stop Using Lift, Uber, and Scooters
Rideshares and e-scooters are insanely expensive. They will not only stop you from saving money to travel, but they will blow your travel budget as well. Opt to take public transportation, carpool (join a commuter carpool), walk or ride your bike instead.
Say you use Uber once a week to go out with friends. It costs you around $20. If you save $20 a week by not using a rideshare program, you’ll save over $1,000 a year, minus the cost of driving instead (say around $5 with gas and parking) you’ll still save $840.
Annual estimated savings: $840
Get a Library Card
Stop giving Amazon an arm and a leg of your paycheck and get a library card. You can get books to research travel and hikes as well as for entertainment. Not to mention most libraries have a wide selection of e-books, e-magazines, movies, audiobooks and more. A lot of libraries are hooked up to all the latest apps too, such as Audible and Kindle – which is a bonus.
Say you buy one book a month for $15, your annual savings is $180.
Ditch Cable and Limit Media Subscriptions
There’s no need to pay for cable TV, invest in a $30 antennae to get local sports and use that library card to take advantage of movies. You can also split subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu with friends.
Basic cable with internet costs at least $120 a month depending on your location. Assume half of that is for the internet and you replace cable with one web-based subscription such as Netflix (around $15 a month). You’ll save around $45 a month or $540 a year.
Sell Your Used Outdoor Gear, Clothing, and Electronics
Selling used stuff is an easy way to build up cash. Use a platform like Thred-Up to get rid of your used clothing quickly. Sell gently used outdoor gear on Facebook. Electronics sell well on eBay. You can make quite a side hustle this way.
The savings here is subjective, but let’s use a conservative number of $250 of goods sold a year.
Get Rid of Amazon Prime
You are not saving money, I promise you. There’s a reason Amazon is under an anti-trust investigation. Go to the store, buy your toilet paper. Don’t pay hundreds of dollars a year to have it get shipped to your house. Prime also encourages frivolous spending.
Annual savings: $119
Buy Used Electronics
There is zero point in owning a $1,000 phone. Instead, buy a refurbished model that’s a year or two younger on eBay. You’ll still have a phone that snaps all the great travel pics, but you won’t have a huge phone payment each month.
A used iPhone 8 costs around $450 while an iPhone 11 costs $1099. Say you upgrade your phone every two years (try to stretch that as much as possible). You’ll save $302 a year.
Ask Yourself if You NEED a Gadget
If you’re the kind of person who tends to spend $15 on Amazon with this or that stop before you make a purchase. Let the item sit on your wish list for a month or two. Chances are, you’ll forget it’s there. The same goes for new clothes.
This depends on your spending, so we won’t use this metric for our final tally.
Take Control of Your Utility Bill
I only run my AC if it’s over 100 degrees outside. Otherwise, I’ll use a fan and some open windows. You can even use a wet washcloth or towel over yourself with a fan to create a swamp cooler that costs nothing. When it’s cold, bundle up and use an electric blanket at night. Only run your heat if you’re absolutely frozen. Watch your water usage and only use what you absolutely need. You’ll save a lot each month by doing this.
Again, this depends on the size of your bill, but by not utilizing AC in the summer, you can cut your bill in half. Let’s assume your bill is usually $100 a month in the summer, you’ll save $150 over the course of the summer (3 months) and around $80 during the winter months (4 months). Totaling for a savings of $230.
Go Vegetarian Twice a Week
Meat is expensive and by forgoing the carnivore menu twice a week you can actually save money for travel. Try cooking your own Indian food at home for tasty vegetarian recipes. Indian food has been primarily vegetarian for centuries – they’ve got it figured out!
Let’s assume you cut out one pound of chicken and one pound of ground beef per week. That’s around $10 a week or $520 a year (your savings will be higher if you like choicer cuts)
Eat Seasonal Veggies
Skip the pre-packaged veggies and go for what’s in season. Buy what’s on sale and get creative with meal ideas.
Savings here varies, but let’s go with $10 a week. that’s $520 a year.
Make Your Own Coffee
Purchasing a specialty coffee once a day can cost you up to $1,300 a year. Insane! You can spend a week in South East Asia, including your flight, for that amount of money.
Annual Savings: $1,300
Reuse Plastic Baggies and Foil
Instead of tossing baggies, foil, and other food storage items in the trash, wash them and reuse them. Or better yet, stop buying them all-together and save what you get at the grocery store. Another option is to invest in reusable, non-plastic alternatives. There is an upfront cost, but the payback is typically less than a year.
Ziplock freezer bags cost about $6 a box. Say you go through a box a month. That’s $72 a year.
Borrow Instead of Buy
If you’re trying something new or need an item, see if you can borrow it first. Ask friends or use apps like NextDoor to find what you’re looking for first.
This is another metric that is tough to gauge and was not used in the final calculation.
Snag Second Hand Clothing
First, try purchasing new clothes every other year. When you do purchase clothes, consider going used.
Second-hand clothing is typically around 60% cheaper than buying new clothing. If you assume a clothing budget of $500 a year, you’re saving around $300 annually.
Shop in Bulk
If you snack a lot, take advantage of the bulk buy sections in stores. You can purchase basic items like rice, flour, sugar at a fraction of the cost. You can also purchase bulk snacks like trail mix and granola. This not only saves plastic waste, but it also saves money.
This is a tough one to calculate, but I’ve estimated I save around $260 dollars a year by purchasing bulk items.
Take Advantage of Credit Card Points
If you are debt-free and have a good handle on making credit card payments on time, consider getting a. travel card that you can use to leverage points. Take advantage of sign-up bonuses to make your travel dreams a reality. I love the Capital One Venture Card and the Chase Saphire Reserve.
Sign Up for Travel Deals
Be the first to jump on a good sale by signing up for travel deals. Scott’s Cheap Flights is awesome for folks who aren’t afraid to book on the fly and go wherever the best deal is. I suggest the free version.
Use Momondo to find the best deals on flights, hotels, and more. Always use an incognito browser when searching to snag the best deals
Do Your Own Nails, Waxing, Etc.
I get my hair done twice a year. I could go more often, but I choose to bank that money in my travel savings account instead. If you do wax and do your nails, consider getting them done at home instead. Learn a new skill and still look fab.
Getting your nails done costs around $32, $50 for a mani-pedi. A bikini wax is around $50. That’s about $100 a month in beauty regimens. You’ll save $1,200 a year if you don’t do any of that and around $1,000 if you choose to do it yourself.
Use Your Bike or Public Transportation
Drive less by biking, walking or using public transportation when you can. Opt to carpool with a friend if you live in a less bike-friendly area.
Downsize Your Possessions
Get rid of stuff! Americans have so much stuff and a lot of it is just cash waiting to be had. I like to play a couple of games. First, I ask myself if I’ve used something in the last year. If the answer is “no” I then ask if it is a tool that is used for something (ie maybe I have a wrench that I haven’t had to use, but know that it’s a common size). If the answer is no I get rid of it. For clothing, I get rid of an article of clothing every time I get something new. Sell your unwanted stuff on Mercari for more mulah.
Again, let’s assume about $250 of extra income a year here.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle
Opt to drink water instead of soda and juice. Carry around a reusable bottle so you don’t have to buy plastic water bottles.
The average price of a bottle of water is $1.45 and the average American uses a whopping 167 water bottles a year. That’s actually disgusting and if you drink disposable plastic water bottles, please consider your impact. You’re also spending about $242 a year on water. A reusable water bottle costs around $15 so you’re saving a whopping $227 a year by simply using the tap (not to mention all the waste you’re diverting from the landfill).
Related: The Best Water Filters for Travel
Bring Your Own Snacks
Stop silly spending on snacks when hunger strikes, and instead, carry your own. Eat something before you go to a social obligation so you spend less on food.
Another personal estimate, but let’s say it’s $100 annually.
Downgrade Your Phone Plan
Do you use all of your data every month? Could you cut back on data and rely more on WiFi? Take an honest look at your phone plan and see if you could get away with less. Watch less entertainment on your phone and try setting up your apps to only connect while connected with WiFi to help you use less and pay less.
If you’re savvy you can knock about $20 off of your phone plan a month, saving you $240 a year.
Savings for Travel Total
The key to saving money for travel is being disciplined. I used rather conservative numbers based on research and my own findings as I’ve honed my process over the past 15 years. I didn’t account for certain savings methods that offer super-variable results. Depending on your habits you may save more or less.
The total money saved for travel annually: $12,143.
That. is. staggering! You can take one hell of a luxury vacay for that amount of money. Of course, your results may differ, but the point is, it’s truly simple to save for travel and quickly make enough money to go on a rather nice vacation.
To give you a sense of how much I spend on travel, I typically leave the country 1 to 2 times a year. On average, I am a mid-range traveler that visits countries where the dollar is strong and the average cost of a 2 to 3-week trip is around $2,200 including airfare and excluding any points I may cash in on.
I regularly travel around my home state of Colorado and the surrounding area. Aside from road travel, I also go on some in-country weekend trips to visit friends and family. Last year my budget for travel was around $8,000 including taxable mileage, weekend getaways within 2 hours from where I live, and work-related travel. Admittedly, I travel far more than the average person thanks to my job as a freelancer.
This means that I’m not only saving money for travel, but I’m also able to use some of that savings for other things such as retirement and re-investing in my business. The point is, these small acts have huge cost implications. And with a little practice, you’ll be well on your way to saving for that getaway of a lifetime.
Now that you’re starting to save, set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings. Treat your savings like a bill. Every paycheck X amount of money automatically goes into your savings account. You can’t touch it – it’s like lava! Let it simmer until it’s time to pull the trigger on buying that flight, booking that experience and get the hell outta dodge!
There’s really an endless amount of ways to save money for travel. Start small, build a habit and pretty soon you’ll have a small mountain of cash to go on the getaway of a lifetime.