Travel can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I wouldn’t be able to go to the places I’ve been if I didn’t manage my money appropriately. Since budgeting for a trip is one of the most common topics people ask about when I talk of travelling, I’ve decided to write about my tips and tricks I follow to save up enough to go on the trips I get to go on. If managed correctly, you can live a normal life at home and follow your dreams all over the world.
Start at Home
Most of your saving, you’re going to do at home. First, you’ll need to set up a system where you can organise your financials in a single place. You can either open a savings account specifically for travel, or if you want a simpler option, organise everything with a programme such as Excel. With this, you want to keep track of how much you’re spending and moreover, how much you’re saving.
The simplest way to do this is to take the amount of money you make per month after taxes/deductions, and subtract any monthly payments from that. Payments could include rent, student loans, utilities, car payments, gas money, pet needs, and more. These are non-negotiable. The amount that you have left over is your spending money and this can be used for anything from meals to a nice night out to a new outfit, but it’ll also be used for your trip savings (example below). The challenge is to balance it so you can save for a trip but still enjoy your time at home.
1. Once I know roughly how much spending money I have each month, I’ll dedicate a set amount of money each pay check to my savings – making my vacation fund a non-negotiable deduction. It helps me understand how much I have to spend each pay period without worrying about my vacation fund.
2. It’s always a good idea to have an additional savings account for any expenses you may have like a new car, something at home, or anything else that may come up. Remember to add a buffer and underestimate how much money you’ll have so in the end, you can have some additional cash.
Below I have some tips on how to minimise your non-negotiable payments and then maximise your trip
Saving Money Day to Day
It’s not easy making lifestyle and spending changes but keeping certain things in mind can help you save for your trips, and can ultimately be a new and better change for you. Rent & Utilities: Coming from the Washington, DC area, I know rent can sometimes be very expensive, even for the smallest of properties. You know yourself and whether or not buying/renting a smaller or “less nice” home would be doable to get more out of your spending. Additionally, cutting down on your electric use and cutting out any utilities you don’t use can save you a lot of money month to month. Small changes here can make a big difference.
Spend the Night In rather than Out: Now this is a real lifestyle change. Maybe you like to eat out a lot or socialise at bars. Try cooking and staying in instead. Purchasing ingredients may seem like a lot money spent at first but the way the costs break down into cost per serving, you’ll maximise more on the amount you’ve spent. With a plethora of recipes and cooking sites available on the internet, it can be really easy and also fun to learn more about cooking and the culinary arts. Also don’t be afraid to have friends over or host parties rather than spend your time out. You can have a more intimate and flexible evening, and your friends will appreciate not spending a tonne on drinks and tapas.
1. If you are someone who likes going out to eat or party and don’t want to make a huge change, at least spend the money on places and food you haven’t been to or tried yet. This way you get to live your lifestyle at home but still get the “travel” experience of trying something new every time you go out.
2. Coupons coupons coupons! Make sure to sign up for your local grocer’s rewards club to save money on groceries and potentially gas, and keep your eyes peeled for coupons. $1 off here and there can add up to be a whole lot of money saved.
3. When buying groceries, always buy things only if you can see yourself using them in the near future. Don’t buy things with the mindset that you or “somebody else” will eat it “eventually.”
Do you REALLY want it?: I’m a spender. I know that a lot of times, material items such as books, clothes and other things can call your name and it can take a toll on your bank account, and the best way to save for trips is to reduce your spending. You can do so by allowing yourself only one or two spends each month or per pay period. You can also follow the 30-day rule, where you wait 30 days to purchase something to make sure you absolutely want it. Cutting your spending by reviewing what you really want can also help with buyer’s remorse and wasting money on things you might not even use.
1. Searching for the same product on eBay, Amazon, Google Shopping and general Google can help you save a lot of money. Also sign up for newsletters and follow your favourite brands on social media so you don’t miss out on any sales.
2. Out of sight, out of mind! If your spending is really getting in the way of your saving, unfollow or block the brands you like so you won’t be tempted to buy.
Make Money on the Side
Getting some extra cash is another great way to save more for your vacation, and if you have the time, it can be pretty easy to do so.
Sell what you Don’t Use: Do you have clothes you don’t wear or books you don’t read? Selling them online on a popular platform like eBay can help you get quick cash for stuff you don’t use. FYI: If you live in the US, rely on the inexpensive services of USPS rather than those of UPS and Fedex. The latter two services can be outrageously expensive compared to USPS and you’ll maximise on the amount of money you get.
Get a Flexible Part-Time Job: It’s a lot easier to get a flexible part-time job than one would think; it’s all about searching for a good workplace and discussing the flexibility at the interview. There are some jobs out there that will allow you to work for only a few hours a week doing easy things like customer service, cleaning, etc.
If you’re more of a creative type, you can even set up your own part-time work on a website like Fiverr,
Upwork, or Freelancer. You can also offer some of your services on Etsy.
Bank on your first language! A lot of people will pay for language lessons, whether you speak English as a first language or something else. There are a lot of online schools available where you can apply, interview and work completely online if you want to go with a company. Alternatively, you can set up an ad for your language lessons over Skype or another online platform and get rolling. A great online resource is italki, which is a lot more flexible than other companies. You can teach and learn any language there for whatever rate you desire.
Saving on your Trip
Vacationing can be really expensive but if you know tips and tricks and implement them correctly, you can save a tonne of money and create an affordable vacation. The first thing you want to do is consider where you’re going to go and when. Some destinations are cheaper than others and certain times of the years are more expensive, called “peak season.” Determining where you’re going and when will help solidify what kind of expenses you’ll be up against.
1. Whenever you’re budgeting for your expenses, almost always round up, overestimate, or add a few extra dollars to your estimate. This will help you avoid any uncomfortably tight budgeting and if all works out, you’ll have some money left over.
2. Don’t forget your at-home expenses when you’re making your travel budget, especially if you’re going away long-term. If you have a student loan, car, house, or other continuous payment that’s due during your trip or shortly after you get back, add that into your budget so you’re prepared and won’t fall behind on your payments.
Flight prices fluctuate a lot, so it’s a good idea to always keep your eye on those prices and to book during the week, when fares are typically cheaper. If you can, fly during the week rather than a weekend to get a better deal.
There are many great websites out there for comparing flight prices such as STA Travel, Skyscanner, Expedia, Kayak and even Google. In my experience, none are better than the others but checking different sites might show a cheaper fare. Always look into an airline before flying – some airlines have prices that make you go WOW! but have horrible service and a tonne of hidden fees.
Always sign up to an airline’s mileage programme. It’s free a lot of the time and when you travel with that airline or a partner airline, you can accumulate more miles that will eventually lead to free flights. If you’re a teacher or under 26 or 31, you may be eligible to get “blue ticket deals” on STA Travel. These are reduced fare prices and could save you hundreds of dollars. You may also need to buy an STA Travel Card in order to buy these deals. I hate to say it but you don’t actually need this card, but if they require you to purchase or show one at checkout, then the $25 will be well worth it.
If you have a specific place and date in mind, it’s worth checking out Skyscanner. They’re another site that compares prices from different websites but you can also sign up for alerts when prices drop, and that’s really nifty. However I would not personally substitute Skyscanner for looking for cheap flights on my own since it’s not perfect.
Another great company I love is Scott’s Cheap Flights, which is a free service (paid upgrades available) that sends daily emails about cheap flights. You can’t book through Scott but the emails will tell you which origin/destination airports, which airlines, and which dates have the cheap flights. The deals usually last only about a day so this is a great option for people who aren’t sure about where they’re going or have a lot of time before they need to book their flights. The huge downside is that you’ll get FOMO when you can’t go everywhere they’re emailing you about.
Hotels and Accommodation
I always use Booking to choose my accommodation. It’s really easy to use and has a tonne of accommodation on the site, plus you get to see pictures of the different room types when you’re booking so you’ll get an idea of what to expect. Of course, they also have reviews and must maintain a certain standard to be on the site. You can also cancel for free, change your dates, and pay when you want (depending on the accommodation).
If you’re travelling solo or with friends, I highly recommend looking into hostel accommodation. Hostels are a great way to save a tonne of money and there’s lots of potential to meet new friends there, as well. The space you’re given is tight but there are lots of charming, well-located hostels that are super cheap. Many hostels also provide private rooms for groups or individuals, which are sometimes still cheaper than hotel rooms.
Other popular accommodation includes Airbnb, a service that allows locals to rent out their space; and Couchsurfing, a service that allows locals to host tourists for free. Though both services are popular and generally safe, always be sure to look into host reviews to ensure you’ll have a pleasant stay.
Look into amenities and extra charges on the accommodation’s website and/or reviews. Depending on your trip, you may want to have a kitchen and/or a laundry room handy. Also, some accommodation has a fee for using their bed linens, towels and toiletries, etc.
Food is an easy area to spend money in, but if you’re looking to try some of the finest restaurants at your destination, keep that in mind while you’re budgeting. If not, there are a lot of ways to save. Street food in several countries is delicious, filling, and best of all, inexpensive. In certain cultures, street food can be a bigger part of the culture than food at a dine-in restaurant. Definitely consider getting meals from street vendors if you want to
save a bit of cash.
Keep track of your food spending with a spending app like Tripcoin or by even using a standard app like Notes. Record all your food spending in one place and balance out your budget by going all out on some meals and compromising on others.
A lot of countries don’t use or require tips. Make sure to research the tipping culture before you go as it can save you a lot of change.
A lot of restaurants near tourist attractions are a lot pricier and may also be designed for foreigners’ palettes. Just going a few blocks away to find a place to eat can save you a tonne of money and may even be a more delicious, authentic experience.
Destination Travel Expenses
You’ve gotten to your destination with a cheap flight and accommodation, but travelling within your destination can also take up a lot of money. But fear not because there are ways to save there, as well.
Several countries have tourist transportation passes that can save you a lot of money. Look into getting a transportation pass and though you may have to crunch numbers, you can save hundreds in the end. Also know that people under 26 or 31 may be eligible for a discount at certain companies.
Consider taking a bus. Though trains are popular and often faster, if a bus ride won’t take too much time, it could save you a lot of money.
Don’t use one site to find prices as several sites may have bigger surcharges than others. Look into different options to get from A to B and find the prices that are best for you. For European trains, I generally use Trainline because I find that most of the time, the prices are cheaper.
Always look at restrictions and conditions before purchasing! The Eurail Pass for European countries is a popular choice but many people fail to realise that the Eurail pass gives you discounted travel, not free travel, so you’re paying the price for the pass and reduced ticket prices. A lot of times, you’ll actually spend more money by using this pass!
Some countries beat others when it comes to public transit, so ask about getting around for cheap. You may need to rent a car or hire a taxi so look into cheaper options before you go. Asking a local online or when you get to your destination is the best way to get an insider tip on how to save.
Museums, Activities and Souvenirs
Like tracking your food spending, tracking how much money you spend on things such as museums, activities and souvenirs is a definite must. Keep a budget in mind and balance out your itinerary to meet that budget. There are also a bunch of ways to help save on your experiences.
A lot of museums have a day where entrance is free or reduced in price. Check online to see when those days are and plan accordingly. Many museums close on a weekday so make sure that’s included in your plan, as well.
Several cities will have a city pass that allows you to visit museums and get tours for free or a reduced price. Look into getting a city pass at your destination and consider whether or not you’ll save by using it. Some places will also give discounts for students, so be sure to bring a student ID if you have one.
Look into organising trips on your own. Whether you’re going to a different part of town or leaving for a day trip, it’s often cheaper to book transportation yourself rather than having a tour company do it for you.
Balance out how much you spend on activities. Some things may not be cheap by default, but splurging on something may be priceless if you can’t do it at home or anywhere else in the world. Every experience is valuable, but ask yourself if the experience is worth the monetary value. If you can do the same thing at home, it’s probably not worth your time on vacation. However, if something is specific to your destination, it may very well be worth it. Just remember to keep an eye on your budget and cut down on spending elsewhere.
If you like to bring home postcards and souvenirs, head away from tourist areas and into less famous areas. A lot of times, there are still souvenir shops available off the tourist path – or regular shops for those who look for a more authentic buy – and the prices are more decent. Make sure everything can fit into your suitcase and that it won’t be so heavy it’ll exceed your flight allowance.
It’s Time to Take Off!
Thank you so much for reading! I really hope that the tips I’ve learned and have shared here will save you a decent amount of money and will make your trip possible. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions about anything I’ve written, and be sure to tell me if my tips made your travel dreams possible.
Thanks again, and I hope you have a priceless time travelling the world and following the stars on a