Making travel a part of your life is a big decision. There are plenty of variables that hinder folks from wandering this old blue rock at will — upbringing, privilege, personal philosophy, and career arc all come into play. Time off from the grind and the cash to afford a trip are typically the biggest obstacles cited. And we get it, trust us.
That said, from a strictly dollars and cents perspective, long-term travel is not nearly as expensive as you might think. It’s just a matter of perspective. I’ve traveled a fair amount. I’ve spent a lot of money on trips and I’ve spent next to nothing on trips. Currently, I live in Berlin — a choice that was made, in part, to free up money for travel.
**On A Related Note For Those Considering Leaving The U.S. Come November.**
Our family health insurance covers everything — I’ve never even seen a bill for two childbirths and and a knee surgery, much less run-of-the-mill doctor’s appointments or prescriptions. That health insurance is paid for by my partner’s employer. I use a car-sharing service which saves me 60 percent of the cash I’d have to pay owning a car (no insurance, car payment, gas payment, or repairs ever). Plus I live in a city/country/continent that has an amazing public transportation system. My kids go to a school for free, and the state automatically pays us enough money every month for their school expenses. And if they decide to go to college, that’s free here too. Our rent is cheap and the utilities are next to nothing.
We chose this lifestyle and place because it leaves us with extra cash to go traveling (and drinking and eating). Of course, that was our decision, and not everyone can make decisions like that (for a whole web of very valid reasons). But…it’s worked for us.
For those of us who want to make travel a cornerstone of our lives, there are plenty of resources to help us turn our dream trips into realities. Our travel editor, Steve Bramucci, has saved for multiple “trips of a lifetime” and offers this advice:
It’s amazing to me how much not buying alcohol at bars helps. Anyone who’s been a 24-year-old can relate to how quickly a big night adds up. Covers, drinks, tips, the 3am burrito, the next-day burrito…it costs a lot of money to party.
I went around the world for 13 months in 2006-2007 and saved by 1) cooking for myself 2) working two jobs, 3) never going to bars, 4) owning a terrible car (which I literally gave away when I went traveling), and 5) never buying any new clothes. I did all of these things for the entire year leading up to the trip. It wasn’t a miserable year by any means — sometimes it’s fun to live lean. Especially in your 20s. Be like Hemingway, make being broke seem like the most elegant thing in the world.
When the trip came, I spent everything I’d saved (plus all my previous savings) with impunity. I considered it an “investment in myself” and I stand by that. I came home and found a career as a travel writer, so the trip was essentially my grad school.
Recently, an intrepid Redditor took the boards to ask the world, “For plebes like me, who don’t have a heavy trust fund or a winning Powerball ticket, how do you create/manage your travel fund?” The answers ranged from extreme to sensible. Below are some of the best responses.
Let’s jump right in with the basics and just get that savings account open.
I keep an account separate from my emergency fund for travel. And then I do not touch it unless its the most extreme emergency every or I’m traveling. Most banks in the states allow you to open multiple savings accounts for no charge. This has been absolute key in learning how to budget and manage money.
Another traveler suggested a specific way of budgeting your paychecks to maximize your income.
One trick to saving money is to make a monthly budget based on 4 weeks pay. Factor in your rent/mortgage, bills, gas, etc. plus whatever you can save for your travel fund.
The trick comes at the the end of the year because 12 months x 4 weeks = 48 weeks, but there are actually 52 weeks in a year. So you just saved an extra 4 weeks of pay.
There’s also the option of taking big financial hits early and reaping the benefits of more financial freedom down the road.
I would create a separate account, and set up automatic deposits to it. For me, the real key to saving a lot for travel was increasing my cash flow. I made extra payments to my student loans, reducing the total so much that my monthly payments went from $500 to $150. I also saved up and bought a car in cash so I wasn’t spending much on that every month. I also kept the same cheap apartment even when I got a raise and I could afford a nicer one.
Then some Redditors cut right to the chase and suggested taking big cuts and hoping for the best.
I just delete $2,000 from my income when planning finances. Hopefully it’s still left when travel time comes around.
There are those out there who recommend cutting back on your day to day life for the reward of a trip.
I have a friend that works two mediocre jobs at best. He doesn’t go out often when he is home, spends most of his weekend working and saves a lot of money. He also lives at home. He saves enough every 24-30months to go traveling for 12-18 months, if not a bit longer.
He doesn’t buy coffee often, eat out much, go out much, drink much when he is back home. If you do the above this could be 200-400month EASILY if not more.
Although cutting back and saving money on frivolous expenses is a fine way to save money, you can also take that to extremes. Maybe the key is just cutting back in sensible ways.
Easy, just spend less money than you make. Cut out the excess in life. Have ramen twice a week for dinner. Reduce your Internet to a slower/cheaper speed. Reduce your phone plan to the cheapest, like boost or Tmobile.
Drive less to save on gas, pay your car off, or buy a cheaper one.
Here’s some interesting advice about tangible goals for that money you’re saving.
The biggest thing is to create a budget, and stick to it. On top of that, having a reasonable goal in front of you to keep the momentum going is key. For me it’s not enough to have a travel fund, but to specifically know where I’m going so that I’m making it more real for myself. That way I am much more invested in the process.
Okay, so you have a budget and savings, so here’s some advice for saving money on the actual trip so you still have something left in that savings account when you get home.
If you know how to set a budget and keep it, look into Rewards credit cards. With some of them, the signup bonuses alone are enough to book roundtrip tickets AND a hotel room for a few nights. Or you could book a roundtrip ticket and live cheaply throughout the vacation by camping or something. For example, you can fly from anywhere in the US to the Virgin Islands for 25,000 points RT, and then stay on a campground in St. John or Jost Van Dyke for $30 to $70 per night. Rum is cheap. Snorkeling is free. Have a ballin’ ass time for less than $800.
One Redditor broke it all down for us from saving money to actualizing your travel dreams.
I use a different bank for my savings (the interest is higher) so I don’t see the savings account in my daily bank and it makes it easier to forget how much money I have and more difficult to spend it on other things.
The most important part of saving is not where you keep your money, but how you restrict your spending. Most people increase their spending when they increase their income, so how much money you earn says nothing about your saving skills.
Make travel a priority in your life. Face the fact that making your travel dreams come true will mean you have to spend less on clothes, cars, furniture, or whatever else most people spend their money on.
Avoid debt. A low interest mortgage or student loan is fine if you need it (or it has a lower interest than your savings account does, which is the case in Norway these days), but always avoid car loans and credit card debt. Expensive debt = bad, some inexpensive debt = fine, no debt = perfect.
Learn how to use a credit card the right way. If you’re paying interest you’re doing it wrong. If you’re not getting anything back, like bonus or miles you need a different credit card.
Cut down on your spending. Are you one of those people who drive the most expensive car you can afford? Who buys coffee to go several times a week? Who never cooks at home? You have two options: A) Stop. B) Realize that this is what makes your dream trip a dream instead of reality for a long time and be ok with that.
Lastly here are some of our favorite travel Instagrams to get you excited about opening up that savings account tomorrow morning and slipping some cash in there every now and then. Good Luck!
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