One question I get asked repeatedly is, “how do you afford to travel?” I’ve been fortunate to be able to afford to travel many places while living on a college student income. While this is not an easy thing and doesn’t provide the means for a luxurious vacation I’ve managed to make what I have work by cutting back on unnecessary luxuries and goods and also by, you guessed it, SAVING.
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say they don’t have money to travel, yet every time you see them they have a new outfit or a Starbucks cup in their hand. If you can afford these things then the problem isn’t that you can’t afford to travel it’s that you don’t make travel a priority. So before you continue reading make sure traveling is your #1 (or at least #2) priority, because no matter what advice anyone gives you about saving, you simply won’t have the discipline to do so if it’s not at the top of your list.
1. Decide where you want to go and for how long.
Be realistic with yourself in this regard.Some people travel and realize they’ve been missing out and some people travel and can’t wait to get back home. I always say start off small and then build to bigger trips. You don’t start off dinner with two plates, you eat your first plate and then if you’re still hungry go for seconds. The same applies to traveling.
2. Make a list of everyday expenses, bills, extras etc.
Look through your monthly statements and figure out what it is you’re spending your money on. Some people don’t realize they spend a lot of money on food or going out. Obviously the necessities like rent, phone, car are things that can’t be cut out, but you can definitely cut back on going out to dinner or coffee everyday. Little things add up. For me coffee was an everyday thing so I got a jar and everyday instead of buying coffee I would put that money in my jar. By the end of the year I had about $700 saved. ($3 coffee x 5 days x 4 weeks x 12 months= $720). I also completely stopped buying clothes for 6 months, I never realized how much I shopped until I cut it out. Find things that you can cut out, set a goal and stick to it.
3. Set a budget
One you’ve decided where you want to go and where you can cut back on expenses you need to decide on a budget. Your budget will be based on how much time you have to save money, how long you want to go and where you want to go.
- When I’m planning a trip one of the first things I do is figure out approximate cost of a flight for my desired destination. This is something that can’t be negotiated and gives you a base cost to work with.
- Next, figure out how much you might spend on accommodation whether it be hostels or hotels. This is another aspect of travel that is obviously a necessity; you need somewhere to sleep. Once you’ve done those two steps you have an absolute bare minimum of what your trip will cost.
- Of course food and sightseeing also cost money but these are things that can be negotiated within your budget if need be. Once I’ve figured out how many days I’ll be traveling I’ll allocate a certain amount of spending money each day. Usually for Europe I’ll allow $50 USD per day, some days I’m way under, some days I’m over but like I said this is something that you can balance as you go. That might mean getting a very cheap dinner or having a small lunch one day. 5 destinations, $30 per day
- Once you have figured out more or less what your budget will be, figure out how much money you’ll need to save monthly in order to reach your goal. Then, open a savings account specifically for this purpose. Having a separate savings account strictly for travel not only helps you save, but you can see exactly how much you’re accruing and won’t be tempted to withdraw money for other purposes.
4. A few other tips for saving travel money
- Cook meals your own meals. Pack a lunch for work and make dinners at home.
- Make a profile on CouchSurfing– this is a great way to save money on accommodation. Couch Surfing is a community of travelers who either stay with people or allow people to stay with them for free while traveling. Word of advice: always make sure you’re staying with someone who has ALL positive feedback and at least 10 reviews. I couch surfed my whole 6 week trip to Europe and I had great experiences.
- get a credit card that doesn’t have international conversion fees and will earn you travel rewards such as Bank of America World Travel MasterCard