One of the most common questions I’m asked is “how can you afford to travel?” It used to really bother me because I figured it wasn’t anyone’s business. It’d be like asking someone how she afforded a boob job…
I save for travel just like a lot of my friends and family members save for a new car, gadget and even their kids. It’s a priority thing. For me, travel is really important. A lot of the time, it can be a luxury, but I also get to the point when it truly is a necessity. I mean that. I spent several years working with a couple of different counselors to improve my mental health after struggling with anxiety, depression and stress management. Shortly before I left for my four month European solo travel adventure, I stopped going to my counselor. I discovered while I was on my trip that I probably could’ve saved a lot of money on counseling and had a lot more fun if I’d taken off to travel sooner. I do a TON of introspection and I’m able to deal with many of my problems during travel. It now replaces counseling for me and it’s an outlet I use to take care of myself mentally and physically, so it’s something I find very practical to devote funds.
There isn’t really a science to financing a trip. I’m not a master travel deal hacker like some of the bloggers out there, but I do have a few things that work for me:
SET UP A SEPARATE SAVINGS ACCOUNT AND DON’T MAKE WITHDRAWALS FROM IT FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN TRAVEL.
I actually have one account that I use to cover smaller domestic/weekend trips and a couple of other accounts that are allocated for long-term and international trips. This is my designated fun money. I contribute whatever I can, whenever I can. I’m not always able to contribute a lot, but just knowing that these funds are specifically for travel helps me compartmentalize. Finances are difficult enough to keep straight with payments for different expenses coming out of my checking account at different dates during the month. I don’t really have to keep track of anything with these separate accounts. Keep it simple!
10% OF EVERY PAYCHECK GOES INTO AT LEAST ONE, IF NOT ALL, OF YOUR TRAVEL ACCOUNTS.
Make it a habit. Just like you should do with your emergency savings account. If you can only swing 5% for this, do it. It’s whatever you can spare. If I do my 10% and have extra money in my checking account left over that week, I’ll put a larger chunk in the travel fund/s.
MINIMIZE YOUR EXPENSES.
A turn of circumstances led to me moving back to my mom's house a few years ago. What was meant to be a short-term move has worked out to be financially beneficial because I was able to save a lot by not having to pay for rent, utilities and property/renter's insurance. Since my lifestyle with travel right now doesn't realistically allow me to maintain a place of my own, this has been the best home base for me to have. I drive a car that's more than ten years old, which I bought used a few years ago. My sister and brother-in-law are nice enough to let me mooch off of some of their streaming accounts for entertainment. My everyday life between trips is not glamorous, but it suits my needs and allows me to live the travel lifestyle. Trust me, I absolutely plan on moving out again but building my day-to-day and travel savings accounts back up is the priority.
USE A CREDIT CARD THAT EARNS CASH BACK OR REWARDS.
One of my credit cards offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases. I also received a couple hundred dollars as a cash back reward once I spent a certain amount within the first three months of opening it. I knew I’d want the credit card to use on my upcoming trip, so putting the first couple of flights on it met the minimum for me to get the reward. My rewards don’t expire, so that cash back is just building up. I put almost all of my day-to- day expenses on the card to accrue the cash back and I don’t touch it. Since what I put on the card is money I was going to spend anyways, that’s free cash back to use towards a flight, hostels or a tour. Some cards offer a higher flat percentage or you can get points towards flights. Do your research and compare a few before signing up for one.
HAVE A CHANGE JAR.
I have a change jar that I use whenever I pay for anything in cash. If you don’t have/use a credit card, this extra change really adds up quickly. I round anything I spend up to the next dollar and put the change in the jar at the end of every day. Again, I don’t take money out of this fund for anything except travel. Every few months or a few weeks before I have a trip coming up, I take this to the bank and deposit it into one account or split it between multiple.
SAVE EXCESS INCOME.
Any extra cash I receive as a gift goes into my travel funds (birthday, Christmas, etc.) Work bonuses, my tax refund, garage sale money and anything made from odd jobs all goes towards travel. Since this is money that I don’t depend on during my normal expenses, it isn’t money I’d really miss. Go through your closets and get stuff to a consignment shop. When I was in high school, I sent out flyers to my neighbors saying that I was collecting pop cans (in Iowa, you can get a $0.05 refund on them.) I ended up making almost a hundred bucks without too much work. Before I left for my last trip to Australia and New Zealand, I found odd jobs like weeding/landscaping and pet sitting. Social media makes this REALLY easy to put the word out, so I take advantage of it. I made more than $300 just over a couple of days of weeding and a week of pet sitting. It adds up!
SIGN UP FOR HOTEL AND AIRLINE REWARDS.
A lot of people don’t realize you can sign up for rewards without having to get a credit card through the hotel or airline. Since there is usually not a cost to get these, sign up for whatever you need. Keep in mind that you’ll get more rewards the more frequently you use the same brand or their partner brands, so find one or two you like or that services the majority of the places you’ll be going and try to use that so they can really accumulate. I mostly use hostels anymore, which don’t have reward programs, but a lot of them do offer discounted rates or free nights when you stay for a minimum amount of time. If nothing is listed on the website, it never hurts to email the hotel/hostel and ask when booking, just in case.
UTILIZE A FINANCIAL ADVISOR.
The entire purpose of a good financial advisor is for him or her to help you find a way to accomplish your goals. Any time I’m considering making a major purchase, I touch base with my advisor. On my last trip to Australia and New Zealand, I had originally planned to use my working holiday visa so I could find work for a few months and then travel. When I got there, I quickly realized I had never really wanted to work and just wanted to explore. As I had originally planned to at least supplement the funds I would be spending, I got to Australia with much less for living expenses than I was comfortable with under the new circumstances. I knew I would need a financial cushion when I got back to the US and looked for another job. My advisor was able to explain all of my options and worked with me while I determined the best decision.
ASK FRIENDS FOR CONNECTIONS.
Before I left for Europe, I knew I had some friends who had friends and family members around Europe. I outright asked them if they might be willing to put me in touch with them. A lot of people also came out of the woodwork to volunteer contact information when they found out I’d be abroad. At the very least, you usually get some really good advice and recommendations. I’ve also been EXTREMELY fortunate to have been hosted by several of them. Being able to save money on accommodation and food during a long-term trip made the difference between me being able to swing two or three extra weeks on my trip financially. It also allowed me to not only meet some incredible people, but also get to know some places so much more in depth. I could actually take the time to wander around and explore, rather than feeling like I had to adhere to the highlights in order to see everything and get out of the expensive places before I spent too much of my budget on accommodation.
PICK UP A SIDE HUSTLE.
Find something you’re interested in or good at and see if you can find a way to make money off of it. Look into selling products like Mary Kay, Rada Cutlery or whatever interests you. If you’re crafty, look into setting up an Etsy store. Sell stuff on Ebay. There are a ton of options, so do some research and see what you can come up with. If you live in a bigger city, you can also look at things like Uber and Rover. If you’re good at photography, video, graphic design or anything else like that, consider getting into freelance work.
Whenever I’m really trying to save up for travel my philosophy is “short of actually whore-ing myself out, I’m whore-ing myself out.” I put the word out on social media, I tell friends and family members and ask them to keep an ear out if anyone mentions anything they might need help with. I make it a point to tell them that I’m saving up for whatever trip I’m planning. I’ve found that people are actually much more willing to throw stuff my way if they know I’m doing something like this.
I’ve learned that a lot of the goodwill stems from people genuinely being happy for me and some of them want to live vicariously through my travel experiences. To this day, I’m grateful and amazed by how many people have gone out of their way to help me out. If they have little children, I try to make it a point to find something small I can send home and give to them when I get back. I try my best to send at least a couple of email updates, a postcard or take a photograph specifically for them.
With that all being said, does anyone have any odd jobs with which you’d like help? Just kidding…Kind of…
What are your go-to ways to finance travel? Share them in the comments!