When I talk about past or upcoming trips with friends, colleagues and/or family I occasionally hear one of the following lines:
“You must be rich”
“Your fiance must be rich” (so insulting)
“Sweety, be careful about your credit card debt” (this usually comes from my mom)
I can’t blame anyone for making these assumptions. I used to think the same thing: to travel regularly one must be rich, have outside funding or live beyond his or her means.
But when I started working I realized that small day-to-day changes could yield big annual savings. By adjusting my lifestyle I could afford to travel without sacrificing my savings or going into credit card debt.
Disclaimer: I’ve been in the workforce for a while now and have worked my way up to a position with an okay salary. I by no means consider myself “rich”, but I’m definitely not poor. Still, even when I started out in publishing and made barely $16,000, I was able to take small trips, save for retirement and avoid falling into debt.
I’ve outlined some of my tricks below. This is by no means intended to be a diatribe on how you should spend your cash. But if you’re curious how I squeeze three or four international trips a year out of my budget without being “rich”, having a “rich fiance” (barf) or going into debt, then keep reading.
- I refuse to upgrade my car. I drive one of the oldest cars on the block. It’s a 1999 Saturn I’ve had for about 10 years. It’s missing a hubcap. The headliner looks like a wild animal was trapped inside. Every time it starts I say a little thank you to whoever’s listening.
Many have asked me when I’ll replace it. I don’t see the point. It meets all my qualifications for a car in that it: starts, stops, has speakers and fairly adequate AC.
I’m grateful for my little Saturn and will drive it until its final days (which are hopefully very far away).
Annual savings, assuming a $200 monthly car payment: $2,400
- I can’t come out and play. Aside from the occasional girls’ night or oh-my-god-there’s-no-food-in-the-house-dinner-run, you generally won’t find me or Greg-the-fiancé out during the week. Sure, Fridays and Saturdays are fair game for some bar time, but Sundays through Mondays are pretty quiet.
For us it makes more sense to eat (and drink) at home and save that cash for dinners (and drinks) during our travels.
Annual savings, assuming you forego one $30 dinner and one $15 happy hour per week: $2,340
- Lunch box full of money. I can’t remember the last time I went out for lunch during the week. I’m very, very lucky in that Greg is an excellent home chef who makes yummy lunches for us each week. But even before we moved in together I was always a brown-bagger.
Annual savings, assuming you spend $5 at lunch five times a week: $1,300
Those three lifestyle changes give us more than $6,000 per person for travel, $12,000 combined. I’m kinda amazed. I knew the savings would be high, but $12,000 is a fricking boat-load of money.
Granted, I probably pay higher grocery and car repair bills compared to someone who goes out to eat all the time and drives a new Camry. Hopefully those are offset by underestimating the cost of a car payment above. (I didn’t even mention a down payment.) And it’s hard to imagine one can eat out every day and only pay $25/week on lunches.
Travel and Finances: What Doesn’t Get Cut
As much as I love jumping on planes, there are some line items on my budget that simply can’t be sacrificed for the sake of seeing the world.
- Long and short-term savings. I don’t want to work for the rest of my life. And if the above-mentioned Saturn breaks, I don’t want to sacrifice my travel budget to fix or replace it. So I put 10% of my salary into a retirement account and another chunk (it varies, not trying to be vague) into an emergency fund.
The key is to make saving a habit. As you can see above, putting away $20 or $25 a week adds up quickly.
- Insurances. Everything from my iPhone to cat is insured. Some debate about the validity of insurances and suggest it might be better to put the annual premium in a savings account. It’s a fair point. But they don’t know my cat. He eats floss, sleeps in dryers and thinks lit candles are toys. I prefer to insure him and have the peace of mind that it will only cost the $250 deductible to fix him the next time he tries to walk across the knives drying next to the sink.
- Craft beers. In college I drank enough Natural Light to earn the nickname “Natty”. Now my beer of choice is a full-bodied, hoppy IPA or pale ale, heavy on pine and citrus flavors, with a zippy, herbal finish and rich mouthfeel. They’re about twice the cost of Natural Light but 10 times the flavor. I don’t mind shelling out more for good beer.
These Choices Aren’t Easy
Friends, here’s a secret. I may have rocking travel photo albums on Facebook, but I get jealous when I see you checking in at the local indie bar’s Tuesday night “banjo and bluegrass” party. I swoon each time I ride in your less-than-a-decade-old cars; they’re so fast and man, your air conditioners are so cold! I’m envious when I hear that you all got together for a drunk brunch and didn’t invite me because I’ve said “no thanks, I have to save” so many times before.
But it’s worth it. For me, travel is a priority. I know what I have to give up to reach my goals. But they don’t call it “self-discipline” because it’s easy.
Other Perspectives on Saving for Travel
- I first met Angie Orth through a mutual friend nearly 10 years ago. On her 30th birthday, Angie quit her job to travel the world and freelance. She must be loaded, right? Wrong. Her Mythbusting Angie’s Mysterious Travel Lifestyle post outlines the hard work and tough choices it took to pull it off.
- The most inspiring article I’ve read on saving for travel is How Michael Saved $14k in 6 Months Making $9 Per Hour on NomadicMatt.com. Michael’s story proves that anyone who makes saving a priority can reach his or her goals.
- My personal finances have been heavily influenced by this book:
On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance (note: this is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click and buy I will get a small kickback – which will go directly to my travel fund.) Forgive the sexist title and stereotypical but alliterative description: “Most young women would love to live a carefree lifestyle filled with lunches, Louis Vuitton, and lattes…” This book offers practical, easy to follow budgeting and investing advice for all genders and ages. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it.
Those are my two cents. I’d love to hear how other frequent travelers fund their adventures.
Until next time, happy saving!