The number one reason people don’t travel is because they feel like they can’t afford it.
While I’ll be the first to admit that traveling is a privilege to be able to do, there are also ways to make it happen without burning a hole in your wallet. It’s all about sticking to your financial goals and priorities, even if you’re lounging on a beach or visiting another country.
The Best Way to Budget for a Trip
Before you can focus on maintaining your financial priorities while on vacation, you need to actually plan for the trip itself. There are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to help take the stress out of saving for a big vacation.
1️. Start researching.
Armed with knowledge, you have a better idea of how much flights, accommodation, and transportation (car rental, Uber rides, or metro passes, etc.) will cost. Those are your three biggest expenses, aka the travel budget trifecta. You can log these in a budget spreadsheet in order to keep track of your spending, and eventually add how much you want to bring for activities, eating out, and other fun activities.
2. Set your savings goals.
Once you’ve figured out the total barebones cost of the trip, you’re going to divide the total by the amount of months you have until you leave. By doing so, you know how much to save every month, and you can set up automatic monthly payments to your travel savings account to reach your goal. We’ll go over this more in step number three.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Banff Honeymoon Trip
It’s December 2021, and you are wanting to book your trip to Banff for September 2022. That means you have nine months to save.
$1404 / 9 = $156
This means you have to save $156 a month to reach your goal. Obviously, some of these items you’ll want to book in advance, so you can either pay yourself back or simply use your travel fund as you go.
If you’re wanting to get a headstart on saving for food, activities and other expenses, you could bump your monthly contribution up to $175 or even $200 so you know you’ll have extra money set aside for those items. Knowing you have extra money set aside also helps relieve the pressure of having to check your bank account or budget at the end of every travel day.
3. Automate your savings.
The last thing you can do is open a HYSA (high-yield savings account) and name it “travel savings” or “Banff Honeymoon 2022.” Be sure to set up automatic monthly contributions to this account to start saving. Using the example above, your automatic monthly payment would be a minimum of $156.
By naming your savings account from a number sequence to the goal you’re saving for, you’re focusing on your financial goal. Every time you sign on to check your status, you know exactly what you’re saving for.
I love using Personal Capital’s free tools for checking my progress on goals like saving up for a big trip. You can securely link all of your accounts (including your travel savings) and then easily keep track of your monthly spending habits and goals.
How to Maintain Your Financial Priorities
In order to maintain your financial priorities while traveling, we need to talk about value-based spending. This means identifying the things that you really do care about and spending the majority of your discretionary money on those specific things.
These are not the things that you need in your life, like food and shelter. Discretionary spending is for the things that you WANT in your life.
You work hard for the money you earn, and you should be aligning your purchases with your values as best you can— including while you are preparing to travel and after you arrive.
For example, my three value categories are travel, food out, and nesting.
In order to align your financial priorities with your travel itinerary, try sticking to the same value categories while on vacation. For instance, because I like eating out and then cozying up at a nice hotel or Airbnb after a long day, food and accommodation are going to be what I choose to spend a majority of my travel budget on. In order to stay within budget or simply save money, I may cut back on other categories, like transportation and activities.
This may look like walking everywhere or choosing a local bus or train over an Uber. I might choose to dine at a restaurant with a pretty view over going to a museum or on a walking tour.
Once you have a good idea of your three value categories in your day-to-day life, you can transfer them over to how you choose to spend your money while on vacation.
Let’s try this exercise in practice. In my eyes, you have five main categories for travel expenses, and we already covered a couple in the above section.
According to the way you may usually spend your discretionary money or simply the way you prefer to travel, which one of these would you want to spend the most money on? What about the least? By asking yourself these questions, you’ll get a better idea on what you most value and what you least value when planning a trip.
How to Budget Within Each Travel Category
Kiwi, Hitlist, and Hopper are three apps that save you the trouble of finding which airline will give you the cheapest price; it does the searching for you! (I also set price change notifications on all of these apps to keep a sharp eye on trends.)
Scott’s Cheap Flights is a free email subscription that sends a list of really cheap travel destinations and accompanying flights straight to your inbox.
Southwest Airlines is one of the only airlines I know of that checks bags for free. Definitely take bag/seat costs into consideration when choosing an airline.
Travel somewhere you have family and/or friends and politely ask if you could stay with them for a few days.
I love staying in Airbnbs, but I’ve noticed that they are becoming increasingly expensive. However, you can still find some for cheap, and it’s great when you can support the local community.
Hostel World, AuPair World, and Workaway are also great ways to save money on accommodation. Au Pair World and Workaway are both cultural exchange programs in which you receive room and board in exchange for providing a service to a local family.
Check out the local public transportation system and use this instead of expensive services like Uber or Lyft.
Many cities have now incorporated short-distance transportation like bikes and scooters, which is also a great way to see the city.
Grocery shop and cook at least one meal a day in your accommodation if it includes a kitchen.
Eat out for two big meals a day and pack grocery store snacks for in-between meals.
Check online or in the window for happy hour menus!
If you’re a student, make sure you have your ID with you. Many times, museums will offer you a discount on your ticket.
Limit yourself to one or two paid excursions and then mix in some free activities to save money. Some ideas:
Picnic in a local park.
Look up free museums and exhibitions.
Visit a farmers market or vintage market.
Go on a hike or a walk. GPS My City has amazing, free self-guided walking tours all over the world.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to remember that even though you may have to sacrifice in some of these categories in order to take your dream vacation, it’s more about the experience itself.
Seeing the world is, at the end of the day, priceless. I hope this guide has helped you realize that with the right mindset and alignment of your financial priorities, getting to see the world is more attainable than you may think.
As you budget and spend, remember Personal Capital — it’s the tool I check daily for tracking my net worth and my progress towards goals like upcoming travel, debt payoff, and (yes!) saving that first $100k.
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