How do you afford to travel?

A stranger messaged me this week and asked me: “What do you do for a living to afford your wonderful lifestyle of traveling?”  It made me chuckle because I’m a historian, and everyone knows you won’t find that career listed in the “Forbes 100 most lucrative jobs.”  It did spur me to write yet another post about budgeting for travel, as I know this is at least one reason people don’t travel at all.

We just sent our passports in to be renewed and on it we had our old careers listed: part-time library associate and intern.  Those were our jobs when we first started traveling.  Jared was interning at a production company, and I was working part-time at the library while in school.  Those jobs both paid very little.  I actually have no idea how we even survived.  This is when we started to save for a big trip to London and Paris and started doing weekend trips throughout the states.  We always traveled, no matter how little money we had.  Now, we both have big kid jobs and can afford more “extravagant” vacations.  However, we still use the same tips and tricks we always did, and have just decided we love to travel and don’t want to give that up.

I’ve written posts through the years of things we’ve tried to save money for travel.  I actually have a big section on budgeting for trips and saving for trips in How to be Your Own Travel Agent.   (So the book is not just the nitty-gritty of trip-planning, it’s the “how to save” as well!)

So, here I am writing again about how to afford to travel.  With a new year, some of you may have made the decision to travel more and after looking at the bank statement after the holidays, you might be thinking, well, forget that!  Well, I’m here to say, don’t forget it.  You can still do it.  You can still go somewhere and enjoy a holiday.

A new study released in 2017 said that the average U.S. employee who receives paid vacation has only taken half of those days in the last year.  Only 23 percent of employees take the days given to them.  That means that a lot of people can take a vacation, but aren’t.  Why not?  Some theorize it’s because people have too heavy of a work load to leave or are afraid of getting behind.  That is probably true.  Maybe it’s because people don’t think taking a vacation is that important, or they feel like they’d rather stay home and watch TV.  I don’t know what all reasons people have for not leaving their homes and jobs for a few days to relax and recoup, but whatever the reason, I think it’s time to make a change and use those vacation days.

So, you’ve made the decision you want to travel.  What’s the next step?

Start saving for the trip.

This requires you to look through your current budget (which I hope you’re already doing… if not.. maybe that should be step 0).  See what areas you have waste, and what areas you would be willing to shave some off in order to save for traveling.  Notice I said what areas you HAVE waste and not areas you MAY HAVE waste.  You have waste, I promise. For me, that was cutting out eating out and Starbucks multiple times a week, purchasing random things I don’t need and reducing our heating and cooling bill by keeping the house a little colder in the winter and a little warmer in the summer.  For more ideas, check out this post I wrote a few years back called Money-saving hacks I’ve been trying recently.  See if there are any things you’re willing to cut out.  If you still don’t think you have waste, read this interesting article: The top 10 ways Americans waste money.  Here are some of the ways we waste money: eating out, alcohol, credit card interest, clothes, electricity, heating/cooling, un-returned items, unneeded grocery items, entertainment, tech gadgets, cell phone, etc.  If you are American, I guarantee you’re wasting money on something.  You could decide to turn that waste into a vacation.  Just saying…

Create a travel budget. 

Now that you decided to go on vacation and have started to save, you can start to see how much you’ll need for a trip.  Creating a travel budget is a little bit of trial and error, but it includes doing some research to see how much things will cost.  Here is a post I did 3 years ago on how to plan a travel budget (Oh and this is also in my book).  The main items you’ll want to search for are transportation (flights, car rental, fuel if you’re driving), accommodation (hotels, home rentals), food, sightseeing and transportation within the city.  Transportation within the city is something people rarely plan for, and sometimes can end up being more than you were expecting.  Like taking the tube in London, for example, which is $4-$6 PER ride.  I mean, you want to budget for that.

Look for ways to reduce costs. 

There are a lot of tips and tricks for trimming things down, and I wrote a post about this awhile back: Ways I’ve cut down my travel expenses.  Some of the tips include finding another airport to fly in or out of, rearranging the itinerary, making sure you have a kitchen to use so you can cook meals instead of eating out every night, going for fewer days and saving on the daily costs of just being there, etc.  One of my favorite tricks is saving money on airfare.  Driving a few hours to another airport can sometimes save a lot.  We saved $1,150 by driving to another airport and flying from there, instead of here.  If you have an additional travel day to spare, this could really become a good idea.  For more details on this, I wrote a whole post about it here: A tip for finding cheaper airfare.  I use Kayak a lot for airfare shopping, but recently I just started checking out Hopper.  I haven’t used it enough to say I love it, but so far, it’s given me some good suggestions for cheaper airfare.

Go somewhere, even if it’s a small weekend trip.

Don’t just save for the big giant 2 week long all-inclusive resort trip.  You can also go somewhere near you.  Save for a few weekend getaways.  See what’s near you that you can drive to.  There are so many places unexplored around the country, and one of my favorite websites right now is Atlas Obscura.  If you’re looking for something unique or interesting to check out, I guarantee you’ll be like “WHAT?  That’s in MY state?!”  I can’t get enough of it.  The other website I love is Roadtrippers.  I’ve written about this before because if you’re taking a road trip, you’ll want to see what stops you can make on your way to your main destination.  I’ve found all sorts of quirky restaurants, murals, museums, and parks that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  I have a running list of places I’ve found through Roadtrippers and Atlas Obscura that are within 4 hours of me that I want to check out.  That way, I can have some fun weekend trips throughout the year, instead of just going on one long trip.

For more details on how to actually plan the trip, ahem, buy the book I keep mentioning, or check out this post with more blog posts you can read here about the nitty-gritty of trip planning.

I hope this helps you see that you can afford to travel if you do a little planning, budgeting and research.  And don’t give me the “I don’t have time” or “I can’t find all those cool places you find” excuses.  You could cut out one Netflix show a week and spend the hour looking up stuff for a vacation.  That’s only ONE hour of your time.  Just try it and see what happens!

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