When I decided to travel as much as possible without quitting my full-time job, I had to make major lifestyle changes.
The biggest one?
How I spent my money.
I didn’t make much money in my first few years working behind a desk. And with the little money I did make, I wasn’t incredibly strategic about saving. In fact, it wasn’t until I started realizing that I could literally change my life with the financial decisions I made that I started coming to terms with my spending and saving habits.
One of the #1 reasons people don’t think they can start traveling is because of the perceived expense.
But before you say “I can’t afford it!,” take a step back and analyze your finances a bit closer. Odds are, there may be some effortless ways to make small changes that can help you save up for big trips down the road!
Below, you’ll find the 11 tips I used when starting to save money for travel. Follow these and you’ll be rewarding yourself with a well-deserved trip in no time!
10+ Effortless Ways to Save Money for Travel
1. Start Tracking Your Expenses
The first (and most important) step to save money for travel is looking at your bank statements.
You need to know exactly how much you’re spending each month to make yourself aware of any frivolous spending trends that can be avoided.
There are two ways you can start tracking your expenses:
- Use a spreadsheet: You can divide purchases into different categories and add everything up with formulas to see exactly how much you spent. Download templates directly off the web with a quick Google search if you are unsure how to make your own.
- Use an expense tracking app: The Mint App, which I use personally, can be connected with your bank accounts and enables you to track your spending habits, review your spending categories, and create monthly budgets to keep your financial decisions on track.
Of course, I know tracking every single dollar seems boring, but trust me, those impulse buys can (and do!) add up.
My personal guilty pleasure is going out to good restaurants. I often find myself saying yes to going out for brunches, dinners, and drinks, only to be confronted at the end of the month with a notification from Mint telling me I overspent on my restaurant budget by $300.
That’s easily almost enough for a round-trip flight to Hawaii!
The more you dream up places to go for your first getaway, the more you’ll start thinking this way too. One Starbucks could buy you a day of food in Bali, one shopping spree could pay for a night in a luxury lodge in Australia… you get the picture.
2. Create Your Travel Savings Goal
It’s so much harder to envision yourself on vacation (and motivate yourself to keep saving) if you don’t know where you’re going. Isn’t it?
Once you have a desired destination in mind, you need to create a travel savings goal. This is a crystal-clear number you will keep top-of-mind and work towards in order to afford your trip.
How do you create a savings goal? Get realistic numbers. Lay the foundation by researching every part of your dream trip and calculating what it might cost to actually get you there (and then add tax! you’ll ned a buffer for emergencies and fun last-minute adventures):
Start by adding up the following:
- Round-trip flights
- Other transportation costs (Do you need a rental car? An airport pick-up? A rail pass?)
- Average hotel rate multiplied by the number of days you want to stay
- Average daily allowance multiplied by the number of days you want to stay
- Any particular tours, activities, or attraction fees
- A budget for shopping and souvenirs
- A small emergency budget
- Spare cash for snacks and tips
Once you have a rough idea, you’ll be able to set a benchmark for how much this trip should cost you.
From there, simply reverse-engineer that number with the amount of time you have leading up to the trip to get your monthly travel savings goal.
For example, let’s say your dream trip to Bali will cost $2000, and you have six months to save for a trip.
That means you need to save $333 each month.
The next step? Figuring out what expenses you can cut in your everyday life to help you potentially reach your travel savings goal even quicker!
3. Sell Stuff You No Longer Need
One of my go-to ways to save money for travel, especially when I was just getting started, is by decluttering my life.
Whenever I take a good, hard look at my possessions, I always find things I no longer need (or never even used in the first place!). If you have something you no longer need that’s in good condition, consider selling it to make a couple extra bucks.
This is a great way not only to make some cash but also lighten the “load” of stuff that’s tying you to a location. Physical baggage is a real thing! Make it a habit to assess your belongings every few months to see whether there’s something in good condition that you don’t use that could be better suited for someone else.
Where should you sell your belongings? A few options you can try are:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Decluttr (a great site for selling tech!)
4. Reduce Your Fixed Expenses
No matter where you live, there are some expenses you can’t escape.
I’m looking at you, internet bill.
Luckily, you can use a few tricks to alter and even reduce your fixed monthly expenses and save more money for travel.
Some easy ways to reduce your fixed expenses:
- Drive less: If you need to drive into the office, see if you can start carpooling with friends to cut down on your fuel expenses.
- Use less electricity: Switch to energy-saving bulbs. Turn off the lights if you’re not in the room. Pull plugs out of your outlets if they aren’t actively in use.
- Use less water: Turn off the water while you wash your face and brush your teeth. Re-use greywater to water your plants. Take shorter showers!
- Share expenses: Do you and your significant other both need to be paying for Spotify and Amazon Prime memberships? Nope. Decide who is responsible for what and cancel any fixed costs that are duplicates if you’re both allowed to be on each other’s plans.
- Reassess unused subscriptions: Are you still using that app you downloaded 9 months ago? If not, cancel your subscription before your next monthly charge.
5. Sign Up for a Travel Rewards Credit Card
The #1 travel hack for saving money? A travel rewards credit card.
Once I upgraded my college credit card to a travel rewards credit card, I’ve since been able to quickly rack up and cash in points for everything from flights to Hawaii, to hotels in Mexico, to rental cars in the US.
How does it work?
Simply put your regular expenses on the credit card, keeping in mind any special perks or promotions that enable you to rack up rewards quicker. You’ll get points for each purchase, and you can redeem these for flights, hotel stays, travel upgrades, and more! Just be sure to pay off your cards quickly, so the interest doesn’t hurt you in the long run.
I personally use – and love – the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. When you sign up, you’ll get a 100,000-point bonus (aka $1,250 to use towards a flight!) if you spend a certain amount within the first three months.
Start with the Chase Freedom Card if your credit score is too low or too new for the Sapphire Cards. It’s another great points card that is easier to qualify for and is what I used myself while still in college to help boost my credit score and credit history.
6. Find The Cheapest Flights Departing Your City
Flights are usually the biggest travel expense.
But what if you could find the CHEAPEST flights departing from your city to any destination in the world?
There are countless websites you can use to get the best possible airfare deal for your next trip.
Google Flights and Skyscanner are consistently my go-to tools since for researching flights. Skyscanner in particular has features like “Explore Everywhere” and “Cheapest Month” to help you find the best flight deals worldwide.
For example, flights to Phoenix from Los Angeles start at $47, and a trip to Las Vegas will only set me back $43!
But my favorite thing about the site is using the search feature to see what the cheapest international destination I could fly to is. It never hurts to dream (and honestly, knowing when cheap flight deals hit can help you make those dreams a reality!).
With a quick search, I can see round-trip flights to Mexico starting at $156, or to El Salvador for only $215. This feature can help you broaden your horizons and consider travel destinations that might not already be on your radar, but should.
If you’re not finding what you’re looking for on Skyscanner, try Momondo. I’ve noticed that the fares here are slightly cheaper, and it’s one of the best websites when you don’t have a destination in mind.
Other sites you can use are:
- Google Flights: Like I mentioned, Google Flights is one of my favorites because it’s just so easy to use. I love how it shows you how the price changes by day of week, without you having to do any additional searching.
- Airfare Watchdog: This is an excellent tool for finding cheap domestic flights around the USA.
- Secret Flying: Did you know that occasionally airlines make airfare mistakes? Secret Flying will help you find them before the airline notices the mistake and updates the price.
7. Automate Your Savings and Open a Separate Account
Do you struggle to remember to put money away each month? Or do you use your checking account as your savings account as well?
If so, it’s time to set up an automatic monthly transfer and open a separate savings account for your vacation fund.
All you need to do is decide how much you’d like to save each month and set up an automatic transfer. You can use your bank directly or try an app like Digit to automate your savings. It will go through like a debit charge, and you won’t have to think twice about saving money to travel every month.
A separate savings bank account is necessary to stop you from ‘accidentally’ dipping into your travel fund. Speak to your bank, select the best option (the higher the interest rate, the better!), and set your automatic monthly transfer to go from your checking to your savings from there.
Setting it and forgetting it is a truly effortless way to save money for travel, even if you have to start small. Every little bit counts!
8. Shift Your Mindset
Finding it hard to resist those daily coffee runs or monthly Target splurges?
Start changing your perspective on your spending habits.
The next time you think of buying a new top or ordering that crazy-expensive coffee (knowing full well you have coffee at home), think about what that money could do for you on your next dream trip instead.
- $5 could get you 5 cups of Vietnamese coffee.
- $7 could buy you a full-body massage in Bali.
- $10 could afford you an incredibly delicious meal in Mexico.
- $42 could book you on a full-day waterfall tour in the Philippines.
See what I mean?
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your money at home, but keeping your spending habits in moderation and learning how to be a bit more discerning about whether something is necessary or frivolous is key.
9. Shop Smarter at the Grocery Store
Do you know how much you spend on groceries every month? What about every year?
When I saw my own annual grocery costs added up for the first time, I was a bit freaked out!
But knowing that number (thanks to Mint) helped me commit to figuring out how I can cut down on my monthly food expenses and save money for travel instead.
Here are three tips that can change how you shop at the grocery store:
- Withdraw cash for the grocery store: Do you get carried away at WholeFoods? Are you guilty of coming home with more food than you had on your shopping list? Going shopping with a set amount forces you to stick to your budget and say no to those extra things.
- Shop at a cheaper grocery store: As much as I love Whole Foods, it’s not the most budget-friendly place to shop. Choose more affordable grocery stores and local farmers markets to get what you need for less.
- Meal prep: Do you ever end up throwing away food you forgot about in the back of your fridge? If so, start meal prepping. You’ll buy food more strategically, which is cheaper, and you’ll cook everything before it has a chance to go bad.
- Limit non-essentials and other treats: Wine, expensive chocolates, chips, fast food… you get the picture!
10. Travel to Budget-Friendly Destinations
My heart will always be in Australia, but deep down, I know it’s not the most affordable place for most Americans to visit thanks to the long-haul flight and only moderately weaker currency.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider planning a trip to a country or city that will stretch your precious dollars further.
For those considering long-haul travel, Bali is an excellent option for Americans. Once you get past the flight expenses, you can live the luxe life and find Ubud hotels starting at $20, meals starting at $2, and so on.
By focusing on destinations where the dollar is stronger, and the cost of living is cheaper, you’ll have more room in your budget for once-in-a-lifetime activities.
Plus, you won’t need years to save for the trip!
RELATED: 10 Tips to Know Before Visiting Bali
11. Travel Mid-Week or During Low / Shoulder Season
If you can travel mid-week, you’ll usually find better flight and hotel deals that way.
And regardless of the day of the week, the time of the year can also help you score more deals. All destinations generally have high, shoulder, and low seasons.
Each destination (both domestic or international) has high, shoulder, and low seasons.
The high season is the most popular time to visit. Think Cancun or Miami Beach over Spring Break. Flight prices skyrocket, hotels book up, and the beach is crawling with travelers.
For mega discounts on flights, hotels, and attractions, plan your trips around the quieter months.
The shoulder and low seasons may not have as picturesque weather, but if you’re prepared to handle the occasional rain, snow, or heat, there’s no reason traveling outside of peak season can’t be as enjoyable! In fact, doing so may help you enjoy your destination with less crowds, too.
What little changes are you committing to make to save money for travel? Let me know in the comments below!
Read This Next:
- 5 Little Mindset Shifts That Will Help You Travel More
- 5 Websites I Use to Book Cheap Flights
- 10 Tips to Know Before Visiting Bali
- 11 Actionable Tips to Travel More this Year, Even If You Work Full-Time