In the rush of life’s hectic schedule, travel can end up at the bottom of our financial priority list.
If we don’t have heaps of discretionary income, travel may feel frivolous, or simply a luxury for those with larger budgets.
We can’t throw away financial stability for frequent spur-of-the-moment escapades. But with a little long-term planning and a few tricks, it is possible to weave a little more travel into our lives. Clear and practical savings tactics can help us fund our dream vacation without throwing our savings goals out the window.
Research has shown that traveling abroad reduces stress, builds creativity and even improves overall health. As a family, you can experience a new culture, adjust to unfamiliar settings and break free from the daily habits that distract you from what truly matters.
The most important factors in this process are a strong plan and enough time to save. Little budget cuts or side hustles add up when you give yourself enough time to make the saving process a fun, stress-free experience instead of a last-minute scramble. The last thing you want to associate with travel is the anxiety of unexpected costs or debt.
So, don’t hold back. Pick your dream destination — whether it be a few days in Hawaii or a two-week hiking trip in Europe — and try out these tips to make your vacation budget a reality.
1. Calculate the true cost of your trip
Writing up a clear, concise budget for your trip removes the daunting guesswork of planning a vacation. If you only have a ballpark idea of the trip’s cost, you’ll encounter more anxiety and less ability to plan accurately.
If you are a freelance or part-time worker, include offsets for the income you’ll lose during your time away.
Begin by researching the following categories:
• Approximate travel cost for each person, including taxis or trains
• Daily food budget
• Necessary apparel (for more active trips)
• Tickets or event costs
• Pet and home care
• Travel insurance
• A contingency fund for unexpected expenses
This total is the magic number to plan for.
2. Organize your finances
If you don’t already have a budget for your overall finances, travel is a great excuse to create one. Budgets not only help with travel but also act as a lifelong tool for bringing clarity to your spending. A collection of online budgeting tools and apps can get you started.
Although it feels daunting at first, budgeting allows you to break your savings goals into manageable categories, trimming and adding to different spending lines as life ebbs and flows over the months leading up to your trip.
Living your life according to a budget may seem challenging at first, but you’re not alone. In an interview with U.S. News and World Report regarding common budgeting challenges for couples, Rakesh Gupta, associate professor at Adelphi University explains, "What happens is when they are spending the money, they don't know how much discretionary income they have. They have a mental idea of how much to spend."
This vague idea leads to ill-informed purchases and overall indecision, keeping financial growth at bay for savings and debt repayment.
3. Make a savings plan
The more expensive the journey, the more time you’ll need to budget without stress. For a $3,000 trip, 10 months lead time is far more practical than three months. Though this sounds obvious, it’s easy to forget to set up a specific structure for saving until you’re further down the line.
Once you’ve solidified your trip’s true cost, divide the total by the months you have to save. Shift larger savings to fall before big purchases, such as plane tickets. If there’s no room in your budget to set aside the necessary amount (by trimming your restaurant or entertainment line, for example), set this monthly total as your side hustle goal.
In this situation, you may want to work in some savings buffer time, as supplementary income is not always predictable or easy to confirm until you find something steady.
Perhaps there’s a simple, low-stress side work that adds up to something as low as $100 each month. Explore a few major freelance websites, such as UpWork or Freelancer, or consider helping out part-time at a small business you frequently support.
4. Divide and conquer
In this stage, work with your family or travel mates to merge your saving goals into daily life. This transforms the often tedious act of saving money into an exciting game instead of a chore. How can you and your partner divvy up this cost? Can you cut one outing from your routine each month in the name of your trip?
If you have kids, make a chart to show your savings progress and keep the goal front and center. Even if they’re too young to contribute, discuss ways they can help around the house to make them feel part of the journey.
Communicating with your partner is key, as budgeting and finances is a leading cause of disagreements in relationships. If building a travel budget together brings up tensions related to spending habits, use this as an opportunity to discuss your concerns. Explore tools that help keep track of spending by both parties.
5. Make space to save
Arrange a specific account to transfer money designated for your trip. Without this, it will be much easier to use your travel money for one of life’s surprises that will inevitably come up during your planning phase. For this reason, it’s important to have an emergency fund set aside before getting started. Speak with your bank about opening an extra debit or savings account (though be aware of low-balance fees when dipping into the account for your trip).
Explore the selection of savings apps that help you track your savings goals, or even transfer small amounts of money over an extended period of time. If you choose to investigate the travel credit card route — especially for flight and hotel discounts — clarify how long it takes to accumulate enough points to use on your upcoming journey. Though many cards have signing bonuses, travel cards are most helpful over a sustained time period.
Building saving and budgeting habits into a daily practice remind us that small amounts truly do add up over time. An ambitious trip may be impossible to afford at the last moment but is very practical when planned a year in advance.
As you and your family build this structure and reach small goals together, reward yourselves with small things (travel books or gear?) along the way as a reminder that saving is part of the journey. With this mindset, you’ll become lifelong travelers with a world of options to explore!