Hey travel bugs! I’m extremely amped to write this post full of tips about saving money for travel because I’m in the midst of a big savings year right meow! I have a huge trip planned for the end of 2015 and if I want to make it a reality I need to keep it at the forefront of my consciousness. For me, a big part of successful savings starts with being mindful of it. If I’m always thinking about the trip and being frugal, I’m much more likely to skip the little extras: the cup of coffee, the random tank top, the $4 bar of delicious dark chocolate, you get the picture. This post applies to any big ticket item you want to save for not just a trip. Maybe you want to splurge and get a fancy new DSLR (and by you I mean me), or pay off a huge chunk of student loans, or put aside money for your snazzy wedding, whatever you’re planning, you can save for it and these tips can help you!
Step One: Estimate Your Travel Costs
First things first. How much do you actually need to save? I get questions like this all the time: ‘how much should I save for a cross country road trip’ or ‘how much do you think I need for two weeks in Brazil’ and at first these questions seem unanswerable, but in truth, they’re pretty easy requests and they can be worked out with a pen, paper and a tiny bit of research. The short of it: what I need for a cross country road trip is probably not what you need for a cross country road trip. Why? Because we all have different lifestyles and ways of traveling. That’s why it’s important for YOU to estimate your own travel costs and don’t worry, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds.
The easiest way to estimate your travel costs for a trip is to really think about how you’re getting to your destination, how you’ll be getting around, where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be eating. Get out a pen and paper and make a couple categories. The ones below are standard, but may change depending on the type of trip you’re going on. If you’re saving for something else, make categories that apply to your specific trip, object or goal.
Remember, this is supposed to be fun not overwhelming. If you want to go on a trip it is so much better to be prepared than stressed out so if you’re starting to sweat a little bit, relax. This is a fun exercise. Traveling is a luxury and saving money for it is exciting because it means you’re going to spend your cash on new and enriching experiences. Going through this savings exercise is actually a great way to prepare for your trip because you’ll be doing a mental run through of every major event that will take place. You’ll realize the little things you should expect and prepare for (visa, departure tax, etc) and you’ll have less unpleasant surprises later.
- Transportation: flight and visa, rental car, gas, taxi, trains, buses, etc.
- Lodging: hotels, guesthouses, hostels, camping, etc.
- Food + Drink: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, treats, coconuts, etc.
- Activities: zip lining, SCUBA certification, massages, etc.
- Shopping: treasures, gifts, gear, etc.
- Extras: fees, tips, surprises, etc.
Once you’ve broken down your trip into categories you can start estimating how much to save for each category. This is where a bit of research comes into play. There are a few websites I use constantly for travel information, but really dive into your google searches and you’ll find plenty of sources for each destination. You can compare sources and prices and get a feel for how much you’ll need to save. I always use Lonely Planet, Numbeo, and Rough Guides; sometimes I stumble upon blogs that have a lot of great information too.
I’m actually going to use this How To: Save for Travel blog post as an opportunity to estimate how much money I’ll need to save for my upcoming trip to Nepal. That way we can all look at the numbers together and you can see exactly how I go about estimating for an entire trip. It’s good to actually write this down or start a spreadsheet so you can revisit it later and see if your estimates are on track. Maybe you’ll add a big excursion to your trip, if you have a spreadsheet you can easily factor in the long private taxi ride, the activity cost and the extra expenses associated with the activity. By the way, all the photos that I appear in were taken by Saleem. He’s a pretty big deal. Check out his photo blog here.
I will have to fly into Kathmandu, Nepal and present my passport and visa. Then I’ll board another flight that will take me to Pokhara, Nepal. I could take an overnight bus, but I know that the roads aren’t the best and it will take much longer. I evaluated the cost, time, safety, and comfort associated with taking a bus vs. a flight and chose the best option for me.
Transportation Total: $1,580
- Flight: USA -> NEPAL about $1,300
- Flight: Kathmandu, Nepal -> Pokhara, Nepal about $120
- Taxi: short rides about ($3) x (4 rides a week) x (5 weeks) = $60
- Ninety day Nepali visa: $100
While I’m enrolled in the yoga teacher training, my lodging and meals are included in the program fee. As of today, I know I’ll stay in Nepal at least another week (hopefully another month if I complete this savings goal early) so that’s what I’ll budget for. If I use a spreadsheet, I can easily go in and add thirty nights of lodging if I decide I want to stay in Nepal for another month. When it comes to lodging, be realistic about what you want and expect for a hotel or guesthouse. There are always going to be AMAZING and expensive places to stay, but that’s typically not how I travel. I like to stay in homey little guesthouses and every once in awhile I’ll treat myself to a somewhat fancy hotel.
Lodging Total: $120
- Typical guesthouse: ($10) x (six nights) = $60
- Fancy hotel: ($30) x (two nights) = $60
Food is sometimes a little bit harder to estimate, but that’s why this is all a big guestimate game anyway. It’s better to try and guess what and how much you’ll be eating and drinking than to just get there and blow your budget on fresh coconuts and curry. If I’m hungry, I’m not happy. Feel me? So think about how much you normally consume and if you’ll be eating street food (much cheaper), sticking to restaurants (a little more expensive) or eating only western food (the most expensive option). I’m a big fan of street food, and every once in awhile I like to sit down and have a leisurely meal. I also loveeee smoothies, chai tea, fresh coconut water, any type of fresh juice, really any delicious drink therefore half my food budget goes to beverages. I find I drink alcohol much less while traveling so I don’t really budget for beers, but if you’re a partier definitely take that into consideration. Again, all my meals are included in the yoga program costs, but I’ll account for the week or so before/after.
Food and Drink Total: $96
- Cheap daily eats: about ($7 per day) x (eight days) = $56
- A few expensive eating days: ($16 per day) x (two days) = $32
- Water: ($0.20 per bottle) x (5 per day) x (eight days) = $8
Activities are usually a big chunk of my traveling budget. I would rather hike up an old volcano or go on a private eight-mile trek through the jungle than lounge by a nice hotel pool. Safety is key when embarking on overseas adventures and most times you need to hire a guide, which is where the costs come in. Searching Trip Advisor is a good way to prepare for excursions and estimate their price tags. That being said, I don’t like to hire guides and pay for my adventures before I touch down on the ground. I recommend getting to your destination and talking to several adventure guides before making a decision. You don’t really know what you’re paying for until you’re standing in their office looking at maps, trying on gear and talking to the guides. This trip to Nepal is a little different from past trips because I am paying for the activity (yoga teacher training) ahead of time. In this case it is mandatory and I did enough research to feel confident I was making a good decision. If your activity budget is tight you could always spend your time riding bikes, taking naps, and playing with kittens, which is amazing in its own right.
Activities Total: $2,000
- Yoga Teacher Training Program fee: $1,850
- Other fun excursions: $150
After you guestimate your travel, lodging, food and activities, all else is really extra fluff and stuff. Do you love shopping? I can’t stand shopping in the U.S. but give me some cash abroad and I will blow it in a day. I love getting lost in crowded markets, haggling with old ladies and shoving my pack to the maximum with treasures and gifts. Any excess money in my budget goes to random presents. I get a littttttle out of control, but shopping at markets is what I truly enjoy doing while traveling. You meet so many merchants, you practice speaking the language and you inevitably find some amazing treasure that you’ll cherish forever. If you’re the same way, stack some cash into your spreadsheet for shopping! Another thing to remember is the gear you’ll need while traveling. If you’ve been at it awhile there probably isn’t much you’ll have to buy, but if this is your first overseas trip you may want to think about getting a good bag, pair of shoes and some comfy, but durable travel clothes. I like to budget a little bit for gear each time I go somewhere so that I’m constantly adding a few well-made essentials to my pack.
Accounting for ‘extras’ is basically like having an incidentals savings account. It’s great to have to fall back on, but if you stick to your budget you probably don’t need a ton of money in the extras column. This trip will be relatively tame since I’ll be in one town for a month. When I traveled throughout Asia I went to eight countries in two months. That meant a lot of flights, visas, airport departure fees (the worst.), and all that jazz. I stashed about $500 for extras and I ended up using almost all of it. It really depends on the type of trip and your personal preference when it comes to extra cash. I should mention that I didn’t have a credit card when I was traveling in the past so what I had in my pocket or in my bank account was all I had access too. I survived and so can you!
Extras + Shopping Total: $650
- Nepalese gifts and treasures: $300
- Travel gear: $150
- Extras: $200
Guestimate total for five weeks in Nepal + YTT: $4,446
Phew. I realize step one seemed like a really long and daunting homework assignment, but I promise you going through these motions will get you super psyched for your trip! That took me about an hour and a half to write and research, not too shabby! Step two is where you may start to hate me a little bit.
Step Two: Figure Out Your Current Budget
I’m not sure about you, but it took me until two months ago to sit down and create a budget. I had never done this before and now that I have, I don’t know how the hell I lived without it. Creating a budget is actually a freeing experience! Once you’re finished you can clearly see how much money you make, how much you spend, what you spend it on and how much you save (or should be saving) each month. Open a spreadsheet and just start listing all the things you spend money on every week and month. I actually created my budget over the course of a week or two and I’m currently revisiting it every week so I can see if it is accurate. Don’t worry, the photo above isn’t my entire budget, but I did try to take everything into consideration. See how there’s even a space for packages? Yep, I spend at least $100 on shipping for random care packages each year. This experience was especially helpful for me because I’m my own boss, which means I choose my workload and if you know how much I love napping, you know that it’s amazing I have any money at all. I’m so on board the budget train that I started writing down EVERYTHING I spend over the course of the month. This helps me to evaluate my spending habits and tweak my budget if need be. For instance, initially I thought that I would only spend $800 in gas over the course of the year, but after seeing that I spent $185 in gas in January alone, I upped my overall gas budget estimate. So create a budget! Do it. Open a spreadsheet and write it all down. Revisit it. Revise it. Revaluate your spending. Be hard on yourself. Be easy on yourself. You are growing and you are being mature and organized with your money. I absolutely despise money so that pep talk was really for me, not you.
Step Three: Create a Savings Timeline + Account
Now that you know how much you make and spend each month, you inevitably know how much is left over. That number may be depressing or it may be eyeopening. Who knows, maybe you’ve been blowing all your monthly savings on little extras and now you’re ready to say bye-bye extras, helllllo travel savings. Remember, you’re being real with you right now. That’s important and it’s a valuable experience. No more shoving receipts in your wallet and shying away from checking your bank account, you have something to save for, something to work towards!
I created a savings timeline by simply dividing my total trip estimate by the number of months until the trip. I have to save $4,246 (I already paid a $200 deposit) in 7 months so I need to save about $607 a month. Maybe you like to break it down? You can easily figure out how much to save each week or day. I should be saving roughly $152 a week or $22 a day for this trip. If your number seems overwhelming to you, google image search your destination and count to ten. You can do this. You can do even better than this because every extra cent you save will go towards another cup of hot chai or a nice massage or a night at a ballin’ hotel.
Now you have a goal, but do you have a safe place to keep the cash? I am seriously incapable of keeping extra money in my checking account. See what I said? Extra. For some reason if there is any more money than I need for the month I am so tempted to spend it or to sit on my a$$ for a couple weeks because I know I have enough. If you’re really trying to save money than you never have enough unless you’ve hit your goal for the entire trip. To combat my laziness I keep my money in a couple places. I stash cash in a jar somewhere random in my house (if you’re nervous keep it in a home safe) and I have a savings account specifically for travel. Simply keeping my travel money separate does wonders for my savings progress. I like having multiple stashes so that I can keep adding to each whenever possible. It’s really satisfying to shove a lot of money into a jar without counting it right away. Instant progress people!
Step Four: Find and Create Extra Cash Flow
You can literally walk around and find money on the ground, but that wouldn’t be the easiest way to accomplish step four. First, take a look at your budget and try to make some swaps. What’s a swap? I like to think of little things I spend my money on here in the states and swap them for something I’ll spend my money on in my destination, in this case, Nepal. Because we already determined our trip budget and our current budget, creating swaps is super easy!
In my current budget I estimated that I spend $160 on groceries each month. I buy a lot of groceries because I cook a lot, but I still end up wasting food. I could challenge myself to put back at least one $5 item at the grocery store every time I go. Maybe that means I don’t drink as many craft beers or eat as much Ben + Jerry’s ice cream,but so be it. That $5 is an entire day of delicious Nepalese eats. The key to swaps is to immediately transfer that money into your travel savings account, don’t wait until the end of the month. That way you are actually creating more savings than you previously thought was available, ya dig? It helps to makes these little swaps because you start realizing swaps are everywhere. If you’re shopping for clothes, put one item that you wanted to buy back on the rack and throw that cash into your savings envelope when you get home. I’m certain you won’t miss that random sweater and you’ll be able to look forward to staying in a nice hotel one night instead. Just make sure you actually transfer the cash to the savings account or physically put it in the jar or else you may find at the end of the month you managed to spend it on something random. Another great swap is a drink at the bar. I drink socially so really a beer is an excuse to have a conversation with friends. Swap every other beer for water and you’ll do just as much chatting without spending as much.
Ok, you’ve exhausted the swaps, well done! Now it’s time to look for extra cash flow. I’ve always been a bit of a hustler when it comes to finding jobs. I like to have more than one part-time gig and usually three or four if I can handle it. These could be part-part-part time jobs. Really, any excuse to make a couple extra bucks even if it’s only one day a month. The best part about picking up a tiny gig is that you aren’t depending on that money for anything, it’s basically extra income all of which you can throw in your travel fund. Part time jobs are everywhere. If you’re busy already, be up front with yourself about what you can handle. Right now I walk a few dogs on weekday mornings, I teach older peeps how to use their cameras and every once in awhile I serve beer at festivals. In most cases these gigs pay less than what I normally make per hour shooting photography, but because they’re stress-free and low commitment I value these jobs. I would have to walk my dog every weekday morning every day anyway so why not walk two more at the same time? Swapping one Saturday a month to pour beer instead of buy beer? Yes, please. Even if you find a job that you think is silly and inconsequential just try it. You’ll realize the time you’re spending chopping wood, plowing driveways or detailing cars will be worth the amazing adventure you’re working towards. I find tons of jobs on craigslist, sitter city and by simply talking to people.
If you don’t want to work any more than you already do, you could always sell some of your stuff. You, like myself, probably have a ton of stuff and I’m sure you could sell something. I have an awesome old camera collection, which I’m never selling, but if it’s something that doesn’t serve you anymore get rid of it. Sell the expensive purses your ex bought you. I did. Last year I sold feather headpieces on Etsy and I made over $130 in one day. It was awesome, but it never would have happened if I didn’t try, so post your handmade goods on Etsy and your belongings on Craigslist and see what happens. Maybe you are learning calligraphy? Offer to write out wedding invitations for a couple that is planning a low-budget wedding. Create your own money-making opportunities, you get the picture 😉
Step Five: Stay Motivated With Mini Savings Goals
It is SO important to stay motivated throughout your savings quest. I have seven freaking months left, but I’m already starting to feel the cash crunch. Every single day matters. What are you doing TODAY to alleviate your travel debt? Set mini goals for yourself so that every couple weeks or so you know you’re on track. Feel good about hitting these marks! Bake yourself cupcakes or have a glass of wine. Soon you’ll find you are celebrating these mini milestones in the most frugal ways and you’ll be so proud of your super-saving self.
Tell your friends and family that you’re on a money-saving mission. This will remind them to be mindful and supportive of your goals. They might stop asking you to come to music festivals, but heyyyy, they’re being great friends. You should download that sh!t on iTunes and think of the live music you’ll hear at all hours while abroad. Chances are, one or two of your friends will totally want in on your savings scheme. Talk to each other about your progress and pitfalls and drink tea together on Fridays when everyone else is out spending their paychecks. It is so worth it.
It is worth it. It is so worth it. Create a mantra. Google image search your destination ad nauseum. Think of the cozy elephant pants you’ll wear abroad. Think about all the delicious food you’ll eat. Think of all the people you’ll meet. Think of all the photos you’ll take. Think of the fresh air and the salt water. Think about every single aspect of your trip because it will make saving and skimping so worth it. Read travel novels. Research your destination. Learn the conversion rate and what the currency looks like. Learn some of the language.
Traveling is priceless. I cannot stress this enough. When people say they don’t have the money to travel it breaks my heart. None of us have the money to travel, but we make it work. We sacrifice the dumb stuff we buy today to make us feel better about our daily grind because we know a week, two weeks, a month, a year abroad will make everything better. It will make every day of our normal lives richer and more meaningful. It will heal us and we will be better people for it. So think of this savings exercise like training for a big race. The more you work today, the easier tomorrow will be and the more fun you’ll have, and the more mountains you can afford to climb and the more ice cream sundaes you can shove into your face at the end of the day. Namaste.