As much as I want to pretend that travel is cheap, travel costs money. As someone who lived close to the poverty line for a couple years, I know how hard it is to save money for travel.
I’ve focused these tips on how to save money for travel for any salary rather than focusing on money saving tips for those who earn enough that a latte each day is something that you can cut out of your budget. Keep reading for my very real and battle-tested tips on how to save for travel… I’ve had a lot of questions on how I save for travel as I’m quite frugal and I hope this answers some of the questions.
Know your expenses and figure out where to cut back
This is so simple, but anyone who has bad spending habits knows the sinking feeling when you look at your bank account and you’re unsure how you spent all your money. Know your expenses and see where you’re splurging. Keep track of your spending and categorize it.
How much did you spend on clothes shopping? Eating out? Drinks? Buying stuff at the drugstore?
See if you can cut down one of the categories in half—or entirely out for the rest of the month. If it’s an essential category (like eating), separate it into groceries, snacks, and eating out. When I looked at my own spending, my issue was eating out and going to the drugstore (for snacks). I challenged myself to cook at home five days a week, which has been very good for my budget.
Look at your monthly expenses, e.g. utilities, recurring monthly payments, Netflix, and cell phone service. Can you reduce your bills? By simply unplugging your laptop, you can save quite a lot of money on your utility bills. Do you need to spend X amount per month on Y service?
You might find a surprising one, like a monthly service that you barely use that you really don’t need that you started as a trial. I used to have spotify, however I cut my subscription. It means that I still get to listen, but there’s ads. I found limiting my shopping trips to once a month made a big difference.
I don’t actually have a landline OR cable television. Instead of having a landline, I pay for a mobile phone subscription. Similarly, instead of cable, I have Netflix, Youtube, and the rest of the internet. I simply plug my HDMI cable into my television (bought secondhand) to connect my laptop to the TV. In the past, I had the Amazon firestick, which is also very easy to set up and enables you to watch Amazon Prime television shows on your television. I haven’t had cable for 5+ years and I have no regrets about it.
Cook at home most of the week and try to cook vegetarian.
This is so simple, but my biggest barrier to saving money for travel was not cooking at home enough. The reason? I don’t enjoy cooking and I’ll be honest that I’m not the best cook. I found that reading cookbooks from the library as well as Amazon Kindle Unlimited (I did the trial and cancelled it) inspired me to do better.
For most of my life, I’ve been a meat eater who would eat meat for at least 60-70% of my meals. Don’t worry: I’m not going to lecture you about veganism, but it’s just cheaper to eat vegetarian.
After reading Thug Kitchen (a funny vegan cookbook that I read on loan), I got inspired to eat vegan more often as they showed me it wasn’t as hard (or expensive) as I thought to cook vegan. It also gave me some ideas for cheap vegan dishes that actually taste decent. At this point, I’m eat vegan for 80% of my meals and I eat 90% of my meals at home.
Admittedly, I’ll eat non-vegan when I go out, but I see the impact in my budget. Recently, my husband and I did our cheapest (and healthiest) meal yet: vegan pumpkin soup with bread for a whopping three euros total.
Bring your own lunch to work
Your lunch doesn’t need to be boring, but instead of spending money at work, save that money for a holiday. A former colleague of mine used cutting out buying lunch at work as a key way to save money for travel, which helped her fund a trip to South America. I’m often guilty of forgetting to do this, but it’s best to vary up your lunch, so you don’t get “bored” of your typical lunch.
Alcohol and going out? … It’s fun, but expensive.
Who doesn’t love going out with friends? I love meeting up with friends for drinks or dinner, but it’s an expensive habit. I find that inviting people over to your house for dinner or drinks is a far cheaper way to entertain your friends on a budget, especially if you have some good board games.
My favorite thing has been potluck style dinners rotating among a few friends. We take turns hosting and it’s a great way for us to all spend time together without spending much money.
I’ve cut back on alcohol so much that I only drink it one night per week on the weekend, if I’m even having it that week. Even when I have a glass of wine, I buy a bottle at the supermarket where it’s more affordable, have a glass at home, and and seal it to save it for another day.
If you’re a beer drinker, be sure to stock up at the supermarket or liquor store. (If you’re in an expensive place like Singapore, take advantage of duty-free to buy your alcohol at a discount.)
Put yourself on a daily budget
One of the best things that you can do to save money for travel, especially if you’re used to buying things with a card, is to take out cash to put yourself on a daily budget.
Instead of using your card, you’ll be far more aware that you only have five dollars (or euros) to get yourself through the rest of the day. In graduate school, I lived off a budget of ten dollars per day for food, drinks, and other random things.
Adapt your budget for your needs, but it’s a good challenge to see how little you can spend in an average day. I treat it as a challenge where I reward myself with a cookie (or ice cream) if I can get through 3-5 days with a budget under five euros per day.
Change your lifestyle: Do you need a car?
I’m really writing this for my American readers, but a car is not a necessity. As someone who has never had a driver’s license, I promise that it’s possible to be car-free in America if you’re smart about your location. I can’t promise that it’s easy, but you’ll save a lot of money between the repairs, gas, insurance, and parking. I have post about traveling around the US by bus that might inspire you to see how you can travel car-free in America.
Public transportation is there for a reason and I wish that it was cooler to take it. A monthly bus pass may work out cheaper than individual fares, so figure out how much you’ll be taking public transportation prior to buying a pass. I recommend trying out public transit for a week to see if you think you can get rid of your car.
Since I’ve moved to the Netherlands, biking rain or shine has been the biggest money-saving tip for travel as a bike on average costs one hundred euros. You don’t need anything horribly fancy (you might need something a bit nicer if you’re in a hilly area), however biking to work can save you hundreds of dollars per month.
My husband used to have a used car in the United States and he’s been shocked at the difference in repair costs. Occasionally, he had to shell out $1,500 to fix his car, however when his bike broke, he was able to fix a significant issue for 70 euros ($85).
That was months ago and besides a flat tire ($20), I find that biking is really a fantastic way to get around on a budget. I feel healthier and happier when I’m outside.
Make your own coffee at home and become a better barista
I don’t like black coffee, but you don’t need to have a fancy coffee machine to make better (and cheaper coffee) at home. I spent a while trying to figure out how I could STOP buying coffee out. I recently invested in a cheap milk foamer that has made a huge difference in the coffee that I make at home.
I make my coffee in a French press as it’s easy, cheap to clean, and doesn’t require filters (an expense). I recommend avoiding the pods if possible as the Nespresso machines are expensive to purchase and the pods aren’t as cheap as you’d expect.
As I write this, I’m sipping on a homemade soy milk latte, which costs about 40 cents per large cup taking into account the cost of soy milk and coffee.
Cutting back on clothes, shoes, beauty..etc.
Challenge yourself to a no-shopping month. I used to be a shopping lover/addict and trust me, I love it. But, give yourself a month where you cannot buy anything.
At the end of the month, replace what you need to for work/daily use, but see if you can make your no-shopping month go on 3 months. I usually do 3 months and I’ve been amazed how much money I’ve saved for travel!
Fix your clothes. This is so simple, but fixing your own clothes when they get holes and/or adjusting the fit when they’re not fitting is one of the best things to do for saving money. My husband lost some weight and most of his shirts ceased to fit anymore.
My grandmother taught me to sew, so instead of bringing his baggy t-shirts to a tailor to fix, I adjusted them myself. Now, he wears clothes that fit well for a fraction of the cost of new clothes.
Do you need to have clothes that require ironing? I am always shocked how much dry cleaning bills add up to be, so consider buying your own clothing steamer or ironing board to do it yourself if you’re required to have a clean-pressed shirt at work. I generally find that buying clothes that are less fussy are a good step to reducing clothing care costs as I prefer to put my clothes in the wash.
Have your own washing machine and air-dry your clothes. For several months last year, I didn’t have a washing machine. This meant that we had to pay for our laundry at the local laundromat. $20 every two weeks made us wish that we had our own washing machine.
Once we moved into a new apartment, we bought our own washing machine and we made our money back within 2.5 months. I hang my clothes to dry, so I don’t have a dryer. This saves on electricity.
Mend your shoes. I haven’t bought new shoes in a long time. It’s because I always bring my shoes to a shoemaker to be mended whenever the soles wear out—or anything else happens. It’s usually $5-$15 to get it mended and it’s like you have a new pair of shoes!
Shop your closet! When I stopped purchasing new clothes, I challenged myself to wear different clothes that I had not worn in at least a month. I’ve been a bit surprised by how well many of them fit and work into my repertoire of clothing.
I find that rotating my clothes with old clothes means that I always feel like I have something new to wear, even if it’s just from a few years ago.
Stop buying name-brands. Refining your personal style doesn’t mean wearing name-brands all the time. Often, it’s so much cooler to tell people that you found an item at the thrift store or it’s vintage.
Since I’ve been living in Europe, I’ve stopped buying name-brand stuff and often, people tell me that I’ve been dressing better than ever. Honestly, few people care if your bag is designer. Just make sure it’s high quality.
I’m really not one for spending much on beauty products, but they can really add up. I recommend seeing what you have and seeing if you’re comfortable cutting back on your routine.
Do you need to buy Sephora brand products or can you find a drugstore-brand substitute? On a related note, I always do my nails myself (if I do them). Similarly, I cut my hair myself. You can find lots of great youtube tutorials on how to cut your own hair and people are always shocked when I tell them that I did it myself. 😉
Desperately need new clothes? Tips for saving money on new clothes, backpacks, and other items that you need to buy (occasionally)…
Buy used. This was also difficult for me since I used to think that things that weren’t ~new weren’t good. However, when I was a graduate student, I realized I had to get over my phobia of used things. I used to associate used clothing with bed bugs. I know, horrible. Then, I read about how to kill bed bugs at any stage.
Since I’ve started buying used from flea markets, it’s been amazed by the quality of the clothes that people don’t want. I’m right now wearing a shirt from Zara that I saw in stores—and I bought it for 1 euro plus the one euro I spent to clean it at the laundromat.
Before you buy a new item of clothing, think carefully about its use. Are you buying it for a one-time occasion? Will you wear it monthly? How many days a week can you wear this item of clothing?
If the answer is not once a week, you know the answer: Don’t buy it. I find questioning my almost purchases a key step in preventing
Avoid going to stores and plan your purchases ahead. This is so basic, but I find that if I go into many stores, I WILL buy something. As a rule, I don’t allow myself to set foot in a store unless I have a specific item that I need to replace (as it’s broken) or purchase as I require it for work. I find that having a list of what you’re going to buy makes a big difference in terms of self-control. Just don’t linger in the store.
Always check for a discount code. This is so basic, however sometimes you need to purchase things. BEFORE you buy something, see if you can get it cheaper somewhere else and check online for discount codes.
Recently, my husband and I had to book a car to visit family. I looked up ____ discount code and I found a code that gave me 25% off my order. It took just one minute to copy/paste the code and it made a difference of over $150 USD.
See if you can find the SAME item used online. While looking for a larger 50L bag for my Borneo trip, I ended up searching on my local classified website to see if I could save money on my pricey backpack from Quechua.
Amazingly, I found a girl selling the SAME bag completely new with tags online for 70% off. She bought it and didn’t use it. Her loss, my gain!
Love reading? Buy your used books online and browse your local used bookstores. Just because a book was read once (or 100 times) doesn’t mean it’s not high quality. Even less expensive, get a library card for your local library.
Think about your hobbies? Are they expensive?
What do you enjoy doing? Admittedly, some hobbies are expensive. I’m not saying to cut back, but it’s good to consider how often you do something—and how much joy you get from it. I find that cutting out monthly courses can be a huge saver and as much as I enjoy rock climbing, it’s an expensive hobby to have.
I’ve found that as I’ve tried to save better for travel, I’ve tried to find new hobbies that were cheaper. I always loved writing, however I also enjoy sewing, crossword puzzles, volunteering at my local pet shelter, and taking photos around my city. All of these habits are low-budget and fun. Friends also love knitting, learning languages, and well as attending book club meetings for low-budget ways to relax.
Tips for saving money at your apartment
Share your apartment. When I was in graduate school, I had my own studio. As much as it was nice to have my own private space, I paid for it (nearly 50% of my salary). After I moved into a shared house with a roommate, I was shocked how much more disposable income I had.
As nice as it is to have a centrally located apartment, you’ll save money if you’re in a residential area with access to more affordable supermarkets and lower rent.
Live at home. I saved over $8,000 while living at home. Living with your family is not glamorous, but it’s a great way to save money in the short-term. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for substantial ways to cut back on your living expenses to travel more
Keep the heat low and unplug your appliances while you’re not home. Why keep the heat on while you’re not home? You’ll be shocked how much money you’ll save if you have the heat off while you’re out of the house. Similarly, unplug your electronics while you’re not home as they still use up energy even if you’re not actively using them.
Moving and looking for new furniture? Look for others moving and see if you can get what you need. I recently got an IKEA storage unit valued at 120 euros for 30 euros in perfect condition after looking in a local facebook group! I also got a beautiful vintage set of chairs together with a dining table for 50 euros. At a furniture store, this would be easily worth more than 150 euros. You’d be shocked what you’ll find in your local classifieds.
Track your progress saving money for a trip
I recommend putting your “adventure fund” into a separate bank account. Add to it weekly and watch it grow. Although some people rather buy a lottery ticket, studies have shown that you’re more likely to get rich this way than the lottery. Instead of buying a lottery ticket, put the equivalent amount in your travel fund.
Bonus tip: Do not take on debt to travel and research alternatives
Although some people swear by paying down a trip gradually or using your credit card, I really encourage you NOT to go into debt to travel. Although I love traveling, I often see people recommending using your credit cards for travel.
The reality is that the interest rates on credit cards can be high and if you get behind, credit card debt is a hard one to climb out of. I occasionally use my credit card as I get cash back, but I think that saving for travel needs to be done more gradually without getting more credit cards/debt.
For many destinations, even expensive ones, there’s often a cheaper way to visit the same place. I’ve visited Japan on a budget, which was doable after finding a cheap flight to Japan. Research how people save money at that destination, so you can focus on spending money on the things that matter to you.
Traveling doesn’t mean you need to stop living your life, but it can mean making some small adjustments in the daily activities you do to be more environmentally conscious and economical. I hope that these tips on how to save money for travel help you fund the trip of your dreams.
Click for my tips on innovative ways to make money that you might not have thought of before, tips on how to travel more with a full-time job, and how to find a professional job abroad.
Have you found these tips on how to save money for travel helpful? Which destination are you saving up for?
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