Earlier this summer, my husband and I moved in to a house with 4 roommates and the two of us shared a single car. We gave up restaurant meals, TV, and even made do with holes in our sneakers that had literally been worn for hundreds (thousands?) of miles.
Then we realized we were crazy.
(On the bright side, we did go to Europe.)
Let’s face it: travel is a very expensive hobby but it’s not one I plan on giving up. Over the past few years, I’ve lived a modest lifestyle in order to save up for a few weeks of travel. My peers paid for Starbucks, manicures, and retail therapy instead. Now I’ve traded in my corporate cubicle for self-employment and I have to think even harder about how to afford travel.
Luckily, there are definitely still ways to save money so you can travel without implementing drastic measures. After trying the extreme, we’ve transitioned back to a reasonable, moderate lifestyle. We build savings for the next trip, still pay our bills and save for retirement and other life goals, and keep a little extra to enjoy “life at home” by going out on dates or with friends every once in awhile.
Making Travel a Priority
Travel is a trade-off, just like everything else in life. If you want it, you’ll have to make conscious decisions to sacrifice purchases like new outfits, season tickets to your favorite sports team, or unnecessary home improvement projects. However, with the right mindset, these changes can be applied to every single person. Stop telling yourself you can’t afford to travel and start thinking that it’s possible if you try.
How to Afford More Frequent Travel
1. Cut Your Habits In Half
Quitting something cold turkey is difficult and frustrating, making it easy to slip back into your old habits. On the other hand, cutting back gradually can lead to long-lasting changes while still letting you indulge a little.
Head to happy hour twice a month instead of every week, order a small latte instead of a large, or consider carpooling once a week. Cutting your habits in half is enough to lead to significant savings without feeling deprived in real life all the time.
Once you’re comfortable with the normal, consider whether or not it’s worth cutting things in half again — in my case, there were a few things I was willing to cut back on even more (and a few where I was happy with the balance of modest savings without further cutbacks).
2. Chase the Deal, Not the Destination
The best advice I ever received on saving money on airfare is to “chase the fare, not the destination” (thanks Seth!). Don’t plan a dream vacation to a particular destination; instead, get inspired on where to go by waiting until there’s an amazing sale. I went to China because I found airfare for $450 and I’m one of few people who have ventured to Phoenix in summer because the resorts were dirt cheap. These are ways to save BIG money instead of looking for $40-50 savings when you have set destinations and dates.
If you who can’t wait around for great sales and unknown destinations, focus on a vacation spot that’s cheap all the time. My 9-day trip to Nicaragua cost me $564 and I managed to find $2 hotels in Nepal. No, that’s not a typo!
3. Do It Yourself
Anytime you do something yourself instead of paying a service provider, you’re saving money on labor.
Start small: make your own lunch instead of ordering take-out or be like me and trade shoulder rubs with your spouse instead of paying for a massage. Paint your own walls instead of hiring someone in and learn how to change out your car’s lightbulbs. I promise, it’s all easy.
Clearly I won’t do everything myself, but think about when it’s absolutely necessary to hire professional help versus doing it yourself. Hint: YouTube is the world’s greatest instruction manual.
4. Ask for Discounts
It’s always worth checking for savings and hopefully you are already in the habit of googling coupon codes for online shopping or looking for hotel discounts. However, many discounts aren’t publicly advertised.
Call in and ask your cell phone provider if you qualify for a discount because you’re with a preferred employer, re-negotiate your internet bill, and see if you can get annual fees waived on a credit card. You’d be amazed at how much you can save simply by asking. No, it doesn’t always work, but it only takes a few minutes to ask.
5. Try Free Alternatives
Sometimes you get what you pay for, but a lot of time free options are more than adequate. I stream Pandora instead of paying for iTunes downloads, borrow audiobooks from the library, and decorate my home with hand-me-downs from friends and family.
Some free alternatives haven’t worked out for me (I need a gym membership for motivation instead of running outside), but unless you try it, you’ll never know. Chances are, you’ll find a few alternatives. Hint: there are free alternatives while traveling as well.
6. Take Advantage of Loyalty Perks
My first free travel was a hotel room in Philadelphia, courtesy of IHG Rewards. I was hooked, and then moved onto free train rides, domestic airfare, and eventually business class flights to Europe.
Being able to use rewards points for free travel can take a lot of time to master but it is incredibly lucrative. If you’re short on time to learn the ropes, even minor discounts like free lounge access at airports or free breakfast at hotels can stretch your travel dollar.
For me, travel is still a priority and one trip a year probably isn’t going to cut it, so I’ll be looking for money-saving tips and discounts right with you.
* * *
How do you afford to travel? Please share your secrets in the comments!