Vacations are never cheap, unless you are driving and staying with relatives, though what the cost is on your sanity has not been scientifically proven. Not every destination is easily accessible and flying becomes a must if you want to go travel the world, or even the other side of the country. So, if you want to go on a real vacation, it's going to cost you. You can make it cheaper by using tips I give here on the blog (and in my books), but it won't be free, which means you're going to have to come up with a plan to save the money for the things you want to do. I have never had the money to just book and go. I have always had to scrimp and save to go to the places I wanted to and still look for rockin' deals on all parts of that trip. This is why I consider myself a budget travel expert and why I write this blog. Here are some tips to help you make up that travel budget.
Have a change jar
Over the course of the week, you may have bought a few things and end up with a pocket full of change. Don't spend those nickels and dimes. Instead, start a change jar at home. At the end of each day, empty your change in there and then leave it alone until you're almost ready to go on your trip. You'll be surprised how much those coins add up. I keep a side "jar" in my car, for when I go to the drive-thru or use cash at the grocery store. Usually, I get some change, and I add it to that collection of coins and eventually it gets added to the jar at home.
Drink coffee at home/work
If you're like most Americans, you like hitting up the local coffee shop. Starbucks coffee is delicous, but do you really need that soy venti non-fat mocha or pumpkin latte? Once in a while is fine - we all need a little treat now and then - but getting one most days in a week can really add up. Even a tall size can cost almost $4. Instead of getting that coffee you want, make use of the coffee machine at home or at work and put the dollars you would have spent into your vacation savings account.
Make a shopping list and meal plan
I love food. If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that. I also love to make healthy meals, but that can also end up being pretty costly. Yes, fast and processed food can end up being pretty affordable, but I don't want to eat that. I make trips to the farmers market and I hate spending a lot of time at the grocery store. That can be a bad combination. This is why I plan my meals out in advance. I find dishes that use similar ingredients, so I don't have to buy a huge list of items. I buy enough to make at least a double-batch of everything and then freeze them and rotate with things I've made earlier, so all my meals don't feel similar. Not only does this keep my costs down, but it saves me time and aggravation by not having to rush home and put something together. Tip: Always make a list, so you don't wander aimlessly and buy a bunch of things you don't need, even when you shop hungry. Tip 2: Coupons can save you even more at the store. Start clipping!
Shop the sales
Just because I'm saving for a trip, doesn't mean I'm not going to buy things. I love clothes and shoes. My rule is that I never pay retail for anything if I can help it. Piperlime is my favorite online shop for clothes. Their designer prices can be a little high, but I subscribe to their email list and they always have sales. Once items are on sale or marked down and I have a coupon code to use on top, then I buy. I keep up my wish list, so I always know when the price is good enough for me to pull the trigger. Tip: Use Ebates to save even more (see below.)
You don't want to be sad and never go anywhere or do anything because you're saving for vacation. Not all fun costs that much and you can save at least half off things by using Groupon. We are movie junkies and often grab Groupon certificates for a local movie theater here that has living room theaters and what they call the movie parlour which only holds around two dozen people. Regular price is ridiculous for these seats and you know how much concessions cost. For the less than the cost of one evening ticket we get two to any movie in any of their theaters and a credit for a drink.
Not only do we use Groupon for date night, but also for eating out, going on day trips (like we did last weekend at the corn maze) and all types of other things. I also use Groupon to save on my trip. I have purchased many for London and a few for Paris, making my trip total a little smaller.
Set aside a reasonable amount of each paycheck
Any amount of money - however small or large - is a happy addition to your vacation fund. We have a savings account specifically for travel, and having a set amount automatically transfer to your savings fund each paycheck can help you get used to not having that money and you can't easily spend it. If I have more money I can contribute some weeks, I up my deposit and then drop it back down for the next transfers. If you can only do $20, it's still better than nothing. That adds up to $480 over the course of the year. Obviously, if you can do more, you can save more.
Do some odd jobs
Maybe this won't pertain to you, but maybe it will. I run a blog do social media management for my hairstylist's salon in exchange for free salon visits. I can take the money I would spend there ever six weeks and put it directly towards my vacation. I do quite a bit of freelance writing and my earnings go towards
Have a yard sale
You probably have all kinds of stuff around the house you don't want or need, so why not sell it to people who do want it, make some cash and get more organized at home. It won't be easy, but it's worth spending a couple of your free days to make some (or a LOT of) bucks. For some tips on throwing a successful sale, check out Real Simple.
Get cash back
I don’t buy/book/reserve anything without checking the merchant lists on Ebates. Yes, I know that my favorites are there, like Piperlime, Sephora and Groupon, but there are tons more, including a bunch of travel sites you can use to book your vacations, too. Seriously guys, if you aren’t using Ebates, you are throwing money out the window. It's free to join and easy to use. Ebates tracks your purchases by your clicks through their site. Make sure you use the same email address with the merchant that you used to sign up with Ebates. You keep shopping, your account grows and every 3 months you get a Big Fat Payment. This can be by check or, if you’re fancy, instantly through PayPal. Now, you can use this free money to buy more stuff, or you can use it to pay for vacation things like I do. Heck, use it to triple your savings by buying Groupons or other daily deal certificates for your destination.
Want to earn points you can trade in for gift cards you can use to buy travel items or use on vacation? It’s free and easy and you can earn points by just doing an internet search each day from their site. I earn enough for a gift card each month and hardly do anything. Who can’t use a $5 credit for Amazon? You can also turn in your points for Paypal cash, prizes and restaurant gift cards. Get extra Swagbucks points for finding secret codes, too!
Remember, your dollars will stretch even further if you don’t travel in the summer. You’ll be able to do more in fewer days if you go any other time of the year. Winter break is a good time to travel, since most people are visiting relatives or staying home, you’ll have more room to roam the cities. You may just have to bring a good jacket and boots. (Hint: Look for packable versions of each and lightweight sweaters that can be layered with tees and tanks, so you can still pack light.)
Tip for making a travel budget seem less daunting: Think of your trip plans like a puzzle. You need all the pieces to fit together, but you need some pieces to be there to build on. Don’t wait until your trip is almost upon you to fill in all the middle pieces. Instead, put those pieces together over time. Long story short, pay for what you can while planning and then it won’t seem like you’re paying a whole heap of money at once and it helps whittle your total down a little bit each time you pay for something, leaving you less stressed out as your vacation gets closer.
I hope these tips help you to make real vacations to places you've always dreamed about easier to achieve. Interested in what others do? Click here to see what others sacrifice for travel. How do you save money for your vacations?