Ten Tips to Save for a Dream Vacation

euros coins dollars save money

Do you love to travel? I do, and I’ve visited 107 countries so far. I started traveling in 2003, so I average about 7 or 8 countries a year. Some of those trips have been short, one week breaks (such as spring break, as I am a school librarian). Others have been on a year-long trip I took with my husband in 2014-2015, or summers where we visited a few countries over several weeks. Along the way, a lot of people have asked how we can afford to travel, or how we save up to travel. Here’s some of the ways that we get a little more money to go towards our travels:

1. Don’t buy unnecessary items

This sounds pretty basic, but it’s actually really hard. I have always wanted a Belgian waffle maker, even though I don’t even really like waffles that much (I mean they’re delicious but would I really make them that often?). But we try not to buy items that are luxuries rather than necessities. So I don’t have an ice cream maker (although I’d like to borrow my friend Amina’s) and I don’t have a food dehydrator (although I did borrow my friend Monica’s to try it out). Imagine if 8 of your closest friends each had an item they only use once a month, and you all could swap them out at will. Cash saved for everyone and hilarious recipe attempts. Bonus!

Do you really use that bread machine often?

2. Get rid of items you don’t use regularly

This one is also super hard. As we are packing up for our latest long-term travel (one year, possibly longer), we decided we don’t want to pay high storage fees for a bunch of items we barely use anyway. Thanks to my friend Amy, I started a closet on the site Poshmark, and listed a bunch of clothing items, jewelry, and some accessories that I rarely if ever wear. So far I’ve made $112 – that’s a day of vacation for us! Also, every time I see a sale ad for Old Navy I think to myself “Are you really going to wear those, or are they just going to wind up on Poshmark next month?”.  Another site that is similar is Mercari. If you have fairly new electronics you aren’t using, try listing them on Swappa.

If your closet looks like this, put 1/2 of it on sale. See what sells!

3. Forgo the “extras” like expensive coffees and drinks at a bar.

I don’t really get coffees from Starbucks, except when people give me a gift card. I recently got a Starbucks card for taking an online survey! I add those to my Starbucks app, but otherwise, I forgo fancy coffees and stick to my grocery store brand at home. I also very rarely drink out at bars. For one thing, if I have one cocktail, I want another and another and then I have to Uber home (more money). Second, they are seriously overpriced. Wouldn’t you rather have a couple of friends over and share a bottle of wine or a liquor with mixers, which is way less cash, and catch up with them in the comfort of your own home anyway? Have a slumber party for guests who need to stay the night!

My coffee press cost $9 and I’ve had it ten years

4. Have you cut the cord?

My husband and I both have phones on the same AT&T plan (which will be cancelled when we leave on our year-long trip), which totals less than $100 a month. When we travel, especially outside of the United States, we find WiFi almost every where we go (and if there’s no WiFi, we just enjoy being electronically untethered and actually speak to other human beings!). We also have not had cable TV or a house phone line for two years now, so that saved us around $100 a month for two years- that’s $2400!  You can get a simple internet line coming to the house, which costs $50-$70 a month. You can order Hulu for some months and Netflix for some months but do you really need both at the same time- and HBO and Showtime and Amazon Video?

It’s time to evaluate your electronics. Image via http://www.vpnsrus.com


5. We drive old cars

Both of our cars are ten years old but they drive just fine. In fact mine’s so old it DOESN’T EVEN HAVE BLUETOOTH. That is a serious drawback but we’ll survive for the rest of the year. We plan on selling both vehicles when we leave or working a deal with a family member who has a 16 year old about to learn how to drive. Also as far as driving, I ride-share three times a week, which helps me save on tolls I have to pay to get to work. In addition, my work offers a subsidy for ride-sharing, which I made sure to sign up for. Check with your work place benefits, or even your city transportation partners- some of them offer subsidies for first-time users of carpools or metro (last year I got a one time $60 check from Commuter Connections for starting our carpool and keeping it going six months). If camping is something you enjoy, get a big enough car that you can use it as your “hotel” on some weekends- there are plenty of websites dedicated to car-camping, boondocking, and converting minivans and station wagons into mini-campers. Then hit the open road!

Our Camry gets great gas mileage!

6. Learn to love buses

I prefer buses and trains to flights. I’m not afraid of flying, but to me the whole airport experience is very stressful, and I like to look out the window and see the scenery go by when I’m in a bus or a train. They are generally more affordable, and allow more flexibility in our plans. While I do not recommend overnight buses unless you are a good sleeper, I do love overnight trains- your transportation doubles as your hotel, you arrive refreshed and ready to sight-see, and you saved on a hotel room. Win-win-win!

exterior of thailand trains
Thai trains have great sleeping compartments!

7. Use your public library

Speaking of long bus rides, I love to listen to audiobooks as I look at the scenery. When I’m not in a moving vehicle, I read books by the dozen (I am a librarian, after all), and I flip through magazines on my ipad. We get all these for free with library cards from our public library and apps such as Hoopla and Overdrive. We even get DVDs from the library- when we recently wanted to re-watch an old season of Game of Thrones, we got it from the library and didn’t pay HBO a dime. You are already paying taxes for your public library- you might as well take advantage of them! You can even request that your nearest library order the items you have on your wish list- if a minimum threshold of people request it, they will buy it. So use that library card and check out an electronic guidebook now!

Library cards are free and they work even when you’re out of the country!

8. Ask for discounts

My husband is always embarrassed when I ask “Do you have a military discount?” at a museum or an attraction, or when I ask the waiter what the special of the day is. But our military IDs get us a lot of discounted or free entries, and it never hurts to ask! I look at it this way- if you can save $2 a day by buying the item on sale, arriving before 4 pm, or using a teacher, student, or military discount- over 365 days, that’s $700. For us, that is a week of vacation! Again, ask around at your workplace for benefits- many corporations offer discounts for employees on things like gym memberships, phone plans, dining, car rental, etc.

Look for discounts- but only on items you really need.

9. Use a credit card that earns miles or points

We only use credit cards that either offer cash-back, or earn us miles or points with airlines. Last year we signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and by putting all our purchases on it for three months, we earned their 50,000 point bonus- enough for both of us to fly to Europe and back for our summer vacation. Using that one card also helps us track our spending- everything is in one spot when we want to get nerdy and analyze. The only cash I ever use is the $20 my rideshare gives me every week (see above). Try it just for one month and then run a handy spreadsheet to take a deeper look into what you’re spending- and how you can save more.

Only use a card that gives you something back.


10. Use automatic transfers to build a vacation account

As you can probably tell, travel is important to me- but so is retirement. I have automatic transfers that move money to my retirement account and to my vacation account on the first of every month. Then I auto-pay my bills, and then I can see what is left over. I keep my vacation account balance hidden from view on my banking app, so it’s always a nice little surprise when I click on it and see how much I’ve secretly saved for our next trip! If you put in $100 from each bimonthly paycheck… at the end of one year you’d have $2400. Definitely enough to take a budget vacation!

Save a little each month and it will add up. Image courtesy of http://401kcalculator.org


Admittedly, we are budget travelers. We try to keep our expenses pretty low when we travel. Often, we find our days traveling abroad are much cheaper than our days living in the United States. But when we are at home, we try to limit our spending as much as we can, so we can get out on the road again soon.

What are some of your money saving techniques? Leave a comment below.


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