Wouldn't it be great if we all had unlimited bank funds and could just pack up and go anywhere--wherever and whenever we wanted? While there are some who make an unconventional--but successful--living traveling the world (and I admit, I'm a bit envious), most of us do not have the ability without a lot of sacrifices and life-altering events. Most of us have families and careers and kids in school and maybe some pretty limited funds. I'm not saying a nomad-style can't and shouldn't be done, I'm just saying it is pretty rare. For the rest of us, we need to pick and choose our opportunities to see the world...and we don't have those unlimited bank funds I was talking about. But fear not, this post is for you, the Average Joe (or Jane). Here are 16 ways (give or take) to answer the question of how to afford to travel!
How to Save for Travel
Reassess Your Expenses
There was this meme I saw a while back. It said something along the lines of, "you CAN afford to travel...you just don't like making sandwiches". How true is that!? Let's say you spend $10 per day for lunch during a regular Monday-Friday schedule. That's $50 per week. $200 per month. $2400 per year. For one person. Now, I'm not saying I'm the best example when it comes to eating out--and I'm going to try harder to take my own advice on this one--but man, $2400 a year? For eating food that probably isn't that great for you anyway? Your food choices are just one example of how you can reassess your expenses.
Another way you can afford to travel is to start considering which expenses you really need and which ones you could probably live without. Do you pay an outlandish amount for cable or satellite but only regularly watch one or two channels? Maybe its time to think about a streaming service or an ala carte style of television watching.
Most of us depend on reliable transportation, but do we really need deluxe trims on $60,000 trucks? Maybe you do, but if you're wanting to see the world more often, maybe your vehicle choice is a good place to make an adjustment. Do we need 4,000 square foot homes? Maybe you do, but if you're wanting to see the world more often, maybe your mortgage payment could use an adjustment. You get the idea. Do you want to channel your money to material things, or do you want to see the world? Easier said than done, but it boils down to experience versus material. Sometimes it is as simple as that.
Find an Additional Income Stream
I know, this is also easier said than done, especially in the current economic climate in which we live, but you don't need to make thousands of extra dollars to travel. Let's revisit the sandwich example: $50 per a five day work week can equal $2400 per year. You can find some pretty good options for making $50 fairly quickly in this informative post. SO, just throwing this out there: if you find a part-time income that generates $50 per week AND you make sandwiches, you have a whopping $4800 per year for travel.
On another note, like the photo above, start saving some loose change! Do you come home with a pocketful of change? Throw it in a jar. Want to reward yourself for a goal you set and successfully reached? Throw a dollar in the jar. It will add up quickly. And while it may not amount to airfare to Australia, it may pay for that excursion to swim with whales off of the coast of Fraser Island.
Dedicated Travel Savings Account
Now that we've talked about a few ways you can reassess your expenses and supplement your income, you'll need someplace to keep that travel money. Dedicate a savings account specifically for traveling. Try to put the same amount away each month so you can forecast your travel budget. Also putting a little extra in here and there will add up and make travel a reality. And make it difficult to take out unless you really need it. It will be there if you need it in an emergency, of course, but try not to use the funds in this account for anything other than travel.
Put the funds in account and then forget about them. Don't think, "oh man, the new PS5 is finally available" and then take from the travel account. Again, is a new PS5 something you really want? Maybe so, but do you want it more than traveling? It is a choice you'll have to make for yourself, but remember--if you really want to travel, you can find a way to travel. Being disciplined enough to utilize a savings account for travel is something that can help you afford to travel.
Ways to Afford to Travel and Minimize Expenses
Travel Industry Jobs
It has to be mentioned that jobs in the travel industry can make travel more affordable. Like a LOT more affordable. From airfare to hotels to rental cars, several travel industry jobs may provide part of the answer to your question of "how can I afford to travel?"
Airlines and their Subsidiaries
There are numerous airlines that will reward you with travel perks if you are employed by them or their subsidiaries--even on a part-time basis. Some programs cost the employee and their pass riders absolutely nothing to jump into open seats on flights. In other programs the employee may be responsible for imputed income (that is, a portion of the ticket price would be taxed as annual income). And others may charge the yield fare of the ticket. You will need to reach out to prospective employers to see what their current flight privileges may be. Some also offer partnerships with other airlines to fly outside of your employer airline's system at heavily reduced rates.
The catch, for most non-revenue situations, is that you are usually flying standby and competing with other employees for those open seats. Some seat assignments are based on seniority while others are based on first-come, first-serve. Flexibility, patience, and creativity are the keys here! You will be able to see the world at minimal cost, no doubt about it, but the destinations might not be in the order you originally desired...and the route may be a little crazy at times. Worth it!
Like the airlines, there are many hotel groups that will provide heavily reduced rates for their employees. For example, working as a host or hostess at hotel banquet events on a part-time basis may land you a $35 per night hotel on the Gulf Coast. Or maybe you've always wanted to stay in one of those fancy $1000 per night hotels. You might be able to snag one at $200 per night. Those are just general examples, but you catch the drift. Your local hotels are definitely worth checking into to help you travel cheaply.
Rental Car Companies
Similar to hotels, some rental car companies compensate their employees with some pretty cheap rental car rates. During peak vacation times, rates can be pretty steep. Having a discount on those rates can really help keep costs down for you to have more money in your funds for awesome excursions and activities.
Travel Credit Card Bonus Points
There are literally dozens of travel credit cards available right now. These cards award points that can be applied towards activities, airfare, hotels, and numerous other travel-related expenses. For example, I was able to take my family whale watching and didn't pay a single dollar for it. We also had my daughter come down with a sickness on one of our trips. We were able to change some plans pretty easily using some points for airline tickets we weren't planning on buying.
Many travel credit cards offer pretty sizeable sign-up bonuses. One common stipulation is that you are required to charge a certain amount of money in an allotted amount of time before the full bonus kicks in. With online banking readily available in today's world, one of my strategies is to make my purchases on a travel credit card and then make a payment for the amount charged before I leave the parking lot.
The danger in travel credit cards comes with carrying a balance. If you end up carrying a high balance with high interest rates, the benefits of all those points begin to cancel out. They are amazing tools for making travel affordable--but use responsibly and with caution!
***Stay tuned for more in-depth information and a separate post about some of the best travel credit cards and their sign-up bonuses soon!***
Frequent Flyer Programs
Along the "bonuses" and "rewards" train of thought, you may also want to consider frequent flyer programs with different airlines. As with anything, there are some variables and differences in programs based on which airline(s) you choose, but basically, you get rewarded for your loyalty. Frequent flyer programs award "points" or "miles" that you can redeem for future purchases. For example, if you earn 25,000 miles, you may have enough to redeem for a round-trip domestic flight. If there is a particular airline that you prefer, or your location limits your options, a frequent flyer program can help you secure some cheap trips.
Budget airlines typically take a "no-frills" approach to flying you from Point A to Point B. While the budget airlines may not offer as many routes, options, or conveniences, they do make a nice option depending on your destination. A short, direct flight may really be all that you want and need. Perfect. That said, be sure you are willing to accept the whole "no-frills" side of things in exchange for cheaper rates. And sometimes, there are options that you may need to pay extra for. For example, while Large Airline A may offer a free checked bag option and a meal, you may need to pay extra for those options on Budget Airline B. Again, depending on your situation, a no-nonsense flight may be just what you're looking for. Don't rule them out!
When considering accommodation options, it is a good idea to check out Airbnb. You can find some really unique options at what are usually pretty reasonable rates. Additionally, if you are traveling with a family of five or so like me, hotels sometimes require you to book a suite or adjoining rooms to accommodate more than four occupants. That can add up real fast-like. With Airbnb, you can usually get an entire house, condo, or apartment that will hold your entire family AND a full kitchen where you can prepare meals.
Hotels are great, but unless you have an employee discount or credit card reward points, they can be mighty pricey. In most situations, Airbnb can help you afford to travel. (Also, consider booking with friends and sharing the cost of a house to really drive the cost down!)
As an added perk, Airbnb options can be found away from all the hustle and bustle of the hotel district. If you want to "live like a local" or want to get away for a more peaceful or natural setting, Airbnb may have what you're looking for. For example, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) will look much more magical and mesmerizing from a cabin in the middle of Iceland as opposed to the hotel district and bright city lights. Once again, it all depends on what you're looking for and just how cheap you want to go.
***By the way, if you have never used Airbnb before, enjoy up to $65 off your first qualifying booking by clicking...right...HERE! (plus I'll get a little credit with Airbnb when you use my unique link and that will help me to afford to travel and keep this blog going as well...so thanks!)***
Travel During Off-Peak Times
Traveling during off-peak times is one of the most effective ways to afford to travel. For example, during one of our trips to Southern Florida during an off-peak time, hotels were very affordable. Fast-forward to the week after Christmas and the exact same hotels were nearly four times as expensive! The same situation and advice is applicable to rental cars--nearly three time the price!
Also, during a family trip to Alaska, we were able to stay in a beautiful inn for about 1/3 of the price of their summer rates. We were in Alaska in March--not your typical Spring Break destination. And while we had to sacrifice some peak-season activities that happen when the destination is in full-swing, we gained a lot of other unique experiences and opportunities that may be a bit more "off-the-beaten-path"--with far smaller crowds. Or you may find yourself on a beautiful, secluded beach that had been full of crowds and littered with trash just three weeks before your visit. Off-peak travel can be awesome.
*If the secluded beach example sounded like it was calling your name, here are 50 of my favorite beach quotes for your quote-reading enjoyment 🙂
Government, Senior Citizen, and Military Discounts
I am friends, family, and/or coworkers with several proud military men and women. I know several who are hesitant to utilize the many discounts available to them in certain situations (and then some who sniff those discounts out like bloodhounds...haha!).
My advice to those who pause when thinking about utilizing a discount is: USE THAT DISCOUNT! You earned it and some companies want to express their gratitude to you and you service. Let them do that for you as a token of appreciation. Its a win-win. They get to express gratitude and it can help you afford to travel. There are a lot of hotel and rental car discounts out there. It never hurts to ask! The same advice goes for our senior citizens. You earned those discounts! Seek them out and use them!
Final Pieces of Advice to Afford Travel
Pack What you Can
Nobody wants to save $20 on a hotel using their hard-earned credit card points only to spend $10 on a $5 bottle of sunscreen and $5 on a $2 bar of deodorant. Whenever possible, pack what you can. Using something like the Marbrasse Travel Soap Case with TSA Carry-On Approved refillable bottles can really help eliminate some unnecessary expenses after you arrive at your destination (found on Amazon...and if you use my link I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, so thanks again!). You can also find my review of the best travel soap cases here.
Be sure to pack your sunscreen, contact solution, toothpaste, and any other toiletries you need. If you forget and you need to purchase at your destination, try to avoid the airport, gas stations, or souvenir shops for that type of thing. Try to find a Walmart or other similar store that would sell what you need without such a large mark-up. Or, if you are staying at a hotel, ask the front desk for complimentary items. Some hotels offer a pretty good selection of items that travelers frequently forget or run out of.
Prepare Your Own Food Instead of Dining Out
Trust me, there are few of life's pleasures that I love more than dining out when I'm traveling. I love eating an awesome dinner while enjoying a beautiful sunset on a pier. Or trying an exotic dish that I just can't get anywhere else. Not many things can connect you to another country and culture more than its food. I understand people may not want the hassle of making and then cleaning up their own meals while vacationing. I completely get it. But this post is about affording to travel, right? This piece of advice is one of the biggest. Seriously.
As mentioned, when we travel, it is usually as a family of five. At a minimum, we are talking about $50 per meal, and that's like a McDonalds-style meal--not one of the restaurants on the pier or exotic dishes I mentioned above. Eating in one of those places and you're looking at around $100 per meal. Three meals per day at $50-$100 each time? If you eat out twice a day for five days, that could equal something like $1000. Woah. Not the best move if you want to afford to travel.
I'm not saying to cut out the dining experience completely. Dining out in a different region or country is 100% part of the travel experience. Just maybe limit it to one meal per day. Mainly try to avoid the "let's just grab a quick bite here" type of scenario--a scenario my family knows too well. Stopping at the grocery store and getting ingredients for things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, bagels, fruit, and drinks can help cut the cost when you're staying at a hotel. If you have your own kitchen from your Airbnb, even better because you can prepare entire meals, not just piece them together.
Find Those Free or Cheap Activities
The picture above is of my daughter when we went cliff jumping at Admiralty House Park while in Bermuda. It was amazing. One of the coolest parts about it? It cost us our bus fare there and back to do something so fun and exciting for a good portion of the day. Ever heard of Papakōlea Beach near Kona, Hawaii? It is also known as the "green sand beach". Same type of deal. Free activity that we really loved. And while we are talking about Hawaii, there are apps available for like $5 that will give you self-guided tours of the islands. The vast majority of our time exploring the Big Island was spent seeking out free activities and points of interest on our own.
Find the free stuff to do! Go hiking! Snorkel off the coast! Or just be in the moment in an amazing and different place! There are so many options for adventure in the world that won't break the bank. You just need to seek them out. Ask a local. Google it. Use a guidebook.
If you can't find a lot of free activities or want to head to some "must-see" tourist attractions, you may also find some significant savings by investing in city passes or activity cards. (Stay tuned for more information on that!)
How to Afford to Travel Conclusion
You CAN afford to travel! It may take some priority shuffling, sacrifices, discipline, legwork, and saving--but you really can! Prioritize experience over material. I'll try to put it into perspective this way: you probably don't remember the expensive, popular, stylish pants you bought 20 years ago (except you probably remember the date when they no longer fit...haha). But I bet you can remember experiences that you had 20 years ago like they were yesterday. Which do you look back on with more fondness: the pants or the experience?
Finally, if you are the type who would rather skip the legwork or don't even know where to start, reach out to a travel agent. Most agents can find what you are looking for in your budget range (within reason). Plus you'll have the confidence of knowing someone is there to go to bat for you if things turn sidewise (ala COVID-19 pandemics). Don't rule them out in helping you to afford to travel.
Be sure to comment below if you have any affordable travel tips or personal experiences...I would love to interact!
Happy Affordable Trails to You!!
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