Saving for Travel: It’s Not Just About the Money

(The following post was originally published on October 31, 2016.)

I only wish Brett and I had the kind of income where we could whip out our checkbook or charge card whenever we wanted to take a trip and pay for it all, just like that. For us though, travel takes planning, time, and saving, saving, saving. All of our journeys are fully funded before we leave home.

Saving money though is only the start. Along with putting away money we talk about: Where do we want to go and how much is it going to cost? Do we need to save $500? $1000? $5000? More? Is it doable? Realistic? Can we do it for less? When’s the best time to go? Where would we stay? How long can we afford to go away? What do we want to see or do when we’re there? And so forth . . .

That’s the thing about travel: Each trip is different and requires different things and costs a different amount. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to traveling – we bring our own desires and expectations when we hit the road, even within the family, and the total cost of any trip is affected by those desires and expectations. Because we don’t have that bottomless checking account, Brett and I not only put money aside but take some extra steps in order to make the most of what we have and where we’re going.

Here are some ways we successfully save for our travels and make sure we get to go where we want, have the best time possible, and don’t bust our budget:

  • Our travel plans always start with us talking about places we’d like to visit and then making a mental list of places we’d like to go, whether we’ve been there before or they’ve been on our “someday” list. We’re not the most spontaneous people when it comes to travel, so we prioritize our list by starting with places and people we’d regret never getting to see down to locations we’ve always been curious about or that make sense to visit since we’ll already be in the area. We allow our list to change whenever new information comes up so that some places we wanted to visit two years ago don’t seem so important anymore, and other places have become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstances and always go to the top of the list. I love this part of travel planning though – dreams are always free!
  • I thoroughly research what it would cost to travel to places. Brett usually leaves this step to me. It takes a while, but I find doing research for travel a LOT of fun, and I always learn lots of new information and pick up tips, even if we don’t end up going to someplace I’ve looked into. I try to figure out how much transportation would cost us, as well as lodging, dining, and other expenses. Would it make more sense for us to stay in a hotel or use Airbnb if we go somewhere? Is there a peak season (and how can we avoid it if possible)? I love reading articles and stories about how to dine on a budget at our destination, or about a place where we may need to increase our budget because the food and experience are not to be missed. I love learning about all sorts of interesting places we might want to visit, from must-sees to maybes. I know that there are many people way more spontaneous than we are, and when they see a cheap airfare to somewhere they snap it up and go, or think nothing of hopping in their car and taking off. I’m enough of a nerd though that I’d rather do the research about spending our money on a trip, and figure out how to get the most bang for our bucks. Our income and budget sort of demand it as well.
  • After the research is done, we decide if we can actually save enough to afford the trip. We make the final decision to go somewhere only if we can afford it. We’re not willing to break the bank and go into debt just to fulfill some fantasy or check off something on a bucket list. I would greatly love to take an extended trip through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that both are way out of our price range (Botswana is way, way, way out) unless we saved for years and did nothing else. We focus on what’s realistic and doable. Update: We did make it to India, but only by choosing to do a week’s tour versus extended travel, and saving like mad for it.
  • We set a goal for saving. We like to use the SMART criteria whenever we make a goal, financial or otherwise: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Rather than saying “Let’s save so we can go to Japan,” we tell ourselves that we need to save enough before [proposed travel date] to cover airfare and lodging for three of us as well as have enough for meals and other expenses. Can we have approximately half of that amount saved by [a certain date] to cover airfare if a good deal shows up? This is how we can place what we need and when in relation to other upcoming expenses, such as the girls’ college expenses, Christmas, etc. Once everything gets mapped out, and we decide it’s achievable, we go forward. If it’s not, we either adjust our goal or drop it. We typically set our goals and start planning more than a year in advance of any major travel though, giving ourselves plenty of time to tweak things as we go along.
  • We have a dedicated savings account for travel, whether we’re actively planning any travel or not. I believe it’s important to make dedicated travel savings a priority rather than a ‘leftover’ when it comes to budgeting. We “pay ourselves” first and put away a predesignated amount each month for travel. We add to our savings in other ways like adding what we save in our change/$1 bills jar (which adds around $800 per year to the account). If we can spend under our budget in any other area, like groceries or gasoline, for example, the difference goes into our travel savings – it’s an incentive to look for the best deals and be more conscious about saving. Rebates, refunds, rewards, and gifts also go into travel savings. It adds up more quickly than you might think, and I never feel guilty or worried when we take any money out to cover travel expenses because that’s what it’s for. One more thing: with a dedicated travel savings fund we’re already miles ahead whenever we start thinking about going somewhere.
  • We stay motivated to save by giving ourselves reminders of our destination. Once we know when and where we’re going, we post pictures on the fridge, share books or articles about where we’re going, start Pinterest boards, and so forth. These ‘motivators’ can help keep our savings goals on track. They often help us decide between doing or buying something now versus putting away more for travel later. Even when our trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this year was a mystery to everyone else, I still put up reminders about our trip in places that I saw frequently but that were hidden from Brett and the girls in order to stay motivated.

For us, successfully saving for travel involves more than just setting money aside. The extra steps we take help us not only be realistic about what we can afford but help keep us motivated to reach our goals and fulfill our travel dreams. Through a combination of planning and saving, we give ourselves a solid foundation to do and see what we want, as well as an ability to dream about future journeys.


7 thoughts on “Saving for Travel: It’s Not Just About the Money

  1. it’s true-it’s not only about the money. It is also always about what one wants to accomplish when traveling. There are people who travel for a change of scenery, others travel because it’s fashionable, others just want to check a box on their wish list…each traveler has a very personal motivation.Also traveling is an acquired taste thus the more one travels, the better understands whether traveling is an enjoyable time or not.You obviously found a system that works and that makes traveling so enjoyable for you. It probably took you a while to hone it down to the level of detail that is most comfortable for you, which is fantastic. Clearly you have a passion for traveling and you have perfected your own traveling plans that fit you and your budget. Sharing your method with us is very generous as many of us get inspiration and knowledge about places that you’ve been to, so I thank you!


    1. I admit that planning for long-term travel versus a shorter trip is a very different kettle of fish. Both were/are fun for me, but planning for our Big Adventure required a very different mindset than planning for a week somewhere – I had to start with the big picture and work backwards to fill in the details.

      I’m having fun right now looking at things, mainly maps, thinking about where we could go. Next year things will ramp up once again though, but for now all we’re doing is putting away whatever we can into savings.


  2. I love the research, too. A big part of our last trip to Italy was planning it for months. Now I’m struggling with how much risk I’m willing to take to fly again. Delta has blocked a bunch of middle and certain aisle seats until the end of September, and I’m wondering if summer will be better than waiting for a possible fall second wave of this virus. 😦


    1. I get on my computer every day to look into something travel related, and before I know it 45 minutes to an hour is easily gone. It’s going to be at least another two years before we can go anywhere, but it’s still a fun escape for me. Next year though things will shift into high gear as far as planning goes.

      I think Delta has a fairly good reputation as far as cleanliness and safety goes, or at least as good as anyone. We wore our masks, cleaned everything down with alcohol wipes, maintained a distance from everyone else (not hard since the plane was almost empty), and were religious about washing our hands. We were one of the last flights to be served a meal on a plate; that ended right after our flight. Anyway, I think if YOU are careful, you will be OK and I know how much you want to meet your new grandchild. But I worry about everyone else – will they be as careful as I will be? (I agree that cases are going to climb again in the fall – they’re already climbing again).


  3. I love reading and dreaming about places to visit too. Accommodation. Restaurants. Museums. Parks. Historical buildings. I’ve stopped reading about our trip to England as we are probably going to postpone our gap year.

    Though I have booked a cruise for July next year. No I’m not mad. It’s a small boat around Fiji. 150 people, and given it is Australia and NZ school hols, probably full of both. And instead of $8400 I paid $2600 for the both of us, not each, for seven days. The company is giving 70% off for 70 customers for their 70th anniversary. We’re going with friends who did the same cruise for their honeymoon and 20th anniversary. Next year is their 40th and they want us to join them. With the discount, I said yes. Fingers crossed COVID is under control by then.


    1. The cruise sounds great, and also something you can play by ear at this point; that is, if things get worse you have time to make changes, cancel, etc. I have taken one cruise in my life and once was enough. After all his years in the navy, Brett also says no thanks, even with the good food and amenities.

      We hope to make it back to England again in the next few years – so much more we want to see and do. But there are other places we want to see first, so England will have to wait.

      We’re all hoping to have seen the last of the virus by next year if not sooner. Cases are rising again in the U.S. as the country tries to reopen. I’m afraid what the numbers will be after the demonstrations.


      1. Yes, think we are all awaiting the second wave! The cruise is on such a small ship by current standards. Using the word cruise conjures up a different image. Goes right up to the beaches. Blue Lagoon Cruises, if you feel like googling. I can see why Brett says no. Enough time with boats.

        So many places in the world – too little time and money!


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