6 Ways to Afford More Travel

My interest in budgeting and frugal living started with saving for a family trip to Ireland.  My mother, sister and I had talked about visiting Ireland for many years.  My mother’s parents were from Ireland.  They both came to the U.S. separately before marrying and starting a family together.  My mother remembers visiting the country with her father when she was still a teenager.  For her, this trip was a chance to revisit some of those memories and spend more time in County Cork and County Sligo, where father and mother grew up.  For my sister and I, it would be our first visit to the country.

Of course, every time it came up, we would say “Maybe next year” and then push it off again.  Over that period of delay I changed jobs, went back to school part-time, moved twice (including moving in with my now husband) and got married.

Finally, we set a date for summer of 2015.  Once we had made the commitment to go, and dealt with the initial stress, my husband and I had to sit down and figure out how we were going to save for this trip.  This set me on a path of budgeting and looking for ways to make my life more frugal.  It also helped me realize that we were in a position to travel more, including travel internationally, if we made it one of the priorities in our budget.

At Blarney Castle
At the Cliffs of Moher

I want to note that not everyone  can travel, whether for financial or other reasons.  Being a middle class America, I definitely have opportunities to travel that others don’t have.  I hope with this post to give a little inspiration to people who can travel more than they think by making a few small adjustments to their life or travel style.

Saving For Travel

1. Track your expenses

If you don’t know what you are spending money on, then it is not possible to make a lasting change.  Personally, I use Mint to track everything.  Even if you are not interested in saving for travel, I think it is incredibly valuable to know how much money you have coming in and out, and how much you need at a minimum to get by without drastically changing your lifestyle.

You may want to use several detailed categories when you first start budgeting.  As you get an idea of how much you truly need for each category, you can begin to simplify your budget.  For example, I have separate categories for set monthly expenses like rent, car insurance, student loan payments, etc, and then one category called “Everything Else”.  All our day to expenses from grocery shopping to gifts go in this category.  I can adjust “Everything Else” up or down, but it stays about the same each month.  Savings, as well as larger one-time expenses like car repair or vacation, can get their own category as needed.

2. Attack the big, recurring expenses first

Consistently making small everyday frugal choices can be difficult.  Maybe, it is difficult for you to forgo that latte.  Or maybe, you’re not a latte drinker, and you don’t know what else you can cut out.  Starting with your biggest expenses is the way to make the most impact.  Even better if it is a one time change that takes some effort up front, but does not require repeated mental effort or willpower.

For example, my husband and I moved to a smaller, less expensive apartment one year ago.  It required some downsizing, but it doesn’t really have an impact on our quality of life.  Maybe you can drop your cable.  We get by on a mix of Netflix, YouTube and regular broadcast TV with a digital antenna.

Even better, can you make a change that may take a little time and research, but has no impact on your lifestyle?  For example, can you save money by switching your car insurance?  Can you save money on cell service by switching to a lower cost provider like Ting or GoogleFi?

3. Try a frugal month

My husband and I did a frugal month this past January after Christmas spending made a our budget go a little crazy.  At the end of January, we were surprised at how little we spent.   The point of a frugal month is to develop new habits.  Put off any purchases that you do not absolutely need right now.  If you can’t give something up, find a cheaper alternative.  For example, make your coffee at home, bring your lunch to work, drop your gym membership and find creative ways to exercise at home, learn new recipes that make use of cheaper ingredients. Pare back or give up your daily makeup routine, paint your own nails, or even cut your own hair.  There are so many possibilities!
Once the month is over you have a better idea what you can live without and what you don’t want to give up.  Hopefully, the money you save inspires you to keep up some of these new habits.  The Frugalwoods Blog has a great Uber Frugal Month series that can keep you motivated.

Saving on Travel

4. Go where the deals are

Some people have a lot of flexibility with when the travel.  Even if you don’t, you have flexibility with where you travel.  If you are like me you have a long mental checklist of you want to visit, but you are open to new ideas.  Let flight or package deals dictate where you go.  Sign up for a newsletter like The Flight Deal, that brings you the cheapest fares.  We made our most recent trip to Switzerland in April, because I found a great rate to Zurich way back in November.  The Flight Deal regularly has great deals on flights from the U.S. to Europe, along with other locations.  Groupon Getaways is good for airfare included package deals, especially if you are looking for a warm weather/resort destination.
5. Save on accommodation (and food)
Besides flights, accommodation is probably the biggest travel expense. If, like me, you are not ready to coach surf or sleep 10 to a dorm in a hostel, there are still more affordable option than hotels.  For example, my AirBnB preference is a private studio apartment which gives us a bed, WiFi, a bathroom and a kitchen.  We loved the AirBnB that we stayed in for a Montreal trip last summer.  When it wasn’t available again this year, we booked a similar apartment in the same quaint neighborhood (the Plateau).  Having access to a kitchen also allows you to save by making some of your own meals.  Many hostels offer private rooms for 1-2 travelers that are still cheaper than the equivalent in a nearby hotel.   We stayed in hostel in Lauterbrunnen during our Switzerland trip, and the only difference to a budget hotel is that the bathroom and shower were across the hall.

6. Use credit cards and rewards programs to your advantage

While there are many websites that will go in-depth on how to fly and travel largely for free.  I don’t pretend the be a points experts, and I keep things simple.  For example, if I know I will have a larger than average expense coming up, such as a trip, I will look for a new credit card that offers a substantial sign-up bonus.  NerdWallet or similar websites can give you an overview of what deals are available as well as what are the terms (such as annual fees).  For example, Barclay Arrival Plus Mastercard is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles for $3000 in spending in the first 90 days the card is open.  I applied for this offer to cover expenses including a recent trip to Switzerland.  The 50,000 bonus points translates to $500 travel credit that can be used to offset the cost of flights to visit family in Colorado this summer.

Please note that before you can take advantage of credit card points or miles, you should have no credit card debt and be organized enough to pay off your cards in full every month.

What else?

There are plenty of more adventurous ways to travel and live frugally.  One of my goals within the next year or so is to spend more time  abroad with free accommodation through a workaway experience.

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