5 Ways to Save Up Money for Travel

San Vicente de la Baquera Spain

About this time every year, I get the travel itch. It’s the feeling that I need to book a trip for my family so we can go somewhere we’ve never been before, see something new, or just get out of the daily grind. Winter feels long, and the beautiful beach pictures in Instagram are calling me.

Yesterday, my friend sent me a picture of the little town in Northeastern Spain they’ll be visiting this summer. I. want. to. go.

However, our family just moved 1000 miles away to a new state last year, we bought a new house, and we have spent plenty of money on it. Plus, I’m not bringing in a steady income, since I’m taking a year off teaching to help us get settled, so it’s hard to justify setting aside thousands of our savings for a big trip (how much should you spend on travel, anyway? Answers here).

I’m not giving up so easily, however. Here are five ways I’m planning to save up for travel.

1. Save the Extra

This is about as obvious a tip as they come, but it’s not always easy to follow. This year, every single extra check, refund, tutoring payment, or gift is going straight to a fund called “Trips.”

In our Capital One Savings account, we have several subaccounts where we save for different goals. In our “Trips” fund, I’ll be saving all of the extra money we get, immediately, before I even have a chance to think otherwise.

I deposit any checks using my mobile app, then immediately transfer that amount from my bank to our Capital One subaccount.

The trick is to deposit the money immediately into an account or fund you can’t access or won’t let yourself touch.

It’s too easy to put the money in your general account, and attempt to save what’s left over at the end of the month. But in my house, that money will get spent, so I need to set it aside as quickly as possible to save for travel.

Got the travel itch? Here are five ways we're saving up for a trip to Spain this summer. @lauriethreeyear #travelfund #savefortravel #locationindependent #triptoeurope #summertravel #summerfamilytravel

Mason jars are good for this too, especially if you get cash. Keep a mason jar with a big label on it that says “Travel” so you everyone knows that the money is earmarked.

Extra cash travel jar 5 Ways to Save for Travel www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
All your extra cash goes here for travel.

2. Cut Out (or Reduce) an Expense

Again, this tip is a no-brainer, in theory. But in practice, oh man… the savings add up! Last year, in 2018, our family committed to shaving 20% off our grocery budget. We went from spending $955 per month in groceries to $747 per month. We spent $2496 less in 2018 than we did in 2017.

Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Heck yes!! I took most of the difference in our grocery category each month and transferred it to a Chile ticket account that now has $1600 in it.

The funny thing was, we didn’t even feel like we ate any differently than we did in 2017. I was just more on-purpose about meal planning and inventory than I had been before, and we wasted a whole lot less food.

Lindo Chile--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Money in our Chile travel fund means we’ll be able to travel back to this beautiful country even sooner!

We’d tried to decrease our grocery expenses in the past, but the difference was, last year we committed. We were determined to meet our goal, and now we have the $$ to show for it.

This year, our new plan is to reduce a different expense by $200 each month, and save for travel.

This won’t be easy to do, I know, especially because this month I asked my family to give up eating out, and they love to eat out. But we’re going to rotate the things we save in each month, like home maintenance, gifts, and entertainment, so hopefully one month of deprivation in each category won’t be too hard on anyone.

Again, I’m transferring the $200 at the beginning of the month, as if we’ve already saved it, so that I’m committing to spending less money each month.

What if your budget is so tight that there’s not room to reduce anywhere? Well, for some people, especially those on a one-income or very low income budget, that’s true.

However, I’ve met many people who *say* they can’t possibly reduce their expenses until I point out that they could eliminate housekeeping services, alarm, exterminator, eating out, nails, hair, etc. For many households, there’s a lot of wasteful spending going on, so if you can zero in on one area to cut down in, you’ll make super-strides on saving for travel.

3. Save Your Bonus/Tax Refund/Extra Paychecks

I know that this only works if you get a bonus, tax refund, or extra paychecks, but hear me out. Oftentimes, we get so backed up with our budgeting, that we require these extra “windfalls” to pay off a credit card balance, put towards a car loan, or buy a new Jet Ski/upgrade our phone/lease a new truck.

Here’s the thing: once you get to the place where you’re one month ahead in your budgeting, that is, you use this month’s income to finance next month’s bills, then that extra money that comes in really can be extra.

True story: it took us TEN WHOLE YEARS to get a month ahead in our budgeting. That’s right, we started budgeting in 2008, and we didn’t get a month ahead until August of last year, 2018. Part of the reason was because I didn’t understand what a difference it would make to our money management, so I never prioritized it as a goal.

The way we finally got a month ahead in our budgeting was we sold our house in New Hampshire, kept aside some of the equity ($2600), and used that to budget for August. We didn’t have a mortgage payment in July, so that freed up $2400 more that we could use to budget for August.

Home in New Hampshire www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Selling our New Hampshire house allowed us to get a month ahead in budgeting.

We had a fifteen year mortgage in New Hampshire (and we do in North Carolina as well), so when we sold our house after owning it for six years we had a fair amount of equity (almost half of the purchase price after we paid the real estate and closing costs and fees). We used most of it for this house’s downpayment, but were able to put some of it towards house and financial goals.

Now that we’re a month ahead in our budgeting, we’re going to save part of one of Mr. ThreeYear’s extra paychecks for travel.

We use one paycheck + some extra to pay property taxes and our yearly HOA, but we have $$$ left over that will go straight in our travel fund. And happily, his very first three-paycheck month is in January!

Don’t forget to save your raise, too.

That’s an incredible way to easily bank lots of money each month in your travel fund without feeling deprived, because it’s money you haven’t gotten used to spending. Mr. ThreeYear gets his yearly raise in April so we will be transferring that increase straight to the travel fund.

4. Pick One Way to Earn Extra $$

  • Sell stuff on eBay
  • Tutor a kid in math
  • Babysit on the weekends
  • Drive for Uber
  • Shop for Instacart
  • Translate documents
  • Organize closets
  • Walk dogs

There are so many extra ways to make money that it can get overwhelming. The great thing about all these side hustle opportunities is there is usually a low barrier to entry, so you can get started without having to train/prove yourself/set up a fancy shop. You can just sign up and start.

My advice is to pick ONE way to earn extra.

You can burn yourself out if you’re constantly jumping from one entrepreneurial gig to another and that is definitely not the point of this post. Saving up for a big trip should be exciting and empowering, not depression-inducing, so keep things manageable.

I tutor a neighborhood kid in Spanish once a week. All of that money is dedicated to the trip fund. If I wanted to save up more, I could look around for more tutoring opportunities. Tutoring has been something I do over the years to earn extra money when the kids are in school or in the evenings. It’s a great way for me to get to teach and add money to our travel fund.

5. Commit to a No-Spend Month

It would have been great to do a no-spend month in January, but Januarys are traditionally a hard month for us because we have three birthdays that fall in that month (including Mr. ThreeYear’s). So, I’m going to work towards a no-spend month in March.

Notice I said “work towards.” Full disclosure–I have not yet ever been successful at a no-spend month, that is, a month where I spend no money outside of bare necessities, bills, or if something breaks. No eating out, no clothing, no gifts. I’m a spender by nature so it is HARD not to spend money.

But I know that a no-spend month will help me reset and reexamine my relationship with consumer goods, and practice telling myself “no” more often. That’s a good thing. (Now, to get the family on board).

Once the no-spend month is completed, we’ll calculate the money we saved by not buying excess stuff or paying for services, and we’ll transfer that money to our travel fund.

This is one time when we’ll wait until the end of the month to transfer our savings, but I’m hopeful that if we make it into a game, we can work towards saving as much as possible towards our goal.

Final thoughts

I’m loathe to spend money that we have set aside for savings (even if it’s just general savings) for travel. Of course that’s a mental hangup. Money is money, and it doesn’t matter if we spend it from Pot 1 or Pot 2, right?

But if we can earmark dollars for our travel fund AND “trick” ourselves into spending less in the process, then I feel much better about using those dollars for fun summer trips.

Mr. ThreeYear and the boys in San Pedro de Atacama last January. We talk about the memories we made on that trip all the time!

One thing I know–travel continues to be a top value for our family and we have to make it a priority, so I’ll be working hard towards saving for a big trip in the coming months.

What’s your favorite way to save for travel?

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Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

9 thoughts on “5 Ways to Save Up Money for Travel”

  1. Great ideas here Laurie! Would it be cheeky of me to suggest that you’ve missed the most obvious one off you list? That’s to set a holiday budget and to save that budget in the first place. Far too many people don’t think about what their holiday is going to really cost and end up adding to their debt pile. That warm beach is just going to be a memory when you’re still paying it off six months later.

    To be honest I would take the fact that you didn’t even think to add it is as an excellent sign. You’ve clearly got to that stage of Ninja mastery when you do it instinctively now. I’m still at the stage of conscious competence where I need rules in place to remind me to to the right thing…it gets easier every day though!

    1. Caveman, you make an excellent point! I’m a big believer in a monthly budget amount for your vacations. We’ll say my oversight comes because of that Ninja-level mastery you mentioned, and not missing brain cells, sound good?? Congrats to you on budgeting the fun stuff in regularly and not putting it on a card! That’s amazing! (I still need the rules, too, even after *all* these years!!).

  2. We set aside 4% of gross income for travel, whenever any comes in. We don’t always plan trips far in advance, so this helps us have money to be spontaneous. For trips we do plan further in advance, like to friends’ weddings, we make a category goal in YNAB and use some of the travel allocation towards it each month. This is our balance between my wanting to budget for everything and my husband’s disinterest in committing to a specific trip!

    1. Leigh, that’s a great system. We would do well with a system like this because we don’t always have a specific trip in mind but I want to make sure we’ve got money set aside in case something awesome comes up. Curious–how did you come up with the 4% of gross income number?

      1. A previous job that paid me hourly gave me 4% of my gross income instead of any time off, so that number kind of stuck in my head. We were naturally spending that for a while, so it’s much nicer to budget it. It seems weird to scale travel up with income, but it also makes sense because you would scale it down with income and with more income, you’re more willing to take fancier trips.

  3. we have our travel in a bucket with home repairs and gifts. with 2 people working there was always plenty for those 3 things. a couple of years ago we went to one full time income plus some side stuff AND had a big house maint. year. so we traveled less and on more budget type driving trips. this year ought to be back to normal with a set amount plus extras like you mentioned going to that fund. it’s great being on vacation and knowing you’re basically paying cash you’ve already saved.

    ebay: we’ve been crushing to the tune of 1000’s of dollars in 15 months. plus, we got rid of a lot of junk.

    1. I like that system. We’re in the same boat with the home repairs this year, so we’re scaling back on the travel. We didn’t mean for those two things to be linked but they ended up that way. I’m hopeful that next year we’ll have less house stuff to do because as much time as we spend here, home repair is not as fun as travel! 🙂

      You’re killing it on ebay! What may I ask are you selling?

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