10: How to Budget for Your Vacation
Updated: Sep 27
Howdy! In this post, I’m going to list ways I’ve saved money for trips, as well as other ways I could have. This is not a "don't spend $5/day on Starbucks" type of list. This list is for broke folks.
When I was a tattoo artist, I remember a coworker ranting that travel was classist, and in a sense, I see what she meant. Yes, had I chosen to have children, while still pursuing art and writing, chances are, I’d be traveling significantly less. Even just adopting dogs has really added to my travel expenses, because now I’ve got to make sure they’re properly cared for while we’re away. But, odds are, you can prioritize traveling. Most of us can make do with less. And, fair warning, my living standards are low(for a US American). Before I adopted my dogs, I could’ve lived out of a hostel, with no car, and been happy, so long as there was decent public transportation nearby. I’d just have switched back to watercoloring because there’s no room in a hostel locker for oil paintings of the scale I prefer to paint.
So, first off, figure out the cost of your trip and leave wiggle room for emergencies. The cost includes transportation (flights plus luggage. I advise traveling light so you don’t have to pay for luggage.), housing (consider using WorldPackers. It’s a $50-$100/yr app. You use it to apply for volunteer/work gigs abroad where your room and board will be covered), food (expatistan.com helps you compare the prices of food where you’re going, to where you are), anything you plan to do (TripAdvisor is a free app that has activity/sightseeing ideas and reviews), plus souvenirs, recommended vaccines/medications (Check travel advisories for where you're going.), and the cost of work missed(if you don't have paid time off).
Once you've got your estimated lump-sum cost, figure out what you can feasibly cut back on. Here are some easy options:
Cut out alcohol/drugs: They're expensive and unnecessary. That coworker who complained travel was classist was also spending a lot of her limited income on weed and beer. To each their own, but had she cut those habits, she could have afforded to travel more.
Eat out less: Social potlucks are an affordable alternative. Rice and pasta are very affordable and filling. For tips on eating well with a budget, check out https://www.reddit.com/r/budgetfood/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/EatCheapAndHealthy/ on reddit.com.
Drive less: If public transportation is an option, use it. Carpool. Though, if you own/lease a car, don't stop driving it altogether. During the Covid-19 lock downs, folks learned the hard way that car batteries can die from disuse. You don’t want your car to require repair costs while you’re saving money so drive it at least once a week. If you’re in the market for a car, aim for fuel efficiency, a car unlikely to require a great deal of maintenance, and is likely to last for over a decade. We have a Toyota Corolla because the more mechanically inclined folks in my life swear they last forever, so long as we treat them right. When we lived in Albany New York, we went without a car, relying on public transportation entirely.
Keep the heat/air-conditioning low: Or off. We went without AC in the summer, and went without heat in the winters, while living in Albany NY. Our bedroom was over a backyard, so we sealed it off in the winter. Our downstairs neighbors used their heat and what came up through the floors was sufficient to keep our pipes from freezing. When we had snow storms, or the temperature dropped, we used just enough heat to protect the pipes, bundling up ourselves. Don't be unsafe. Don't be unkind to your pets or kids. It's one thing for you, an adult, to choose to be chilly indoors. Don't do this to your dependents. Weather proofing your home helps. You can insulate doors and windows to protect against the weather getting in, and your heating/ac getting out. To learn more about insulating windows and doors, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etu9tk2fpk0 on YouTube.
Cancel your cable bill. Get an Internet only plan: Amazon Prime is the devil, yes, but it includes a decent selection of free movies/shows. Maybe share your account with a trusted loved one, and they can share their movie streaming service with you as well. Netflix is making it harder to do this , so heads up, I wouldn’t bank on being able to easily share any new Netflix accounts outside of your home. Up until moving to Austin TX, where going without cable isn’t an option in most complexes, we stuck with internet only packages, and never missed watching TV.
Unsubscribe from Unnecessary Expenses: Don’t play WOW much lately? Why keep paying for something you’re not using? Also, I get the appeal of ad-free spotify, but unless you’re hosting parties, are ads really that bad? Perhaps cancel your Kindle Unlimited and start making weekly library trips. If you aren’t using the service/content regularly, I suggest dropping it as soon as possible. You can always re-subscribe later if you change your mind. Double check your debit/checking accounts too, for any bills you forgot you’re paying.
If you shop online, stick with Amazon Prime: Yes, Amazon Prime is the devil, but if you’re spending more than $119 in shipping per year without them, you’re spending more than you need to. Amazon Prime costs a lump sum of $119 per year, and so far, they are not cracking down on multiple people (IP addresses) sharing one account. If you like to shop in person, this tip isn’t for you. However, for Christmas shopping alone, I know I’m shipping the majority of gifts out of state. For me, it’s easier to buy them online. Covid-19 lockdowns hurt a lot of small businesses in 2020. To support small businesses, I tried super hard not to do my Christmas shopping over Amazon. I won’t say how much Christmas shopping through Etsy cost me, but I will say, about a third of that total was just shipping costs. Yes, vote with your wallet, but if you’re broke and shopping online, you also have to do what’s best for you. Let the wealthy be moral shoppers. At least, that’s my take. I still care about small businesses, and for anything that doesn’t need to be shipped out of state, I prefer to shop local. But I’m never doing all my Christmas shopping on Etsy again. Sorry Etsy creators but the shipping really adds up.
If you rent, get flatmates: The cost of living has skyrocketed way past the minimum wage in the USA. If you rent and you don’t live with a spouse/partner, consider getting a flatmate. When I graduated from college, I moved into my first apartment. It was a 4 bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms. There were usually 5 of us, sometimes 6. I shared a room with my fiancé (then boyfriend). The smoker got the room with a balcony. The only other guy got the room with his own bathroom. The kitchen and living room were communal spaces. We didn’t have a yard. And yeah, there were issues. We didn’t all agree on what tidy/clean meant, and with so many folks cohabiting, there were miscommunications. One time a roommate stuck a full garbage bag on the indoor back stairwell and forgot about it. It wasn’t until we had a swarm of flies in our kitchen that we found the forgotten bag. Still, rent was $350/each, and we lived 2 blocks from like 4 major bus lines. If you’re flexible, and don’t need quiet, this can work. I don't advise taking on flatmates if you have kids or pets unless you know and trust your potential flatmates super well. Even then, those flatmates need to understand that living with kids/pets, means taking care of them, even if they're not the parent/owner. This goes for you as well, if you're thinking of living with someone who has kids/pets. If you live with a dog, you'll be walking them too, unless you want shit in the house. Period.
Take Turns Pet Sitting with Friends: If you have local friends with pets who also enjoy traveling, you can trade off pet sitting with them. Unfortunately, this isn't an option for me at this time. I live far from family and most of my friends. Those friends who live nearby have cats. We have dogs. Our dogs dislike cats and vice versa. Still, if you trust your friends/family to handle your pets with all the love and care that you would, this can work really well. That said, Rover prices vary but I've seen pet-boarders with amazing reviews for as little as $30/night.
Now, these are all suggestions. You've got to figure out what works for you.
Once you've figured out what you can cut back, the funds you’re making available, set a goal. Open a savings account and every week/month, put away a set amount of money for your trip. Following a plan, and sticking to a budget, you can deduce when you’ll have the funds to take your trip.
Pay for the trip on your credit card. It’s easier to cancel fraudulent credit card purchases (should anyone swipe your card while you're away) than it is to cancel debit purchases. Usually, points on your credit card convert to a monetary amount that you can claim, and transfer to your debit account. I can only transfer my points, called a Rewards Balance, in increments of $25, but generally after a vacation, I’ve accumulated enough where I can transfer them. Pay off the entire credit card bill as soon as possible once you get home. You don’t want to get stuck paying interest.
So yeah, those are my major money-saving tips for planning your next big vacation! Happy travels!
TL;DR, Advice?: Figure out the total vacation costs (including wiggle room for emergencies), cut back on luxuries (cut out drinking & drugs, don’t eat out, drive less, minimize AC/Heat use, cancel that cable bill, cancel unnecessary subscriptions, if you shop online, stick with Amazon Prime, if you rent, get flatmates, trade off pet sitting with friends) and put a set amount of money in a savings account every week, leading up to your trip. Pay for your trip on credit. You’ll accumulate points that mean more money for you later. Plus, it’s safer. You can cancel fraudulent credit card purchases easier than those on debit, should anyone swipe your card while you’re away. Pay the credit card off ASAP once you get back from your trip or you’ll be paying interest.